For the several years now UK’s premier techno music festival, Bloc, has been synonymous with uniquely billed top notch performances from electronic music pioneers. Previous acts included some of the biggest names in IDM and Hip Hop from Aphex Twin and Autechre to Grand Master Flash and Salt N Pepa. For it’s sixth edition Baselogic promoters set up yet another impressive lineup recruiting such innovators in the genre as Richie Hawtin, Orbital, Gary Numan and Snoop Dogg. It is unfortunate that none of those artists played last weekend due to safety concerns and police intervention. East Scene was present and managed to catch a few of the exceptional acts and DJs who were able to play before the event would eventually be cancelled.
This was Bloc’s first year in London and held at the London Pleasure Gardens by Royal Victoria Docks.
The gardens is a concept that has been around since the 17th Century providing space for communal recreation and concerts with a capacity to accommodate roughly 40k plus people combined in all the combined venues. This seemed like an ideal location for an event previously held in 6400 capacity spaces or less. Trouble began when gates were delayed opening by more than an hour and express ticket holders(promised lighter ques and special entrances) were given poor directions from security staff and would ultimately move behind the regular ticket holder que. Others weren’t so lucky when later on in the evening it was reported that confirmed ticket holders were held at the gates for hours and then turned away.
After a quick bag security check to enter the grounds, the area appeared to be unkempt with massive puddles covering pathways, muddy ground, and inconvenient or unspecified locations for any of the express ticket holder’s special perks. Despite the trouble, most seemed optimistic to explore the area. One of the coolest venues was not specifically on the grounds but rather docked in the water. A former freeze and transport vessel from Rockstock Germany, The MS Stubnitz holds 700 people capacity and was the first venues to be closed off later that evening. Luckily crowds hadn’t gather as much early on for Deadboy’s 2-step funky set. The cargo holds were converted for music space and showed very unique acoustic qualities. Many parties have been booked on the floating party space since it transformed in 1993.
The first major headliner to see was Steve Reich, who is one of the most influential 20th century composers of minimal and experimental music along with names like Philip Glass and Terry Riley. Located in the Hub venue, he started off the performance with his “clap music” which afterwards the audience reciprocated and even attempted to joyfully mimic. His orchestral set included many interesting players and clever looping of various instruments and sounds from cello to electric guitar and piano. This was a bit awkward, especially being near the London City airport where you would hear flights taking off overhead, but this conceptual achievement was well received by the young respectful crowd.
Shortly after in the main venue was Amon Tobin which had been pushed up earlier with an unexplained cancellation of Union. You would know this if you were lucky enough to read the small sign posted at the venue on the barrier gates. Very large ques quickly formed as news spread. Luckily for many, this was the only venue with a clearly marked express lane. Once everyone had spilled into the tent, everyone was greeted with random harsh noises and low grumbling and behind a curtain. The stage remained covered for several minutes while anticipation grew in the audience. Suddenly the curtain moved aside and the ISAM installation was revealed. Meticulously placed cubes and solid blank square shaped structures connected all together and formed a spectacular 3 dimensional screen. ISAM felt like a living breathing complex structure that bended illusion with tangible objects. One giant cube in the center revealed a booth where Amon Tobin stood shaping sounds while blocks seemed to collapse and assemble back together with ease around him. The sounds were crisp and dynamic with plenty of chest punching bass. It was an incredible performance that pushed 2 encores. Back to the Hub, breathing space was now limited along the pathways that led to the venue’s entrance. Out matched security begged with the growing mass to stop pushing forward and move back though there was not much room behind. Ques were impossible to distinguish at times since they stretched to other crowded venues. A frustrated security worker at the venue’s exit gave in to an angry mob pushing through as occasionally people managed to make their way through without any repercussion. It had grown into a situation that was very much out of control. Inside the Hub was Xhin spinning a hard hitting set. He had had jumped from his secret boiler room set on the Stubnitz with Richie Hawtin. The arena was shoulder to shoulder leaving no spaces for clear exit. Pushing crowds were either moving to the front or looking for an exit. Occasionally thuggish figures would push through shouting out for anyone who wanted to buy “Charlie” or pills (which was surprisingly not found at the gates during security check).
Shortly after midnight at the main tent, Snoop Dogg was set to perform but instead of cheers shouts of frustration and anger were expressed as everyone emptied out into the common grounds. A half hour later crowd control officers began emptying each venue at a time in an orderly fashion and explained the weekend festival was now cancelled. Due to the timing and manner of the evacuation only minor crushing was reported, though rumors floated among the frustrated people of some falling overboard from the Stubnitz. At the ground’s exit, an assemblage of people gathered by the large metal shipping containers and hit some percussion slaps on their way out as if to pay tribute to Steve Reich’s performance. With official confirmation of the festival’s cancellation, party goers were left scrambling for plans on Saturday night. One last minute event put on by Plex vs Perc Trax (who were scheduled to perform their showcase around the same time at Bloc) featured headliner Surgeon, Lucy, Truss, and Perc. It had ticket holders checking their twitter feeds every minute for details and location. A one thousand person limit was strictly enforced. No incidents were reported.