Butlins is such a perfect venue for a music festival it’s surprising that its only in the last few years that they’ve opened up the English seaside resort to All Tomorrow Parties and BLOC during their off season. Located in the sleepy town of Minehead, visitors are isolated enough to feel that they’ve gotten away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life but not too displaced that they can’t find a supermarket selling cheap beer. Given that the accommodation and stages are already provided, there is little for the organisers to do except find a sound system and book a line up – skills the Bloc team have become exceptionally good at during their five years in operation. On paper there’s no doubt that this is the strongest line up yet – Aphex Twin, LFO, Modeselektor, Four Tet and enough dubstep artists that if you were a dubstep producer and didn’t get invited you’d feel pretty miffed.
Things kicked off on Friday night with possibly the busiest line up I have ever seen for one evening. Artists will inevitably clash with each other given the nature of a festival like Bloc but having to make the decision who to see was an awful experience. LFO vs. Ben Klock, Jamie XX vs. Ramadanman- who to pick? After careful comparisons with the Modeselektion and Numbers stages I concluded that the best place to be in Butlins (and possibly on Earth) was right in front of the massive speakers down at the Subloaded Stage. Subloaded is a monthly dubstep club in Bristol founded by Tectonic head Pinch which hosts the biggest and best names in bass music and for their annual Bloc curation the crew have pulled out all the stops with Mala, Loefah, Untold, Joy Orbison, DJ Rum, Shackleton and Pinch himself providing the beats. Local troubadour Mensah aired out some of last year’s biggest tunes in a playful set that included Girl Unit’s ‘Wut’ that got the crowd moving and warmed up for the bass assault that was about to be unleashed.
Mala and Loefah are more than accustomed to playing on the same bill and their sets complemented each other perfectly. Mala’s selections were deep and rooted in nice hooks with sub bass so strong you felt you had to hold onto something to avoid being blown away and ended with his beautiful track ‘Alicia’. Meanwhile Loefah showcased the dark and eerie electro fused sound coming from his Swamp 81 label which meant a lot of 808 beats and filthy acid grooves. The duo proved that dubstep could be oppressively heavy without recourse to ear-splitting mid range wobble and their sets rivalled the hardest techno for sheer intensity. Big ups to Sergeant Pokes for providing his customary crowd riling MC skills.
Having played on a much smaller stage last year it was great to have Joy Orbison back in a bigger room where he brought some light into the darkness with his blend of mostly dubstep influenced house (or is that house influenced dubstep?). His successful Doldrums night has seen him develop a tight and focused DJing style that will be well worth checking out when he plays his Irish debut in May. Shackleton’s performance was a triumphant display of power, which saw the Berlin-based Englishman deliver a set similar to his recent Fabric Live mix. The result was an intensely psychedelic and cerebral experience as Shack manipulated elements of his tracks into a mind-bending tapestry of sound.
After this amazing trip I stumbled out of the Subloaded stage to check out The Village Orchestra, one of the lesser known names that the organisers have taken a chance on and rightly so as the Scotsman delivered an inspiring set of spacey techno that was like Angelo Badalamenti releasing on the Skull Disco label. Following on from this Ancient Methods and Silent Servent provided the oppressive and severe techno they have become synonymous with for the saucer eyed dancers until 7AM.
After being distracted by Bloc TV (Trolls 2 anyone?) Addison Groove was the first performance I caught the next evening and it was a nice way to ease myself into another busy night. Expecting a high tempo set in the vein of his popular Footcrab anthem it was a pleasant surprise to hear Addison dishing up a fairly restrained selection around the 130BPM mark which climaxed with a housey VIP mix of Footcrap.
Having avoided the main stage the night before, I embedded myself into the arena-sized room for the rest of the evening being welcomed by Bloc resident Radioactive Man who delivered a typically satisfying electro set. Next up was one of the only “bands” of the weekend- Moderat, together for possibly the last time before the artists focus on their Modeselektion and Apparat projects. Alluring visuals, amazing sound quality and a great rendition of Prototype aside their performance was a little dull and felt like a run through of their CD.
To my shame I was completely unfamiliar with Dopplereffekt but after hearing so many recommendations from random Blocheads I felt compelled to check the Detroit artist out. The Drexciyan producer elicited an amazing sound from the Fuction One sound system with ice cold synths, darker than dark beats and creepy atmospheres.
Any indications that Four Tet might return to his former glitchy past were shattered with his completely danceable set which focused almost entirely on recent remixes and tracks from There Is Love In You. Over the past few years Kieran Hebden has transformed from being a fairly “out there” producer to an accomplished DJ, mostly thanks to his resident stint at London’s Plastic People club. Songs like ‘Love Cry’ and his Burial collaboration ‘Wolf Cub’ are immensely pleasurable to dance to as well as being great home-listening and his Bloc performance was a testament to this balance he has achieved.
Anyone foolish enough to nip out for a quick cigarette after Tet was rewarded with a position at the back of a mile long que as everyone at Bloc seemed to want to witness Aphex Twin’s highly anticipated headline slot. With 2,500 pairs of eyes on the Limerick born auteur and a few hundred disgruntled people outside, the expectations were high for this one. Not that this would’ve bothered the notoriously nonchalant Richard D James. The set began with chimes and skittering beats as Aphex Twin hid himself behind his laptops and various machines. Even the visuals focused away from him and onto the crowd with the highly talked about face-mapping show where dancers faces are transplanted with Richards visage circa Windowlicker. However amusing this was to look at the main attraction was of course the pulsing sounds coming out of the speakers as Aphex put his own spin on techno and jungle beats. Given his mind-bendingly indescribable set at Bloc two years ago when he was joined by Florian Hecker it was a bit disappointing that the most surprising moment of his set was when he dropped Ramadanman’s ‘Work Them’. While a perfectly acceptable and weird performance, some of the audience anticipated something more on the scale of his previous Bloc appearance. Still, even an average Aphex is nothing to complain about and it was great to hear classics like ‘Analogue Bubblebath’ as well as vicious amen breaks and a ten minute noise finale. Well played Richard.
Sundays are infamously sketchy affairs at Bloc as people begin to feel their hedonism catching up with them and the crushing reality of Monday looms on the horizon. It’s also the least musical day with the tunes (officially) finishing at 12. That doesn’t mean however people are ready to stop dancing and the organisers saved some of the best performers for last, especially at the Bleep stage where Lone filled the room with his nostalgic rave tunes and Luke Abbot presented some blissful vibes. Barry Lynn aka Boxcutter has always had a fresh perspective on the bass scene and his set played like a “best of” as he rolled out his off kilter beats and grooves to an enthusiastic audience. As well as old favourites he previewed some tracks from his upcoming album The Dissolve which sounds like a further evolution of his glitchy yet funky sound.
As usual Bloc was an overwhelming experience where unreportable shenanigans competed with unmissable music. As electronic music festivals go its pretty unique as it manages to balance the opportunity for debauchery with high quality music and a friendly atmosphere. Also the Bloc team must be commended for their shrewd bookings- there might have been a lot of high profile names this year, but there were also a lot of relatively unknown yet equally worthy performers who held their own. See you next year…
Photos by Gary Brown.
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