Last March, Bloc brought the curtain down on its 10 years of putting weekender festivals on at holiday parks. From two editions at the now deserted Pontins in Great Yarmouth to the expanded version at the flagship Bultins in Minehead, 2007 to 2016 marked a special period of electronic music getting supported by a forward-thinking UK festival that won the hearts of fans. So much so, that even a much-publicised failure to transport the event to London didn’t completely derail their reputation, enabling Bloc Weekend to continue for two editions after the cancelled event in 2012. Aphex Twin, Carl Craig, Moderat, Jeff Mills, LFO, DJ Godfather, Venetian Snares and Four Tet give a feel for the kinds of acts who would grace their stages on the way to achieving a cult status - particularly among Buckfast fans who enjoy a Saturday afternoon tipple at the on-site playground.
Bloc straddled the serious and absurd, providing a powerful pair of rose-tinted glasses to view those Butlins weekends through.
Over the course of the excursions to the UK’s coastline, as well as the ill-fated attempt to produce a London showpiece, a video production company was on hand to film. The result was Dancing On Carpets, a retrospective released on Bolier Room just before Christmas that was billed to give that peak into the history of Bloc we’d all wanted. From the early days at Pontins to a final hurrah of two editions in Minehead, there were interviews with the organisers, artists and revellers, yet the magic of what made Bloc so special seemed lost in translation - we were being told the history without the colour. Granted there were crowd shots, allusions to critical moments, but for all the promise brought about by the title Dancing on Carpets - a title which on its own would only evoke memories if you’d attended - the documentary was largely a brief telling of what went right, what went wrong and how George and Alex got from 2007 to 2016 via eight Blocs. Watching it was informative and brought the memories of my seven Blocs flooding back - in a manner that I felt the need to elaborate on.
So, I’ll tell you what made Bloc special to me, and I hope that others have similar stories whether they attended one, some or all Bloc Weekends - yes, even that dire London edition. Before reading on, you might want to watch Dancing on Carpets because it lays a solid, and interesting, foundation to the festival’s history:
The first zap! bang! Magazine-attended Bloc in 2008 left an indelible impression, and not just because of blistering sets from Dave Clarke, The Black Dog, Joey Beltram and Juan Atkins alongside a Ceephax Acid bingo-turned-dancing-contest when Andy Jenkinson got bored of reading out the numbers on balls and various trips to the infamous 24 hour pub where Jerome Hill would make Sunday at 7am a joyous time - and a shout out to the girl who made us feel so welcome on the dancefloor. Away from the music, sleeping in a Hyundai owing to our press passes not including accommodation had its perks: our boot contained all the ingredients for “Bloc Cock” - a combination of gin tonic with vodka cranberry plus crème de cassis poured into oversized wine glasses with a lime garnish and cocktail umbrellas. Classy, right? And hats off to those who dressed as Mario characters for a blast on the go-karts one morning.
Then there was the need to utilise the swimming pool showers during the two-hour intervals they were open to freshen up each day - harder than you might think - met with confused looks from staff as we’d enter the complex with 10 minutes to spare, then never bother to swim. Meanwhile, an obsession at the time with Mullet Power top trumps spilled over on the final day when we had donned our best-dressed-Sunday outfits (the final fancy dress was still very much a thing at Bloc back then) and bumped into the spitting image of Chris ‘Lightning’ O’Rourke who just happened to be a power card of the set. To make matters more amusing, his mates had found a Mullet Power card at a previous festival and were stoked (we think) that their mate looked like one of them. Cue a mass of photo taking to round off our first Bloc.
In 2009, a packed out CentreBloc for Aphex Twin and The Hecker witnessed a sublime set.
Admittedly, it was always going to be hard for any Bloc to follow 2008 in terms of sheer silliness, but the fond memories come flooding back from the ensuing years. In 2009, a packed out CentreBloc for Aphex Twin and The Hecker witnessed a sublime set while, away from the music, one chalet share among us got obsessed with the plastic ‘winners medals’ they had bought at the on site Spar and waved them around in the non-medal holders faces declaring themselves ‘winners’ every moment that wasn’t filled with a beat. That was also the year of a series of streaks by one of our number, and Monday morning sand art on Minehead beach in honour of Egyptian Lover’s epic performance. If you didn’t love the 808 before he’d sung about it, you certainly did after.
More fun and games were to come in 2010 when we crafted a series of trophies to be dished out at the end of the festival for achievements such as ‘longest stint on the dancefloor’, ‘best dancefloor treasure’ and ‘most time spent awake’. Who spent the longest on the dancefloor was a widely-contested prize let down by a lack of coherent rules on what constituted a ‘stint’, though I was sure I’d been victorious thanks to an incredible sequence of Rob Hall, Autechre, Luke Vibert, Surgeon and Planetary Assault Systems however memories were hazy. The dancefloor treasure would go to a glass orb that seemed to have mystical qualities when you starred into it while a need for drivers to go to bed on the last night took out two key players of the stay up forever collective (darn it). Other dubious merits were rewarded, but no one can remember what they were, nor where the trophies ended up. This was also the year we finally took at interest in Bloc TV: though we always seemed to switch on when they were showing a clip of 2007 when Tim Exile was prancing around with strap on for a music controller.
In 2011 Bloc said goodbye to Butlins Minehead the first time with a weekend that included perhaps one of the best sets we’ve ever seen at any festival: Laurent Garnier’s Live Booth Sessions in which he recreated classics such as ‘Crispy Bacon’ and ‘The Man with the Red Face’ live over the course of a three-hour set flanked by musicians. There was a lot of joy in Centre:Bloc for that closing set, while the fifth anniversary also featured LFO, Aphex Twin, Dopplereffekt, Moderat, Ancient Methods, Siriusmo and Black Devil Disco Club. This was perhaps the one year where the variation in music meant there was no time to lark around, although it should be said that no Bloc has gone by without a sizable amount of time spent in the arcades playing air hockey and light gun games – oh yeah, and I almost drowned when my so-called friends told me, as a non-swimmer, would be fine riding the space bowl which, it tuned out, has a two-metre-deep plunge pool. Yes, I needed rescuing by the lifeguard. Marvellous. Though said ‘friends’ did then help me to learn to swim once I’d got over the trauma, so that’s another win for Bloc in some senses…
There was no real wins that can make up for Bloc 2012 though. The video tells you all you need to know about what happened and the repercussions, yet somehow their were some prime moments for the lucky ones who got there for 2pm when the doors were supposed to open. Apart from drinking cans of cider from the petrol station up the road until the site was ‘ready for business’ at 4pm, being first in line guaranteed a space on board the Stubnitz rave boat for Boiler Room’s secret sets from Ben Sims and Richie Hawtin before the whole thing was called off after midnight. Seek out those sets on YouTube.
One of the fondest memories of the 2015 comeback year was donning banana outfits and marauding around the arcades and pub armed with a bunch of bad jokes.
Following 2012’s shambles, Bloc’s comeback via their Autumn Street Studio venue in Hackney Wick was unexpected; their return to Butlins Minehead in 2015 was a shock. Could they recapture the joys of the past? Turns out, yes. One of the fondest memories of that comeback year was donning banana outfits and marauding around the arcades and pub armed with a bunch of bad jokes that were ripe for splitting sides. Meanwhile, a new honour of being part of the ‘10 o’clock club’ for those who made it through the after-hours parties on Saturday and Sunday mornings was inaugurated and we continued our trend of always being present for the first set of the weekend. Meanwhile, DJ Bone, Robert Hood, Clark, Jon Hopkins, Autechre, Karenn, Donato Dozzy and Moritz Von Oswald Trio ensured the soundtrack was enjoyable if slightly too skewered towards 4/4 until the acid and jungle takeovers. Thankfully in the chalet moments we could switch on the infamous Bloc TV with Groundhog Day on a continuous loop on one channel (I’ve no idea how often we watched it but the ‘Pennsylvania Polka’ is a permanent ear worm triggered by the word Bloc) and some mad Japanese movies. Somehow, Groundhog Day always seemed like the most comforting of home-like entertainment.
Bloc Weekend arrived in 2016 with the surprise of being the final edition, but at least we knew beforehand it would be the final opportunity to get dancing on those fascinatingly-patterned carpets (that said they were never as fascinating as the 2009 – 2011 Butlins Mindhead era). Dance we did to some fine sets such as Ansome & DeFeKT unexpectedly rinsing the hard techno live in Reds plus Jeff Mills, Ceephax Acid Crew, DJ Bone, Omar-S, Fatima Yamaha, Magic Mountain High and Lone. The 10 O’clock Club had it’s final two hurrahs with Ceephax Acid Crew in tow one morning, and I even made it back to Splashworld now able to swim and fully dive into sets from Space Dimension Controller and Egyptian Lover.
Our final fancy dress effort of jumpsuits wasn’t entirely successful, though I got some odd looks wearing a Lithuanian import which required a cricket box to protect my modesty.
Meanwhile, Groundhog Day had to vie for a spot on the TV alongside fellow cult classics Hercules Returns and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. Genius. As was the discovery of the Pac-Man air hockey table that literally flooded the playing area with pucks leading to a baffled pair of ravers at 5am – though not as baffled as the arcade worker who had to be convinced to give us the paddles as he passed through. Our final fancy dress effort of jumpsuits wasn’t entirely successful, though I got some odd looks wearing a Lithuanian import which required a cricket box to protect my modesty, but we managed to squeeze in a sunset beach visit fuelled by Bloody Mary’s and a Minirig playing disco on Sunday night before hitting those carpets a final time to say goodbye – and thanks – to Bloc Weekend for all the memories.
Thinking back, I’ve seen the footage of Tim Exile at Bloc 2007 so many times on Bloc TV, I’d be delighted to know if there’s an official recording of Laurent Garnier’s Live Booth Sessions or Aphex’s show with The Hecker out there, or perhaps even an insight into the wackiest fancy dress, the funniest buckfast incident or how it felt to get stuck in the raft on the Master Blaster water slide while everyone’s dancing and splashing below you. I’d love to hear more anecdotal gems from artists, organisers, sound technicians, Butlins staff or us revellers to paint more complete picture of the Bloc experience because beyond the bricks and mortar, beats and shapes, Bloc straddled the serious and absurd, providing a powerful pair of rose-tinted glasses to view those Butlins weekends through. Feel free to adds yours below…
Thanks to those involved in the tales above and also for the use of their Bloc images.