It’s the wee small hours of a Monday morning in March. As most of Britain sleeps in preparation for what will probably be another mundane (if not miserable) week at work, we’re surrounded by a few thousand devout techno disciples determined to see out the last moments of a marathon 36-hour rave, in a room usually used for family-friendly cabaret shows and, one week earlier, a darts tournament.
Swathed in pitch darkness, aside from the blinding lights of some truly impressive lasers and strobes, dripping with sweat, spilt beer and glittered confetti, three words come to mind — Bloc is back. And in exactly the right way.
The rise, fall and rebirth of one of Britain’s most treasured and lauded dance music organisations has been well-documented everywhere from the specialist club press to national broadsheets. So let’s cut to the chase.
Things went badly wrong when 15,000 people found themselves evicted from the last of these festivals, in London three years earlier, after police closed the event down. Many thought it was the end of days for those concerned, but where there’s genuine passion it’s difficult to call a show off, even when creditors and pissed off punters are singing like morbidly obese women.
Cue apologies and behind-the-scenes financial negotiations, followed by a string of intimate nights at Bloc’s new permanent home in the UK capital, Autumn Street, and finally the announcement that we were all invited back to Butlins in Minehead. The venue for the vast majority of the team's successful weekenders, no secret was made that this was a request for a second chance.
A big ask for some perhaps, but upon arrival if there was skepticism at this phoenix from the flames move, then it's now in remission. Like everyone else present at the time, we might have been annoyed when the last attempt at a major bash resulted in catastrophe and money down the drain, but after surviving the robust entry search (with no alcohol allowed to be brought in from outside the complex — a first for Bloc) we couldn’t be more sure that this organisation’s return to full strength is a good thing for club culture.
Even the over-zealous security can't detract from the spirit of the clued-up but down to earth attendees.
Due to its location — several hours from every major city and airport in the country other than Bristol — Bloc has never been one for passing trade. If you’ve paid to be here you mean it, and as we enter the first of many sets that point couldn’t be more apparent.
It’s Hessle Audio time, with Pangaea, Ben UFO and Ramadanman taking 30-minute shifts for a hefty four-hour warm-up (if indeed you can call it a warm-up). From Dutch to Maltese, English to Scottish, debauched expressions are everywhere, and the atmosphere tangible.
Where most festivals take some time to get into full swing, you could be forgiven for thinking those in view haven’t stopped since last time Bloc was in Somerset, circa 2011. Ear-to-ear grins belie the sounds on offer. It’s meaty, four-four focused, dark business that would send lovers of sexy grooves running for cover.
If there’s one potential criticism then perhaps it’s that long-standing fans of the trio could be disappointed not to get more bass for their buck, but this bash has always done techno better than anything else, and 2015’s edition already seems intent on emphasising that.
After time spent marauding the infamous Butlins entertainment zone — with its neon arcade machines, seaside pier-style penny games, climbing frame and ball pool (sadly closed for the duration of our stay) — we’re knee-deep in Objekt, and any doubts as to whether he represents the cream of a new school mutant-tech crop will be put to rest by tomorrow.
From the room's carpet to our dancefloor compatriots, everything is slick with perspiration, and the rising star flitting between retro-tinged broken electro stompers, full-throttle machine funk and fist-pounding gritty chuggers isn't helping. It may not be the finest example we’ve seen of him, but nevertheless there are no complaints coming from this corner.
Coupled with Karenn — Blawan and Pariah’s rightly trumpeted back-to-back act — which follows in a suitably twisted, what-the-bish-bash-was-that tirade of rave-influenced thumpers, even rumours that Robert Hood has cancelled can’t ruin the vibe.
In fact, Jackmaster is the absentee, meaning Detroit’s minimal godfather has been moved to the main stage, and those sober enough to pick up on that are ready to welcome him.
Opening with a string of Floorplan productions, the gospel-style tones of 'We Magnify His Name' provide a welcome break from all the moodiness, although soon 'The Bells' begin to ring out, along with Hood's own 'Never Grow Old', reassuring anyone over the age of 35 that it is OK to still be reaching out to touch strangers, and typifying Day One in the process.
God-knows how many hours later and, following a chicken dinner in one of the not-so-great on-site eateries, we’re ready for Round Deux. Unsure as to exactly where this whole thing can go following Friday’s lunatic dose of techno, we open the scoring with Levon Vincent, who is unfortunately marred by a drop in volume, making it easier to pick up on what the Irish guy standing to our right was doing in the swimming pool earlier (the less said the better) than the subtleties of his set.
Thankfully, the issue doesn’t prevail, so, by the time Omar S is finishing, EQs have brought the music back to where it should be — loud.
Marking the beginning of a kind of dance music pub piss-up, Moodymann then takes the reigns and begins dispensing gritty funk flavours to anyone in earshot, before being joined by Rick Wilhite and that man Omar S again. An impromptu three-way that veers between Karim Sahraoui’s sax-heavy 'Nightflow' and ODB’s 'Got Your Money', the latter evidences our point.
Transforming hardcore boshers into a supporting chorus, suddenly everyone is singing, perhaps betraying how some were crying out for the tunes to be a little more fun.
Transcending genre preference, it's a reminder that, fundamentally, festivals are about bringing people together for an attitude-free knees-up, rather than giving chin-strokers conversation-starters for the next few months.
It’s a short-lived stop-gap, mind. If Autechre in the main arena aren't defining knob-twiddling geek, we’re not sure what does, with staccato white noise piercing an almost-silent air heavy with appreciation. Indeed, if IDM went out with the late-'90s, nobody here noticed.
Yet it falls to a vastly different but no less intelligent duo to steal the evening’s top spot. Trying to articulate what happens during Ben Sims and DVS1’s sensory assault is folly.
We can’t see much beyond the row in front, other than odd glimpses of two men occupying two booths packed with kit, driving the crowd into ever more frenzied reactions, and apparently communicating with one another through thoughts alone.
Suffice to say, real descriptions are hard to come by, other than to highlight how solid, hugely enjoyable and technically jaw-dropping it was — arguably the highlight of Bloc overall.
All of which brings us back to the end of this long, heavy yet fun-filled weekend. Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock are bringing proceedings to a truly unifying, perhaps surprisingly hands in the air close as that glitter falls to the sound of 'Loop' from LFO vs F.U.S.E in the main room. It’s been an emotional, delightfully punishing affair.
And this is before we've mentioned the innumerable chalet parties, the festival's own notoriously weird movie channel (which was showing Groundhog Day on repeat for longer than anyone on acid cares to remember), or the joy of Sunday evening's trip to the jungle led by Doc Scott and Randall — the furthest point from techno of the whole affair.
Reinforcing our belief that, whilst not quite perfect, if you're looking for hulky rhythms and an atmosphere that sits on top of the ‘let’s have it properly’ pile, Bloc could well be impossible to beat, in the UK at least.
Welcoming from start to finish, programmed in a way that shames the vast majority of festivals, and boasting what could be this year's best line-up, put simply, if this is the beginning-proper of a promising new future for the crew in question then they can consider us keen to chronicle the second coming in full.
words: MARTIN GUTTRIDGE-HEWITT
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