As a cold, grey March arrived, the attitudes of much of the dance music community remained starkly bright. For the time had come for 6000 revellers to descend upon Butlins family holiday resort in Minehead for one last time. The final Bloc had rolled around, and the atmosphere was positively palpable from the other side of the country.
It was Friday, and the majority of guests arriving, which brought the atmosphere. Bloc favourite The Lick opened the festival via the Waterworld stage, with groovy disco jams in the pool for the early risers. But it was post-6/7pm that the festival kicked off, as people arrived at the end of their working week. For us, the Friday was mostly spent at the Fact stage. The Feel My Bicep curated stage was one of our hot picks for the whole weekend, hosting a fair portion of our must-sees. Intergalactic Gary, Midland, and of course Bicep, put in solid sets. But all paled in comparison to the mastery of Optima & Andrew Weatherall. Our favourite set of the whole weekend, and one with plenty of twists and turns through synth-fuelled house, disco, techno, and pop music. It was the perfect opening for the festival, in our eyes (and ears).
However, there were plenty of other highlights on Friday, for when it was possible to drag yourself away from the Fact stage. Carl Craig’s Modular Pursuits was a dark, brooding, analogue affair that we’re glad we caught. Likewise, Tama Sumo b2b Lakuti was very special, and we’re a bit miffed that we didn’t catch a great deal of this.
Saturday saw the first bit of proper daytime activity, as the majority of attendees settled in for their first bit of sunshine at the resort. Interesting talks with journalists, musicians, DJs, and more, were curated for those able to drag themselves out of bed by midday. Another pool party was put on, for those preferring less mental exertion, with Space Dimension Controller and Egyptian Lover both appearing under the waterslide.
As the evening rolled on, the variety and quality on Saturday made it hard to pick where to go. Opting to steer clear of the main stage in search of something a bit different, we were left in awe over Helena Hauff followed by Joe Farr on the Crack stage. The R&S vs Boxed showcase on the Jak stage gave those looking for something different a real home for the evening. Kahn, Second Storey & Appleblim, and Logos, all appeared here, and all put on incredible displays. Kahn particularly was a refreshing change of pace from pretty much everything else available on the weekend and proved to be one of the major highlights for us. Objekt also deserves a prominent mention, as his set was exceptional. And the late alteration of Move D in place of Steffi to close the Fact stage was a tour de force, and where we chose to close the night.
Sunday was somewhat more limited in its offerings, with reduced stages to choose from. But the variety was lovely, with a Metalheadz showcase of hi-octane drum n bass on the Fact stage, and an Acid focused affair on the Jak stage courtesy of the London-based I Love Acid crew and the Super Rhythm Trax label. We popped our heads in a few times over the course of the evening, and it was an absolute vibe in there throughout.
However, most of our evening was spent within the cramped confines of the pub. A chance to see Steve Davis doing a techno set was not an opportunity we could easily pass up, and being followed up by one of our current favourites DJ Deeon; it was simply unmissable. Both of these sets were up there with the best of the weekend, both in terms of quality and pure uniqueness. From here there was only one real direction. The man himself, Omar S, closing the main stage for the final time. Not the strongest form we’ve seen him, but even so was one of the strongest sets of the weekend. There’s not much new you can say about a DJ of his calibre, but he did what he does so well.
It’s difficult to review a festival such as this without relying on tired, worn-out metaphors of a drugged up Alice falling down the wrong rabbit hole, but these are the sorts of images that spring to mind. Playing guitar hero just outside the last arena open at 9am, having hardly slept (or seen much of the sun) for nearly 2 days; Our boyhood snooker hero, Steve Davis, shelling down a pub with a set of remarkably heavy techno; Meandering for hours between identikit rows of chalets pulled straight from a postcard, in search of the few people left standing to help eke out the last moments of revelry.
And this goes nowhere toward describing the spirit of the festival. There’s a true sense of bacchanalianism that drips from the very air. An open, welcoming environment, that accepted each and every party-goer as one of its’ own. On the last night (when everyone had to be checked-out by 10 am the following morning), we found ourselves pulled in to chalet after chalet, drinking, dancing, laughing, until half an hour before we checked out. In each chalet, it was the same. Stories were told and friendships were made, even if just for the night. For this brief weekend, everyone was your friend.
It is this attitude, set in amongst all of the attendees, that made the Bloc Weekender such a unique experience. The lineup (expertly curated, to say the least), was just part of the attraction. Heavy hitters, such as Omar S, Nina Kraviz, Jeff Mills, and Bicep to name but a few, entertained and amazed. But it was the lesser-known artists who ended up taking the days. Helena Hauff’s early evening set on Saturday has not stopped being mentioned since; Egyptian Lover’s sexually-soundtracked afternoon pool party was an unusual, but memorable experience; Ghetto-House pioneer DJ Deeon playing to an incredibly intimate crowd (in size, not atmosphere) in the pub stage is an experience that will likely never be repeated.
And that sums up what made Bloc so special. It wasn’t having the biggest house/techno DJs on the bill, just like every other festival; It wasn’t the regurgitated hilarity of “let’s get fucked up in a Butlins”; And it certainly wasn’t the misty-eyed nostalgia of the old-guard who came to relive the ‘glory days of raves’. It was the sense that at any particular moment, what you were experiencing was incredibly unique. Every second was an experience unlike any other. It all added up to something far, far greater than just the sum of its parts. It is a festival that will forever live in the memories of those who were there, and in the dreams of those who weren’t.
Words by Gabriel Presland