- Bloc Weekend has become a landmark occasion in calendars of electronic music fans, offering a traditional holiday camp experience with a twist. Don't expect any Redcoats at Minehead's Butlins site on this particular March weekend: The entertainment has been completely taken over by the Bloc gang, who have this time roped in Rinse FM, Man Make Music and Mulletover to host stages as well as previous collaborators Subloaded, Overkill and Braindrop. Even the chalet's television sets are Bloc-specific, with a selection of oddball films, cartoons and television programmes alongside performances from previous events. Upon settling in to our respective accommodation and having little to venture out to, it was good to relive the bumping electro of Egyptian Lover's '09 performance, sinking a few drinks and generally getting ready for the epic weekend that was to follow.
We arrived at the Tec Bloc to see Subeena warming the crowd up with her raw but somewhat gentle urban house stylings, keeping things suitably restrained but retaining her inventive edge, before Bloc resident Joe Hart took to the decks for his usual mix of obscure electro and Italo gems. Acid house connoisseur Placid has a cult internet following of fans looking to get their kicks via '80s rarities, and following the deep acid bath of Hart's final half-hour, he capably delivered all manner of 303 anthems that started to pick things up.
Due to arriving late on site, Scratcha and Roska's opening set over at the FWD & Rinse stage was slightly delayed, but it didn't take long for the sizeable Red Bloc to fill up to their riotous UK funky sounds. Sporting his usual oversized glasses, Scratcha was mixing up wonky tech-house with the more energetic side of the London sound, while his back-to-back partner was on more of a tribal tip, using the occasion to showcase a handful of tracks from his forthcoming debut album. Youngsta's regular curveballs kept the crowd interested for the duration of his set, managing to bookend the nostalgic hardcore and dubstep hybrid that is Dark Sky's "Something 2 Lose" with his trademark brand of dark halfstep bangers during his solid and professional performance.
The same definitely couldn't be said about Wiley, who came on after Marcus Nasty's breathtakingly rapid fire selection of pumping and urgent grime-tinged funky, particular highlights of which were his blends of Tempa T's grime classic "Next Hype" over various records, and Major Lazer's "Pon de Floor" (which received at least four plays throughout the weekend) under the poignant bars of Boy Better Know's "Too Many Men." Bloc's reputation may have taken a knock in the past due to its high concentration of white males, but ironically enough, Rinse's involvement in the festival this year brought a much more mixed crowd to Minehead for this year's revelry.
One of grime's biggest names, Wiley certainly had an impact on the increased numbers of females attending Bloc '10, and it's quite sad that his much-anticipated set turned out to be the most embarrassing eight minutes of the whole festival. Not even managing to fulfil his disappointingly short twenty minute slot, the man who used to represent some of the best underground sounds coming out of the capital limped through a terrible PA of his two mainstream pop singles "Never Be Your Woman" and "Take That," trying to cover up his currently lax attitude to performance with multiple shouts of "ollie, ollie, ollie," much to the ire of his hardcore fanbase.
By midnight, Roots Manuva had taken to the Centre:Bloc with a full band for the first of the weekend's live performances, holding back "Witness" for an encore sing-along from a rowdy crowd already on the wrong side of sobriety. Lindstrøm's follow up was effortlessly cool, tweaking his inimitable disco sound with a deft dance floor propulsion that brought the ballroom's looming Funktion One stack to life, while Geeneus was ushering in a deep and dark house vibe back at the Rinse stage alongside vocal accompaniment from Tippa and Katy B, the latter of whom was adding her sultry tones to tracks such as Deadboy's "If U Want." After a quick flutter at the kitschy penny arcade we headed over to the Wild West-themed Jak:Bloc for the end of Joy Orbison.
Despite living up to his prodigious reputation with a smart blend of warm, subtly twisted funky and bass music, the surprisingly subdued reaction to "Hyph Mngo" left us feeling as though the Jak:Bloc crowd were looking for something more hedonistic and in keeping with the room's sweaty aura and 10 AM finish. Omar-S's uncompromised calm behind the decks added to the sense of sophistication on show in his music, delivering a perfect selection of vintage house held together nicely by his own productions. Moments like "Psychotic Photosynthesis" had added magic in the big room setting, but throughout much of his show it was hard to distinguish between revellers stuck in a meditative trance and those who were simply apathetic. Whatever the case, Omar's reassuringly confident delivery was more than enough to qualify his performance as one of the weekend's classiest.
Closing the main stage in an unabashedly forceful style, Adam Beyer's performance proved his worth as the night's heavyweight headliner, using a troupe of on-stage dancers to elevate the big-room club feel already set up by Ellen Allien and Pfadfinderai's visual show. D-Bridge's rolling and technical approach to drum & bass suited the smaller room setting well, which by now had almost resumed the humidity levels felt in previous years. SP:MC's contributions were appropriately reserved as D-Bridge plumbed deeper towards the finish, ending his set with Cherelle & Alexander O'Neal's "Saturday Love"—probably the only time all weekend the Jak:Bloc barmaids heard anything in keeping with Butlins' usual music policy.
The Jak:Bloc was also the only arena that remained open past 6 AM on the Saturday morning, with London's Mulletover night being handed the reins for the final four hours of musical shenanigans. Lee Curtiss was laying down a series of plodding tech-house records that failed to ever take off, and while one got the feeling that the crowd was ready for something much more engaging to break them out of their minimal shuffle, Curtiss didn't provide the goods, instead continuing to furrow away with his limited range of sounds and severely dampening the jouissance that had been built up throughout the night.
After Friday night's early morning finish, we took to Butlins' water park for an afternoon of aquatic laziness, but it quickly became clear that not everyone in the water had taken our cue and got some well-needed sleep. Still, the amusement of watching the lifeguards quiz the most suspicious looking members of the water slide queue about their narcotic consumption managed to lift a few spirits, and we dried off in order to head over to the Subloaded arena for the end of Glaswegian dub merchants Mungo's Hi-Fi.
Their chirpy and uplifting performance was a great way to ease back into the revelry, and they were suitably rewarded by one audience member in particular, who went out of his way to appreciatively toss a joint on stage. Peverelist and Appleblim followed with the first of the stage's four back-to-back sets, and the pair did a sterling job of commanding the crowd without resorting to heavy-handed tactics. The Punch Drunk boss kept things bubbling throughout with the angular tribalism of Joe's "Rut" and Addison Groove's juke-inspired "Footcrab"—the latter of which also cropping up during Kode9 and Martyn's accomplished but somewhat unsurprising head-to-head later on in the evening—while Appleblim favoured a more rolling and technoid slant, peppering his selections with what sounded like new material from both RSD and his Skull Disco partner-in-crime, Shackleton. It was Mark Ernestus' much-anticipated set with Tikiman that was the first real highlight of the day, however, with the Jamaican vocalist acting as the energetic foil to Ernestus' stone-cold seriousness throughout a set of heavily affected reggae, dancehall, and even a bit of grimy piano business.
Back at the Overkill stage, Flying Lotus was busy satisfying those on the lookout for exciting new material, cruising through the moodier realms of his upcoming Cosmogramma LP and mixing it with plenty of cuts from Mike Slott and the Brainfeeder crew. The low slung soul of "Tea Leaf Dancers" especially satisfied, and by the time that we were sent off with the creeping Thom Yorke collaboration "...And the World Laughs with You," it was difficult to shed the feeling that we'd witnessed one of contemporary electronic music's most inventive musical minds in full flow.
But who needs contemporary when you've got an originator in your midst? Juan Atkins had already performed solo at Bloc back in '08, but this time he'd brought along his full posse for a Model 500 live show, and it certainly didn't disappoint. Cybotron anthems such as "R-9," "Techno City" and "Alleys Of Your Mind" (the latter opening up into an extended jam with Atkins singing the lyrics to Dead Or Alive's uber-camp "You Spin Me Round" over the top) sounded beefier than ever before, and by the time they they'd burst into the locomotive groove of "Night Drive (Thru-Babylon)," the smiles radiating throughout crowd were clear for all to see. Atkins also seemed surprisingly at home behind his console, feeding off the rapturous audience response with a series of rousing outbursts ("This is Detroit hi-tech funk, motherfuckers!") and even pulling out his vocoder for "Clear" as the main stage's laser array kicked into full flow.
The limited representation of classic electronica acts this year meant that Autechre's simultaneous performance was somewhat of a no-brainer for those looking for something a little more avant-garde, and their devastating live show in the specially blacked-out Red:Bloc turned out to be one of the weekend's most austere and affecting moments. Any set built mainly from scattershot abrasions and erratic bass tones is likely to evoke some kind of interpretive dance from its audience, but the flailing limbs and ecstatic wincing on show by the crowd's most ardent Autechre purists reassured us that you don't need a regular rhythm to get off.
Thanks to Bloc, Surgeon and Butlins seems to be becoming something of a tradition, and Anthony Childs returned to Saturday's peak time slot with a live A/V combo after last year's showstopping back-to-back with Ben Sims. His wife's yoga-themed visual accompaniment seemed like a strange choice at first, but the music did most of the talking, with moments of undulating wonk offsetting the relentless pace of his heavy-handed techno approach.
It's not often that you'll get the chance to catch Torsten Pröfrock, AKA T++, playing on UK shores, so we headed back over to check out his live set at the Subloaded stage. Upon our arrival, we were more than surprised to see that the Berlin techno don's rolling rhythms had only managed to half-fill the relatively small—for Bloc, at least—arena. Nevertheless, the audience that remained until the end were rewarded with plenty of punishing sub-bass and 140 BPM junglism, and the decision was made to end the evening on a high in preparation for yet another day of musical hijinks.
We took a relaxed Sunday afternoon watching the amusing but not exactly politically correct kung-fu of The Crippled Masters on Bloc TV before heading in to the Centre:Bloc to catch Channel One Soundsystem serving up a soothing selection of roots, dub and reggae. While we were happy enough to stand back and let the vibrations massage out the kinks from our hangovers, our approach wasn't shared by the ragged few in the middle of the dance floor going like they hadn't noticed Surgeon finished nine hours ago. Good effort. Mixmaster Mike's low-brow party set seemed to go down well with the assembled Bloc massive, cranking out a rock medley comprising of Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine and System Of A Down before bludgeoning us with a scratch-happy set of electro-house, juke and aggressive dubstep.
Skream and Benga's drunken rockstar antics definitely split crowd opinion last year, and thankfully the pair eschewed their crowdsurfing antics for this year's set. As you'd expect from their big room performance, the duo pulled out plenty of grating metallic wobblers, but there were some saving graces, such as their occasional stylistic forays into jungle and funky bashment. DMZ host Sgt. Pokes was on form as ever throughout, causing us to laugh out loud to his deadpan delivery of lines such as "reaching out to all the casualties!" before we headed over to hopefully flex some garage muscle with MJ Cole over at the Red:Bloc. Arriving to the strains of House Of Pain's "Jump Around," we first thought that we might have got the set times confused, but it was definitely Cole up there, drunkenly stumbling around and mixing up lowest common denominator tracks such as Dizzee Rascal's "Bonkers" and the godawful Nero remix of his own "Sincere."
The penultimate main stage set of the festival lay in the hands of Joris Voorn, and I was intrigued as to how he'd approach the occasion. What with Bloc being such a mecca for fans of underground techno sounds, it was a shame to see Voorn peddling a resoundingly dull selection of trance-tinged tech-house, relying on predictable and formulaic breakdowns to try and get the crowd on his side. While this Pavlovian style of DJing may have gone down a storm in the big Ibizan rooms that he's been playing of late, it most definitely wasn't in keeping with the general spirit of Bloc, and it was frankly a relief when Derrick May finally took the decks, commanding a hero's welcome from the audience.
The Transmat boss came out of the traps in a fairly subdued manner, picking things up with the jaunty trills of Afefe Iku's "Mirror Dance" before opening out into a chugging selection of records. Mixing up classic Detroit anthems with more recent cuts from Dennis Ferrer ("Transitions") and Levon Vincent ("Double Jointed Sex Freak"), his performance was satisfactory but not exactly the revelation that I expected, with May favouring a cleaner and more European style over the raw and visceral power we've come to know and love from older recordings of his. His final selection—Greg Gow's "The Bridge"—closed the weekend's musical action in suitably anthemic fashion, its Rhythim Is Rhythim-aping synthesised string stabs ringing out through the crisp Funktion One system.
Sunday's programming was arguably the main flaw in what was an incredibly well-executed festival, with the lack of choice and diversity becoming a problem at times if you were looking for something a little less aggressive throughout the early evening. That said, the range of acts throughout the weekend had a much wider scope than previous editions, and it was yet again a great chance to catch many big names that rarely play English shows outside of London. In its first four years, Bloc has gathered a reputation for being one of the best festivals for underground electronic music in the UK, marrying high production values and a fairly unique site with exciting bookings both big and small. With their fifth birthday coming up in 2011, one can only wonder what treats they've got in store for the landmark occasion.
All except Sgt. Pokes Tulane Blyth
Sgt. Pokes Tim Jones