Listen below to 100 tracks that took Bloc. 2016 by storm and continue reading for our full report of the weekend, with a couple disposable snaps along the way.
Driving up to Butlins Minehead for a techno festival is a pretty surreal experience. Heavy, heavy techno and bland family holiday resorts rarely overlap. When they do, however, it actually makes perfect sense. Being able to go to sleep in a decent bed at 7am, shielded from daylight is a blessing for those who want to party for an entire weekend and then go back to work early in the next week. This was the final Bloc at Butlins as the promoters move to more profitable ventures in London, and unfortunately it’ll take something really special to recreate the perfect atmosphere that the venue brings.
The warmup slot for a festival like Bloc. will almost certainly have lasting resonance for its attendees; very much setting the tone and pace, bringing in the punters from the cold and warming up the amps. Plex resident, James Tec, took such an important slot to mean playing wholly inappropriate peak-time techno at 8:30pm. Many in the audience were put off and driven elsewhere, but those who stayed in confidence, were rewarded with one of the highlight hours of the festival from Rrose. Completely showing up Tec, she played a live set so perfectly in tune with her slot time, a hypnotic, trippy rendition that entranced the crowd, pushing them into heavy sections without their realising.
Tama Sumo and Lakuti were a perfect selection to warm up the Carhartt stage on Friday, and made some excellent selections – Bolla Afrikan Basement’s “Makussa” a stand out. Unfortunately the sound was either poorly set up or unhappy with people playing house music, because basslines quickly drowned out any semblance of mids. Luckily Aurora Halal stepped up at the excellent Jak stage and quickly picked up where Rrose left off, playing taut, tense techno to an undeservedly thin crowd.
Late Saturday afternoon saw a late addition of Bruce warmup a spritely small crowd on the Crack stage. The Bristol-based producer’s mixing ability was clearly driven by the great year he’s having with two exquisite releases on Hessle Audio and Idle Hands. Quite staggeringly seamless, the set was drenched with blends of pure groove, marrying rootsy breaks and UK techno all with a smile on his face. He ended his gem of a set with his own ‘Summer’s Got To End Sometime’.
Saturday night started with Holly Herndon playing a live set full of everything missing from a usual techno set: genuinely innovative sound design and song structure, and even (heaven forbid) explicit politics. Mat Dryhurst’s visuals explored the interaction between real and digital space, but also gave the set a humour that made it more complete (hundreds of onions filling the screen, geddit?). Thom Yorke followed, but unfortunately fell a bit flat in comparison, despite having explored similar issues to Herndon 15 years ago, he ultimately feels a lot less bleeding edge nowadays, and the set was hit and miss.
Providing a welcome relief from “TECHNO TECHNO TECHNO” was Motor City Drum Ensemble on the FACT stage, playing coveted disco that got an excited reception; the audience clearly overjoyed to be hearing loud acoustic instrumentation and more upbeat themes. This was swiftly replaced with Daniel Avery’s drive-hard raw techno who was meant to be paving the way for a closer fronted by Steffi, but oh no! What’s this? An unannounced Move D set replacing Steffi due to illness??
Having played a fantastic live set as part of Magic Mountain High a few hours earlier, Move D had been asked if he could round off the last hour on the Fact stage with only the records he had bought at Bloc.’s record store. What a demonstration of an international DJ’s digging prowess, to put together a set like that. It wasn’t without some of his current signatures, namely Whirpool’s ‘Gimme, a pure house track with Move D’s sound all over it. It was the second welcome relief of ghe night, jacking house music at 5am blending into some ambient, some dub infused house; it was an absolute joy. Over the microphone, Moufang sent us to bed with “Go back to your tents, and make love”. One of the best hours of the whole weekend.
After witnessing the overlong end of Four Tet’s set [which can be summed up in three words – ‘Never Grow Old’], Nina Kravitz set about totally resetting the atmosphere, playing incredibly heavy kickdrumless, trippy techno for the first half an hour. Despite the challenging material, every mix was perfect, and the crowd thinned enough to be able to dance comfortably to the selections. Kravitz has now surpassed Ben Klock, as a techno DJ with a keen sense of mood and emotional progression who can also work with a room as vast as Bloc’s Centre Stage.
Kicking off the Centre Stage finale was Bristol superstar, Shanti Celeste. Providing an A* warm up for the Detroit Heavyweight, with deep house cuts off Emotive records, new Jay L ‘Show Me’, and getting a loud applause ending on one of her signature tracks by K-Hand, ‘Candle Lights’. Very few could have provided such an in-tune warm up.
Omar-S was trusted to close the entire festival; not just this year, but Bloc. at Minehead in general. Those expecting him to change his game in response were wrong though. We got a classic 3.5 hours of Omar-S, the .5 being well past the festival finish time of 12:30. Enjoying the freedom of playing to a crowd who were desperate to enjoy themselves as the festival closed, he played through trippy psychedelic techno, vocal detroit house, and pummelling acid, finishing on a wonderful medley of his own tracks – “Set It Out” “Day”, “Here’s Your Trance…” and “Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself”, before being abruptly told to stop playing by the organisers. This was far from the photo perfect closing set of Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann last year, but people left Centre Stage knowing that they’d seen something equally special.
Bloc. has put to bed their Minehead project, the final weekend being programmed with great variety and taste (what a refreshment to see so many women DJs in one weekend), set among the coin machines under the monolithic Butlins canvas. The chalets lay dormant for now, until the family-friendly activities begin in the summer. We drive away having seen a side of Butlins few will ever know.
Thanks to Raoul Rechnitz, Rosie Cain, Robin Shaw, Theo Gentilli, Wil Troup, George Winstanley, Rojyat Rekjaw, Freya van Lessen, Napper Tandy, Alex Theodossiadis, Henry Murray and Nick Wood for helping pull this list together.