Besides clanging techno, I'd have to say the noise I associate with Bloc weekenders the most is birdsong. Not in ambient DJ sets though, but the noise of unduly chipper fucking birds punctuating the weird, pale mornings as you wind your way through row after row of chalets trying to find your own. It's a very particular environment. Neat green grass, nautically-themed cabins, morning sun, and mobs of spaced-out revellers. It's basically Day of the Dead meets the Truman Show, a disorienting, surreal experience, and one I'll miss with all my heart.
This year's Bloc Weekender was the last. The festival announced this last month ago, stating that while weekenders are "strange, beautiful things" it was time for them to come to a natural end. It was this mood, of a bittersweet farewell, that characterised the entire weekend.
The Bloc weekender has, during its on and off lifespan of nearly ten years, united a very particular corner of the UK's electronic community. It's managed to tread a line between total head-up-arse thinking-beats and mindless taps-aff kick drums. It's a place of chin-stroking and fist pumping, where you can contemplate the role of surveillance in modern warfare before having a go on the waterslides. It's a precious equilibrium, and one not found in many other places on the current musical landscape.
Friday perhaps started a little too close to the stern side for us, with a modular pursuits set from Carl Craig. Despite the Detroit icon proving himself one of our highlights the year before, and our awareness that what we were watching was "good," we'd only just skated off the back end of the M5. We needed waking up. This desire took us to the Feel My Bicep takeover on the FACT stage, and to Bicep themselves, who kick-started a night of heads down dancing. Flat out dancing; that sort of dancing you did when you first started going to really big nights, with great DJs in huge intimidating rooms. That sort of dancing that isn't really dancing, it's more walking around on the spot and flailing your arms. The sort of dancing that seemed to have gripped the whole of Butlins. The air was full of the last days of something special, as groups scoffed chips and rubbed shoulders on arcade machines, we navigated our way to a devious session from Ben UFO and eventually an almost punishingly fun screamer courtesy of DJ Bone. Not before poking our heads in on Andrew Weatherall going back to back with Optimo, that is.
With all that behind us, it's almost then that Bloc comes into its own. Back at various chalets, tracking down scattered mates, extending and recapping the night—the Bloc weekender isn't just one of the best music events on the calendar, it's one of the most uniquely hallowed social events too. Protected from the outside world by the otherworldly bubble of a family park, the festival engenders a sort of unending stretch of time within which to crack on and on and on.
Saturday brought with it two of the strongest performances of the weekend. THUMP are close and keen followers of Holly Herndon, yet what continues to impress us even more than her restless commitment to social commentary, is how she communicates her themes, concerns and theories in such a way that never obscures the music. Her sets remain engaging and, for lack of a better word, entertaining, alongside the motives that accompany them. It's a similar story with Thom Yorke, who took Tomorrow's Modern Boxes—an album that occasionally felt difficult to fully occupy as a listener—and produced a set that was driven, and full of movement.
Four Tet then took us to perhaps the most palpable high of the weekend with a set that flew every which way from "Skeng" to his ten minute Eric Prydz remix. There's so much that could still be said about Kieran Hebden's new found ego behind the decks, but as demonstrated in that peak time Saturday night set, his fearlessness is weirdly spell-binding. There's something reckless at play every time he DJs, and last weekend it created near pandemonium. From here, we fled into the bowels of the dark early hours. Objekt's untraceable tripping, syncopated techno, the emotive pounding of Vril, and then finally a blockbuster set from Jeff Mills. As he spun out a session that re-affirmed his status over and over again—certainly the best form we've seen him on in recent years—we took stock, and prepared ourselves for a short Sunday and a long ride home.
Sadly for THUMP, we had to curtail our Sunday, leaving friends in the capable hands of Shanti Celeste, the inimitable Omar S, and DJ Deeon delivering what we've heard since was the "sexiest DJ set I've ever seen." It was hard tearing ourselves away, but with the prospect of a Monday morning on the horizon, we resolved it was wiser to leave while things were still perfect than to stick around in the mess of a chalet bender too long.
Which is sort of where Bloc finds itself now, bowing out unnaturally early but with the blessing that it will be so sorely missed. It leaves a genuine scar behind it, in the shape of a music festival that allowed boundary pushers to test themselves, without ever applying the pressure that some "electronic arts and conference festival of the future" type events might. Yes, there's the cartoonish, clandestine effect Butlins inspires—although I had vowed not to write another review of Bloc that made the "lol taking drugs in Butlins" point—but more than the surroundings, it's the people that have made this festival. A crowd that respect each-other, musicians that inspire each-other, and organisers that feed of this particular, and often peculiar energy.Bloc will no doubt continue to excel in throwing parties, and their plans to build a super-club in London are without doubt ridiculously exciting, but this marks the end of a very special chapter. These were the sort of raves that we're used to hearing about from older generations rather than going to. In Bloc's own words, the end of something strange, the end of something beautiful.