It’s a cliché to talk about ‘warmth’ in dance music, as if every electronic track made subsequent to Kraftwerk’s seminal ‘Machine’ has to be a living embodiment of a futurist dystopia, devoid of humanity and steeped in the aesthetic of a mad Soviet scientist’s vision of the year 3000. Yet BLOC 2015 was a strikingly ‘warm’ weekend. The music was warm. The vibe was welcoming. The crowds were spellbound and the staff were confused. Nestled under the benevolent wing of Butlins’ Big Top, somewhere amidst a sprawling mass of chain restaurants and arcade machines, a community crystallized, and everyone from the hardened acid techno ravers to the fresh-faced Hudson Mohawke devotees had an absolute season. Even the silverbacks were ‘avin it large. It was mint.
Carl Craig’s solid brand of Detroit Techno epitomised the vibe. His trade-mark segue into the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme tune was the only wink in a set which struck time and again with heavy but mellifluous techno cuts. Like the Ben Klock x Marcel Dettman B2B which delighted those who felt they still had some intensity left in them come Sunday night, his was a set which still felt solidly contemporary despite its visible roots in the world of analog synthesizers and Roland TR-909 drum machines. Both sets absolutely brought it, demonstrating that the vocoder-heavy, ambient and omnipotent presence of a techno legend still has sway as cutting edge in the varied musical landscape available for BLOC’s discerning crowd (I say that well aware that the man stood next to me in Dettmann was literally repeating the noise 'MUUH' over and over, but he still seemed to be enjoying it). These sets nestled naturally amidst the more outright intensity of stalwarts such as Rodhad, Robert Hood and Jeff Mills.
At the opposite end of the spectrum was Ben UFO’s playful Jungle set which, far from feeling tokenistic or fetishistic or any other –istic which wouldn’t feel out of place in a first-year undergraduates smug appraisal of the BLOC weekender, was simply a really fun use of his encyclopaedic repertoire. Artists like Randall and Dillinja surrounded his enjoyable set with an added verve which hyped the crowd up into the heady daze of contented grins Dean Blunt was another example of one of the more leftfield choices who, during his brief time on the Crack stage, managed to render the crowd totally and utterly his own. Stirring melodies enveloped in a dreamy haze took on an added impressionistic candour when set against the hedonistic backdrop of the parties that surrounded it. By looping the phrase "The White Man I Say To You Over And Over Again" for at least 10 minutes in darkness at the start of a set which proceeded to flit between endless strobing and elegant red light, Blunt and his band were able to cordon off the room from the rest of the festival, creating a genuinely otherwordly atmosphere which made sure Shuf felt suitably fragile afterwards and only able to handle Moodyman because even Jon Hopkins felt too scary. BLOC has earned its place within the corpus of festivals which feel genuinely exciting right now. Somehow it makes Butlins feel more appealing than the Dalmatian Coast which is quite an achievement in its own right. Next year’s only 12 months away.
Words: Francis Blagburn