Festival Preview: Ten Reasons To Chip Off t'BLOC Weekend
, June 29th, 2012 11:36
Next weekend, July 6th-7th, BLOC Weekend rolls into town, christening its new venue, the London Pleasure Gardens, with a host of excellent acts. Luke Turner and Rory Gibb present ten reasons why we're going, and why you should too...
BLOC, the long-running electronic music weekender with a reputation for pulling together mightily impressive and varied line-ups, is set to roll into London town next Friday and Saturday (6th-7th July) for this year's edition. Its first since leaving the sedate seaside surrounds of Butlin's Minehead, it finds the party alighting at the newly opened London Pleasure Gardens, right in the heart of the Docklands, for a weekend's worth of pre-Olympic naughtiness, techno and (as long as he doesn't get arrested again on the way over) Snoop Dogg.
Over the course of the weekend there's a pretty dazzling array of people playing, much of which charts high on the Quietus playlist: minimal pioneer Ricardo Villalobos; Brainfeeder boss/cosmic hip-hop producer extraordinaire Flying Lotus; the shadowy duo commonly known as Hype Williams; New York house mystic Levon Vincent; Raster Noton heads Alva Noto and Byetone; and many more besides. For the full list of acts playing, a whole load of multimedia content and tickets, head across to the BLOC site.
Given the sheer daunting size of the line-up, it seems mad (and faintly exhausting) to preview the whole thing in exhaustive detail. Instead, here's the Quietus' list of 'ten reasons why you should go to BLOC', or 'ten things to think about/see once you're there and suitably, erm, refreshed'.
1. What the fuck is Steve Reich going to do?
BLOC's bold approach to booking their festival is perhaps best exemplified by the presence of Steve Reich - if not God among the modernist composers, then at the very least sat around the top table getting to quaff a fair bit of the sacred wine. His mastery of repetition and swiftly-evolving eddies of sound can be heard in fellow Bloc performers Actress, Ricardo Villalobos or Battles (to name but three), but Reich is more accustomed to venues catering for the sherry-fired concert hall raver than the bizarre and wonderful landscape of this London Docklands setting. As of now, we’re not entirely sure what he’s going to be doing there. Will he bosh an E and get on it to Surgeon after his set? Will the composer and the Bang On A Can All Stars (the ensemble involved with the performance) provide backing for Snoop to freestyle over 'Different Trains – America – Before The War’? A new, contemporary, musical-world-uniting take on West Coast (Snoop) vs East (Reich)? Said piece does, after all, have a rap over it. “cut trains at New York… New York… from New York to Los Angeles… New York… tooooot!” Hopefully he won't bring his chums from Radiohead.
2. The Docklands is still a really strange place, and somehow appropriate for a cheeky weekend's raving
The Quietus recently went on a stroll down the Lea Valley to check out the derelict area of Docklands that BLOC will call home for the weekend. Near to the end of our walk, there was a burnt-out distribution warehouse, with the company logo peeling off its warped metal walls. Spying a gap in the fence, we headed in for a nose around. There were burnt out quad bikes, children’s toys, lawnmowers, weeds everywhere. Then, in the corner, under a piece of the roof that hadn’t collapsed, one of us spied a sofa surrounded by shelves, chairs, the kind of strange dwelling that’ll appear in the windows of your local Mad Max’s Estate Agents after the balloon goes up. And in the sofa sat the figure of a man, asleep. As quietly as possible, we left the compound through the hole in the fence only to find, on the other side, the huge yeti of his mate/lover, carrying two bin bags. He began to holler, and wail, and growl like a terrible beast. As he started to advance, we pegged it.
Despite the developments of recent years (this occurred just yards from one of those identikit Thameside arpartment blocks and the Xcel Exhibition Centre), the Docklands is still a strange hinterland of London. BLOC itself will take place next to the gigantic hulking mass of the derelict Millennium Flour mill, a structure that the property developers have somehow not quite managed to get their greasy paws on yet. With opportunities for the occupation of abandoned buildings for the purposes of listening to repetitive beats now sadly limited in the Capital (and beyond), it’s to the credit of BLOC and the London Pleasure Gardens designers that they’ve managed to use the blank canvas of the Docklands to create this otherworld. I for one am especially looking forward to dancing to the dystopian sounds of Surgeon and Perc in a stage that resembles one of the old golfball radar randomes from Fylingdales on the North Yorkshire Moors circa 1983, and imagining the planes taking off from nearby City Airport are, in fact, Russian Bear bombers thundering overhead to deliver the coup-de-grace to global civilization.
3. Sandwell District
Anyone who's been paying attention to our dancefloor tastes lately will have noticed that US-via-Birmingham-via-Berlin techno operators Sandwell District are riding high in the Quietus' affections. The trio - consisting of Function, Regis and Silent Servant - recently terminated their label, closing down that particular arm of their stern campaign against the dancefloors of the world, but their renowned live shows have continued to wage war in person. Those familiar with the output of their label, or their amazing and very limited edition album Feed Forward, will know what to expect: a set of sensual and static-ridden tunnel-vision techno, repetitive, hypnotic and enough to send the entire Docklands populace into an involuntary trance. Something everyone ought to see, and likely to be a highlight of the weekend. And if you need any more convincing, listen to the live recording below.
4. It's a healthy alternative to the Olympics
Chaos is about to descend on London, for this celebration of a load of dull people running, riding or swimming around in circles and back and forth. Especially given their close proximity, BLOC feels like a pleasing counterpoint, valuing art above this corporate brouhaha dressed up as a celebration of trim and toned ideals of the human form. What’s more, any fool knows the Big Lie of the Olympic Games. While the spectators there will be largely sedentary, stuffing themselves with the nutrionally diverse catering provided by McDonalds and Coca Cola (not to mention the tasty treats proffered by various outlets of the Westfield Shopping Centre on the way in), everyone at Bloc will be getting a thorough work out, sweating and a-gurning at least half an inch off our collective trouser.
5. Raster Noton
One of this year’s most exciting new projects is Diamond Version, a collaboration between Alva Noto, boss of the Berlin-based Raster-Noton label, and Byetone, who designs their ‘look at me, I’ve got a granite kitchen surface’ minimalist record sleeves. Diamond Version sees the pair united to make music that highlights the absurdity of the corporate world, and emerged initially as a live project where the pair ended up collaborating on the fly. If you imagine, then, these two as a tangle of (very expensive) sonic barbed wire, then seeing their respective projects out live individually gives an interesting insight into a blueprint that’s as equally at home in an art gallery as at BLOC.
Byetone deals in a linear, propulsive take on techno best exemplified by ‘Plastic Star’, which he performs in front of a giant screen on which a number counts up, the music carrying you forth in such a way that it is seemingly without end. Noto, on the other hand, takes the fizz and crackle of electronic noise artists like Pan Sonic for a more abrasive approach. His ‘uni acronym’ (2011) accompanied by a Anne-James Chaton monotone recital of corporate initials again as logos flash up as visuals will, again, make for an interesting counter to the Olympics up the Lea Valley. Joining the two label heads will be SND, the Sheffield duo whose stripped back digital funk skirts along the lines between dance and non-dance, offering a view of techno's inner workings at the level of particle physics, and probably confusing a fair few fried minds along the way.
6. Rave on a 2,451 tonne ex-Communist deep sea fishing boat
The MS Stubnitz, no less, former property of the German Democratic Republic and iron-hulled enough to see off even the most persistent of foes. In recent years, the ship was bought by Swiss-born artist Urs Blaster, who proceeded to turn it into a floating sound & light machine, with two club spaces inside. BLOC, in the pirate tradition, have hijacked the vessel and are floating her up the Thames to the Pleasure Gardens. Anyone who's spent any time in Bristol will already be familiar with the pleasures of going clubbing on a boat, but let's be honest, Stubnitz would probably scupper the Thekla in less time than it took to exclaim, 'She's unsinkable, sir!' Oh, and there's the small matter of the people gracing her metal innards: she's being turned into a repository for bass-heavy UK sounds, with the likes of Joy Orbison & Jackmaster, Hudson Mohawke, Addison Groove, Bok Bok and Cooly G making appearances, as well as darker and more uncommon fixtures: a rare performance from Gerald Donald's Arpanet, New York's Levon Vincent, and Tikiman & Scion. See BLOC's tour of the Stubnitz below.
What with Joel 'We all hit play' Zimmerman's assertion that all he does onstage is press a few buttons and let the pretty lights lull everyone into glassy-eyed submission, a fair few acts at BLOC ought to reassure attendees that there's far more to electronic music live performance than Deadmaus. Chief among them is Sam 'The end is nigh!' Shackleton, whose sets are justifiably spoken of in reverent tones. Chopping the arabesque melodies and percussive polyrhythms of his studio tracks right down into their constituent fragments, over an hour or more he rearranges them in real time, creating a constantly shifting backdrop that instils in dancers an ever-escalating feeling of dread. Coming off the back of his massive Music For The Quiet Hour/Drawbar Organ EPs boxset, expect to hear organ figures also twirling away within the fray. He's also - fans of well-dressed musicians take particular note here - top sartorial value, often playing sets besuited, or in Hawaiian shirts as loud as his music.
8. See Plex go head-to-head with Perc Trax for a techno showdown
Think you're tough enough for the iron fists Plex and Perc Trax are flexing to unleash upon their unwitting victims? Ali 'Perc' Wells' Perc Trax label has been responsible for some singular techno music over the past two years, with a roster increasingly revealing itself as heir to the industrial techno lineage stretching from Chris Carter through to Regis and Surgeon. So this showdown will allow you to hear those connections for yourself - and throw righteous fists to them - with Surgeon DJing alongside Perc himself, as well as kindred spirits Truss, Cosmin TRG and Lucy. Elsewhere lurk delights wilder still: Monolake, co-creator of revolutionary software Ableton Live and sound designer extraordinaire, and Berlin resident Objekt, crafter of exquisitely detailed and punishing broken techno tracks. And if you're still standing after all that, then congratulations. Now for God's sake go and drink some water, you mad fool.
9. Amon Tobin's ISAM: reportedly one of the most spectacular audio-visual light shows in the world
Ninja Tune's Amon Tobin will be bringing his mind-boggling audiovisual ISAM show to BLOC, presumably eliciting a rousing moan from the technical staff that have to mantle and dismantle the bloody thing. It's got cubes in it! (see below) And we'd probably advise you to tread with caution if you've been reasonably committed in your fun seeking beforehand, as if previous reports are anything to go by, it's highly likely your sense of self will swiftly begin to dissolve along with that extra bomb.
10. Gary Numan
He flies! He sings! He's GARY FUCKING NUMAN.