It’s been just over two weeks now since The Weekend That Never Was.
The sixth-annual gathering of some of the biggest names in transnational electronic bass-driven music and like-minded enthusiasts, known as Bloc Weekend, was scheduled to take place on July 6th and 7th of this year and was the main magnetic force not to be ignored pulling me overseas from New York.
A couple friends of mine have made the trek in the past; with one saying “What happens at Bloc, stays at Bloc” and another letting us in deeper with his extensive and insanely well-written recap over on Bassfaced.
Needless to say, this festival year after year packs a solid line-up that gets ears perked around the world and regardless of what my parents may have thought, I wasn’t the only ‘crazy’ one who traveled out of my native country to be in attendance.
This year’s festival was to feature Snoop Dogg, Oribital, Flying Lotus, Amon Tobin, Squarepusher, Jeff Mills, Richie Hawtin, DOOM, Nicholas Jaar, Digital Mystikz, Shackleton, to name a few, as well as curated showcases from Swamp81, Resident Advisor, Bleep, Hyperdub, Boiler Room and more. I still have my rough plan for Friday night stored in a nostalgic note on my phone.
The festival in recent years was held at Butlin’s Resort in Minehead and this year was the first at the London Pleasure Gardens in the Docklands – which little did we know was so far out there that our trip featured a spontaneous lets-do-this-and-never-talk-about-it-ever-again 100£ cab ride from the Gatwick airport to our hotel. A silver lining was that our hotel was only a 15-minute walk from the festival grounds (in theory – construction for the Olympics turned that into an inexplicably annoying hour-long walk). At that point though, I didn’t care; I knew this highly-anticipated weekend was finally upon us.
We learned after we arrived and were situated, that the entire revamped site of the Pleasure Gardens opened for the first time the weekend prior and Bloc was the first major event slotted to be hosted at the site. No one at the hotel lobby knew any specifics about the festival, other than the fact that they were booked up full for the weekend and had been for months.
In years past, part of the Bloc experience was that the accommodations were inclusive with a self-catered chalet right on the festival location. This year, our hotel was recommended by Bloc and was also directly next to a giant building which will host events (and perhaps guests) during the Olympics. At the time of our trip, London was in full-planning-ahead mode, with majority of the accommodations for the Games already built and the city streets and transit routes completely restructured. This Friday marks the opening Olympic ceremony, FYI.
The Pleasure Gardens project itself is something up my alley of things I support deeply; an industrial wasteland turned into an arts and culture epicenter by the hands of community volunteers. As I later learned, the Pleasure Gardens has quite the history, with traumatic and exciting moments throughout the ages. To name a few, Mozart played at the most famous pleasure gardens in Vauxhall at age nine and Charles Dickens wrote about the gardens as well. In the 17th and 19th centuries, the Gardens were a communal space for people to gather to listen to music and drink, as well as soak in the culture of their city.
The opening ceremony for the grounds in its modern form took place on June 30th and featured a pyrotechnic show inspired in memorial of the traumatic TNT factory explosion in 1917, which killed 73 people. Our friend, Adam, was in attendance and has curated a photo diary of the opening affair.
The Pleasure Gardens in the Docklands are absolutely breathtaking. Views from the footbridge we took to get to the actual site was one of my favorite highlights from our 11-day stint outside of the US. A giant abandoned warehouse space is the largest landmark on site and also where Shepard Fairey painted a 10-story high mural, which is considered to be the largest in the UK.
The building was lit up at night, with projections rotating across its characteristically industrial exterior, giving the site a perfect charm in the dark. Stages for the festival included the M.S. Stubnitz, which is a former German Democratic Republic deep-sea fishing vessel converted into a club.
The day of the festival, Meg and I walked over to the grounds to get sorted with our wristbands for easy entry prior to any pre-gaming activities. One of the main rumors we heard leading to the events that caused the shutting down of the entire festival was that with the method of using a print-out confirmation, people could scam their way to multiple tickets for the price of one.
Prior to the then-freshly-sold-out festival kicking off, we saw hundreds of people outside the gate, sipping down tallboys of Red Stripe and Foster’s with police casually keeping an eye on things. We walked back to our hotel where I was too excited for even a small disco nap. We got started on the alcohol we brought over from Prague, which was cheaper than the mixers we bought in London. Heading over to the festival around eight, the footbridge was closed (the night’s first bad omen) and we had to go the extra-long way to get on site. Now that dark was closer to falling on the first night of the festival, there were thousands of people outside the gate waiting to get in.
Meg and I were rather pushy, hustling our way through the eager and slow-moving crowd, where we surpassed the wait and entered through the artists-only gate. Security, even at that point early in the night, was holding people from entering that way, but we slipped past unnoticed. Once on the grounds, the first and main point visible was lines – or as known in London, queues. People were clumped together in masses, waiting and waiting, outside of the locations where music was supposed to take place.
After two hours of being on site, waiting in a queue, wandering around and talking to people, the most commonly asked question in every conversation we overheard and participated in was “Have you seen any music yet?” The most common answer was unfortunately “No.”
On a mission to figure out what was going on, Meg and I maneuvered our way magically backstage at the Main Arena, where Snoop Dogg was scheduled to play at midnight. We talked to a security guard who had no idea what he was talking about and made our way to another, who also was unsure of what was happening. We ran into someone claiming to be Snoop’s manager (still unsure) but he was the first to tell us that the festival was being shut down by police and Snoop was unable himself to arrive on site. (At that point, Snoop would’ve already been at least 30 minutes late for his headlining slot). We almost thought he was joking, thinking back to the fact that Snoop was arrested a week prior to the festival. The tone of the night shifted at that point when we realized it wasn’t a joke at all and Snoop was amongst many not performing at all.
At that point in the night, we wandered over to a beer stand, naturally. They had run out of everything besides Stella cider (which was disgusting, warm and necessary) and I bought everyone a round. We had reunited with our friend Adam, who we met earlier in the day and was also attending for press purposes and just like us, wasn’t successful in seeing any music despite being on site for hours.
We all walked over to a bar that was docked right on the water, and sat down for a minute to recollect. People played music from their iPhones out of desperation and others started to get rowdy, complaining about the festival with a balance of warranted comments and good, ole fashioned trash-talking. This was when I first heard the bittersweet word “queue-mageddon” in reference to the festival. At this point, that’s all it was – endless queues.
Our next move was to try our luck at an opposite side of the festival grounds, where we were stopped by security and told to head to the main gate. This is when things got so bleak, we couldn’t help but laugh in disbelief. People were banging on whatever they could find, while another lit something on fire. Scrawled on the venue walls were signatures and phrases like “This festival is a shit!” and “We want our money back!”
Someone got on an megaphone to address the crowd but was drowned out by yelling, booing, chanting and utter chaos. About twenty police officers were on both sides of the gates, confining people and trying to keep the crowd in check but there were so many people that no one could go anywhere and nothing was being solved.
One thing was clear, especially as 3am inched closer, the festival wasn’t happening.
Lit up above the immeasurable crowd of people was the words “We Wanted To Be The Sky” which just felt ominous and unfair against the black sky with a defeatist connotation from the very beginning.
We finally escaped the over-crowded hive where a security guard thanked us for leaving (?!) and told us not to come back the next day, but to check the website first. On our way out, we talked with some other media who were lucky enough to see some artists and ended up writing an even-more-detailed account of this year’s Bloc weekend after the fact.
The long walk home was mostly soundtracked with silence and curse words.
Arriving back at our hotel just after 3am, the lobby was packed with people who just had similar experiences as ours and everyone was puzzled and unsatisfied. Back to a WI-FI zone, I had over a dozen messages from friends on Twitter back home asking me if I was ok, what was happening, if there actually were riots and if the festival was canceled. At that point in time, I vocalized excessively my reaction and overused my personal Twitter quota talking about the then-trending subject but it was so unbelievable. Jackmaster was among the many of artists who chimed in saying that he was asked to play music and not to organize a festival and hoped everyone was safe.
Bloc was still tweeting as if the festival was going strong into the night, until they finally changed their website to a message saying, “By now everyone will have heard that Bloc 2012 was closed due to crowd safety concerns. We are all absolutely devastated that this happened, but the safety of everyone on site was paramount. Given the situation on the ground, we feel that it was the right decision to end the show early. Bloc will not open on Saturday 7th July so please don’t come to the site. Stand by for full information on refunds.”
Since then, it’s been a series of announcements announcing more announcements to stay tuned on the state of refunds and what the “official investigation” of the night’s events will unfold. The site is now currently laced with the appropriate and expected legal jargon and there have been no emails or updates since July 8th. This article on the Guardian was the most informative out of all I’ve found, as well as this and this on FACT.
The next day, the only silver lining, was that throughout London other venues organized last-minute events that were free for entry with a Bloc wristband on Saturday night. Hyperdub’s NotBloc party featured John Montoya, Ill Blu, Ikonika b2b Bok Bok, Cooly G, Flying Lotus, Kode9 b2b Scratcha DVA and LV. Meg and I waited in the queue alongside a thousand other people for just over five hours, in the cold bitter rain. We spent the last two hours of our time waiting against the door of the Rhythm Factory, sandwiched tight between other impatient Bloc-affected souls. Thirty minutes of shivering later, we decided to call it a loss and hailed a cab back to our hotel in the desolate Docklands. Our friend, Kevin, who we met in the queue and kept our attitudes positive during our duration waiting, messaged me an hour or so after we left that he just got inside. The next day we speculatively heard that Venus Williams was in attendance and Drake showed up with the Weeknd for a surprise set. Kevin messaged me recently that Drake was a no-show and just the Weeknd were there. Either way, yet again, we were in the right place under the wrong circumstance.
We’re all still waiting on the weekend that never was.