Resurgent techno festival impresses...

#Dropitlikeitsbloc. So went the 2012 Twitter hashtag that branded the melting of Bloc in London’s Pleasure Gardens. Badly scheduled venue building led to overcrowding which triggered police kettling, subsequent cancellation and ultimately the bankruptcy of Bloc. It happens to the best of us.

It was therefore very cathartic to stroll back into the arms of these sonic guardians who’ve worked hard to get back to their perch as purveyors of strong parties. With a line-up boasting Jon Hopkins, Ben Klock, Marcel Dettmann, Moodymann and Carl Craig its safe to say they’d been missed. And thus padding about the 1930’s resort of Butlin’s with speedos on and hanky on head we discovered the following firm facts.

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Back in 1936 Billy Butlin started a quest: to bring families and communities together by building a wonderland of leisure just by the sea. With a name like Billy Butlin how could he fail? Billy even helped The Beatles form their band as Ringo Starr met Paul McCartney and John Lennon at one of these cutting edge resorts.

Little did lil’ Billy know that his vision of British holidaymaking could be so deftly transformed into a perfect rave haven for the thronging masses of dance culture. And little did Ringo comprehend how his humble drums would evolve into the thundering force that is techno.

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Modeselektor are the masters when it goes to making a club bounce. Mosh pits are rare affairs in techno but this pair seemingly tows one around the world like a trailing weather pattern. However, with three albums and several world tours under their belt their live set was beginning to sound very predictable.

So when they opened up their collaborative DJ set with the pulsing groove of a Basic Channel track they set the tone for a plummeting DJ mix that favoured depth over height.

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Radioactive Man is firmly back. He vanished for a while after his album ‘Growl’ was released leaving us bereft of his usual supply of his lysergic breaks. However thanks to releases on Wang Trax, Una Sound and the 2015 stomper of ‘White Light Monochrome’ on Reinhardt he’s sounding as glowing as ever. Fitting in between Silicon Scally and The Advent his fizzing breaks, all borne from a big bank of analogue equipment, Tenniswood hammered out some of the most danceable drops of the entire Bloc shebang.

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Robert Hood: Detroit minimal godfather and protégé of Jeff Mills and Mad Mike. Here is a man who wrestled with his sound for years as he tempered his style to click into place as a cog within Underground Resistance. A tireless vision which paid off then and resonates fiercely today, Hood transmitted to us his manifesto with laser precision. This was techno as it was always deigned: hard, minimal and sparing in detail. Waves of pounding drums broke in abject order as Hood manipulated his drops to keep us on our toes.

As time has passed Hood has fallen ever deeper into the arms of a Christian god, his gospel influences are stitched prominently onto his sleeves and he goes about his thundering business with fanatical delivery. Whether his God exists is a moot point come 6am. His vision of techno, despite evolving from M-Plant minimalism to the disco and gospel of Floorplan, hasn’t wavered in consistency or message.

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Moritz Von Oswald rolled his techno trio out to the seaside. As he kicked the evening off just after dinner, we were delighted to find that this ever-evolving band of players now included Fela Kuti’s drummer Tony Allen on the sticks. Here is a trio with a simple setup. Maurizio, one half of Basic Channel and Rhythm and Sound establishes a signature bassline. This snaking spine is then elaborated upon live by Tony Allen and Max Loderbauer of Sun Electric who improvise and jam with jazz experimentalism over probing lengths of time.

The whole aesthetic is exploratory, meaning that sometimes Tony Allen gets tangled up and flagging however when they combine to form bursts of rhythmic gold then this set was one of the key moments of inspiration we stumbled across. Sorry, Ringo who?

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The forefather of West Coast rap, Egyptian Lover, still stands as one of the filthiest dance producers on the planet. He came to slaughter us with his Roland 808 drum machine and a back catalogue of filthy electro bass. Author of ‘I Need A Freak’ and ‘Freak-a-holic’ this warped ghetto music just gets better with age. His double decking tracks to tease out of the breaks harks back to the birth of hip hop before his simple yet visceral 808 drum loops and his slick work on the microphone show us all that less is more and filth will always get the crowd low to the floor. Seriously sleazy.

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Clark has an Andy Murray syndrome. He’s a brilliant player, yet the company he keeps is tough, and - like Murray’s peers - his rivals on Warp often grab the headlines. Yet this producer consistently makes some of the most challenging and floor-filling Warp output.

2014's ‘Clark’ album was so incredibly well-tempered it becomes hard to let tracks like ‘Unfurla’ and ‘The Grit In the Pearl’ simply wash over you, you just want to understand the production, comprehend his craft. Clark makes his machines sing with a clearer voice than almost any other so trust your ears and let your feet unfurl with new shapes.

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Bloc bustled with many acts that could have been granted the top spot on the poster as the headliner. Jeff Mills, Autechre or even a nod to ESG who brought their post-punk jams to Somerset from New York. However Domino’s Jon Hopkins got the nod and he wasted no time in deploying his usual polished showcase of slick, classically drenched tones to the carpeted confines of the main stage.

Plucking key moments from his acclaimed album ‘Immunity’, Hopkins path swept us through tender piano lines, shattered rhythms, torn drums and basslines that stretched his visuals to cinematic proportions. A well earned headline slot that rounds off a 15 year career that many are only just recognizing.

Autechre live sets are a strange investment. The Rochdale pair willfully break your mind with non-rhythmic, dissonant tracks that make no initial sense to your brain. Confusion abounds. It’s a punishing opening 15 minutes until your mind relaxes and starts to learn their radical musical language.

Around half an hour in their tracks start to zig and zag with more recognizable rhythmic patterns and imagery suggestive of architecture, spires, domes and cathedrals emerged from their sonic soup into our frontal lobes. This might sound far fetched, perhaps deluded, but it’s not the first time they’ve pulled off the old “dancing cathedral trick”, and we hope it’s not the last.

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Bloc is back in business and it is for the good of our dancing soles. In July 2012 we thought it was over for the lads. We were there as their empire melted in front of us. But as they say: “it is not over 'til the fat lady sings” and - despite Butlin’s being a haven for karaoke - we never heard any plump women even so much as whisper let alone warble this weekend.

Which means we can all do it again next year - or even sooner knowing these irrepressible techno rascals.

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Words: Matthew Bennett
Photo Credit: Harpreet Khambray / Carys Lavin

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