Bloc Weekend

By R-Katz  //  Festivals  //  1 Comment

Butlins is not a word you would usually associate with the terms ‘raving’ and ‘festival’. However, when Bloc Weekend celebrated its third birthday in 2009, it moved its home from the Pontin’s holiday camp in Norfolk to the Butlins holiday camp in Minehead. For 4 nights in March each year, this budget family holiday resort is transformed into a home for 5,000 thrill seeking ravers, looking to kick start the festival season early in the year with a weekend that offers something completely different to the tent, wellies and portaloo options available throughout the summer.

We booked up a load of 6-man chalets, which offer twin/double bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and living room for the reasonable price of £160 per person, which includes all your nightlife. This means you can hold off on dusting off your tent from the year before, leave your sleeping bag in the loft for a couple more months and sleep easy knowing that you will not be forced to endure the unpleasant trips to the cold, smelly, scary portaloos that are one of the first negative points everyone normally associates with festivals. As for the music, the headlining acts this year were announced as Aphex Twin, Claude Von Stroke, Magnetic Man and Laurent Garnier, as well as a whole host of other acts, including genres ranging from tech house and indie electro, to dubstep, and a little drum and bass.

The first pleasant surprise of the weekend came on the drive up. We set off on Thursday afternoon, as although there is technically no music until the Friday, it is a good chance to settle into your accommodation and make the most of your money, not to mention spend the Friday enjoying the range of activities that Butlins has to offer. Expecting to hit standstill traffic as we approached the resort, it was a really refreshing change to have a clear route all the way into the car park, and even when checking in at reception. I later realised that as the festival only holds a modest 5,000 people, and the resort is designed to deal with these sorts of numbers on a regular basis, it isn’t really surprising that there is no queueing involved in getting yourselves inside.

Once checked in we swapped our tickets for wristbands, located our chalet, which conveniently had a car park right next to it, and was less than a minute walk from the arenas and entertainment. The Thursday night is a great chance to get to know your neighbours, play some music of your own on, invite your mates round for drinks and get into the mood for the rest of the weekend. So that’s exactly what we did.

Being able to sleep in a bed, with closed curtains, meant we woke up feeling better than expected on Friday. Nursing a moderate hangover, but showered and almost feeling refreshed, we decided to go and explore the available activities that Butlins has to offer. After a couple of pints at one of the bars (which is an acceptable breakfast at a festival), I decided to show off my impressive arcade machine skills and cleaned up at the cuddly toy clamp machines.

The rest of the day included bowling, mini golf, a swim in the water park, a mandatory Burger King (which is one of the many food options available for satisfying your hunger), a bit more time on the arcades and a walk around the grounds. Also on offer are football and basketball courts, cinema, laser quest and probably several other activities we never even discovered. It was then time to take a short stroll up the road to the local Morrisons to stock up on some supplies for the weekend. One of the great advantages about having a fully stocked kitchen is that you can save a considerable amount of money by cooking your own meals and having a plentiful stock of cold beverages in your room. A festival novelty I could definitely get used to.

The music runs from about 6pm to 6am each night and then finishes early at about midnight on the Sunday night. The acts we wanted to see started at about 10pm on the Friday so after waiting for the final few members of the group to arrive who had been at work on the Friday, we headed out to the arena to get stuck in. The music is split into 4 main stages, all located less than a minute walk from each other, and based around the main indoor area of the Butlins which means if the weather happens to be bad, you can spend your entire night under cover, once you have survived the initial short walk from the chalet.

To be honest the first half of the first night wasn’t my favourite for music. I didn’t love Jamie XX (although a lot of the group disagreed with that opinion), and although I was looking forward to Apparat, I thought the set was a little flat and lifeless, lacking that extra kick it needed to get the dancefloor really excited. Magnetic Man were also not up to the usual high standard I have seen them deliver at other performances recently. Ben Klock was the first to restore my faith, with a really bouncy and fun couple of hours which was a perfect warm up for the finale of the night, Claude Von Stroke. Not including the first 15 minutes of the set which were surprisingly slow and dull, the set took a massive up turn with Cajmere – Time For The Perculator followed by Radio Slave – Grindhouse. It was all uphill from there and a solid hour that left a very pleasant after taste for the first night of my Bloc experience.

Then it was time to return to the chalets for the after parties and eventual sleep, since you know full well the weekend has only just get started.

Saturday was less focused around the activities and more around a group drinking session at one of the pubs, followed by a party back in the room, so that we could watch the football. After watching Arsenal endure yet another critical blow to their season at the hands of United, we quickly switch the TV over to Bloc TV, which is a channel that runs 24 hours throughout the festival and is a collection off really weird films, programs and clips, and is a constant source of entertainment.

The music that night was a lot better in my opinion. Although I only arrived for the last few songs of Visionquest, I heard excellent things about the whole set. There were also memorable sets by Fourtet and dOP, as well as my personal favourite set all weekend by Soul Clap. The night was rounded off by Vitalic who definitely played the best hour of music I have ever heard from them. Weary legs from two long nights of raving were starting to kick in so it was back to the chalets once again.

The final day of Bloc ends earlier, so it seemed like common sense to start as soon as we woke up around midday. It is also the only day which has a suggested fancy dress theme (super heroes and villains), and although you can find a few people dressed up over the weekend, the majority of the punters seemed to save themselves for this day. The theme was interpreted fairly loosely, with the idea being more about finding an outfit of some description.

After a few drinks we got a chance to check out the Ableton Dome which was a small tent set up in the main indoor area with a capacity of only about 50 people max. The main features of this tent are the screens all over the ceiling of the dome which allow you to watch what the DJ is doing live on his Ableton software, as well as project some pretty awesome visuals.

Laurent Garnier was the main act that night, and having only really got the group out quite late after an extended pre party in the room, we arrived just in time to catch what would be the final set of Bloc 2011.  It ended with an explosion of confetti cannons, the pleading chants of  ”one more tune, one more tune”, and then Mr Garnier announcing he would be playing a 30 minute encore…which perhaps wasn’t what everyone had in mind by ‘one more tune’ as it was getting late, and the impending long drive home the next morning was fast becoming a reality.

The check out process was even more painless than the arrival, after a quick clean up of the rooms we were off. When I looked around the room to see almost no trace of the weekend it had just been host to, switched off Bloc TV for the last time, and smiled to myself at the sight of all the worn out and bedraggled ravers all around doing the same, it was hard to imagine the families who would be filling the place soon after we had all left. It’s a bizarre notion to imagine the water park and other activities filled with children instead of 5,000 twenty-somethings, and even more weird to picture the pumping sounds systems and lasers non existent, but instead home to afternoon bingo and children’s entertainment programs.

Just before the weary passengers in the back of the car allowed their eyes to close, their heads to tilt, and their minds to take them off to a place where the weekend didn’t have to be over yet and the reality of work could be ignored, there was just enough time to recap on some of the epic moments we had shared over the last 4 days, the tunes we would be downloading, look through the collection of photos we had amassed between our various phones and cameras, and agree that this was not the last visit to Butlins we would be sharing. I suggest you join us in 2012.

See you on the dancefloor.

1 Comment to “Bloc Weekend”

  • Fantastic as ever! Top marks for the write-up, and top marks to all involved in a brilliant weekend x