…but plenty of dubstep and pounding techno. James Ashford packs his zimmerframe and heads to Bloc Weekend; one of numerous UK festivals that cater for Old Age Party-goers. (Photos by Freya Van Lessen).
So I’m dozing in a slightly musty tent, my legs still caked in mud from the night before, when the familiar far off cry of ‘bollocks!’ awakes me – moments before a fold up chair bounces off the canvas. This is my cue to get up and do it all again.
I loved going to festivals when I was a teenager. In England in the 90s your options were fairly limited – Glastonbury, Reading, Phoenix and the Essential Festival (RIP) were about all the ones I knew about. They were all comprised of much the same setup: big (generally muddy) field, a few whacking great stages and lots of kids filling themselves with as many dodgy substances as they could before they had to go back to their parents’ house. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but the experience begins to wear a little thin as you pass the milestone of 30 and start the rapid descent into middle age.
I like camping, but I don’t like people chucking bottles of piss at my tent. I love the atmosphere of a huge crowd, but I also like not peeing in a trough, having a shower, maybe a little sit down on a sofa. I like eating food that I’ve made myself with a cooker and ingredients from my fridge – burger van fare tends to taste a bit shoddy after a couple of days. Basically, I’m becoming a bit of a grumpy old man, but I do still really like the idea of festivals. It seems that I’m not the only one, and in recent years the UK has seen a sharp rise in the number of festivals hosted at holiday parks dotted about the country. Dedbeat, All Tomorrow’s Parties, Bangface Weekender and Bloc Weekend have provided a more civilised (and I use that term in the loosest possible sense) way of seeing lots of music and getting pleasantly off your head, while still having access to a bed, toilet paper, soap and all those good things.
For the last three years, Bloc Weekend has been my festival of choice – it has a good selection of music firmly plonked at the stranger end of dance music, with headliners over the years including Aphex Twin, Amon Tobin, Autechre, Surgeon, Carl Craig, Luke Vibert and Dave Clark, alongside legends such as Afrika Bambatta, Salt n’ Pepa, Grandmaster Flash, The Future Sound of London, Karl Bartos (of Kraftwerk fame), Model 500 and A Guy Called Gerald. There’s a lot more to see besides the big names though, with five stages running through most of the afternoon and night since Bloc upped sticks and moved to Butlin’s at Minehead – no early closing festival restrictions with indoor arenas.
For the first two years, Bloc was held at the old Pontin’s site in Hemsby (which has since closed) – a holiday park that somewhat resembles a Soviet prison camp. The much-needed move to Butlin’s has given the festival a slicker, more professional feel and the extra facilities are very welcome. There is a range of accommodation to suit most budgets – from the fairly shed-like Standard Rooms all the way up to the Deluxe Suites (leather sofas, plasma screen tellys and a damn good shower that pins you to the floor). All the Butlin’s facilities are open too, so you can go for a swim in the fantastic pool, go bowling or play endless games of Dance Dance Revolution. A fairly conservative capacity of 5,000 has kept the festival from seeming too busy and it’s rare to have to queue for anything on offer. The Centre Bloc is the main stage with the largest capacity dance floor and a seating area around the back. Red Bloc below it is a similar size (but with a better sound system) with Tec Bloc, Jak Bloc and the new RFID dome a little more on the intimate side. The crowd is generally a mix of twenty to thirty-somethings, but age really isn’t an issue; everyone’s there to have a bit of a dance and hear some great music. There’s a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere around the place and even the security are pleasant, which makes a very refreshing change.
We turned up on Friday night and quickly checked into our gold apartment (pushing the boat out), right next to the arenas and with a good kitchen and bathroom, and flicked the TV on. One of the clever things about previous Bloc Weekends has been the live video feeds straight to your apartment from the stages, so you can see what’s on right now and working out which stage you want to go to. This feature was absent in 2010 for most of the time and I missed it (it was, however, replaced with a channel playing Groundhog Day on an endless loop – quite fantastic), but the set list in the brochure was well laid out and for the most part the stages ran to time. A bottle of gin found its way into my stomach and the weekend was off with a bang. The atmosphere throughout the festival was fantastic as always – all too often at events like this you end up standing in a room of very serious looking young men, scratching their chins and not dancing, at all. Bloc isn’t like this. Even the more famously chin-scratchy acts like Autechre had everyone moving – even though they killed the lights and had no visuals whatsoever. Moving on through Saturday night into Sunday morning, Surgeon was on top form, with an amazing set culminating with Outlander’s The Vamp, which nearly tore the roof off.
My only criticism of the lineup (apart from the clash of Autechre and Model 500 – argh!) would be that it sometimes got a bit too relentless. Lots of harsh Dubstep and pounding Techno is fun and all, but it’s refreshing to hear a proper tune occasionally, so when Grandmaster Flash dropped White Lines, or Salt n’ Pepa played Push It, or even when Mix Master Mike scratched over System of a Down it felt like a breath of fresh air. Luke Vibert, Grandmaster Flash, Mixmaster Mike and Salt n’ Pepa helped to keep the party atmosphere going and Bloc stalwarts AGT Rave Cru delivered on the promise of an amazingly tight set packed with floor fillers that got the Sunday afternoon going with a bang, but all too often it was glitchy drums and wobbly basslines, so if that isn’t really your thing, be warned. This isn’t Ibiza house and (thankfully) you won’t see Basshunter on the bill any time soon.
Sunday is fancy dress day at Bloc, last year it was 80s themed, this year it was weddings. Lots of men in white dresses, vicars and bridesmaids wandering around with kept everything nice and silly for the last day and provided a much needed energy boost after two days of solid dancing.
One other thing to mention is the new RFID Fenchurch dome. A tiny stage with amazing visuals projected all over it. It worked particularly well for the opening set of Digitonal – lush cinematic music with a hint of a 303 here and there. A very nice way to while away an hour, lying on the floor with yet another pint of mediocre beer from a plastic cup.
I’m fairly embarrassed to say that by the middle of Sunday night, I was done, broken, knackered. My feet refused to dance anymore, so with a tear in my eye I made the decision to not stay out for Derrick May. Popped to Pizza Hut to pick up a takeaway and sloped off back to the apartment to watch a documentary on Saturn’s rings on the BBC (and Groundhog Day for the 6th time – Andie McDowell is very annoying by this stage…). But, Andy McDowell aside, that’s one of the things I love about this festival – it’s nice to be able to do things like that. If I’d been at Reading, my only escape would’ve been to sit outside my tent, dodge the bottles of piss and listen to some talentless moron playing Wonderwall on an acoustic guitar…
For more info and tickets for Bloc Festival 2011 head over to the Bloc official website.
More Festivals for the Over 30s…
You’ve finally got enough money in your pocket to afford tickets to every great festival going this summer… only to find your body isn’t quite so willing, or aged 33 and 3/4s you’ve finally grown out of Happy Hardcore and would rather listen to something a little more mellow. Thankfully the sheer variety of the UK festival scene means there’s something for everybody, even a geriatric old raver like yourself… here’s our top three festivals for pension-drawing party animals.
All Tomorrow’s Parties’ yearly UK shindig is, like Bloc, held at Butlin’s holiday camp in Minehead. Matt Groening (of Simpsons’ fame) ‘curates’ for 2010 and amongst the big names playing in May are Iggy and The Stooges, Spiritualized, Joanna Newsom and Coco Rosie. A perfect venue and line up for enjoying ‘the twilight of your youth’.
When: 7th – 9th May 2010
Where: Butlin’s, Minehead
The Big Chill
The original festival for ageing ravers, The Big Chill was founded in 1995 when the organisers realised that the down times were becoming much more enjoyable than the ‘up times’. So couldn’t we just get rid of the messy noisy and let’s face it dangerously unhealthy prelude to the cosy chill out sessions? Decent grub, a slew of masseuses and therapists, plus of course several days of downtempo audio magic make this a perennial fave for festival goers who have outgrown the leg warmers and whistles.
When: 5th – 8th August 2010
Where: Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire
The sister festival of Bestival on the Isle of White, Camp Bestival is timed for the first week of the school summer holidays in Lulworth Castle set on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset. A mix of a holiday camp and music festival, kids of all ages are invited with those under 10 years of age entering for free. There’s an animal farm, kids entertainment area and an eclectic line up which in 2010 includes Madness, Calvin Harris, Chipmunk, Mr. Scruff and of course, the main man, Rob da Bank.
When: 30th July to 1st August 2010
Where: Lulworth Castle, Dorset