Things that could only be learned at Butlins...

In case you missed it, last weekend represented Bloc's final Butlins hurrah.

The holiday camp ventures are no more, but organisers managed to send rave cosmonauts off into the distance with a smile on their face thanks to a pummelling, unrelenting, frequently groundbreaking and always entertaining final instalment.

Roving raver Matthew Bennett is on the words, while Harpreet Khambay sits behind the lens for...

10 Things We Learnt By The Seaside.

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1. Holly Herndon sings to automobiles...
Did you know Holly Herndon leads the “Sonic Movement” which campaigns for electric cars to be able to “sing” to each other as they near one another? This is instead of making fake petrol engine noises so people aren’t killed by their silent nature. We certainly had no idea about this until a kind raver at Herndon’s main stage show elucidated upon this fascinating San Francisco chanteuse and her automotive hobbies.

In fact Herndon was a great surprise from top to bottom. Her processed vocals and tougher take on techno was fluid and coherent as she pushed far beyond the boundaries of her 4AD ‘Platform’ album of last year. Her Bloc live set saw her flanked by a singer-cum-wrestler-gone-dancer hurling lasers from his mouth and her visual artist whose approach to digital art seemed to reflect playing the computer game ‘Doom’ inside a 2D television set.

2. Who is in debt to Fatima Yamaha?
Not us anymore. It was one of those bookings that could go only one of two ways. Fatima Yamaha, aka Bastian, Seymour Bits or Comtron has been around since 2001. However his most endearing electro pop record (made in 2004) ‘What’s A Girl To Do’ which samples Scarlett Johansson from ‘Lost In Translation’ has had a truculent journey towards being one of the most cherished tunes of the last few years. It started life in Club 69 in Paisley thanks to Rubadub’s DJs spinning it at their secretive Caledonian parties and finally, finally went viral several years later.

It is now bordering on criminally unplayable such is its exhausted popularity. However what happens when the creator of this record meets his UK fans for the first time?

The short answer is hardly anything. The cheering for Yamaha began, cruelly, before DJ Skirt had finished his set. The crowd were baying for a man who ultimately was loved for just one song. So 10 minutes into his noodly set then half the crowd had left in disappointment, only to be replaced by disillusioned latecomers, and we all limped on towards the inevitable hype.

After 55 minutes of waiting the moment came and ‘What’s A Girl To Do’ seeped out of his synths. People went wild for four bars of music then a slow settling back into the realization that sometimes beautiful songs will struggle to hold up a hype that stretches around the globe.

3. Old men still kill the old way...
One of the great experiences of any festival is getting your mitts finally on the ACTUAL programme and gorging yourself on all the sonic possibilities and sequences. And then breaking your heart on all the set clashes between your sonic heart throbs.

However seeing the words ‘Andrew Weatherall B2B Optimo’ brought tears of anticipation. What would they play? Would they stretch for Optimo’s colourful and surprising genre clash they forge between them? Or perhaps a risky yet sleazy rock and roll fuck fest at the heart of a techno festival?

In the end they took cue from Midland’s preceding deep and moving techno. Once the three DJs had settled in and found their rhythm the trio ploughed a fathomless, acid furrow that confounded as much as it pounded. Perhaps Weatherall pulled more magic out of his bag but it was a photo finish if so. Just pray they do this again, somewhere and somehow.

4. The keener Bloc ravers all have webbed feet...
Midday on Saturday is a ghostly time for most of the Butlins site. Everywhere is quiet… that is except the water park where ravers were evolving webbed feet, cultivating underwater lairs and developing aquatic gills.

This was all in homage to DJ Alex Downey who chose to spin a specialist set of Drexciya anthems to those refusing the call of bed or early risers keen to drink deep Detroit’s analogue dreams.

Drexicya, the pair of anonymous producers from 313 ghetto stars, spent over a decade preoccupied with all manner of Neptune-bothering, racial and political instrumental slabs of electro that traced the hardship of the Afro-American slave experience via the backstreets of Atlantis. If you think that was a mouthful then imagine hammering down water slides dizzy as an octopus as anthems like ‘Wave Jumper’ follow your aquatic trajectory. Rubber ringing has never been so jacking, or politicized, and not a dry kick in earshot.

5. Witches are tougher in the flesh...
Hubble, bubble, toil and 2-step. We’d spent months shaping an appreciation for Demdike Stare, a pair of northerners who took the legend of Pendle witchcraft to a new, albeit abstract level with their rough garage and bass spells. However in the flesh these witches’ glares were stern, brusque and violent compared with their sleek ‘Testpressing’ series and other conjured recipes that have circulating since 2009. A blistering and magical assault.

6. Thom Yorke has been keeping something from us all...
Radiohead frontman and all round Eraser geezer Thom Yorke was a breath of fresh air at Bloc. He was presenting 2014’s ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’ album, effectively his second solo album, a collaboration with the ‘sixth member’ of Radiohead – Nigel Godrich at the controls.

And despite looking closer to 57 than his actual 47 years old there’s a good chance Thom’s been trucking with the Demdike witch craft to buy eternal youth. We suspect foul play, or at least some sort of Faustian rave pact since rarely has a man of nearly five decades leapt around the stage with such verve and vigour.

At a festival that is remarkable for all the performers standing near stock still whilst extracting musical results from equally static electronic hardware, Thom Yorke was a bass dervish.

Godrich, intent on said-boxes-of-tomorrow worked the loose and funky rhythms, awkward yet unique bass layers and a smorgasbord of filtered delights. Meanwhile Thom gyrated and span like a cheeky devil. Rumours of two hours of daily yoga rang true with tasty footwork. He was a palette cleanser that lifted the energy and tone from blinkered and narcotic to pan-screen and inspirational.

7. Four Tet paints with broad and colourful strokes...
Where this is a Yorke then often close by you may catch a Hebden. These two great friends shared slots side by side, and Four Tet’s lavish and vivid set, although not particularly surprising in terms of new records, certainly varied the tone from the fierce levels of techno or bass found on every other stage. Hebden is remains studious in painting his reputation as one the UK’s most savoured and consistent DJs and always seems to play exactly what is needed at any given point.

8. Carl Craig fucked it...
The delicate master of Detroit techno started his set as if in a reverie. Building a 20-minute web of woven synths, searching chords and probing melodies. It felt we were on the cusp of a journey we’d not enjoyed since the likes of ‘Landcruising’. However his progressions and elucidations never made it to the precipice to jump free. His set never kicked in fully nor churned into the higher gear that would unleash our feet and screams. After an hour all the tension eventually zig-zagged off into the night without triggering the needed physical and emotional release we all craved. Carl Craig is officially a tease.

9. Jeff Mills isn’t actually a robot after all...
One Roland 808 drum machine, a solitary CDJ, one large mixing desk and obvious turntables. Jeff Mills knows his way around this set up better than anyone else and having heard him four time in 12 months either at the last Bloc, the Barbican or Dekmantel it was remarkable how consistent his rendition of his monochrome pummeling techno can be. Bloc 2016 however Mills unplugged from his usual verbatim processing and teased us with a slower pace and percussive swing before he unleashed the hell of his usual ‘Bells’.

10. Bloc will be roundly missed...
In sad but true news Bloc won’t be returning to Butlins. Rival priorities, good old fashioned aversion to risk, the economic winds or perhaps a distain for bungalows has meant Bloc will be focusing on their own club and presumably more manageable showcases in cities. Regardless of the wonky times elsewhere (hello Pleasure Gardens!) Bloc at Butlins has always delivered a vast dose of the best electronic music straight into all of your senses. And for that we salute you! Keep it edgy Bloc. Who’ll now whisk us to a higher plane by the seaside?

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Words: Matthew Bennett
Photos: Harpreet Khambay

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