It’s fair to say that DiS is no stranger to Butlins, Minehead. Given that we try our hardest to attend as many editions of All Tomorrow’s Parties as possible each year (generally somewhere between two and four), its creepily identikit rows of chalets and sense of faded seaside grandeur all add up to a sort of dilapidated spiritual home. That said, the faint edge of chaos that still runs through ATP, especially late at night, pales in insignificance compared to BLOC Weekend, which tends to descend upon the place like an ode to hedonistic excess. The fact that it’s usually soundtracked by a selection of the planet’s finest electronic and dance music does, admittedly, further sweeten the deal. Last year’s festival brought together emerging UK talents (including a raucous showcase from FWD>> vs. Rinse and the deep, dubbed out vibrations of Subloaded) alongside international heroes like Model 500, Luke Slater and, in a weekend-stealing Friday night slot, Detroit house luminary Omar-S, who crafted two hours of utterly immersive, blue-tinged psychedelia.
This year’s edition takes place on the weekend of the 11th to the 13th March, though if you’re learning this for the first time, you’re a little late to the party – it’s entirely sold out. Which is testament both to the strength of this year’s line-up and the fact that over the last twelve months electronic music seems to have been experiencing a real renaissance in the mainstream. And with dubstep’s surprise leap into the affections of popular clubbing audiences and indie kids alike, and the rest of that scene’s explosion into a seemingly endless host of different styles, UK-centric dance sounds are in particularly fine form at the moment.
In light of that, it’s unsurprising that BLOC organizers Alex Benson and George Hull have placed Magnetic Man, Joy Orbison and Ramadanman among the upper echelons of this year’s line-up. “[Dubstep's rise to popularity] is one of the most positive things that’s happened in recent years, for BLOC but also for the sake of wider pop culture,” they explain via email. “To have records in the charts that have a club sensibility and their roots firmly in a very young underground scene is overwhelmingly a good thing.”
Considering its fairly modest origins, they explain, how large it’s become has proven to be something of a surprise – albeit a pleasant one. “In subtle ways it reflects the changing mood and styles of underground electronics culture,” they reflect. “Bloc was never about one mode of sound – the wonderful people who come every year are open-minded enough to embrace what’s new and it’s kept us relevant. But just like if you’re trying to tread water in a fast-flowing river, if you stop to look around the distance you’ve traveled can sometimes come as a shock.”
That sheer diversity makes it surprisingly difficult to pick out individual highlights from this year’s line-up. But at the upper levels of the main stage, there are some obvious ones to keep an eye out for. For a start, both Aphex Twin and LFO fly the flag for Warp Records’ blend of classicism and futurism – the latter’s ‘LFO’ is one of the label’s all-time classics, and there’s little that needs to be said about the former.
David Kennedy – the man alternately known as Ramadanman and Pearson Sound - was arguably the most consistent producer of last year. With ‘Grab Somebody’ and ‘Blanked’, he honed the tight and darkly percussive sound of his earlier Hessle Audio releases into something far wider in scope, drawing influences from R’n’B, house and dubstep into shattered dancefloor epics. With far more to come in 2011 (including a Fabriclive mix and house releases under his Maurice Donovan alias) and a pretty fearsome DJ reputation, it’s safe to say he’ll be playing even larger stages come next year. Another one not to miss is the darkened cityscape of Kevin Martin’s King Midas Sound project. Their 2009 album Waiting For You is one of Hyperdub’s more understated gems, but live their sinewy dub poetry and cavernous low-end take on almost superhuman, overwhelmingly physical force.
Elsewhere on the line-up, some of the best stages are being put together by individual curators. London’s Plex have assembled a formidable set of eyes-down techno, with Silent Servant, Ancient Methods and TVO (who donated a great mix for DiS’ armchair dancefloor last year) heading the charge. Glasgow’s Numbers label collective bring along the hype, with Jamie XX and SBTRKT both among the dubstep-influenced producers making waves in the mainstream at the moment.
Electronic music hub Resident Advisor are curating a stage for the first time this year, bringing along a set of producers who use past sounds to access future headspaces. Floating Points and Space Dimension Controller craft deeply melodic house that sounds a little like a seventies vision of the noughties, all chrome retrofuturism and stargazing atmosphere. And Soul Clap’s sound is curiously placeless, shifting between school science documentary chic and driving dancefloor motion. “There really does seem to be something in the air at the moment,” RA ponder. “People like Floating Points and Will Saul seem to be spearheading a sea change in the thrust and focus of electronic music.”
But, just like last year, when Appleblim & Peverelist soothed hangovers into temporary remission, Pinch’s Subloaded stage looks to be one of the essential locations to camp out for the weekend. “I've always taken a fairly inclusive policy when it comes to booking Subloaded lineups,” he explains. “I try to represent the sound across the board, as I believe dubstep to be a genre with wide scope. So there will be wonky beats, melodic synths, dubby basslines, tech sonics, garagey beats, tribal rhythms, housey vibes and all sorts of experimental sounds as well as some powerful darkside wobblers! It gets boring if it all sounds the same all night long eh?”
True to his word, as well as booking Shackleton – one of bass music’s true originals, taking inspiration from areas as far-ranging as Eastern devotional music, techno and post-punk – he’s added Untold, Guido, Digital Mystikz’ Mala & Loefah and Joy Orbison to round out the mix. After the runaway success of his (actually pretty one-dimensional) ‘Hyph Mngo’ Orbison almost entirely shunned the limelight, instead choosing to hone his DJ sets and shift his sound to something entirely less in step with current trends. His great recent 12” on his own Doldrums label explored Detroit sounds of the Moodymann/Theo Parrish variety, and his upcoming Hotflush 12” looks set to explore similar territory. Unreleased track ‘Ellipsis’, meanwhile, is an inspired fusion of UK and US, melding a gorgeous Source Direct vocal sample to a jackin’ acid house backdrop. One not to miss, then.
Another curator flying the flag for dubstep and its offshoots is Mary Anne Hobbs, who recently left her Radio 1 show but continues to act as an intrinsic part of the scene. She’s snagged two of bass music’s most exciting futurists – Bristolians Addison Groove and Al Tourettes, who refract UK subsonics through the brittle drum machines of electro. “For me the thrill is always right out at the fringes of the sonic universe in unchartered galaxies,” Hobbs muses, “exploring platforms like Soundcloud for as yet undiscovered artists. That said, I am frequently consumed by my world online, and much as I love that landscape, it does atomise me, and many others who live the same kind of life. I think events like BLOC are increasingly important in the digital age to bring together people with shared passions, to dance and rave, to talk and laugh, to exchange ideas and energy.”
With that in mind, see you down the front.
BLOC Weekend takes place at Butlins, Minehead, from 11th-13th March. For more information, check out their website.