Festival Frolics: Doomsday, Bloc. 2012.

You'll doubtless have already heard – at length – of the bloody bona fide debacle that was Bloc.'s inaugural London festival stop from the seemingly endless, ever Schadenfreudian hit-hiking reportage hastily regurgitated by nigh on every online outlet over the course of this past weekend. With organisers at long last having issued some form of apology – however reticent – along with now avowing to gather further 'information about Friday night's events', further pontification as to precisely what went wrong how and when down on Pontoon Dock seems as redundant as some of the farcical absurdities spewed by head honcho Alex Benson in the run-up. In one of many ironies, it's his head now on the Bloc.; his the pocketless hordes may now bloodthirstily be baying for in the most extreme of cases (of which there have been many, and many removed from social media) although his purportedly comical ripostes prior to last weekend now seem heinously ill-advised. Certain interrogators even alluded – and did so unquestionably explicitly – to the foreboding perils of the site.

With the three most popular stages within tens of metres of one another and hence approximately seventy percent of the site as deserted as the ominous Millennium Mills itself (the so-called Laederaum stage was even omitted from the site map altogether), an already overcrowded and understaffed event began to appear ever more precarious. Benson's reply to the prognosticated 'awful crowding' and glaringly obvious geographical flaw? Well, this: 'There will be horses transporting people between the two points, that have been specially trained to trot on their hind legs only, thus only taking up 1/2 the space on the ground.' Disgracefully preposterous. Arguably yet more insulting still is his response when quizzed on the temporal make-up of the average day down Bloc. HQ: 'We kind of get up late and probably go for a stroll down by the canal in Hackney Wick, and then it’ll probably be time for some lunch, so go and have some lunch and talk about what we did at the weekend and music, that sort of thing. Answer the phone, shout at each other – we bicker a lot, probably bicker and argue about money, disagree with each other’s decisions that have been made over the weekend on email. Then it’ll probably be time for another walk, might get to the office for the first time by about 3.30pm, go on Facebook for a little bit and then fuck it off and go to the pub at about 5.30pm or something.' You begin to wonder whether any logical planning went this year at all. Hindsight, eh?
The above all pertains to factual accuracy. Indelibly etched into the internet, these misguided statements of now surely tattered nonchalance can never be disputed as may be those vitriolic Facebook messages surreptitiously scrubbed out as the chaos unfurled last Friday. The venue itself – an almost Holocaustic and aesthetically vampiric hinterland – immediately appeared unfinished (or at the very least unready for the descending of the unprecedented multitudes) and with signage about what felt more construction than festival site spelling out premonitory warnings, the writing was quite literally on the wall with Butlins' waterslides exchanged for 'Beware deep water' don't dive signs, 'This site is extremely dangerous', and the like. Factor in the recreational use and in certain instances abuse of all manner of amphetamines and it becomes more so; throw in a decommissioned Deutsche Demokratische Republik fishing vessel and you've a potential calamity on your hands. Fortunately such tragedy this time slipped our grasp and the eventual evacuation of the site was mercifully placid but such context only contributes further ridiculousness to the situation as a whole. And a wholly dissatisfying one it proved to be too.
As we pass the hurriedly readied Olympic Stadium once upon the tame rollercoaster-like DLR, we twitter and fidget in unabashed enthusiasm. Today and tomorrow ought to be something far more invigorating; endurance-exercising; jaw-grinding than our imminent 'Games. Yet upon arrival all seems commensurately unprepared: after a handful of worryingly light-handed frisks, no tickets are scanned. This machinery is alleged to later malfunction as "stampedes" take tribal shape, the ticketless charge in with snippets of discarded wristband and ticket holders are dejectedly turned away. All lamentably veridical eventualities. Said tickets were arranged via the unfortunately entitled CrowdSurge – who have since quite rightly redirected all refund enquiries in the direction of Bloc. – and said wristbands are emblazoned with the designation of Carhartt line Work In Progress in yet more jinxed prophecy. These ironies intrinsic to this year's event thus begin to become as spooky as the derelict flour mill that empirically observes all although it ought to be accented that given our currently malevolent financially climate, not only selling out but seemingly overselling is quite the feat. The robustness of line up and oddness of ubication ought to ensure that. However back in the here and now, clutches of wristband are chucked about in plastic bags with a blasé apathy (no wonder they reportedly later run out) and above all there's an air of edginess that's all but all-pervasive.

And without doubt on edge is where we're kept over the course of this truncated sojourn way out southeast. Treacherous waltzers replace the penny pushers of Butlins and the dodgems of Sónar (a festival Bloc. ought to be looking to if not for inspiration then for advice on how to run these sorts of gargantuan legal throw-downs) as they're bogged down in the quintessence of the British estival season: mud. The one thing you expect to evade when frequenting metropolitan festival, although arguably these debauched badlands are far removed from any form of recognisable civilisation. Alimentary options are uncompromisingly inadequate and unviable although you presume few are here to shovel too much nutritional stuff down (Nicolas Jaar is however clocked scoffing a veggie burger earlier rather than later). And with the bars serving up cans at an exorbitant £4.50 you assume there's to be minimal drinking going on also. The Resident Advisor Hub seems perturbingly small, and with just two entrances (only one of which functions) appears full even when empty. But what with it being six (or near enough – needless to say this particular Bloc. is initiated belatedly) it's time to face the music and dance. And queue. And attempt to dance a little more within vexatious crush, only to then queue a heck of a load more.
The Steve Jobs of minimal composition, Steve Reich is a wonder of our modern world. His Music for 18 Musicians without doubt represents one of the finest oeuvres ever condemned to Compact Disc by the human mind and having called off last year's scheduled Sónar put-in, it's a delight to witness him alive and seemingly well. He emerges with a more rhythmically inclined member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars (who this evening take turns to reinterpret his lifework) to perform a piece of concentratedly sheeted polyrhythmic clapping à la his Clapping Music of '72. Capped, he soon recedes into backstage shadow as our applause continues the theme with considerably less precision. That he may then only be seen nodding approvingly and grinning pacifically throughout – powerless to this reconfiguring of his own legacy is somewhat saddening as he seems resigned to looking in on his own work from the outside as though his gaze were refracted through an imposed introversion.

Thus the show assumes the shape of a Bang on a Can bash new smacks into the Reich catalogue, and increasingly Reich's onstage reserve makes you want to repeatedly thwack cerebrum against said Can: a selection of sketch-like pieces punctuated by our restless murmur, its opening moments are aided quite unapologetically by unnecessary backing track. As with LDR at Sónar, it's all incongruously rhythmless as a cellist soars showily, a brace of guitarists furiously noodle, and a clarinetist recites Section I as a solitary I in XVIII. Each extract is concluded with a bout of extravagant, excessive and slightly undue bowing as there's nowt much overwhelmingly impressive to behold, with the 'All-Stars' elected material OK if never excellent. Not like a combining of tonight's purported headlining triumvirate would surely have proven, at least proffering an opportunity to catch the likes of Richie Hawtin and Snoop Dogg who, although later allowed onsite, never make any which stage. At one point a blobby techno undertone intervenes, Reich exuding a mien of complete bewilderment from behind a pair of grand pianos. If he's ever to reemerge he's taking a veritable age to do so and with most driven to distraction, many depart. If frazzled come Friday, such compositional complexity is perhaps a stretch too far for some and given the music's momentarily soporific effects, it exhausts to the point where you can almost feel the wrinkles forming across your forehead. Ultimately, it's an irredeemable disappointment and one that therefore sets the tone for the incontrovertibly appalling mishaps to follow.
Many of they that don't prematurely vacate the place seemingly only do so in staking space out for the noises of Nicolas Jaar, for within such spheres and realms it's as though he embodies some twisted popstar persona. Unwanted feedback initially enshrouds his unwarrantedly vanguardist demeanour as he channels the sound of vintage sleaze. With Darkside bearing an ever more cogent semblance to the considerably more scintillating side to the very same coin, you almost sense a smidgen of self-loathing at the producer's own successes here, and that even despite his apparent arrogance. Whether on the glib undulations of Variations, the Latina slink of Love You Gotta Lose Again, or the heady swell of Wouh you're left longing for Darkside stuff to proceed every predictably delayed drop, Jaar's decelerated house schtick considerably more Hall & Oates than Hawtin; as though parodical of the decade into which he was born. Appled to the Mac he, guitarist and Darkside accomplice Dave Harrington and saxophonist Will Epstein discernibly resemble Brown undergrads "hangin'" down in salubrious digs and seamlessly slot into the middle class configuration of this year's Bloc. as a result, with the well-spoken and well-to-do garbling incessantly of everything and absolutely nothing all at once throughout. Which, given how nonessential much of Jaar's work may be deemed, seems quite the fit. The second Reich he categorically ain't.
And then the nightmare dawns: as the sun sets, so too does a mood of irritation; of desperation; of inebriated irk as queues form only to fuse, morphing into singular reptilian entities snaking toward the entrance of venues unknown and at times undesired. In the case of the M.S. Stubnitz, even unsafe. With that for Amon Tobin's widely acclaimed ISAM show stretching halfway to Canary Wharf and the Pleasure Gardens swiftly disintegrating into petrifying wasteland, indignation breeds. Bloc. then becomes an almighty clog of bog-like condition. A shoeless Norwegian couple prove the diamonds in the rough demographic and muddy stuff underfoot, as they instead opt to hijack cack queueing systemisation and trot into the tent. "I've watched the video about fifty fuckin' times, and it looks fuckin' amazing. I'm not missing this", one seethes with an infectious ardour and indeed it's just that.

As though reconstituted from one of Étienne de Crécy's beat-laden, cube-infested wet dreams Tobin has achieved a polychromatic visual feat as titanic as the neighbouring shitshow that is the Stubnitz, and it's worth the excruciating wait just to see the darn thing. Following on from the sonic fragility of Reich and Jaar, musically it's all a little too Chris Cunningham whilst visually, it simultaneously takes the enigma of the DJ and the igneous inquisitions as to what they actually do live to a whole new stratosphere of rage as the man within the monument is next to never visioned. If accessible, notably listenable and almost excessively so, he's let down by a pretty dismal sound system when – inevitable sound restrictions aside (a lack of outdoor arena can surely be attributed to these) – we should surely be overdosing on superlatives at this juncture. An unorthodox double encore ensues and despite the rabidly whooped pyrotechnics and the unfathomably wondrous visual splendour of it all, it's not quite enough to fixate as attentions set off on aimless ambles of the figurative kind.
Equipped with loos and booze, everything goes a little Hackney Weekend in this, the Main Arena: it's as though we're not expected nor even allowed to leave. Thus we opt to fester within for fear of never reentering were we to retreat. Then the bar's drunk dry, and you start to conjecture as to whether Bloc. would be better off at Butlins. And that's possibly the first time such a thought got thunk since the Redcoats' '70s renaissance. For Bloc. has now devolved into an altogether unrecognisable beast. Overtly bestial it remains in many a sense but it now feels somehow unknowable. Comparably unbeknownst to many is DOOM, Daniel Dumile as renowned for no-shows as he is for shows per se. Hooliganistic, haunting chants of "DOOM" then resonate sonorously within as thousands hanker to clamber on in. He's but a minute overdue and again you begin to sense that something's not quite right, however he eventually appears and, as at ATP's I'll Be Your Mirror of yesteryear, it's him alright. He's a barrel o' laughs, with impetus placed firmly on the barrel side o' things as he waddles out – franchised lunchbox in hand – to lament the missing of cartoon prelude before going on to feign intentions to stage-dive. You sense nobody could ever carry that belly across such a substantial gap, and he soon shuns such motivation.

His gravelly baritone as seductive as twilight-hued smoke steaming off a Camel Blue, what transpires to be the last show of the soir; that of inadvertent headliner is a startlingly proficient blob through the back catalogue: Rap Snitch Knishes, Dangerdoom cut Benzi Box and Madvillain smash Accordion are all rattled off according to backing track as with no band and no discernible DJ, the hip hop trickster introduces the vid screen backdrop beyond – which egotistically illustrates none other than our self-professed "superhero" – as his "personal DJ." It's a somewhat lazy show, but then that shows fairly patently in his size and as he hoofs much thirsted for water bottles out into the throng as though trialling for the nearby Leyton Orient, you sense he'd fail any fitness test just as the club's audacious Olympic Stadium takeover bid was swiftly rebuffed. Although most pertinently, where on previous occasions Dumile has come across as aloof, disinterested and somewhat disenchanted jollity tonight replaces animosity (if of course only fleetingly) as he petulantly peels glinting sticker from box-fresh peak, performs some self-effacingly "amateur beatboxing", and spurns suggestions to breakdance ("I ain't doin' no breakdancin' shit", he endearingly growls) before being unceremoniously cut short. Conceivably hacked off, he enquires as to whether he can get a encore and although denied, takes one anyhow clattering off three or four more for the road. Visibly thrilled, he scoffs his timescale 'til bloated.
The proverbial excrement then hits the tech house/ minimal/ hip/ hip hop fans as reports of fake ticket pandemonium and police lockdown filter through the blower. On the inside as it were, all aqueous commodity chucked out is treated as though hallowed drumstick at Blink-182 O2 blowout as the one accessible, if poorly officiated photo pit fills with liggers as though a trough of stodge presided over by an unwarrantedly and staunchly stubborn security drone. As it becomes all too easy to level the hackneyed, backhanded ain't what it used to be criticism at the event, everything spirals out of control: the ambience irreversibly antagonised and consequently distinctly unpleasant, proceedings turn frightening and potentially pernicious.

It's rendered painfully evident that Henson et al. have bitten off more than they can chew, and with that ingested more than they can metabolise. With paramedics on perpetual standy, their luminously jacketed scuttle contributes further anxiety for despite denoting the inner diva within Snoop as what originally feels an interminable delay becomes just so, you begin to question the entire organisation and every organisational capacity thereof. The atmosphere now hellacious and having spent an awful lot of time entangled in atrocious wait, everywhere seems critically overpeopled and criminally undermanned. We scamper off toward any available exit as though fleeing Pamplonan encierro, the white flags overhead in the Main Arena signalling surrender. For although making the best of a bad situation has become the signature idiom of this year's event – and certainly with what seemed an unquantifiable proportion of Twitter frenziedly arranging #notBloc alternatives there are positives to be derived from what is, as yet, an obfuscated disaster – said situation became unspeakably execrable.

And following on from that verbal stampede above, no more words were admitted into this review. Not even Snoooooo...