When festivals go wrong…
A month ago I headed to the Bloc weekender with a Friday day ticket (£55), full of enthusiasm and excitement for what promised to be a highlight of the summer (see http://www.redbrickpaper.co.uk/2012/05/bloc-jul-6-7/). The organisers of the event, Baselogic, were in their sixth year and had opted for a venue change, moving the festival from Butlins, Minehead to the newly redeveloped Pleasure Gardens site in London. This expansion had helped them put together their best line-up yet, which included a host of big names from the electronic music scene. What could possibly go wrong…
Try, absolutely everything. The Friday night of Bloc was a complete and utter disaster, characterised by relentless queuing until the site, scheduled to host live music until 6am, was shut down just after midnight amid fears of overcrowding. The police were brought in to deal with the messy aftermath as scores of disappointed festival goers poured out onto the roads, while the subsequent Saturday night of the weekender was cancelled. A month down the line, myself and the majority of the 15,000 who descended on Royal Victoria Docks that night are still waiting for a refund from Baselogic, whom administrators have taken over to deal with the crippling financial repercussions of what may be remembered as the worst UK festival ever.
We arrived at the venue at around 8pm on Friday 6th July, reasonably expecting that we’d be onsite in time to see Amon Tobin on the main stage at 9pm. How wrong were we? A queue exceeding theme-park ride proportions in the height of summer had formed, with punters stretched back further than the eye could see, attempting to shuffle up the pavement towards the one, limited entrance. ‘Not to worry, it will probably move quickly’, we thought, as we cracked open a can of beer. Again we were laughably wrong. It took us two and a half hours to get on site, by which point Amon Tobin was presumably on a plane back to Brazil.
Relieved to be on site by 10.30pm and ready to see some music, we were dismayed to learn as we brushed past the lax security that the queuing wasn’t to stop there. Two of the principal arenas, the MS Stubnitz boat and the Carhatt Dome already had massive, standstill queues (already sick of this word?) outside them. Unperturbed, we headed for the main arena to catch rapper DOOM’s set, where we were greeted by another (you guessed it) lengthy queue. This experience was a highly unpleasant one; people had been shepherded between the outside of the arena and a fence, making movement impossible, and creating an extremely claustrophobic atmosphere. The uncomfortable conditions lasted about half an hour until we finally got in, when we were disappointed to only catch the last 20 minutes of the mask-faced wordsmith. More disappointing though was the sound system; one song could barely be deciphered from another as the bass drowned out both the music and the lyrics.
Approaching midnight our thirst for music had yet to be quenched in any way, but this was the point when the night went from bad to worse, and alarm bells really started to ring. In search of a toilet, we made our way to the main arena’s entrance where we saw hoards of people being prevented from entering by a line of security, where the situation didn’t look too far away from a crush. We asked a visibly flustered security guard where we could find a toilet; the guard vaguely indicated in the direction of the back of the arena. Our worst horrors were realised, as the back of the tent had come to resemble a giant urinal, which we saw a number of girls squatting beside.
Only on leaving the main arena with the bemused fans, who had offered only the briefest show of fury in response to the Snoop Dogg no-show, did we realise that Bloc was being shut down. The police were out in force and employing kettling as a tactic, herding people out of the exit five hours before the site had been scheduled to close. In a show of equally pathetic and heroic solitude, some of the crowd began hammering against an industrial container which had formed part of the site, making music of their own seeing as there was none to be enjoyed at Bloc. Thousands poured out onto the streets unsure where the night would now head; one staff member patronisingly told us to ‘find your party somewhere else.’ We killed time before catching the DLR at half five, but we got off comparatively lightly. A thought must be spared for those, unlike me, who had paid for a full weekend ticket and accommodation, and who had travelled from (literally) all over the world to see a line-up of electronic music that indeed proved too good to be true.
Plenty of stories, rumours and explanations have circulated since on social media, trying to pinpoint what went wrong and why. It appears that Bloc, and ticket selling partner Crowdsurge (which now sounds painfully ironic) vastly oversold the event, didn’t employ enough staff and overestimated the capacity of a venue which was poorly laid out and encouraged overcrowding. Thankfully no one was hurt during the calamitous events of Friday 6th, and the crowd generally behaved with dignity in the face of such startling organisational incompetence. It was more a mood of resigned disappointment than anger and resistance that engulfed the Royal Victoria Docks that night, otherwise Bloc’s problems could have spiralled into something far more serious. Now in financial ruin, Bloc 2012 provides the perfect example of how not to organise a festival, which will hopefully be taken into account to ensure that no festival on British shores ever meets the same fate.