Live: Bloc Weekend @ Butlins Minehead, 13-15/03/2015

Photo by Tom Withey

Each time I enter a new room at Bloc, I forget where I was previously. My skin ripples to a new tempo. Perhaps my pulse rate follows suit. I’m inhabited by each new electronic soundscape, filling up with the present tense as a vessel of flesh and listening, violently rinsed of the experience prior. To call it immersive implies that the music surrounds me; in actual fact it passes through me, slipping into my stomach, surging to the surface and then beating off of my skin like excreted body warmth. In the context of Butlins – with its various dark spaces of various different sizes, each concealed and inaudible from the soundscape sorbet of the main foyer – Bloc really works. I can choose when and how my body is subsumed. Before my experience begins, I sit and have a quiet beer at one of the foyer cafés and feel normal. Time passes in a manner that I recognise. As soon as I step through one of Bloc’s doorways, everything shifts.

FRIDAY

I take the first door into Carhartt, where Akkord is imposing hypnosis through patience and persistence. Drums tick anxiously on standby, awaiting the commands of cyborg voices and perusing the skies for intermittent glimpses of astral drone. As the rhythm loops back round again and again, the sense of expectation only thickens. If I stay much longer I’ll be indeterminately confined in waiting, so I wander over to Centre where the bass frequencies of Hudson Mohawke are scanning the large space like a leaden strobe. He treats gratification like a ball of sugar on a piece of elastic, with pianos and high-pitched vocals dangling taut over my mouth. When anticipation snaps, bringing a writhing beat crashing down with it, the moment feels wonderfully exact. He hits a home run every time. In contrast, Objekt is constant indulgence – every time a bass drum slams down, I can see the snare arching over the top like a raised whip, keeping me encased within a cycle of visceral impact, pummelled and euphoric.

SATURDAY

Over at Plex, Egyptian Lover has an 808 tucked under his arm like a lunchbox. He’s pumping out beats that feel delightfully aged and yet, judging by the way the audience sways and dips in front of him, his rhythmic expertise is clearly timeless. It’s got the classic pump of an 80s aerobic workout, capped with a retrofied bass squelch and quantised gymnasium panting – simple and fluently cool, with the whole room roaring at the addition of a mere hi-hat tick. I’m laughing and smiling, and I’m glad I took the opportunity to do so. The rest of the evening won’t be quite so light and aerated.

It starts with Clark back at Centre, who skips the desire to stimulate my senses in favour of overloading them entirely, sending my ears and eyes twirling like ignited Catherine wheels. Melodies spew like overcharged lasers, trapped within thick, reckless arpeggiations. I make a note at 9:36pm that I can feel my kneecaps fluttering beneath my jeans. Meanwhile, the music of Helena Hauff builds like pressure behind the wall of a dam, with intensity drip-fed so that the bass line gradually bulges and bloats. Whether or not it finally breaks into the ecstatic gush it’s heading for, I don’t really care. The mounting force is euphoric enough, even with the climax dangling just beyond reach in front of my face. With Clouds, the sense of imminence only intensifies. Bam. Bam. Bam. It’s like a battering ram against a space shuttle airlock, turning the recurrence of techno into a fist that tenderises my mind into a soft, dance-compliant mush.

Perhaps that’s a good state in which to witness Dean Blunt. A spoken sample loops for 10 minutes (“the white man, I say to you over and over again”) as dry ice billows through the air in the same manner that his music soon will. During an evening of clinical rhythmic incision and electronic sheen, Blunt extends a human hand into the digital dark, cutting through the smoke with the solemn, withering shoegaze spirit of AR Kane and Cocteau Twins. And then, all of a sudden – about ¾ into his performance – a sensory microwave activates in the form of scanning sine waves and pulsating strobe lights. I close my eyes and I can still see the glow just as fervently, standing dumb and scorched in front of Blunt’s liquescent silhouette. It’s the most obliterating experience of my weekend. In a similarly biomechanical manner, Jon Hopkins seems to extend his nervous system to encompass electronic circuitry; chords and rhythms curve gently away from centre, throbbing like a headache, manifesting a psychological burden that plays out, visually, as film projections of a woman spinning and searching, thrusting and thrashing as though exorcising what she is or what she isn’t.

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DEAN BLUNT @ BLOC

I opt for a bout of clean air prior to Autechre, which turns out to be an excellent move. The duo utilise this really strange handling of bass frequencies which seems to pluck my stomach skin like a harp. They splice dance music into its constituent parts and then slosh it around in a vat of oil. It’s gelatinous and ungainly. As the set progresses I feel more and more invaded, to the point where the beats start to simulate the sensation of someone pumping air bubbles into my aorta, causing my circulatory system to fall into strange, syncopated jerks. My whole body convulses in a futile attempt to correct itself. Similarly, Lee Gamble subdivides techno into several different masses and then pushes them away from eachother. Drums and electronic specimens scatter themselves like objects on the dissection table. It’s a shape dismantling itself (or rather, being forcefully dismantled); rhythms with spare quaver notes and unwanted silences dangling from the chassis. Bewildered, I pay my first visit to Jak for DeFeKT and step into a techno elevator that suddenly starts to move sideways. Melodies shift, polyrhythmically, into places they shouldn’t go. I feel even more perplexed. Bedtime.

SUNDAY

I’m kicked into consciousness (and christ, it’s needed by this point) by the manic jungle sprints of Source Direct, which plugs every single rhythmic hole with desensitising strobe lights, detonating cymbals and the spilled percussive contents of aluminium recycling bins. He’s punching gigantic dents into the grogginess of my Sunday. I’m kept roused by the prospect of a special guest over at Jak, which turns out to be the squared-off disco funk of Space Dimension Controller. He ignites the room on a human level, slipping out from behind the desk to join the boogieing mass of the room, swaying amidst projected VHS footage of people dancing ecstatically in eerie, brightly lit discos.

Answer Code Request couldn’t be more of a shift. It’s as bare and fundamental as mathematics, with rhythms looped until I can no longer question them. A sense of emergency and uncertainty escalates all the while, with oscillating winds and precipitating noise starting to cake the digital frame, causing me to slink over to see Raime’s jungle set before the whole room implodes. In contrast to the jungle of Source Direct, Raime move focus to the timbre of each percussive pop, fine and intricate like a sharpened pencil line, rather than the slog of low frequencies. Vocal samples slink between hi-hats like a snake curling around a ceiling beam, relishing the open air before the bass gushes in for the set’s second half, rumbling and dipping in long, undulating streams of vibratory acrobatics. I stumble over the Centre to share my elation with Ben Klock b2b Marcel Dettmann, wading through the downpour of confetti and burning up the final few fumes in the tank in a series of slack, lethargic dance moves. I’ve paced my weekend energy expenditure just right, stumbling outside as Butlins falls silent and still.