Bloc booking?

After last July’s festival at London Pleasure Gardens turned into a debacle, can anyone trust Bloc again? As they return to their roots with ten small parties, we meet the organisers and ask what went wrong

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© Robbie Golec


As Alex Benson and George Hull are eager to stress, they’ve only put on one bad event in their lives. It’s a fair point. Trouble is, the Bloc Festival was catastrophically bad – cancelled during its opening night amid scenes of overcrowding.

Instead of headliners like Snoop Dogg, Orbital or Nicolas Jaar, police arrived after midnight to point thousands of disappointed ravers to the exit. Those punters behaved impeccably that night. Later, they’d take to the internet and spend weeks calling Benson and Hull ‘****s’ or ‘******s’. ‘They were totally justified,’ says Benson.

Up until then, Bloc had enjoyed a glowing reputation and a rabid following. Benson and Hull had progressed from putting on small techno parties in Norfolk and Brighton to hosting an annual weekender, first at Pontins than at Butlins in Minehead. They booked the cream of electronic music, from Aphex Twin, Four Tet, DJ Funk and even one memorable year, Salt 'n' Pepa.

By 2012, a desire to expand dovetailed with what Hull calls ‘an extraordinary proposition’ – a new outdoor arts space in east London that came with the backing of the Mayor and the Olympic Committee, the London Pleasure Gardens. The pair are scathing about the now-folded LPG’s failure to deliver the site as contracted: ‘LPG was an enormously ambitious project,’ says Hull, ‘but I think a lot of the authorities at the top had Olympic rings in their eyes and underestimated what they were attempting to do there. There was a catalogue of issues from start to finish. They were evidently out of their depth.’

But given that Bloc knew key stages – like a 3,000 capacity arena called The Hub – were not going to be completed on time, why did they go ahead? ‘Well, we got the site signed off by the council after putting all our own money into it and busting our asses. We hired another tent as quickly as possible, and at enormous expense, when faced with the situation of not delivering ,’ says Hull. ‘But we never expected what actually happened on the night’.

The fact that so many people tried and failed to cram into venues like the MS Stubnitz (an old fishing vessel converted into a club) meant there was naturally a suspicion that Bloc had oversold. Alex Hull denies there was ever any overselling: 'In the couple of days after, we published all our sales data. That is actually one of the things that's been a bit shit about the way we've been portrayed – that we might have tried to cream off a bit more cash by selling a few more tickets. In fact, we took the decision to take it off sale a week before, because it had sold out. If it had been oversold, we wouldn't be here today. We simply wouldn't be allowed to trade anymore.'

Benson has the last word on the past: ‘Fundamentally, it was very unpleasant for people and I feel very very sorry about it’.

© Robbie Golec


It’s an irony not lost on the pair that their forthcoming ten parties (featuring house and techno legends like Marshall Jefferson, Egyptian Lover and Green Velvet) are the same size as ones they held when they were 18-years-old. 'It's such a feeling of coming full circle' says Benson, before pointing out that ‘we’re under more scrutiny than any organiser of a 500 capacity club night in the world, ever’.

After their experience with LPG, the pair have decided to revive Bloc in a one-room venue which they control exclusively – a converted furniture factory in Hackney Wick. To say it’s a back-to-basics approach would be mild. The pair soundproofed the space themselves, and after our interview, Hull mentions that his plans for the day involve fixing toilet roll holders in the loos.

Going back to their roots is a way for Bloc to start rebuilding trust again. With a promising venue and a killer line-up to boot, they might indeed manage it. But if anything goes even slightly wrong, toilet roll holders included, there will be legions of people out there ready to say so...

Check out our exclusive shots of Bloc's new home

Users say

4 comments
Adam
Adam

Good luck to them, life doesn't always go as smoothly as planned and its how you bounce-back that defines you, i for one will be there to see how it goes this weekend even after last years unfortunate events.....

Ben
Ben

As they've said, several times, it would be illegal for them to refund anyone for last year's events... Any refunds etc have to happen through the administrators, Parker Andrews. So pointless to even discuss this.

Martin
Martin

I don't want Benson and Hull to wear sackcloth and ashes for the rest of their lives but people are still hundreds of pounds out of pocket from when they went into administration so it is a bit of a nerve to be back trading under the same name less than a year later.

Rebecca A
Rebecca A

Unfortunately I'm afraid I, along with many many other people who bought tickets for the Bloc weekender last year, have no sympathy with poor old Alex Benson and George Hull. I attended the doomed Friday night of the Bloc weekender. From the moment we arrived at the outside of the venue at around 9pm we could see that things weren't running smoothly. The queue was at least 150m long, and about 5-6 people wide. We queued for well over an hour, possibly 2 before we got on site. Each of the venues were bursting to capacity, with huge queues outside each. As midnight approached and Snoop Dogg was due on stage, we headed towards the main arena. The entrance was far too narrow to allow for the hundreds of fans to cram themselves into, and the venue itself was already full. Parts of the crowd near the entrance to the big tent were already swaying uncontrollably with the sheer force and size of it. By that stage many of the other venues had been closed down, with the stewards ungraciously turning people away. And then, just as we managed to get into the only remaining tent open, we heard that the police had come onto the site and were dividing the place in half, requesting that all those nearer the exits leave as soon as possible. We were eventually turfed out onto the streets, to pay handsomely for a cab back to central London. It was a crap night compounded by the fact that the company quickly went into administration and therefore did not need to provide proper and full explanations for the awful events of the night before. A statement released during that Saturday did little to put our minds and rest. We discovered in the days to come that we wouldn't be able to request a refund directly from the organising company, so I put in a request through my bank for visa chargeback. I'm STILL waiting for that refund. And I am not alone in not having received a refund. I knew quite a few people who went on the Friday or had tickets to go on the Saturday night and none of us have received a refund - £1000s lost, and this is just among the people I did know - I wonder how many others are yet to receive any form of compensation. So for us all it is absolutely shocking that this partnership is back in business so soon after last year's debacle. It is equally shocking that Time Out choose to show a very one sided article about their upcoming shows - more of a marketing blurb than an interview really isn't it? I would strongly advise people not to support these shows - putting more money into the hands of two people who still owe a lot of people a lot of money.

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