Bloc 2012: What went wrong?

Now that the dust has settled on Friday night’s Bloc Weekend fiasco, it’s time to try and understand what went so wrong. An event which should have been one of the largest underground dance music festivals in the UK turned to chaos before it even reached the half-way point, with severe overcrowding leading the police to be called in as the event was closed down.

Bloc organisers Baselogic issued the following statement on their website early on Saturday morning:

By now everyone will have heard that Bloc 2012 was closed due to crowd safety concerns. We are all absolutely devastated that this happened, but the safety of everyone on site was paramount. Given the situation on the ground, we feel that it was the right decision to end the show early. Bloc will not open on Saturday 7th July so please don’t come to the site. Stand by for full information on refunds.

We were there as paying customers and experienced the event first-hand, albeit only from outside the arena along with thousands of others who failed to get through the gates. Arriving at around 9.30pm, we joined a queue which already stretched the best part of 100m down the road. Two hours later, having moved little more than a few metres, we were told that the gates were now closed and we should all go home. As we later learned, the festival was shut down and evacuated around an hour later. Those of our friends who made it inside report two hour queues to move from one tent to another and inadequate sound systems.

Possible causes

All parties seem to be in agreement that the cause of the problem was overcrowding inside the venue. Rumours of over-ticketing circulated around the site but there doesn’t seem to be any significant evidence to support this theory. Dummy Mag report London Metropolitan Police’s ludicrous assertion that “the problem stemmed from rain, and people hiding under cover during the showers, creating huge ‘pinch-points’… rather than any over-ticketing.” For what it’s worth, we didn’t notice a drop of rain in the couple of hours we spent standing outside.

We’re not going to point the finger of blame at this stage, but questions need to be asked about the suitability of the site itself. The Pleasure Gardens is a new venue, designed by the team behind Glastonbury’s Shangri-La area. Aside from a couple of smaller launch events – including a failed attempt to break the world record for the biggest ever hokey cokey – Bloc was the first major event to be held at the venue.

The part which doesn’t quite add up is that the Pleasure Gardens’ website – and, presumably, their licences – state a capacity of 35,000. Press releases we received from Baselogic clearly stated that “capacity at Bloc will be strictly limited to 15,000″ (a significant increase on the 6,000 capacity of last year’s event at Butlin’s in Minehead). Even if Bloc had been oversold by 100% – which we don’t believe for a second – it still wouldn’t have reached the theoretical capacity of the site.

Click to enlarge

However, the site layout itself simply didn’t seem capable of holding 35,000. When viewed from the DLR trains which pass conveniently above the Pleasure Gardens on both sides, it was obvious that large parts of the space were effectively unused. Each of the stages was housed in a fully enclosed tent – presumably to keep sound levels down – meaning that everyone who wanted to hear the music needed to be inside one of these temporary structures. Aside from a couple of bars, one half of the space was barely used.

Even before the event, questions had been raised about the logic of stationing some of the most popular acts on the bill – Friday’s Numbers vs Swamp81 showcase and Saturday’s Hyperdub showcase – on board the MS Stubnitz. With a capacity of just 700, queues were inevitable to gain entry to the converted fishing vessel, but it was assumed that this wouldn’t be the case for other stages.

Did Baselogic or CrowdSurge knowingly or inadvertently oversell tickets? It seems highly unlikely to us. CrowdSurge are an experienced ticketing company (who, for the record, have emailed customers to inform them that Baselogic are “solely responsible” for refunds). Baselogic have successfully run five previous Bloc festivals in holiday camps in Norfolk and Somerset.

So, if ticket sales matched the theoretical capacity, is the Pleasure Gardens’ licence simply too large for the site itself? The licence was presumably determined on the basis of a crowd spread evenly across the entire area of the site. In the case of Bloc, this was never likely to be accurate; not only were the majority of the stages situated on one side of the arena, but there was no reason why large numbers of people would choose to stand outside the tents at any given time. Rain or no rain, music fans want to be able to hear the music.

The future for Bloc

The one positive to come out of the weekend is that there were – as far as we’re aware – no reports of serious injury (or worse). For Baselogic and the Bloc brand, things don’t look so good. The backlash has been so overwhelming that we really can’t see Bloc winning back people’s trust.

Even if the cost of tickets is eventually refunded, the chances of any compensation for travel and accommodation expenses seem remote. We spoke to people in the queue who’d travelled from Germany and the USA; no doubt plenty of others travelled from around the world based on the strength of the line-up. UK-based visitors will also have incurred significant costs for travel, accommodation and time off work.

Assuming Baselogic can survive the financial implications of issuing full refunds totalling well in excess of £1m, the Bloc brand is now likely to be so damaged that even a return to the holiday camp format could be out of the question.

 

 

Were you at Bloc? Has one of Europe’s most exciting festivals just committed suicide in public? Join the conversation below.

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  • Date: 9th July 2012
  • DogBiscuit Wrote:

    Wasn’t there but heard pretty much what’s reported above from friends that were. Among all the Facebook vitriol there aren’t many people who think as I do: a huge shame for underground dance music in the UK and great disappointment for all those there who wasted their time and money. And still a feel that we’ve not been told the truth.

  • 303_909 Wrote:

    Fucking shambles.

  • Lou Wrote:

    The rain excuse is rubbish, it wan’t raining when I was there 7-12.30. The tents just weren’t big enough for the number of people there.

  • The 456 Wrote:

    Looking at the site layout, the positions and size of buildings on site, the infrastructure, etc, one can clearly see that there are health and safety issues, primarily regarding the movement of people around the site and the number of people the site can (comfortable) take.
    As a regular festival goer (as an attendee and as crew) I look forward to the summer months as a time to enjoy some of the coolest festivals, and earn my living working at many of them. So knowing BLOC had a new home, i was so up for this event.
    It was a total disaster. I went as a paying punter, yet after a couple of hours, I could see they were in trouble.
    So what went wrong? I agree with the article above. Even if they had oversold by 100%, the site should (in theory) be large enough to take that number of people. So ticket issues aside, could the problem lay with the venue. Well…
    The venue (London Pleasure Gardens) has been licensed for 35,000 based on the total square meterage. In throry this should not be a problem, However a large part of the site has been given over to garden space – a walk through green area – and therefore that allocation of use impacts dramatically on the available space. Moving across to the area in front of Silo D, theres a grassy hill rather than flat event space used as ground seating for a performance area, whilst across the site towards the stage areas, the containers, backstage areas and display / scenic structures all eat up valuable square meterage.
    Up on the northern corner of the site there is a modest sized funfair. That area, without the funfair on it, could comfortable take in the region of 10,000 standing, however, that drops significantly with the fairground attractions in place, and realistically one would be looking at a space capable of taking the high hundreds, maybe a thousand people maximum.
    So whilst the site is licensed for upto 35,000 px approx, the available space simply does not allow for anywhere near that number.
    One then needs to look at the layout of the site to see yet more problems. Yes, its a big site, with the Dock to the North and a major arterial roadway to the south. Its very narrow and therefore people are restricted to a left/right option. But as the site occupies a corner plot, it curiously follows the corner of the dock, creating an L shaped event space. The stages are at either end, the funfair on the far corner of the dock and the bars and food outlets at the other.
    This restricted and unusual layout creates a series of natural crush points (or bottlenecks) which for smaller scale events (of around 5 – 10,000) would slow people down but not cause too much of a problem. However with higher crowd numbers, you can see that things would become uncomfortable and the site would grind to a halt. Given that the site sits on the corner of a deep water dock, and with events held at night, it is an accident waiting to happen.
    One wonders if the people running the site ran any simulations based on crowd behaviour patterns, or whether they simply looked at the square meterage of the site and based their calculations on using every centimetre of the whole site without looking at allocation of working spaces and layout.
    Whatever the reasons, the site is a disaster and hosting BLOC there will have fatally wounded this once great “brand”.
    Obviously, the relevent parties will be sitting down and trying to work out what went wrong, and the fingers of blame will be pointed by each party at the others. The above is my take on what could have caused the issues on the night. Its just an opinion. The truth will come out in the end.

  • Dan Proxy Wrote:

    I was there. Only half of the site appeared to be used. We arrived at 6pm. Queued for an hour to get into the festival site, where we disappointed to join another queue for a further 90 mins.
    Having spent 2.5 hours queuing we then spent another hour to get onto the boat.
    We were extremely lucky to enjoy the boat for 3 hours before we decided that we wanted to rejoin some of our friends and explore a new area.
    As we left the boat, we watched approx. 40 police officers join a barricade
    that had been set up to prevent people from getting on the boat.
    The ironic thing was that when we left the area, the boat had plenty of capacity.
    Who in their right mind would set up barriers to entry and exit to festival tents.
    BLOC should never be supported again. I urge everyone to steer clear from this brand. THis is the most epic fail of an event in the UK. At least none got hurt, and that is a credit to the people themselves who attended.

  • 120bpm Wrote:

    BLOC is (was) an epic event for many years. Its a shame that the shortcomings of an unfinished venue will ultimately be its downfall. I wus there too and you could see it wasn’t finished. Loads of it still part built, it was a dump! Queued for just under two hours to get in and could not get into any of the tents! Then we were asked to leave and they shut it down! I’m all for partying in different locations, but a building site?
    What a frakking joke!
    If they knew it wasn’t ready, they shouldn’t have opened.
    Lets get our money back. I hope BLOC sues and comes back bigger and better next year. I’ll still support it.

  • tronic Wrote:

    in administration now – will be interesting to see if people get their money back. will someone buy it for a quid and bring it back from the dead??