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.
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.
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.