Drop It Like Its Bloc

Bloc 2012. By now, you’ll have heard that it was a disaster. Two of our members were there when it all went wrong: Phil and Rowan share their experience and thoughts on why it went wrong.

Bloc 2012, the most hyped festival in the UK this year, looked like it was going to be an amazing two days. Snoop Doggy Dogg, Orbital, Joker, Kode9, Four Tet, Flying Lotus, Amon Tobin (to name but a few) were all set to play over the weekend. So, feeling pretty hyped about it ourselves, we bought two weekend tickets. Little did we know what was about to happen: ticket breakdowns, poorly designed stages, massive queues and a police shutdown.

From the ground up

We arrive at 9pm on Friday night to encounter a several thousand strong queue outside the London Pleasure Gardens, the site of the festival. Now, we’ve had to queue to get into festivals before, so we took it in our stride and within an hour and a half (by this point missing Amon Tobin), we made it inside.

All pretty standard so far. And when we’re inside, we’re greeted with a fantastic view of the venue. The Soviet Era fishing vessel moored in the central dock, surrounded by tents and warehouses, looked amazing. The one and a half hour wait outside melted away and we were ready to go see DOOM in the main tent.

This is where it began to go seriously wrong. In every other festival we’ve been to, once you’re inside you can walk from tent to tent, dropping in and out of shows. Not at Bloc. They decided to funnel people through tiny gaps into each tent, creating huge queues outside every stage. We found ourselves, like every other Bloc attendee, queuing for another hour to get into the main tent and getting more frustrated by the minute.

Its now 11:30 and we catch the end of DOOM’s act. He was pretty good and it was great to finally see our first act after shelling out £100 each for the weekend tickets. Then Twitter starts to go crazy. Rumours abound that Bloc is being shut down due to overcrowding, thousands of people are still queueing to get into the venue, and the police have been called in to control the situation. There is no sign of Snoop, aside from a quick 1-2, 1-2 mic check, and by 00:45 we get the announcement that the entire festival has been cancelled due to overcrowding. We’re not even angry by this point, we’re just disappointed, the entire night had been one wait after another and now we were told that none of it was worth it.

What went wrong?

Despite no official explanation being given as to why the event was overcrowded, there are several indications as to what went wrong.

The Tickets: whilst in the queue outside rumours started to move up and down the queue that the barcode recognition system for tickets had broken down. By the time we got into the venue, they just checked our tickets, ripped them up and gave us wrist bands. No baggage checks, no ID checks, no barcode scanning of tickets. It appears by this point the ticketing company had lost control of how to monitor who had and who hadn’t paid for a ticket.

Layout: the venue was not designed to allow people to move freely. The main tent was surrounded by barriers and shipping containers, the ship had a one-in one-out policy, and all the other tents had single entry/exit points.

Security: personnel were backing people up in huge queues outside of the venue even before there was concerns that it might be getting too full. They were not counting people in or out of the venue or the tents. They did not appear to be in control of the situation.

Why did this go wrong?

This is the big questions and as of yet no official statement has been made explaining why the overcrowding took place. Yet, looking at what went wrong in and around the venue, it is possible to make an educated guess: too many tickets were sold. This explains why the ticketing check process broke-down, the security were attempting to back people up at every point to keep control of the crowds, and why the venue did not appear to be designed for this many people.

Who is responsible?

The big question is whether the organisers knew too many tickets were sold before they went ahead with Friday night or whether they did not. If they knew, it appears they decided to gamble that the event could be pulled off even with serious overcrowding issues. If they did not know or found out at the last minute, then the ticketing company Crowd Surge completely screwed over possibly the biggest festival in Europe this year.

The Police

There are lots of rumours that there was violence and that things got out of control, but from the ground it looks like the police handled it really well. They dealt with the huge crowd calmly and professionally, and it was correct for the event to be shut down like it was. Nobody wants a repeat of Love Parade.

Bloc 2013?

Only if they give us a refund.

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27 thoughts on “Drop It Like Its Bloc

  1. Pingback: Bloc 2012 cancelled: what we know so far, refunds and alternative plans – FACT magazine: music and art

  2. Police were fantastic given the grief they had to put with from drunken ket’ead’s. Spoke to one of the officers who I think told us (group) the venue capacity 11000 and event sold something like 18000+. I can understand slightly overselling but…
    On your point regarding tickets and security checks, it got to a point where they had to be lenient with checks to alleviate the crush the queue was causing (not helped by queue jumpers). Just as we were going in after ticket checks I heard one of the security guys telling staff to abandon all searches.
    Saving grace? The people I was with… Can make any shit situation seem good!

    Liked the venue but the layout was wack!

  3. Agreed on the police: the atmosphere could have been really bad but they cleared everyone out calmly, when the organisers (or whoever it was with megaphones) just kept making vague unhelpful announcements. Actually there was another entrance to the main stage round the far side of it where there was NO queue to get it as I guess no-one was being told it was there. While waiting for Snoop I popped from front middle out of the tent to a massive toilet block with no queues and then back in the tent in about 10 minutes: really weird the security/ queue controllers didn’t tell people to go round to that entrance as well?!
    Pretty shoddy organisation on top of the too many ticket sales: no open air stages meant all the stages were very limited capacity; what did they think the 1000s of people who couldn’t fit into the tents were meant to be doing? (queueing I guess).

    Anyway, all’s good. It’s amazing to see the number of bloc alt shows and parties popping up around London tonight.

  4. Even in the tents it was too quiet. I got there early (5pm) an got in just in time to see Steve Reich (brilliant!) in the RA tent. Then stayed there for Nicolas Jaar but it was too quiet. People were shouting “louder”.. you could hear the drone of everyone talking over the music. We left the RA tent to get more beer/go to the toilet and queued back up for Digital Mystics. The queue became a terrifying crush. Again it was too quiet! I was standing next to the sound/light booth and overheard a conversation between a punter who complained it was too quiet and one of the sound guys who said “we’ve got the noise nazi over there, so there’s nothing we can do”.

    As for the entrance to the main tent on the other side that lead out to the free toilets.. I tried to go to those toilets but security weren’t letting people in.. saving them for the saturday.

    The venue has so much potential! It could be really amazing but the tents were too small for such big name acts!

    • Its not nice that the situation happens, but the police stepped in and stopped any Love Parade-esque crushes. Given how overwhelmed the organisers were, its good the police stepped in.

  5. Pingback: Bloc promoters insist venue will host Olympics concert | Old News

  6. Pingback: LED Lighting News » Blog Archive » Bloc promoters insist venue will host Olympics concert

  7. In my opinion there were two main problems which lead to a whole catalogue of linked issues causing many people to become more and more disgruntled.

    Main problem 1) infrastructure to get into the festival was totally lacking – there were no stewards policing the initial huge queue outside the gates (on the road) to get in. This lead to people skipping the queue and to people getting annoyed that there was injustice before we even entered the venue. The queue inside the gates was poorly managed – it’s winding nature meant that every one was pushed into different places and you were left to choose your own line once you reached the wrist band checks where there was no management of sequence between bag checks, wrist bands and metal detectors. They should have split the queue and placed people in which ones were most empty to assure a steady flow of people moving forward. There was also seemingly absolutely no communication between those at the front line of the gates and those letting the exterior queue in – this is was a HUGE error leading to almost a stampede inside the gates. How walks talkies were omitted from planning suggests that the organisers were almost certainly retarded/high

    Main problem 2) ALL the tents inside had only one entrance. This was totally and utterly unacceptable and basically shot all our chances of hearing music from the outset. The recreational free space was dotted with cargo containers meaning that people were penned in. Why the tents were not designed to have completely open sides is beyond me. If you take Field Day as an example of excellent festival planning then we see a good flow of layout (all tents spaced apart from one another, no obstacles and all food trucks in one area), and compare it to BLOC, Field Day is like a dream (even though it down pours almost every year people remain happy and the event continues like a dream). I have literally NO IDEA why they decided an over priced Slush Puppy stand was a good thing to have next to the entrance of one of the main tents. Good one guys.

    problems that contributed to the above are as follow:

    – stewards had no training meaning that when we asked on ‘where is Laedarum’ we were given a shrug. The general lack of training for all personnel on site meant that it was poorly managed and contributed to festival goers confusion and frustration

    – the festival site, although looking good, was so poorly planned it was inevitable there was not going to be enough space for attendees even if they didn’t oversell. Why clump all tents together in one area and have a huge space (near and around Carhaart dome) just filled with loos and bars

    – it is fairly obvious that there was an lack of operational communication – there are always separate parties involved in the organisation of such events and the only thing that i can think that could have lead to such an almighty f+ck up is that ticket sellers didn’t communicate that there were too many sold, security staff and stewards didn’t communicate that things were getting worse and worse both inside and outside the gates meaning that once people were in they had nothing to see. the lack of space exacerbated the problem here

    – the bars were TOTALLY over priced. £4.50 for a can of beer is the most i have ever spent, and I felt like they were taking the piss. This does not breed happiness in people who ave already paid over £100 for a weekend ticket for a London based festival with no camping. This smacks of greed, which can be seen in the apparent over selling of tickets

  8. In my opinion there were two main problems which lead to a whole catalogue of linked issues causing many people to become more and more disgruntled.

    Main problem 1) infrastructure to get into the festival was totally lacking – there were no stewards policing the initial huge queue outside the gates (on the road) to get in. This lead to people skipping the queue and to people getting annoyed that there was injustice before we even entered the venue. The queue inside the gates was poorly managed – it’s winding nature meant that every one was pushed into different places and you were left to choose your own line once you reached the wrist band checks where there was no management of sequence between bag checks, wrist bands and metal detectors. They should have split the queue and placed people in which ones were most empty to assure a steady flow of people moving forward. There was also seemingly absolutely no communication between those at the front line of the gates and those letting the exterior queue in – this is was a HUGE error leading to almost a stampede inside the gates. How walks talkies were omitted from planning suggests that the organisers were almost certainly retarded/high

    Main problem 2) ALL the tents inside had only one entrance. This was totally and utterly unacceptable and basically shot all our chances of hearing music from the outset. The recreational free space was dotted with cargo containers meaning that people were penned in. Why the tents were not designed to have completely open sides is beyond me. If you take Field Day as an example of excellent festival planning then we see a good flow of layout (all tents spaced apart from one another, no obstacles and all food trucks in one area), and compare it to BLOC, Field Day is like a dream (even though it down pours almost every year people remain happy and the event continues like a dream). I have literally NO IDEA why they decided an over priced Slush Puppy stand was a good thing to have next to the entrance of one of the main tents. Good one guys.

    problems that contributed to the above are as follow:

    – stewards had no training meaning that when we asked on ‘where is Laedarum’ we were given a shrug. The general lack of training for all personnel on site meant that it was poorly managed and contributed to festival goers confusion and frustration

    – the festival site, although looking good, was so poorly planned it was inevitable there was not going to be enough space for attendees even if they didn’t oversell. Why clump all tents together in one area and have a huge space (near and around Carhaart dome) just filled with loos and bars

    – it is fairly obvious that there was an lack of operational communication – there are always separate parties involved in the organisation of such events and the only thing that i can think that could have lead to such an almighty f+ck up is that ticket sellers didn’t communicate that there were too many sold, security staff and stewards didn’t communicate that things were getting worse and worse both inside and outside the gates meaning that once people were in they had nothing to see. the lack of space exacerbated the problem here

    – the bars were TOTALLY over priced. £4.50 for a can of beer is the most i have ever spent, and I felt like they were taking the piss. This does not breed happiness in people who ave already paid over £100 for a weekend ticket for a London based festival with no camping. This smacks of greed, which can be seen in the apparent over selling of tickets

  9. I didn’t go this year after going the past 3. Didn’t fancy the venue and location. Not to be smug (honest!) but what was great about the venue? Wasn’t it just a bit of wasteland with some tents and portaloos on? I’m genuinely curious.

    • I think the boat, the warehouse, the docklands location and the way the videos on Bloc’s website made it look were all a big draw. Yes, the layout caused the choke points and massive queues, but the various components of the layout all looked really good on an individual basis.

  10. Just another thing about the entrance.. I came in at 5-6pm so experience much of a crush and didn’t have to wait tooooo long (only about 45 minutes!). But did anyone else suspect that sniffer dog (puppy) was fake?

    • I saw the sniffer dog! Yeah he was young, not quite a puppy and just after I got through the check the dog jumped over a 35 and something man that was immediately “taken in custody” and brought away for what I imagine be a full search … so I think the dog worked well … but he was just one for all the queue lines! =O

  11. Interesting comments regarding sound (or lack of) from the stages, and the closed in performance areas. Most festivals are situated out of town, greenfirld sites, away from built up areas. London Pleasure Gardens is surrunded on three sides by residential developments. The “Noise Nazi” was there to ensure that the permitted decibel level wasn’t exceeded so as not to disturb the people living next door, and for many people attending, that was too low. Its the same situation with the tents having sides. The noise had to be contained, so whilst any other festival would enjoy thuming good music, BLOC was lacking. The venue, because its surrounded by desidential developments, isn’t ideal for large scale festivals. And thats a shame as it had so much potential. Lets hope BLOC can survive this. Back to Minehead next year?

  12. Pingback: Bloc promoters insist venue will host Olympics concert - Claims For Refunds

  13. Pingback: Bloc promoters insist venue will host Olympics concert - Claim Refunds

  14. Pingback: Bloc promoters insist venue will host Olympics concert - Claim Refund

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