Aphex Twin, and Hecker wow crowd with an intense show

BLOC weekend 2009 reviews

published: Thu 19th Mar 2009

Aphex Twin

Friday 13th to Sunday 15th March 2009
Butlins Resort, Minehead, Somerset, TA24 5SH, England MAP
£125 per person - SOLD OUT
daily capacity: 5000
last updated: Wed 11th Mar 2009

After a hard day flying down water slides and drifting around the rapids it was time for some downtime. We prepared for the second day of festivities already buzzing with anticipation for the headliners Aphex Twin and Hecker.

Again, our adventures for the evening started in the Red stage which was host to a pleasantly laid back start. First up we were graced with UK Reggae/dub legends Zion Train with what the MC never tired of telling us was the original line-up from "way back then!" meaning 1988. Neil Perch, bathed in a smoky shroud of red, green and gold, drove a formidable, swaggering bass with a bouncing rhythm to which a live brass section of two accompanied. The MC, far from annoying (which is my usual experience of them) was really complementing the music, especially when Neil blessed certain accented shouts with some tasteful tape delay and blended them into a mesh of sirens creating an intense but always pleasant cauldron of sounds; a resonant and uplifting start to the day.

In contrast to that, on the same stage, we had Bristol's Bass Clef on next bringing a uniquely dark and brooding style. His songs consisted of beautifully produced minimal beats, with him adding a stock of clicks and twangs (some sounding more like flicking a ruler off the side of a table than anything drum like) creating an ambience of delicate sounds over which he worked his magic. And what his magic consisted in was a microphone and a little delay (along with some other effects I don't know how to describe) which he used to sample himself playing various percussive wooden and metal objects at some alarmingly syncopated rhythms. For many of his songs he whipped out a trombone from under his decks which he used to blow mournfully descending melodies which lingered, dissipating in a haze of beautiful effects. This is a really simple and original way to bring electronic music to the live setting and it sounded beautiful. There were a few hiccups in the sound, some cables coming lose or something, but this was quickly forgiven in the face of what was an absorbing and thoughtful set.

After being at BLOC for a day and a half the temptation became too much and we went off to the arcade to play House of the Dead. Such were the many options to pass time between acts. There were screens set up that you could digitally graffiti (no doubt to keep those hoods out of trouble), lots of merchandise to browse and even a vinyl store. So far too many pound coins and millions of (re?)dead zombies (yeahÂ… we're that good) later we climbed the stairs once again to the centre stage praying it wasn't going to be a repeat of last night's disappointment.

Egyptian Lover
We were early so we caught a fair amount of Egyptian Lover's set who I won't mention much because he was in the most part unexciting. I will mention one part though: After making the crowd chant '808' while holding up his Roland TR-808 (the first programmable drum machine) he turned a knob on it, and what came out of the enormous stack of Funktion-One scoops was the loudest and most consistent flow of bass heard all weekend. It was like standing on the bottom fast flowing river and trying to stand up. Obviously the crowd loved every second of it. The reason I mention this is to demonstrate the power of the sound system that would be accommodating Aphex Twin and Hecker.

After having our appetites for bass well and truly wetted we fidgeted and winced like dogs denied their treat while we waited for the stage to be set for the headliners. We knew we were in trouble as soon as we saw that the normal monitors for the artists were being replaced with the very same Funktion-One speakers that had just nearly made a hall full of people fall over. I remember thinking something along the lines of "these guys are mental", but at this stage I had no idea...

The two hours Florian Hecker and the enigmatic Aphex Twin were behind the decks was probably the most intense two hours I have ever experienced. Starting with hard dance and progressing through to what can only be described as harder-than-hard dance where the tempo and strength of the bass hits were almost too much to bear.

Throughout the set, a characteristically dark, sometimes scary aesthetic was achieved by the glitchy and discordant melodies that could just be heard through the hellish thuds, and the wholly encompassing infinity of pattern and motion barely contained within the screens flanking the stage. These screens were part of a whole array of visual stimulation that the pair had inextricably linked to the music.

Shifting and changing as the music shifted and changed; a cat's cradle of green lazers forming a canopy that stole attention as they constructed new shapes from their negative space and illuminated the smoke to the effect of creating a sky of green clouds. What made these two hours so different from anything else that weekend was that it was an entirely private experience. Even if you wanted to turn and talk to your friends, ask them what they thought etc, you wouldn't be able to see or hear them. Such was the amount of audio/visual sensory information on offer here. There was just too much to take in all at once and as a result I'm sure that everyone's experience of it was unique.

Aphex Twin
Like I said, the set progressed the intensity of the experience increasing exponentially, but no matter how small the increments of our immersion into the hellish imagination of the pair, nothing could have prepared us for the closing of the set. The music reached new industrial strength heights of ferocity while the closed circuit of strobes above us fired one after the other, increasing in speed until the square after image, burned into our retina by this time, hardly had time to fade before they flew back round again.

Then, to tip the whole experience fully into the realm of the insane, the screens started showing loops of what looked like genuine autopsy footage. Torsos being cut open and stitched back up with the surgeon's casual speed you never get used to; even what looked like a severed head appeared at one point. However disturbing and distasteful, though, I was drawn in completely by the morbidly curious thought of "That can't be what I think it is can it?" But it was, and when the sensory barrage came to an end the crowd was left open jawed in awe of the ineffable revelation that had just occurred. While talking to people afterwards the standard response was along the lines of "That was... intense... I didn't have a clue what was going on!" and while that may not sound entirely positive, it was intended to be praise and was said with an ear-wide grin accompanying it.

After our nervous system was pushed to the limit we were beyond grateful of the fact that the beach was literally over the road from the BLOC site. The end of our second day was spent winding down watching the sun rise over the calm waters.
review by: Robert Knowles

photos by: Bryn Russell

Friday 13th to Sunday 15th March 2009
Butlins Resort, Minehead, Somerset, TA24 5SH, England MAP
£125 per person - SOLD OUT
daily capacity: 5000
last updated: Wed 11th Mar 2009


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