Now in it's fourth year, Bloc Weekend is the discerning raver's blowout of choice. It's not the biggest, hardest or messiest dance festival but it's definitely the most thoughtfully programmed. Bloc is a sleepless, bassbin-hugging cousin of All Tomorrow's Parties; it's Sonar relocated to a resort with the cheaply futuristic look of a motorway services. The Bloc team are evangelists for quality dance music: if you need your faith restored, look no further.
Suited and booted, Roots Manuva looks as authoritative as he sounds. The quality of his beats is variable, though, and early hits like 'Juggle Tings Propa' and 'Dreamy Days' get the biggest reaction until the pneumatic 'Witness' takes the room apart.
Friday's revelation is Ms Dynamite. She's at a rave, not a tea party, and has ditched the awards fodder for hard-nosed garage and dancehall that works perfectly with her frantic, ragga-coated delivery. When pirate radio anthem 'Boo!' crashes in, Bloc begs for rewinds. A slow moving queue keeps us from Joy Orbison who, by all accounts, lived up to expectations raised by last summer's euphoric 'Hyph Mngo'. We console ourselves with East End dubplates from the boy Youngsta and lean, intense techno from Stockholm's Adam Beyer.
N/E/D Vs Punksi kick off Saturday's Overkill lineup. Their set reflects Bloc's inclusive outlook, switching neatly between soca-inflected house, shimmering electro, crushing dubstep and piano-battering hardcore. Punski shouts something about ice cream while Lewis Carroll characters punch beach balls around. It's 6pm. Elsewhere, Subloaded hold court as Peverelist & Appleblim's sublimely spiritual dubs prepare the way for the apocalyptic bass sermons of Pinch & Distance.
Then comes a three horned dilemma as actual pop stars Salt & Pepa clash with Joker and Flying Lotus. DJ Spinderella cuts shamelessly from S&P hits like 'Shake Your Thang' to crowd-pleasing breaks like 'Crazy In Love' while the rappers theatrically trade lyrics and bump 'n' grind with their male dancers. Joker's mixing has finally caught up with his production skills. His cocksure set marks territory between swaggering G-Funk and heads down UK pressure. Easton should be proud. California's Flying Lotus sets Hip Hop loose in a hall of mirrors to mind-bending effect.
Kode 9 b2b Martyn is a real highlight; glueing deep house positivity to rattling garage beats and enough bass to sink a battleship. Kode 9's alchemical Black Sun is as good a definition of the infinite possibilities in UK dance music as I've heard all weekend.
Back at Overkill, we're treated to a masterclass from a true legend of UK electronica. Luke Vibert has always worked with a dizzying variety of styles but tonight he bins the boundaries altogether. It makes for an hour of electronic bliss as wild acid lines scrawl dementedly over the tuffest breaks. In contrast, Berlin's T++ is purity itself - exquisite, icy minimalism with a warming undercurrent of dub. Then it's right back into the storm with artfully punishing techno from UK titans Surgeon and Luke Slater.
Festivals like this shape the music scene in a vital way - breaking down barriers between genres and championing the bravest sounds. Bloc will continue to thrive as long as there are ravers with open minds.
Pics (top to bottom): Roots Manuva, Ms Dynamite, Peverelist & Appleblim, Luke Vibert.
Photography by Ellen Doherty.
A shorter version of this review appeared in Venue Magazine.