If you have a cursory interest in festivals and a modicum of social media understanding you will no doubt be aware of the unfortunate early closure of Bloc 2012, which should have taken place over the weekend at the newly opened London Pleasure Gardens venue. The festival was subject to a controlled shut on the first night by the organisers due to public safety concerns. The rumour mill on site burst into gear… with people saying that tickets for the 15,000 capacity festival had been massively oversold.
The atmosphere on the ground was tense, with massive queues throughout the night. In fact, many had to queue for over two hours to enter the site (there’s a pointed irony that the online ticket agent used for the festival was called Crowdsurge). Queues for venues were always long, particularly the much-hyped MS Stubnitz boat, resulting in many festival goers missing acts they wanted to see.
Tent barriers were soon breeched with the overwhelmed security doing their best to control the enormous crowding. At 12:45, before headliner Snoop Dogg could take the stage, the Metropolitan police assisted on site staff evacuate the site. At 03:15 the official Bloc website announced the rest of the weekend would be cancelled, informing ticket holders to “Stand by for full information on refunds”.
Despite the obvious negative feeling amongst ticket holders the evacuation was for the most part good-natured; it could’ve descended into violence and arrests, thankfully it didn’t. That in itself is a credit to the festival goers, the on site team and the police.
It would be all too easy at this early stage to point the finger of blame, but remaining subjective let’s not forget the organisers didn’t want to have to shut it down. However, there are still some keen lessons that can be learnt, notably:
1. Use social media responsibly!
The official Bloc Twitter account was never used to communicate what was going on leaving punters having to rely on hashtags reporting scraps and conjecture which only helped exacerbated the problem. Social media is not a PR tool in instances like this – it’s a necessary news source.
2. Apologise and explain as quickly as possible.
The initial official announcement never actually apologised nor offered an explanation beyond the self-evident “crowd safety concerns”.
3. First year teething problems?
Previous Bloc festivals have been held in Butlins holiday camps. This concept works perfectly as the chalets naturally designate the capacity of the venues. As a site the London Pleasure Gardens reports a 15,000 capacity but the tents didn’t seem to match this. Did London Pleasure Gardens miss-sell the venue to the Bloc organisers? The site map displayed a bridge that crossed the dock. This was not present meaning all the crowding was confined to a relatively small area. Was the site actually finished and fit for purpose? These questioned will no doubt be answered but in the silence awaiting answers the noise of the rumour mill takes over.
4. “We’re gonna need a bigger boat…”
Many on Twitter have facetiously quoted this iconic line from Jaws in reference the colossal queues to gain entry to the Stubnitz boat. This venue was a major coup for the festival, and consequently became the first to become shut down for safety concerns. On board the venue worked incredibly and would’ve proved unforgettable had the festival ran to plan.
There is no doubt that much has to be learnt from this year if Bloc is to have a future. Cynics may say it was the victim of its own success, but for the short time the festival ran there were some truly amazing performances from Steve Reich and Nicolas Jaar. Amon Tobin’s ISAMshow was visually stunning and worked as an epitome of the forward thinking nature of the festival. In the coming weeks there will be some bitter pills to swallow for all concerned as the reasons behind what happened become more clear. But let’s hope this serves as a lesson to all festivals and that this can be prevented again. Let’s also hope that Bloc can make suitable reparations and prove themselves next year.
By Nik Jeffries.