The organizers behind the disastrous Bloc music festival in London last July are finally talking about what went wrong. Their statement reads like a how-to guide for ruining music festivals. Before Bloc kicked off on Friday, July 6th, the festival looked promising, with scheduled sets by electronic artists like Richie Hawtin, Orbital, Flying Lotus, Ricardo Villalobos and rappers like Snoop Dogg and DOOM. But it only took a few hours for things to implode. It didn't turn devolve into anarchy a la Woodstock '99, and no one was killed by mercenary motorcyclists. But reports sounded like an agoraphobe's nightmare. Attendees were penned in like sardines, forced to stand on line for hours. And many of those lucky enough to get past the overcrowded gates were unable to get inside tents to see the performances. The powers that be shut the whole mess down at 11:45 pm, shortly before Snoop Dogg's headlining set. In their explanation of what went wrong, Bloc organizers Alex Benson and George Hull offer a complete guide of don'ts for putting on a summer concert.
Make the lines unbearably long. Understaffing at the entrance queue meant that many attendees waited in line for upwards of two hours. The Guardian's Dan Hancox reported, "People who had joined the main festival queue at 7.30pm were still there at 9.30pm, and witnessed a worrying absence of control, citing too few stewards and security to deal with the vast numbers trying to get in." Long lines are to be expected at these kinds of gatherings, but this just sounds like attendees were herded like cattle. Benson and George Hull say that they only sold 15,786 tickets, well under the London Pleasure Gardens' maximum capacity of 25,000 people. But venue capacity is only one yardstick—organizers also need to take into account their ability to scan tickets and get attendees through the gates quickly.
Scrimp on security. London's Metro Police were brought in to escort festival-goers off the grounds of the London Pleasure Gardens early Saturday morning. Security guards never get a good rap at these types of festivals, but they're needed for a reason. Crowds of this size need some ushering and oversight.
Choose a venue still under construction. "It is no secret that there were serious delays associated with the building of the London Pleasure Gardens site, leading to non-completion of groundwork, venues and general infrastructure," write Alex Benson and George Hull. Well, if the site had known construction delay issues, why did they pick it? Benson and Hull maintain that London Pleasure Gardens Ltd ensured them that a 2,800-capacity venue called The Hub would be completed in time for the festival, but two weeks before Bloc kicked off, they found out it wouldn't be ready in time. Other areas remained closed off due to pre-Olympic construction (because as everyone knows, sports > music). It's hard to believe the Bloc organizers when they write that London Pleasure Gardens seemed like "the perfect new home for Bloc." The perfect home for a music festival is a venue with plenty of space, facilities, and no potential construction problems to get in the way.
Run out of booze. A surefire way to kill the mood at any music festival. "One of the bars ran out of Budweiser by 10.30pm," Will Gilgrass, editor of the blog Radio ClubFoot told Gigwise shortly after the shut-down. Majorly uncool, Bloc.
Take two months to offer refunds. It's understandable that a failure of this magnitude would take a while to sort out, but Bloc should've made it their first priority to square things away with the attendees who spent hard-earned money on the festival only to have their weekend plans wrecked. They've finally posted information on how ticket-holders can go about getting their money back, but people who've gone this long without a refund must feel like they're still stuck on those interminable entrance lines.
These types of festivals are huge money-makers, and the temptation to oversell is always strong. It's not clear that Bloc intentionally oversold the event. A million factors went into making this event the disaster it turned out to be. But hopefully future music festival organizers will use Bloc 2012 as yet another example of what not to do when planning such a huge event.