Aphex Twin & Hecker
at Bloc Weekend

You can't please all the people all the time, but you can bash them into a pulpy mass. Aphex Twin & Hecker show us how it's done, as witnessed by Fillip K Donk

By Fillip K Donk

 photo credit: Michiru
Perhaps I should start with the end. After the set was over, my companion and I staggered out to the relatively fresh air of the 'smoking area' courtyard, featuring a huge Bob the Builder statue, and sat speechlessly for some time. It was that much.

How we arrived at this point is still unclear to me. I've waited to write this review because I was hoping that either memory or reason would reveal all. Or that maybe just hearing other reactions would help me clarify my own memories. They haven't. It's not that my memory is faint, more that there was so much going on it's difficult to distil into something written. Overall the experience was one of incredible multi-faceted sensory overload — it wasn't just cranked up to 11, there were several axes on which the data points were moving off the scale, all at once. We are assured that approximately two hours passed during this time, which opened with a post-technological-singularity-inspired sample from Colossus (which seemed faintly hilarious after the fantastic preceding set by Egyptian Lover, who presented an extremely different vision of retro-futurism), and then commenced an undertaking which completely dismantled frivolous constructions like 'rave', 'fun', and possibly also 'music' for the time it held sway. After extensive consultation with other witnesses I cannot more accurately report beyond the following:

This collaboration between Aphex Twin and Florian Hecker took place at 12.30 am in the cavernous main room at Butlins Minehead on the 15th of March. A relatively early slot based on festival time, but you could argue that time becomes rather meaningless during a weekender like Bloc. Throughout, there was extensive visual overload, combining multicoloured lasers so lavish you could practically taste the pricetag, and profoundly disturbing and masterfully mixed visuals with what I can only call extraordinarily synchronised strobes. There was also an inexplicable dancer who, after a period on the stage, moved through the crowd, treating lucky dancers to the sounds coming from the the megaphones which featured in her elaborate costume. And of course an enormous illuminated Aphex Twin logo, illuminated in a semiotic attack. But the real star of the show was the full surround sound rig. No other act of the festival, so far that I or anyone else I have consulted can remember, stretched out and into that system like Aphex Twin and more assuredly, Hecker did. Of course the subjective experience of this system was entirely dependent on the location of the listener; from my position slightly behind and to the left of the sound desk, it was fantastic. For the most part the rave onslaught of Aphex built up and out from the front stacks, in densely packed clouds of bass with numerous changes of pace and turnabouts. All the while an insidious range of DSP flutterings, whooshes, cackles on the edge of hearing, and countless other aural smoke and mirror tricks played out behind. Occasionally a crisp sound would boom out from the back of the room, causing scores of people to spin round and look out for devilry going on behind their backs. At times it built up in volume to rival the main speakers, becoming a kind of call-and-response with the rest of the music, at others dying back to a haunting susurrus, leaving many in the audience turning around again, wondering where it had gone.

I don't really remember anything resembling discrete tracks, although by the second hour, the plays with BPM and space and weight were vintage Aphex, and I kept expecting a cataclysmic dissolution in increasing speeds as per usual, but it stayed restrained and clinical. This stayed true amongst the rides through walls of sound, and the tension between excess and constraint reached a peak about when the visuals shifted to a stomach-turning sequence of autopsy footage. You got an overwhelming sense of choreography and control underpinning the chaos of clashing sound and light, and could see that there was a distinct thread which would take you step by step either down the drain or possibly up and out into sanity. In the end it did neither, it just led on. There was never a sense of resolution that you often get from a DJ set; this felt like a live set, and went on a very dark path, but it finished firmly and solidly, even if it didn't ascend into neatness or feel-good takeaway lessons.

Perhaps I'm not documenting a set here but an experience — I certainly had one. I have heard from others in the audience who were unmoved by the set, and others who thought it was fair but not the best from either performer or as good as what they expected to hear from them together. Perhaps this was due to being in a poor location relative to the surround sound; or because the performance was so completely of a piece it needed to be witnessed in its entirety, and many of them did not catch the whole thing. I was and remain completely and totally bowled over by this rare privilege to appreciate something so original and multisensory. It was the highlight of my festival to see these two artists work together to achieve something so completely and utterly impressive.
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