Well that was an odd night out. We went to a festival where we found it essentially impossible to hear any of the music.
London Pleasure Gardens is a simply fantastic concept. A vast, beautiful wasteland of waterside urban decay transformed into a semi-permanent festival and art project, right on our proverbial doorstep.
It sounded almost too good to be true, especially when respected electronic music weekender Bloc announced they were to relocating their acclaimed party there, featuring a jaw dropping line-up of artists and a full 6am (6am!) licence.
Unfortunately it did indeed prove way too good to be true.
Excited, I also went to the opening event at the Pleasure Gardens last weekend. Billed as a family festival, it suffered greatly from the rubble and dust that was underfoot (and airborne) plus had pretty much nowhere to sit down, far from ideal with restless kids.
Plenty of visible teething problems and unfinished areas, but a week is a long time to get your house in order in festival terms, so I was still confident of a good Bloc event. The distinctly non-Garden like environment that had felt a little too hardcore with a 2-year-old strapped to my back seemed like it would be a lot more exciting at 2am with blistering techno to jump around to, this time unleashed.
The first sign of the trouble to come yesterday was the size of the queue to get in. It was an absolute monster. Snaking right around the site, with little crowd control seemingly in place but good natured revellers generally waiting their turn.
Our passage in wasn’t too bad considering, but by the looks of the Twitter feed an hour or so later, we were very lucky with the timing of our arrival. Once inside though it was quickly apparent that yet more queuing was required to enter any of the arenas – even the big top, which must surely have a capacity of around 10,000 – boasted another mega human bottleneck.
So we enjoyed checking out the lovely landscaped walks around the back of the site, full of unusual artworks, cool places to sit down and amazing views. Everything still looked set for an exciting night as darkness began to descend, yet there was a lot of noise coming from the gates.
We witnessed the complete breakdown of security and thousands more people flooding in to the area, surging through totally unchecked after waiting for up to 3 hours outside. Behind us the queue to get on to converted communist era rave boat M.S Subnitz was already in the thousands. Where the bejesus were all these new people going to go?
It was now becoming clear that getting inside any of the main arenas was going to be almost impossible (despite the fact that when we slipped in the ‘exit only’ door of the main tent there was actually masses of space left to fill inside).
More aimless wandering around ensued, and plenty of talk about what A-grade carnage would surely have unfolded had it been raining, as was forecast. We chatted to people who had travelled down from Sheffield and up from Bournemouth, all bitterly, vocally disappointed. Made us realise how lucky we were with our relatively short, inexpensive journey home to KT. And that was enough – it was high time to make dash for the DLR rather than be stranded to queue once more for ways to get home in the early hours.
Police officers with intent were swarming at the main gates. Yet more fortunate timing on our part. Half an hour later they made their move and the entire event was stopped. Headliner Snoop Dogg never even made it on stage. Reading everything unravel minute by minute on Twitter it was difficult to make sense of what we’d just experienced.
Bloc was also a textbook case of how not to run official social media profiles, channels that could have helped give out vital info. Instead they ignored a torrent of complaints and cheerily went on talking about acts coming on stage before suddenly going very quiet.
If you want our opinion on what went wrong here – and we have yet to hear the official line – poor ticketing systems played a big part (including rumour of the ability to add up to 9 extra places on to free voucher coded tickets), under resourced, overwhelmed security didn’t help, and key to the whole mess was the attempt to contain all the arenas for noise regulations, leading to ridiculous queuing systems and much too little dancefloor capacity. Flow of a crowd even half the size would still have been painfully slow.
Fingers can’t honestly be pointed at any single reason/organisation for such a total failure. But with the big BT sponsored London River of Music event due to be held here in a fortnight there is a lot more work to be done. Ultimately London Pleasure Gardens seems to have been a casualty of the race to finish everything in time for the Olympics. It wasn’t ready. It certainly wasn’t ready for Bloc’s ticketing/security perfect storm.
Can LPG and Bloc bounce back from this bona fide fiasco? We really, really hope so as both are trying to do something beautiful, glorious and a little bit crazy. Unfortunately they only achieved all the wrong kind of crazy last night.
Words & Pics: Tom Kihl