by Paul Foxcroft
BRICK 2014 is a huge exhibit of LEGO craftsmanship and enthusiasm held in the ExCel Centre and for no good reason, I went to it with Canadian sketch comedian Kevin McDonald from The Kids In The Hall. We’d never been to ExCel before and it’s worryingly large. As a consequence, it took us both a while to find the press office and having done so, there was a surprisingly hostile man outside of it. Now, I can’t be certain, but there must have been a lot of people trying to blag press passes today, because this guy was all over the possibility of us being villainous in some way. Despite that, once we’d persuaded him to knock on the door for us, the press guys were adorable, to the point of being worth mentioning in this article. Super adorable. I guess what I’m saying, is that if you’re press, hang out with these guys.
Once we’d crossed the Rubicon of niceness and entered the exhibition hall, three things struck us immediately.
- This place is big.
- We’d assumed there would be some kind of super-giant LEGO thing that you could see from everywhere else in the room or climb inside or whatever. Something like a LEGO Master Control Program*. And there isn’t, because it’s incredibly impractical an idea.
- My god. It’s full of kids. And I know you’re going to be thinking “Well obviously, the toy exhibit is full of children,” but even so.
We started at a sort of Christmas market area, selling monstrous pastries, fudge and other things that might well seem like good gifts to normal people**. In the middle of this was what was clearly supposed to be some kind of soft play area, cushioned barriers and cubes forming the barriers of a shallow pit, full to an unknown depth with beige LEGO bricks. Kids were diving in this with abandon and making monochrome structures alongside their parents. I made and held eye contact with a woman who had made a three foot long “stick” of LEGO while her daughter played with the blocks, jumping through them like Scrooge McDuck through money.
We wandered on, clockwise around the exhibit. Kevin found and operated a “helicopter” after a helpful man explained, unbidden, how to use buttons as if he was addressing a child.
There’s a large area of international scenic dioramas and model buildings, ranging from weak (The Bolshoi Ballet is represented by six minifigures stood upright) to supremely impressive (Westminister Abbey, pictured).
There’s a selection of kids activities near here too, a few mosaic stands – we’d arrived too early to have any chance of seeing what might be made by the kids over the course of the day, though I understood it to be predetermined. A stall was given over to people who make LEGO devices that solve Rubik’s Cubes. Really. The constant background noise and activity is gently but persistently overstimulating and this is the point where we start to lose rationality.
There are Go-Karts*** and an odd area that seems to be a paddock for children to run around in a big circle for a prolonged period of time, then when they all leave, other children enter and begin running around – I cannot explain this behaviour. Neither could Kevin. We both wanted to determine what exactly was happening, but we had no time. We’d seen the next area…
The Fan Zone is the reason to come to this thing, it’s littered with cool, weird, inventive, obsessive people who’ve made… things with LEGO.
Cityscapes, LEGO scale reproductions of Mos Eisley, a really weird LEGO reenactment of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift**** (You know, Zulu), more Star Wars stuff (a LOT more), some big boats and for some unspoken reason, so very many trains. There’s loads of trains. I mean, you’d be forgiven if you thought it was the train area (the guide is very clear that it isn’t). I don’t know why. “People just like trains,” explained one of the exhibitors, attempting to be helpful. There’s a subculture here that we didn’t get to explore. A world of blue-shirted men and women who make incredible things from LEGO, all of whom seem to know each other, they sit behind their creations and chat with one another about their ideas – I heard a guy saying “Really looking forward to Christmas and having time to work on my LEGO projects,” as he sagely observed an enormous cut-away castle.
A stage sits in one corner, we observed a show featuring a pair of “nice” presenter-men and four elegantly coiffed ladies (The Legettes), seemingly fresh from a Les Mis audition, singing close harmony, pun-based reworkings of popular songs, “Thank you for the LEGO, the bricks I’m building…” But the kids seem to enjoy this massively; even event mascot Studley, an animate, cap-wearing 4×2 red brick who is nothing but a nightmare given form. I’ll say this for the show, there’s dancing, audience participation and loud, loud music – but the lighting’s a mess. A high point was post show, as The Legettes walked past us, one of them jovially invited her colleague to “Suck my dick.” Which, while I found this hilarious, may well have been overheard by a bunch of nearby kids. Whoops.
There’s a broad range of places to hang out and make stuff, Minecraft seems incredibly popular with the kids and the diverse range of LEGO video-games has a strong presence in the middle of the arena. There’s also a range of LEGO retailers including a few specialist mini-figure stores. Kevin and I discovered that they seem to focus on LEGO reproductions of famous dead people, evidently LEGO Nelson Mandela is a big seller. As is Freddie Mercury*****. They’re launching a Michael Jackson soon, it seems death relaxes a lot of licensing laws.
I mean, as redundant as this statement is, if you’re a big LEGO fan, there’s a lot here for you. Even if you like LEGO, there’s a lot going on. Kids are going to go wild, though I spoke to a father of two kids who told me that his kids wanted to go home after about an hour, because that was where their LEGOs were, they’d been so inspired by the exhibits and activities, all they wanted to do was build.
I had a surprising amount of fun walking around this place. There’s plenty for children to do, but I think both Kevin and I took the most enjoyment in looking into the intricate little worlds that the fans had made. Sci-fi mashups and railways, cityscapes and railways, Jules Verne style adventures and more railways. God, there are so many trains. But even the trains are cool. The best thing about LEGO has always been making things you’re not “supposed” to make and this exhibit is full of passionate people who’ve done that and want you to spend a day with them to show you what they can do.
* From TRON. Duh.
** Not me, essentially.
*** That appear to be made, not of LEGO, but of whole Go-Karts. Disappointing.
**** No, really.