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Glastonbury’s NYC Downlow continues to set the standard for queer festival spaces – Review

The festival's go-to spot for drag and debauchery was the perfect spot to celebrate 50 years since Stonewall.

By Will Stroude

Words: Padraig O’Caithan and Benjamin Blair

Photography: Allan Gregorio 

After taking a year off, the buzz around Glastonbury’s return couldn’t have been bigger. From a big ol’ gay perspective, not having an annual dose of the world’s greatest festival left thousands of queens bereft of meaning last June.

This year, there were two reasons to wet our collective knickers about: the return of the NYC Downlow and the coinciding 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. As one part of Team Attitude head to the Big Apple, another gaggle of us decamp to the hills of South West England for one of the sunniest, hottest and most eagerly anticipated Glastos ever.

As the heat of the day subsides we descend onto Block9, home to the late night dance clubs and a beacon for those refusing to go to bed when the main gig stages close.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, Block9 is the creation of Gideon Berger and Stephen Gallagher, a fantastical space consisting of indoor and outdoor dance arenas, from futuristic Borg-like constructions pumping a mix of techno and house to the more familiar queer destination the NYC Downlow, a homage to vintage New York. Passing through the gates into Block 9 is rabbit hole of fun limited only by your own imagination.

Our attention invariably fixates on the infamous Downlow. Carcasses hanging from hooks as the club tips its hat to NYC’s meat-packing district; a motley crew of drags and dancers flash a smile and serve shade at the queue of stragglers that have made the pilgrimage from all corners of the festival to indulge their inner queer.

Inside, we’re met with a wall of humidity as the thick summer sir mixes with the sweat of the dancing masses. There’s a hint of poppers in the air. Jonny Woo leads the Downlow’s eclectic (and eccentric) family on stage to entertain and bewilder.

From the serious eye-candy gogo boys to the fiercest drag queens and our trans sisters, it’s queer hedonism to a dirty disco beat. Props to Frieda Slaves dominating the main bar area, like a true mother of the house watching over us all.

The DJ line-up is unceasingly addictive as ever: from Eric Morillo to Black Madonna back to back with Garrett David, Smokin’ Jo and Larry Heard, and the Downlow’s own Gideon Berger.

As the NYC Downlow marks over a decade of unapologetically in-your-face queerness as Glastonbury’s first LGBTQ space – a feature that is now commonplace at any decent festival – this year Block9 unveils its newest addition, IICON. A gigantic head with a screen for eyes releasing trippy projections and lasers, IICON is Block9’s creative response to the world that we live in today, and breaking down the themes of data, technology, privacy and power set to a techno beat worthy of the finest Berlin clubs.

But Block9 is as much about embracing our cultural history as it is about relishing the new. Commemorating a momentous 50 years since the Stonewall riots, Luke Howard of Horse Meat Disco takes the mic to deliver a heart felt reminder how it was thanks to our lesbian and trans sisters that we as a community can celebrate who we are truly with such wild abandon.

Our celebration of life came from the sacrifices of our brothers and sisters who gave their lives to create the reality we now enjoy. It’s this blend of respecting our shared history while creating new paths forward that gives life to these legendary NYC Downlow nights, a space for all that stumble in to channel their wildest, craziest, truest selves. This is the world as it should be.

As we decide that maybe there is such a thing as too much fun we make the pilgrimage back to our tent, only to return every night without fail.

Come Monday morning, we leave Glastonbury and our beloved Block 9 with sore heads, aching feet, but a full heart having experienced kindness, openness and an empathy that makes it hard for our walls and ego to get a look in. See you next year.