The Magic Of Glastonbury’s Block9, From The People At Its Beating Heart

It’s difficult to describe the exhilaration you feel when first stepping into NYC Downlow. Drenched in sweat and teaming with drag queens and hunky bears dressed up in leather aprons, the notorious Glastonbury gay club – open for just five days a year – is flooded with the finest house music from both sides of the Atlantic. It’s a hedonistic queer dance mecca where you’re equally as likely to bump into East London nightlife royalty as the festival’s biggest acts (Dua Lipa celebrated her headline slot to the sounds of Columbian selector Leeon and Horse Meat Disco’s James Hillard inside the club last Friday). 

The mammoth structure, which resembles a 1980s New York warehouse-cum-bath house, is at the heart of Block9, Glasto’s naughtiest corner led by Gideon Berger (Gideön) and Stephen Gallagher; a place to lose all inhibition to a soundtrack curated by the most talented selectors from all corners of the globe. Here you’ll find IICON, a behemoth in its own right, which centres around a colossal surrealist head that feels akin to looking at a fallen statue while on an acid trip. A place to find thundering basslines so heavy you could hang your washing off them, highlights from this year’s edition included a dub and garage cocktail from LA-born Introspekt, the teeth-chattering jungle of Tim Reaper and Bottega Veneta collaborator Afrodutche, who dropped The Prodigy’s ‘No Good (Start To Dance)’ peak Saturday night under a sea of lazers. 

A stone’s throw away is another mighty spectacle, Geonsys, which this year returned to its original, brutalist stage structure populated with mini-greenhouses that towered high in the sky. Chock-full of some of the weekend’s best sets, knockout moments came from Berlin-based Bashkka, London’s OK Williams and Hannah Holland and glorious sunrise bliss provided by Midland and Panorama Bar resident, Partok.  

Those determined enough to brave NYC Downlow’s queues were greeted with a glorious education in queer underground finary. Laced with stellar performances from Jonny Woo’s resident drag troupe Maude Adams & All Those Children, Downlow and its sistering room The Meat Rack was treated to sets from Dungeon Meat, The Carry Nation, Sandy Rivera, Prosumer and Jeff Mendoza, amongst many others. And for the first time since it opened in 2007, Downlow hosted a day party, where a Cyndi Lauper drag queen lookalike contest was bookended by the actual Cyndi herself, turning up after her slot on the Pyramid stage to perform ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ to a room of joyous queers. Magical, right?

As we say goodbye to another unforgettable weekend of all-nighters in this immersive, other world, we thought we’d prolong the buzz and ask some of Block9’s legendary DJs, performers and photographers to reminisce about their favourite moments at the festival over the last few years.

Josh Caffé

What makes Block9 a highlight of your Glasto experience? 

The sense of community is always strong. Everyone really looks out for each other on and off the dancefloor. The lineups are always diverse, I’m always looking forward to seeing so many DJ sets. 

Can you remember your first time entering Block9?

Yes it was 2011, the year Beyoncé played the Pyramid stage. That was one of the wash out years, it rained every single day. I remember our coach arriving to the Block 9 site and literally sliding all the way downhill because the roads were so bad with mud. My first impression was shit this is going to be hard but once we settled and went into the Block 9, all was forgotten. 

What’s the best drag show you’ve seen inside the Downlow?

Le Gateau Chocolat always nails it. 

What have been some of your favourite memories from your time at Block9 over the years?

Too many to mention but voguing for Kate Moss in Maceo’s [Block9’s all day, all night bar and cooling off point for its extended friends and family] and dancing to Neneh Cherry’s secret DJ set in Maceo’s was pretty special.

Hannah Holland

What makes Block9 a highlight of your Glasto experience?

The Block9 experience is like no other. The sets/worlds for each experience, whether it’s Genosys, IICON or NYC Downlow are like going to some sci-fi theme park from another galaxy with the most cutting-edge music, attracting and hosting the queers and the outsiders. Hedonism with serious taste. 

Can you remember your first time entering Block9?

It was the first year that Block9 and the NYC Downlow was joined by The London Underground, which was a life-size tower block with a tube train smashing through it, when you entered it was the best in UK bass music, with the most incredible dancefloor and solid sound. Opposite that was the old structure of Downlow, a life size New York back alley with a taxi cab crash into the side of a billboard, and upon entering you were taken to the sounds of Paradise Garage, The Loft, Shelter etc. with a host of East End punk drag queens performing. Wild on all fronts. Oh, and there was a fine dining restaurant shack that doubled up as a gay bordello next door, too!

What have been some of your favourite sets you’ve seen at Genosys?

Steffi and Virginia’s sunrise set was full power, crazy and epic. Plus The Carry Nation with their future New York beatdown out to a peak time later filled the field.

What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen inside the Downlow?

The wildest moments are when Luke Howard plays the last set… He has this ability to transport you to a different dimension and by that point of the weekend, you’re pretty much on a different planet anyway. It’s emotional, beautiful and everyone is feral! The dancefloor becomes one with a feeling of sadness of it ending and pure love. Everyone is in love after this magical experience!


What makes Block9 a highlight of your Glasto experience?

There’s this queer, sort of ancestral, power there that you won’t feel and get anywhere else.

Can you remember your first time entering Block9?

Last year. I was absolutely blown away and terrified because I was going to play there for the first time. Thanks to Gideön and my Adonis fam. I am so grateful to them for bringing me along and supporting me. 

What’s been some of your favourite sets you’ve seen at Block9?

Prosumer’s NYC Downlow Set last year sent me to absolute heaven.

What have been some of your favourite memories from your time in Block9 over the years?

Not to sound full of myself but genuinely, my Glasto debut last year when I played my closing set at the Genosys stage. Life changing. 

Jane Norman 

What made you want to perform at Block9?

I’m Goldilocks so I felt like I owed it to the bears. I’d be there partying anyway so may as well get paid – I’m a rider rider.

What has been your funnest memory from performing at Block9 in the past?

Meeting a suspiciously large “Kylie Minogue” backstage during the height of the ‘Padam Padam’ epidemic.

What is the perfect look to wear when performing at Block9?

Something that pops! Make sure you’re wearing unsuitable footwear and synthetic fabrics (because it gets really nippy in there).

What’s your top tip to surviving a night of mischief at Block9?

Powder your nose.

Anita (Zenhofer) 

What makes Block9 a highlight of your Glasto experience?

In today’s world, spaces like Block9 are crucial as they provide a sanctuary for marginalised communities, allowing them to express themselves freely and authentically. These spaces cultivate a sense of belonging and solidarity, empowering individuals to embrace their identities without fear of judgment or persecution. Block9’s existence is a testament to the power of inclusivity and the importance of celebrating diversity, making it a beacon of hope and progress in our society. It’s a radical act of defiance against a world that often seeks to stifle queer voices. Its impact on the youth and broader community cannot be overstated.

Block9 is a unique and revolutionary area at Glastonbury, renowned for its immersive environments and boundary-pushing performances. It’s a hub for the LGBTQIA+ community and allies, offering a safe and inclusive space where diversity is celebrated. Block9 is more than just a party zone; it’s a powerful community that fosters inclusivity and freedom of expression, showcasing some of the most influential and emerging artists who champion the theme of “FREEDOM FOR ALL.” Notably, NYC Downlow hosts some of the hottest performers, bringing an electrifying energy to the festival and solidifying Block9’s reputation as a sanctuary of radical expression.

Photography by Courteney Frisby.

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