It is 4.30AM on a Sunday morning and four muscle-bound men in leather thongs and wellies are doing an intense dance routine in the mud to 90s Janet Jackson. “Wait, wait, spin your head at exactly the same time as me,” one of them is saying to the other. And then they’re at it again, slapping their knees and snapping their necks perfectly in time to “Rhythm Nation,” the rising sun burning the navy sky into a smudged pastel purple behind them.
This is one of many scenes outside NYC Downlow, the LGBTQ club situated within Block9 – a cluster of wildly-designed after-hours venues tucked in a far corner of Glastonbury. Even if you’ve never been, you’ve probably heard about it. Over the years, Block9 and in particular NYC Downlow has garnered a sort of legendary status. It’s the part of the festival considered most anarchic and debaucherous, fun and lawless, with an “anything goes” attitude. Downlow is essentially all your favourite queer clubs rolled into one, but in a field, with no proper closing time, for just four days a year.
In some ways, this year at NYC Downlow was no different to previous years (excluding 2018 ofc; the sad, fallow year). Thursday had a ‘leather fetish gear’ theme, while Friday was loosely dedicated to Janet Jackson (although I'm pretty sure they placed techno all night). Saturday saw east London icon Johnny Woo and his troupe of drag queens strut and vogue on stage until the early hours. And as ever, the club smelled like fresh sweat and well-worn PVC, dry ice and trodden grass, testosterone and progesterone – a combination so specific and exciting, the organisers really should sell it as a branded perfume sometime.
But 2019 saw a lot of changes, too. For one, the whole of Block9 has expanded. What was once three venues in a field is now two adjacent fields, with a new 65ft silver, LED-flashing mega-structure of a head across from NYC Downlow. Named IICON, the head has been described by Block9 co-founder Gideon Berger as "a sinister monument to the terrifying realities of this digital, post-truth age that we find ourselves in,” and it's probably the most impressive set design I've ever seen. It's also a 15,000 capacity venue. This meant NYC Downlow wasn't quite as cramped and manic as in previous years, with attendees spread across the field, giving us lot more room to dance.
But anyway: I could chat about NYC Downlow all day. I could explain how it feels like a radical blueprint for the kind of spaces LGBTQ folk could do with at home. I could say it’s rare to find somewhere that feels lawless, but also relatively safe and inclusive. I could say that I didn’t know real joy until I found myself in a sea of dilated pupils, go-go dancers and faces beat for the gods. But also, we took a bunch of photographs so you can just see this stuff for yourself. Enjoy: