Wonderland.

My Love Affair With Block9

We reflect on the best hidden corner of the best festival, Glastonbury’s Block9.

Glastonbury, the best festival in the world, has been and gone. But there is still one tiny, crazy, throbbing fragment that is still pulsing throughout my system and that piece is Block9.  I just can’t get over it. Hidden inside the walls of the South East Corner lies the smoky, vibrating, undulating web of its three venues. They are the NYC DownLow, Glastonbury’s only gay nightclub, the London Underground, the Downlow’s straighter brother, complete with a tube train erupting out of the dance floor, and Genosys, a 4,000 capacity concrete and steel juggernaut with an equally monster sound system. 

Block9 hosted a dizzying array of eclectic talent over the weekend, including an exclusive Prince tribute from Hot Chip, a surprise set from Roisin Murphy, and life affirming DJ sets by Hercules and the Love Affair’s Andy Butler, Seth Troxler, Craig Richards and The Black Madonna. So forget what you saw on the BBC, the real party was at Block9. A highlight was Roger Sanchez’s 2 hour “Golden Age of NYC Deep House” set in the NYC Downlow, made even more poignant by his opening ode to the victims of Orlando. Addressing the capacity crowd, Sanchez made us feel united in a queer utopia where dancing right there, right then, suddenly felt more important than ever.

“We felt a responsibility not just to have an open and tolerant club ethos, but for it to be unapologetically, intensely and in-your-face queer”, said Dan Strutt, who is in his fifth year helping set up the Block9 site. “Not some palatable, colourful, moderate hetero-friendly gay party, but a massive fuck-the-haters event completely on our own terms”. It’s this ethos that vibrates throughout Block9 and attracts the late night revellers in their thousands, from all walks of life, to experience the unadulterated openness of Glastonbury’s furthermost area. The feeling of freedom is palpable; a place where you can lose yourself and truly be whoever you want to be.

Post Orlando, post Jo Cox and with the sudden shock of waking up to Brexit (even a mesmerising set from French songstress Christine and The Queens couldn’t lift my euro spirits), Block9 and it’s offerings truly felt more significant than ever before. “When we heard the results of the referendum, there was a deeply felt gloom, but one that was alleviated with the sense of community and of a family connected not only by the same task at hand, but also with same liberal and global views about unity and tolerance”.

The creative duo behind Block9 (& other projects with Skrillex, Lana Del Rey and recently Banksys Dismaland) are Gideon Berger and Stephen Gallagher.

Hi guys! How and when did Block9 begin?  

Gideon: Steve and I started working together about a decade ago. I had been living in San Francisco and also spent some time in NYC. During this period, I went to Burning Man quite a few times. There was nothing else quite like it at the time – there were epic art installations, works carried out at a massive scale, and amazing sound systems. I thought to myself that there’s nothing going on here in the UK on that level, so let’s do something. When I returned, I met Steve in a workshop in West London.  We had been freelancing for other people and arts organisations for a long time individually on many run of the mill productions, and we had similar ideas and ambitions, so we decided to go out on our own and do it better. Since then, we’ve not just created our own field at Glastonbury but have also worked with artists such as Banksy, Skrillex and Lana Del Rey.

What is Block9’s creative vision at Glastonbury? How does it manifest?

Steve: Our creative starting point begins with a specific genre of music. We then imagine what the perfect environment would be to experience that music in. This means building a reality around that musical genre by taking every element of that perfect environment into account. The devil is in the detail and we spend a lot of our time getting that detail just right.

Gideon: Each of our installations at Glastonbury explore completely different musical genres and ideas, and so each space is completely different. 

What does the future hold for Block9? Do you have anything else planned that you can share?

Steve: We are currently working on a large scale, very ambitious and self-initiated touring project. It’s a cross-genre piece that sets out to explore mood and emotion in music, aiming to mix the scale and ambition of NYC Downlow with Block9’s other venues, Genosys and London Underground. Basically, it’s a huge, unique art-installation-meets-music-venue which will be hitting London in the next few years. That’s all we can say right now!

If you want to check out any of the sets from the weekend they are here at thedownlowradio.com

Photographer
Louise Oates
Words
Max Cocking
My Love Affair With Block9

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