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Glastonbury NYC Downlow
Photography Nikola Lamburov

How an underground gay club took over Glastonbury

After captivating the festival with their sexed-up and seedy installations, the creative duo behind Block9 are now ready to go global

It’s easy to forget that Glastonbury’s first ever gay club, NYC Downlow, is only a 20-minute trudge from the festival’s Pyramid stage. It may as well be another universe. Tucked away in the site’s south-east corner, it hovers over the horizon like a dystopian nightmare; swamped by the smoke of burning buildings and collapsing council blocks. This isn’t the Coldplay-scored Glasto you see on iPlayer catch-ups. This is – according to founders Gideon Berger and Stephen Gallagher – a home of “murky homo fantasies”. A land where shadows dance in windows, drag queens dance with jocks, and sexed-up butchers writhe alongside swinging slabs of meat. 

Gallagher and Berger – who go by the collective name of ‘Block9’ – have three installations at the festival. There’s the 50ft high Genosys block (which “celebrates the pre-digital dance floor”), the decaying London Underground tower (which comes with a blazing tube train bursting from the 5th floor) and the drag-dominated NYC Downlow. The latter, says Gallagher, models itself on the dilapidated apartment blocks of the 80s-era Meatpacking District – and is a comment on “gentrification as a whole”.

“People using wealth and power to displace others is a problem all over the globe and 1980’s New York was a perfect example – especially in the way it affected the gay population,” he explains. “We also couldn’t resist the amazing homoerotic visual language of combining the seedy gay club with the semi-derelict-but-somehow-still-functioning meatpacking warehouse. The music back then was fucking excellent too.”

Since it begun nearly a decade ago, NYC Downlow has become something of an institution. One of the first real, inclusive queer spots on the British festival circuit, it holds 1200 visitors at a time – and its success is rapidly spreading. In the last two years, Gallagher and Berger’s incredible immersive abilities have already been harnessed by the likes of Lana Del Rey, Skrillex, and even Banksy (the pair were responsible for the artist’s ‘Dismaland’ castle last year). Their next big project, however, remains under wraps – though Gallagher admits that it is “very” ambitious.

“(We’re inspired by) times of trouble, conflict and difficulty – all that fun kind of stuff!” jokes Gallagher. “I think that's probably because times of struggle and hardship are when you see extremes of human behaviour. People behaving in the most abhorrent ways, but also the most selfless.”

Learn more about Block9, and keep up to date with their upcoming projects, on the official website here, or visit the official website for NYC Downlow here.