As LGBT folk flock to fly the rainbow flag in London, taking over Soho and Trafalgar Square for the UK’s national Pride every year, a whole different invasion of queerness descends onto Worthy Farm in Somerset. You might have heard of a lil’ shindig known to our hetero brothers and sisters as “Glastonbury”. There’s often lots of mud, a few tents and the odd singer performing a few tunes on a stage.
Over in the most far-flung corner of this “Glastonbury”, past the Greenfields and away from the innocent antics of the Theatre and Circus area lies Block9, an unexpected urban zone nestled within the rustling trees of the surrounding glades. By day, its eerie stillness belies the chaos of nighttime revelry that emanates from the super-structures that define it.
The genius brainchild of Gideon Berger and Stephen Gallagher, Block9 features a series of monolithic constructions that loom out of the woodland. A crashed out tube train protrudes from a glowing giant tower block that is the London Underground
dance space, its heavy bass beats rolling out across the ground from inside. Across the field is the immense Genosys
, a 50ft audio-visual hybrid combining art, video and music that just has to be seen to be fully appreciated. It’s alien-esque, like the bastard lovechild of every Mad Max/Alien/Terminator film ever released.
Yet our attention is always, inevitably, drawn to the NYC Downlow, which has provided Glasto with its pansexual performance magic since 2006. Inside the beat down exterior and past the wailing drag queens hanging out of the windows is a dark den of disco iniquity. It’s here that many of the UK’s premier alt-cabaret performers entertain night after night, sticking on the sequins, pasting on the makeup, and switching from outfit to outfit at the snap of a lash.
Horse Meat Disco’s James Hillard out-does himself every night. Jon Benet Blonde is a vision of Swarovski. We meet chic Chester for the first time, watch Lottie shake her tushy with panache, high-five sassy Lucy Fizz, grab an air kiss from hunky Fred, share the goss with Titus Groan, and prop up the bar with Oozing Gloop.
The backstage dressing room is glorious carnage. Arms stretch out over tables - piled high with wigs, harnesses and jock straps - reaching out for the next hot look. Jonny Woo glides in, “Five minutes!” he calls out.
There’s a wave of giggles from all.
Jacqui Potato leans in to me, “That’s been our running joke for years. It means nothing really… it’s always ‘five minutes’ to show time here.”
It’s no lie. There’s some sort of performance on stage constantly kicking off on the Downlow stage, be it a parade of costumes or a more elaborate fully choreographed routine to ‘Lust for Life’ or ‘Relax’. This is where life comes alive in a genuine rainbow of colour, laughter, love and luminosity.
Leqs & Coq and Pan’s People kick it all off on Wednesday night. Glyn Famous of Sink The Pink joins Maude Adams and All Those Children on Thursday where they indulge our carnal desires – leather and fetish are on show with a dash of dark maquillage and black glitter. On Friday night, Scottee delivers a terrific rendition of ‘Last Dance’ with a literal helping hand from the wonderful Ginger Johnson, as Miss Disgrace Jones invites us all to pull up to her bumper.
Saturday is Pride Day and there’s magic (and poppers) in the air as we celebrate our international day of gayness. There’s extra love in abundance with the US Supreme Court’s decision in favour of same-sex marriage. Le Gateau Chocolat delivers a growling rendition of ‘Holiday’ and ‘Valerie’.
The biggest surprise of the night comes at 1am. Drag quartet Denim, new to the Downlow this year, take to the stage with a medley of camp tracks. The rumour mill has been in overdrive of a high profile PA. Suddenly, the crowd goes ballistic! It’s only Florence Fucking Welch arriving on stage for an immense rendition of ‘Spectrum (Say My Name)’, backed by her drag singers.
The energy in the room goes from a thousand to ten thousand megawatts in milliseconds. Arms flail out to touch her, camera phones snap away, and Flo’ strides down the runway into the crowd. The room explodes into whoops and wails. It’s a Downlow exclusive of the highest degree, and so utterly perfect! Nobody epitomises the spirit of Glastonbury’s beating heart more than our Flo’.
How do they ever top that? To start with, next year the Downlow celebrates ten years of queering-up the world’s greatest festival like nobody else can. It’s going to be big news. There aren’t enough sequins in the world for this one…