Screw The Rolling Bones and Arctic Chimpanzees. Tucked away in the South East Corner of Glastonbury is a secret garden of carnal clubbing pleasure. Beyond the safe confines of the [not so] campsites and past ‘Shangri-La’ lies Block 9, the home to the now legendary NYC Downlow. While the homosexual hoi polloi were celebrating Pride in London, the edgiest performers from the capital’s queer creative scene were rocking Glastonbury every night, for five nights through to dawn and way into the next day. Cliff Joannou joined them for a kiki…
“There’s no other club in the world like the NYC Downlow,” says Luke Howard aka Filthy Luka, of the Maud Adams & All Those Children, the collective name for the army of drag queens, trannies, gogos and other misfits that contributed to Glasto’s most colourful late night experience. “The combination of the DJs and the drag queens, plus the public who turn up so faithfully year after year, is like nothing on earth. And the fact that it only exists once a year at Glastonbury, makes it really, really special.”
To any Glastonbury virgins, let me elaborate. If you have yet to pop your festival cherry at the annual event that the BBC coverage tends to focus on the live music aspects on the famous stages like the Pyramid, Other and John Peel ones featuring the likes of Mumford & Sons, The XX and Jessie Ware respectively, yet there’s an often overlooked aspect to the festival that kicks off when the stages close. Zones like Shangri-La (this year themed ‘Shangri-Hell’) and Heaven feature interactive aspects and mini-night clubs – in Heaven you have to ‘sell your soul’ through a series of tasks to gain access.
Over at Block 9, huge constructions include a giant block of council flats with a crashed tube train dominating its facade that houses some seriously driving drum ‘n’ bass sounds. The NYC Downlow you’ll remember from past Lovebox events – a bashed-out building with drag, cabaret and trannies peering out of the upper windows and access is gained by donating £2 to charity and donning a fake moustache. It’s a dark, twisted adult’s Disney-land that’s been masterfully conceived courtesy of the genius mind of Gideon.
Inside, the NYC Downlow shakes its ass to the likes of Horse Meat Disco’s James Hillard and Luke Howard who spin a blend of disco, old and new. On stage Jonny Woo, A Man To Pet, Scottee, Holestar and dozens of others perform continuously through the night with the massive highlight being the nightly ‘MacArthur Park’ show that, over a week later, I’m still picking my jaw up off the floor every time I remember the sight of the spectacular routine, featuring every performing from the Downlow on stage, all choreographed in one glittering spectacle of wig, weave, heels and attitude. It was quite possibly the most sensational song, dance and drag performance this seasoned gay clubber has ever seen. EVER. Gurl. Pray that it appears on YouTube.
“As a performer, being able to bash out numbers on the amazing stage, dance on the bar, drag people into the cages or perform for the masses on the outside balcony, is one of the best privileges life can offer,” says Carl of drag dance troupe Legs and Coq, for whom it was the first outing to Glasto’s Downlow. “We couldn’t have been more welcomed and proud to be performing with so many talented and inspiring queens. If The NYC Downlow was a club in London people would need to go into rehab to survive the week before doing it all again… I know we have!”
• Check out the Downlow Radio at thedownlowradio.com.