19 photos of shameless, unabashed, pure queer joy from Glastonbury’s iconic NYC Downlow
This year finally saw the return of the hallowed Glastonbury Festival after a two-year, COVID-induced hiatus.
There’s an old cliché that ‘it’s the people who make Glastonbury’. Hardened veterans will swill their pints from the Pyramid Stage’s fabled cider bus, raise their nose with faux-contempt and scoff semi-earnestly, semi-incredulously: “Yes, yes, it’s the people who make Glastonbury. It wouldn’t be the same without the people.”
But the thing about old clichés is that, 99 times out of 100, they’re absolutely true. It is the people who make Glastonbury. And it’s perhaps nowhere more apparent than with the freaks and geeks – the he’s, she’s, they’s and everyone else in between – who take up residency at Worthy Farm’s very own queer utopia, NYC Downlow.
For those not in the know, NYC Downlow is a multi-roomed LGBTQ+ club space housed inside a replica of a seedy New York bathhouse-cum-meatpacking warehouse, circa 1982. Found among the colossal, jaw-dropping, eye-popping beats and visuals of the Block9 fields (founded at Glastonbury Festival 15 years ago by London-based artistic duo Gideon Berger and Stephen Gallagher, aka Block9), NYC Downlow doesn’t just attract some of the biggest, best and indeed hippest (sorry) artists and DJs in the world today, it attracts – at some point or another over Glastonbury weekend – pretty much every music lover to have pitched a tent in the county of Somerset.
It’s regularly labelled one of the best club’s in the world, and is undoubtedly the best club at Glastonbury Festival, starring a motley crew of go-go-boy butchers, gender-bending drag performers, and probably Hercules and Love Affair at any given moment.
This year’s line-up at NYC Downlow boasted the likes of trans trailblazer Honey Dijon, rave royalty Grace, House legend DJ Paulette – and even a surprise appearance by bona fide queer icon Róisín Murphy in the wee early hours of Glastonbury’s very last night (or morning, as the case may have been). But more importantly, this year NYC Downlow provided a safe space for people who’ve spent years longing for life to return to some sense of normality to spend one glorious evening where life is anything but – in the best possible way, of course. With sweat dripping from every wall, inhibitions left at the door, fake moustaches littering the floor (if you know, you know) and the familiar, warming smell of Amyl hanging in the air, NYC Downlow is the very antithesis if Zoom quizzes, Sainsbury’s home deliveries and missing funerals while the Tory elite packed wine in a suitcase.
During a weekend which saw Billie Eilish make history, Paul McCartney jam out with Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen, and the Pet Shop Boys move adults to tears with a simple flurry on a keyboard, it was a night down the Downlow – and the community and friendship that brings – that made us stand open-mouthed and agog, thinking, f**k, perhaps the dark days are over after all.
“We built NYC Downlow when there wasn’t really anything else like it,” Block9’s Stephen Gallagher told PinkNews. “People might be mistaken to think it’s a themed bar when in fact, it’s an incredibly authentic and real space.
“The fact that it looks so crazy belies the fact that it has a powerful political message at its heart, which is you don’t need to rely on other people, you can create your own reality.”
It might sound hyperbolic but, f**k it, rubbing shoulders and whatever else with strangers in the dark at the Downlow is the kind of unbridled, red-blooded excitement that reminds us why we’re put on this Earth in the first place. Or something, it may be final days of Pride Month talking here. But living through the aftermath of having our very reality stripped away from us, there’s perhaps nothing move empowering and memorable than a space like Downlow where you can be, quite literally, whatever you want to be. See you there in 2023 – don’t forget your moustache.
Below are 18 more photos that show off the unabashed hijinks from Glastonbury Festival’s NYC Downlow, an iconic queer utopia like no other. All photos by Allan Gregorio.
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