“Glastonbury is really queer!”: behind the scenes at NYC Downlow, the festival’s resident gay club

It's '80s New York's meatpacking district in the middle of a field in Somerset. You love to see it

“Before I came to Glastonbury, I thought it was a very straight environment that I wasn’t welcome at.” So says drag superstar Jonny Woo, backstage at NYC Downlow, Glastonbury’s resident gay club, modelled on New York’s meatpacking district in the ‘80s. When you go through those doors, as this writer has on many enjoyable – too enjoyable, if anything – occasions, you’ll be met with flamboyant drag queens, guys in leather and an inclusive, permissive atmosphere. Downlow has been a Glasto institution since 2007 and is part of Block 9, the clubbing district that, this year, became bigger than ever before.

Woo has performed at Downlow from the very beginning, often compering events and taking charge of their choreography. “I get together all the drag queens, shuffle them around, make sure they all get on the bus,” he explains. “I’m on the microphone. I kind of keep the spirit going and do all the intros to the DJs and the acts. I’m the performer legacy that’s been there from the beginning making sure that the vibe is just right.”

From his perspective, what does Block 9, this year expanded to include IICON, an enormous outdoor installation that features lasers and a massive screen depicting trippy visuals, bring to the Glastonbury experience?

“When it came it just brought something new,” he says. “The set for a start was a big attraction. The first Downlow set, I don’t think anyone had seen something that was made with such attention to detail and was so beautiful and got bigger and was so eye-catching. It was the first time a club had come to Glastonbury. It was an actual club experience. The rest of it is very festivally, but this is a club. It’s been voted the best club in the world. And also Downlow was the first queer space [at Glastonbury]… It’s given people permission who feel a different and wanna feel comfortable. There’s not gonna be a very masculine vibe, or whatever, or a binary vibe and all that stuff. I think people respond to that and wanna have that experience.”

2019 marks 50 years since Stonewall, the anti-homophobia riots held in New York. As part of the anniversary, Pride marches have been held all over the world. Indeed, it’s been dubbed ‘Pride Month’. How much does it mean that Glastonbury, a massive mainstream festival, has such an important LGTBQ+ space?

“Well, the line-up this year is really queer,” Woo laughs. “My God, they’ve got so many queer acts on. On Sunday it’s Years and Years, Kylie, then Miley. And then Banarama later!” While he praises Glastonbury for acknowledging Pride in such a classy way, he emphasises that anniversaries aren’t the be-and-end-all: “In a way we do it all the time. We’re always marking Stonewall; we’re always marking our identity; we’re always marking the struggle; we’re always feeding the community. We’re always bolstering each other; we’re always putting our necks on the line; we’re always being visible on the street. It’s an everyday thing.”

Still, he’s proud of NYC Downlow’s place at Glastonbury. “It’s become a really fantastic queer space with fantastic current music and house and disco from the late ‘70s forward. It’s the place to be in the evening. It’s the late-night permissive club where you can explore those corners of your sexuality that you haven’t explored yet.”

This is what people love so much about Glastonbury. We speak early on the Saturday evening. What will Woo be up to in Downlow in, say, five or six hours’ time? “I’ve got this really big bougie ballgown. The theme tonight is ‘Big Drag’, then it goes to ‘Little Drag.’ I’m gonna be spinning around in a big bougie ballgown. And then I’ll probably strip it all off and dance around in nothing.” Is NYC Downlow the best thing about Glastonbury? There was tough competition this time – it was a vintage year – but I really think it might be.