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Best Of British Innovation & Excellence: Block9

The Block9 field is a temporary autonomous zone every Glastonbury that showcases the best of the counter-cultural underground. 

With amazing post-apocalyptic constructions and great soundsystems, this audio-visual wonderland — which includes the NYC Downlow, the wild gay space — has been a fantastic addition to the UK’s music culture. DJ Mag has therefore decided to award the Block9 crew with our annual Innovation & Excellence award…

From humble beginnings, building Glastonbury Festival’s first gay space on a budget of just £2,000, Block9 have become the toast of the festival world in the following decade, steadily building their small corner of Glasto into one of its biggest attractions, starting with the NYC Downlow in 2007.

Sexy, sleazy, lawless and wild, it’s a ravaging beast of a no-holds-barred club, and the antidote to all-too-often formulaic modern-day city clubbing. As history shows, they’ve never looked back since first opening its doors. Through the course of the following decade, NYC Downlow has come to sit in its own Block9 field — a party playground that also includes The London Underground, Genosys, Maceo’s Bar and the Meat Rack, each a venue with its own story and musical dialogue.

“Ten years down the line and the trajectory of Block9 is heading upwards at an alarming rate,” Block9 co-founder Gideon Berger beams when DJ Mag catches up with him at the end of a busy 2017.

“Getting an Innovation & Excellence award is really great,” adds Steve Gallagher, Berger’s partner in Block9. “Gid and I are driven to do the things we do, we really can’t help it, but we also push ourselves creatively and it’s nice to get some recognition for that. But getting an award also pays tribute to the skill and dedication of everyone involved over the last ten years. Our work combines so many different disciplines: scenography, stage design, lighting design, sound design, scenic carpentry, painting, sculpting, engineering, music and performance, and it’s what all those people bring that makes it so special.”

“Yes, knowing the right people to bring to make it go off,” adds Berger “and the hottest gay butchers in London. I guess the cumulative effect is the important thing. The snowball effect from that means that Block9 gathered momentum and grew in size, so now more and more people are attracted to it.”

It’s clear that their innovation has now happened on a global scale. Alongside their work at Glastonbury, the Block9 team have also created stage designs for Skrillex and Lana Del Rey in recent years, designed the castle at Banksy’s Dismaland theme park, are production designers for Gorillaz ‘Humanz’ live show and designers of the illustrated band’s Demon Dayz festival.

The back end of 2017 saw Block9 break NYC Downlow out of Glastonbury and into London, with a warehouse event that saw Midland, Prosumer, The Black Madonna and many more Block9 family members spin in the capital. With Glastonbury’s fallow year in 2018, Block9 takes a break from Worthy Farm, so this year sees the team continue work on the touring project DJ Mag announced was in the pipeline after Glastonbury 2016 — which is set to send a new Block9 creation to cities worldwide.

There’s a political thread to everything that runs through Block9, too. In 2016, they launched a new NYC Downlow, which evolved its story from New York’s Lower East Side to a warehouse in the Meatpacking District in 1982. The move was a comment on the gentrification of New York and night-space closures in London due to the forces of capitalism. The club has also raised over £63,000 since forming for charities including All Out, Kaleidoscope Trust and the Disasters Emergency Committee’s East Africa appeal.

Becoming a benchmark of innovation and excellence in the festival world does mean they have to constantly strive to stay one step ahead, though. “They say that imitation is a form of flattery, so I guess that means we're doing something well,” Gallagher laughs. 

 

“When we’re fully caught up or overtaken, that’s when we should admit defeat and retire,” adds Berger. “But at the moment we’ve got enough ideas, energy and enthusiasm in exploring ways of colliding music, experience and art to keep us going for several lifetimes.” ROB McCALLUM