Photography by Kamil Kustosz

Kissing, dancing and getting lost in the naughty corner

Daisy Jones’ contribution to Glastonbury 50 – the new book celebrating five decades of the festival – is a tribute to its late-night antics, the clubs and stages that make the site’s southwest corner come alive after dark.

Glastonbury 50 is as wild and epic and eye-popping as the festival it celebrates. The 300-page book, co-authored by festival founder Michael Eavis and his wingwoman daughter Emily, is an exhaustive, year-by-year celebration of half-a-century of wonders down on Worthy Farm. It’s packed with photographs, memorabilia, personal reminiscences and testimonies from the Eavises and various friends of the world’s greatest festival, and is published as the team limber up for 2020’s 50th year.

To tide us over till then – to make the long, dreary months till Diana Ross’s Sunday teatime legends” set pass just a shade quicker – The Face is privileged to present writer Daisy Jones’ contribution to Glastonbury 50: a tribute to late-night Glasto, the clubs and stages that make the site’s southwest corner the best place to go after dark. 

Read her brilliant piece, buy the book, and see you down the front for Diana. (On which note: if anyone’s selling a ticket, you know where to find us.)

For me, there are two versions of Glastonbury. There’s the Glastonbury of then, in which I was flung over the fence by family members, made to eat lentils in the Peace Garden and usually sitting on someone’s shoulders in a bucket hat while a nineties indie band like Travis whined in the distance. And then there’s the Glastonbury of now, which is something else entirely. Today, when I think of the Festival, I think of candy-pink lights and being drenched in sweat. I think of huddling behind a toilet cubicle at 4 a.m. taking bumps of ket with a drag queen called Barbarella who tells me my skin is glowing. I think of how weird it is that the best queer club in the UK right now exists for just a few nights, once a year, in a field in Somerset, like a lucid dream you can’t fully grasp with both hands afterwards.

These divisions of then” and now” aren’t entirely based around my own perceptions – in which I experienced Glastonbury as a child, in the late nineties and early noughties, and then later as an adult. Other people observe these divisions too. Because for a long time Glastonbury wasn’t necessarily intertwined with club culture. Instead, it was where travellers, anarchists and music fans came together to watch their favourite bands and do tarot cards and fling their bodies in the mud. And after midnight, once the music was over, the revelry would turn inwards, to people’s campsites or makeshift dance tents.

I was too young to remember this era fully, but if I close my eyes I can just about recall the atmosphere: boomboxes blasting out of vans and bodies around campfires, adults on mushrooms leaning in closely to whisper nonsensical truisms, and chaos, literal feverish chaos, back when a hundred thousand-plus people could gate-crash over the fence.

But then, at the turn of the millennium, everything changed. Most people pin this sudden shift to the birth of Lost Vagueness, the Festival’s first-ever after-hours party” – brought in by a guy called Roy Gurvitz to alter the trajectory of where Glastonbury was headed. Carved out of a space in the south-east corner of Worthy Farm, suddenly there was somewhere you could go after midnight. In this new place – which was loosely supposed to be an absurd, psychedelic version of Vegas, and comprised of a series of temporary venues – you could go ballroom dancing, attend cabaret shows, take part in burlesque casinos and dance to DJs all night. Lost Vagueness came to an end ten years later, but the area – nicknamed the naughty corner” – continued to bloom and multiply. In its place sprang what we now know as The Unfairground, The Common, Arcadia, Shangri-La, NYC Downlow and Block9, and from then on Glastonbury’s naughty corner became the place to be once the sun had set.

Photograph by Allan Gregorio

To truly understand the naughty corner’s place in the world, we need to first zoom out and look at club culture back then as a whole. In the mid to late 2000s, when I was a teenager, queer nightlife in the UK was thriving – or at least it felt that way. In London, especially, clubs like the Joiners Arms, Nelson’s Head, the George and Dragon, Candy Bar and the Black Cap were spaces where LGBTQ people could dance and dress up, offering a much-needed place where you could escape straight culture for the night and do what you wanted. If you’d swung open the doors of the Joiners on a Tuesday night in 2007, for instance, you’d have walked straight into a room of wrinkled old men in fishnets, lesbians in leather chokers and fashion kids in creepers and hi-top fades, all dancing to Yazoo deep cuts and Island Life-era Grace Jones until getting kicked out at 4 a.m. In other words, there was nothing else like it. 

And then, one by one, these clubs began to disappear, as if eradicated by a virus in the middle of the night. There are a multitude of reasons for these mass closures – and we don’t have time to go into them here – but LGBTQ spaces became this rare and precious thing. There were no longer so many places to escape from reality or in which to lose your shit. In some ways it felt as if queer culture had turned inwards – existing online, in other people’s flats, on our phones – and while some of that reflects the natural evolution of our times, I think there was definitely a sense of loss during those years, and maybe ever since.

NYC Downlow, Glastonbury’s first-ever LGBTQ club – situated in the farthest reaches of the naughty corner – arrived in 2007, just as club culture in the rest of the country was beginning to falter. Launched by creative partners Stephen Gallagher and Gideon Berger, it was intended to be a campy, X‑rated, homocentric” disco in a festival that was, until then, largely known for rock bands and rave music. The pair of them are set designers, so the first NYC Downlow was a film-set replica of a crumbling Lower East Side tenement block, meant to reflect the gay club golden era” of 1970s New York. In later years, the venue became an authentic reproduction of a warehouse in the Meatpacking District circa 1982, with fake pig carcasses hanging from the walls and butch men with hairy chests and moustaches pumping their biceps to throwback house music.

My first time at NYC Downlow – in the summer of 2015 – was a complete blur. At the time I was working for Dazed & Confused and had arranged to meet Stephen and Gideon in a campervan to discuss their vision. We ended up getting deep into how gay culture had become pinkwashed in recent years and how Downlow was in some ways a response to gentrification, with all the most chaotic, alternative gay clubs in the city replaced by luxury flats, bank chains and branches of Pret a Manger. In essence, they wanted to create a space where people could have the freedom to do what they like – and be whoever they want – even if just for the weekend.

Later that night, I must have spent twelve hours straight in Downlow alone. What had begun with watching a troupe of drag queens in PVC bikinis lip-synching their way through a half-choreographed dance routine beneath purple strobes and dry ice (they do this every year) ended with me punching Florence Welch in the tit while flinging my arms around her too vigorously onstage during her secret set (they have one of these every year too; I always think it’s going to be Grace Jones). By the time the sun had risen, I was slumped outside, cross-legged in the mud, marinating in warm Red Stripe, music still pumping inside, thinking to myself that this must be the best queer club in the country. I would say in the world”, but I’ve not been to all the others yet – so other people can confirm that claim.

  • Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.” Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution.”

Sometime around 2010, NYC Downlow gave birth to Block9 – comprised of two other venues – which is what Stephen and Gideon have referred to as its older, straighter, butcher big brother”. First came the London Underground, a fifty-foot-tall warehouse space with a life-size tube train that genuinely looks like it’s on fire bursting out of the side, intense dance music bouncing from within its walls. And three years later came Genosys, which is an outside venue that resembles a futuristic laser show, techno music blasting outside, geometric glass structures towering above you. I often think that those who are drawn to Genosys clearly party the hardest, because for some reason they’re always still there, all hours of the day and night, stomping on the mud like zombies.

Each of these venues pushes the boundaries of what art and club culture can be, but NYC Downlow will always be my personal favourite. 

Glastonbury is the most well-known and iconic festival in the world. After fifty years, it has become an institution. There have been films made about it. T‑shirts. Books. It’s on the news. On our TV screens. It’s embedded into the fabric of British culture, like football or sunburn or going, Wheeyyy!” when someone drops something. It is unusual, then, that Glastonbury has retained such a fierce political streak. We are used to mainstream events distancing themselves from the issues that affect us – maybe so as not to alienate attendees or piss off brands – but Glastonbury has only got louder and more outspoken as each year passes. This makes sense when we consider the counter cultural roots of the Festival alongside the trajectory of politics in the UK. If Glastonbury wasn’t political, it wouldn’t really be Glastonbury.

One of the clearest examples of this is Shangri-La, which is the first area you come across in the naughty corner. If you’ve never been to Shangri-La, it can best be described as this: a kind of nightmarish outdoor village full of twisting alleyways, dystopian installations, immersive theatre and men riding unicycles while handing out glowsticks. Vibes-wise, it’s a mixture between Fright Night” at Thorpe Park and what Brexit coverage might be like if the BBC was overtaken by hackers and the whole thing glitched. The walls are smeared with anti-fascist messages and tongue-in-cheek slogans, coupled with a kind of glued this together at a dumpster” aesthetic that completely comes alive at night. In other words, it’s the last place you want to end up if you’re on hallucinogens or very anxious (aside from The Unfairground), but it’s also one of the most beloved and interesting parts of the naughty corner.

That said, some of my most relaxing nights at Glastonbury have been connected to Shangri-La. In 2016 – at a time when festivals were only just beginning to address the problem of sexual assault, and male-dominated line-ups continued to persist – Shangri-La opened the first-ever women-only venue at Glastonbury, named The Sisterhood. Tucked inside what looked like a nail salon from the outside, you could knock on the door and pretend you had a nail appointment, before being invited into this womblike tent full of women dancing to J Hus, rolling around on velvet cushions and drinking mugs of gin below a huge disco ball. Crucially, The Sisterhood was an intersectional queer, trans and disability inclusive space, open to all female-identifying people. And at a time when second-wave feminists were – and still are – often refusing to make room for all these facets of womanhood, it felt important that Glastonbury was leading by example.

Daisy Jones

So much of the naughty corner is like this. Small, imaginative venues buried within areas that are hard to find, or else huge, absurdly creative art constructions that respond to the outside world in unpredictable ways. In essence, though, it’s the place you end up getting lost in after trekking down the railway tracks at night – which took you two hours because one of your friends got into an in-depth conversation about her asthma with an old woman called Karen who was dressed as an oak tree – and where you don’t leave until the sky changes colour and you realise you need to eat a veggie hot dog, like, right now. The central identity of Shangri-La is political, perhaps, but mostly, like the rest of Glastonbury, you just go there to escape and have fun. 

In 2017 my friend wrote an article about the two different sides of Glastonbury. First, he hung out with some of the wealthiest people in attendance, drinking champagne and glamping in their peaceful yurts. Next, he spent some time with those who clean the compost loos and urinals, driving trucks and downing instant coffee. None of this is relevant, other than the fact that, before his tour of the toilets, he waved goodbye at 6 p.m. and said he would return to his tent in a few hours. A few hours went by. Then some more. And some more. He didn’t return until a day later, his clothes crumpled, his face and body completely splattered in multi-coloured paint, his eyes wide. When I asked him where he’d been, he just shook his head, perplexed, and mouthed something under his breath: The Unfairground”.

Obviously not everybody who ends up at The Unfairground accidentally gets spiked with acid by a toilet attendant taking them on a tour of the compost loos. But this particular image – of him bleary-eyed, breath-taken, face like a haunted plate – is what comes to mind when I think about some of the weirder sections of the naughty corner. The Unfairground – and Arcadia and The Common, which are directly across from it – are where you end up when you do not want to even slightly chill. They’re places to dance, sure, but they’re also places to lose your sense of time and phone and friends – but have fun anyway – and emerge victorious. 

Apparently, these areas are comprised of over thirty venues, each playing everything from acid house to jungle and techno, but when I think about the times I’ve ended up there I can’t really remember the music. I can just about recall seeing Mike Skinner in a purple tent spitting Fit But You Know It” in 2017, but mainly I recall giant spiders that spit fire (Arcadia) or mutant baby heads swaying in the wind (The Unfairground) or an actual neon-lit waterfall (The Common). These are absurd, bewildering spaces custom-built by set designers to make you think you have entered a new dimension, when in fact you’ve just walked across some rainy fields in Somerset in your wellies.

  • Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.” Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe.”

Everybody’s experience of the naughty corner will be different. It’s been around for nearly two decades, and in that time we’ve seen it go from a few circus-style dance tents to what now feels like a very small, weird town that only exists at night-time. It’s a place where queer culture, nightlife, feminism, art, music and activism have come together over the years in ways that have no parallels in the outside world, let alone in festivals in general, and that’s something to be celebrated.

Whenever I return from Glastonbury – despite having spent five days sleeping in a fabric house, living off crushed cereal bars and tinned peaches, and probably having touched another person’s actual human shit at least once – I always feel peaceful, calmer and a little bit kinder to those around me. Glastonbury is chaotic and filthy and ridiculous, but it is also good-natured, easy-going and safe, and it reminds you of all the things that are important, like wearing a disposable poncho and drinking warm cider while Cyndi Lauper screams in the distance, or standing on a bin in a string vest while chanting, Bin! Bin! Bin!” to a confused crowd of onlookers, or kissing someone you’ve fancied for ages, or having your first pill, or getting lost in the naughty corner, high on mud and emotion, dancing in the dark.


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