Lovebox goes gay (kinda) for the day
Anyone who’s been to Lovebox – or Glastonbury, The Big Chill or any other musical mecca that’s been lucky enough to have a small army of trannies wearing seven-inch stilettos staggering through its swamps – will know that the NYC Downlow stage is the be-sequinned crown jewel of any festival.
NYC Downlow is a mix of fabulous set design (you party inside a bombed-out downtown late-’70s New York gay disco) and a battalion of the East End’s most alternative bearded ladies led by Jonny Woo, all shimmying to a vintage house and classic disco soundtrack. NYC Downlow has been taking over the UK’s summer festivals one false eyelash at a time for the last four years and has captured the spirit of London’s happening gender-bending east.
Lovebox returns to Victoria Park this weekend with a new look for Sunday: it’ll be painted pink. Dubbed ‘the gay day’, festival bosses Groove Armada and co have enlisted local club promoter James Bailie to give Sunday a cool, fashion-forward gay makeover. Cue a headline set from disco banshee Grace Jones, supported by Hot Chip, Peaches and Hercules & Love Affair, as well as the edgiest of electro-techno-disco DJs across a further five stages, including, of course, neo-re-edit titans Horse Meat Disco and Disco Bloodbath.
[caption id="attachment_585" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Jonny Woo © Ralf Obergfell"][/caption]
‘I think [a gay presence at festivals] is part of a much bigger trend,’ says Jonny Woo, who has been promoted to host the Lovebox main stage with a variety of dance and cabaret spectacles between the acts. ‘It’s definitely a culmination of the last five years of the alternative drag cabaret trend and how that scene has been embraced by fashion.’
Moreover, it’s the only entirely gay-orientated festival date in London this year, though sadly The Eagle pub-operated Milk in the Park in Vauxhall isn’t happening due to a lack of sponsorship (it will be back next summer). Consequently, it’s leading many to hail Lovebox Sunday as the new Pride. ‘That’s the word on the street,’ explains Bailie. ‘There are more than half a million gay people living in the capital and Sunday is a big day for them to go out, but no one was really doing anything good. I wanted to give the gay community something good – but, really, it’s for all genders.’
[caption id="attachment_586" align="aligncenter" width="430" caption="Clubbers at the NYC Downlow © Lovebox Official"][/caption]
The shortage of gay-friendly outdoor music events is bemoaned by gay music lovers. ‘There’s been a lack of funds [for such events], but I think that the Downlow has definitely helped to push gay cool on to the agenda,’ says Gideon Berger, co-founder of the Downlow. ‘There had never been a gay space before at UK festivals: I remember walking around Glastonbury aged 14 and thinking: Shit, am I the only one?.’ Lovebox Sunday, like Pride, is a party with a purpose. Organisers are partnering with Stonewall to raise awareness of their campaigns – in particular, ‘Education for All’, which tackles homophobic bullying in schools; Stonewall supporter Alan Carr will be outlining the campaign on stage.
Says Stonewall representative Gary Nunn: ‘London Pride is very much a march and then a rally, which is important because it reminds us of the political side of things. But festivals such as Lovebox are a chance for people to let their hair down and celebrate how far we’ve come. Sometimes, even if a festival feels safe, gay people never know who might protest. Lovebox is an opportunity for gay people to go into a very safe space and feel like they can really party.’
Becoming the new Pride wasn’t Lovebox’s intention, and it’s a festival for anyone of any gender who has a sense of fun and glittery hedonism. But it is a much better looking alternative. ‘It was just a natural extension of what we’ve been doing for the last five years,’ says Groove’s Tom Findlay,’ but I’m really proud that Lovebox has properly come out – the line-up is arguably the best we have ever had. I’ll be working the Downlow’s bar in full drag and a ’tache!’
So, it seems that the trannies – certainly the alternative kind – really do work festivals the best. ‘Of course we do it better!’ Woo exclaims. ‘We’re better dressed, we’ve got more staying power and we’re always up for a shag at the end of it. Even if you haven’t washed.’
Lovebox is at Victoria Park from Fri-Sun. Tickets from £45-£99 available in adv via timeout.com/tickets.