“Oi Oi, Homobloc!”, strangers shouted from an apartment window as we walked through Manchester’s Northern Quarter at 3:30pm on a Saturday afternoon, glitzed up and looking a little out of place amongst the sea of hurried Christmas shoppers. The strangers were right - Homobloc, the 13-hour festival from Homoelectric, was very obviously where we were going and anticipations were high.
Manchester has a long-standing association with the LGBTQ+ clubbing scene - since its launch in 1987, Luke Unabomber’s Homoelectric nights have championed a truly diverse and welcoming experience, putting on discos for “Homos, Hetros, Lesbos, Don’t Knows and Disko Asbos” and this was reflected in the festival. In the run up to the day-to-night party, they pushed out messages of looking after one another, acceptance and ultimately, throwing any negative feelings out the window, even if it was just for this one, paradaisic event. As the first festival from the stalwart brand, it feels as if this party was a long time coming and as a result it quickly became one of the most talked about, sell-out shows of 2019 amongst the underground clubbing community. And we couldn’t wait to see what all the fuss was about.
Rain was pouring so, although fun, any outdoors time was kept to a minimum, preferring to roam inside the humongous 10,000 capacity Mayfield Depot and its three arenas to explore. Even in the early afternoon it felt like more like the early hours of the morning as we caught Honey Dijon first on the main stage, accompanied by fabulously dressed dancers kitted out in latex, sparkles and the odd disco-helmet too - a style that was mimicked, while not as extreme, by the crowd. Soon, these dancers turned into protesters, raising tongue-in-cheek signs ranging from “back rolls not gender roles” to “smells like queer spirit”, and “God loves the Black Madonna” to the applause of the audience who grooved under the dripping ceiling. The music was fun, paying homage to the old-skool party classics that formed the backbone of the culture we’re here to celebrate. Singalongs such as Armand Van Helden’s remix of ‘Professional Window’ from Honey Dijon were followed by Gat Dacor’s ‘Passion’ from XX frontwoman, Romy.
While the main arena offered hands-in-the-air stomping with the visual accompaniment of hoop performers and a catwalk show featuring voguing that would rival Paris Is Burning, venture a little further to the Concourse and a darker side to the night was on offer, creating the perfect disco dystopia. Young Marco’s trippy cuts welcomed us to the area, adorned by a hanging cube of bright lights, two dance cages the side of the floor level booth, and a platform behind the booth for friends of the night to show the rest of the crowd what they were made of. Here, the entertainers were a little more raw, with characters favouring a freakier look and wearing costumes ranging from chip-shop worker uniforms to sometimes, even nothing at all - both accompanied by skilled contouring that would make Kim Kardashian weep.
Throughout the event we flitted from stage to stage and outdoors again, with standout moments including catching the legendary Horse Meat Disco offer their blend of smile-provoking funk to the masses, and an outstanding set from Midland back in the Concourse, losing our minds to Bleaker’s ‘Hype Funk’. The Depot was a vibrant, apocalyptic, sensory playground, and soon the sight of PVC cat-women, scantily clad policemen, and neon puppies dancing in cages became commonplace, against a backdrop of visual screens that showed iconic faces including Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and, of course, Honey Dijon.
If we’d have headed down a little earlier we could have taken advantage of the workshops, discussions and shows on offer. Similarly, we were gutted to miss musical legends, and seemingly long-running Homoelectronic friends, Roisin Murphy and pop-star Robyn perform - a signifier of the varied lineup of the night. But, although the event was 13 hours, it went by much faster.
Looking back, it’s no wonder the reputation quickly soared ahead of the event and the team absolutely smashed it, with many factors amounting to the excitement; though Homoelectric is an independent event, its partnership with the Warehouse Project bolstered its impact. On top of this, the lineup they secured was outstanding in its own right, even outside of the LGBTQ+ community, proving just how much talent lies within it, and the huge part it plays within the dance music world. But perhaps this was the point - after all, electronic, late night dancing culture started out as a means for the freaks, geeks, and anyone who lives outside the cookie-cutter norms of acceptance to gather together and form a family. If anything, Homobloc was an opportunity to go back to these raw roots and remind us all of why we have this culture we love in the first place, and, my word, they did it brilliantly.
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