Manchester is renowned for not only for its club life but for occupying one of the most progressive LGBTQ+ scenes in the U.K., and Homobloc – a one-day electronic festival that took place on Nov. 9 – fused these two cultural touchstones of the city in an almighty manner.
Taking place at the colossal venue Depot, the formerly abandoned Mayfied railway depot located slap-bang in the middle of the city centre, under promoters HomoElectric, the event opened its arms to 10,000 partygoers for an ambitious celebration of music, freedom, progress, community and pride.
“[The festival’s] intention wasn’t anything other than carrying on what we started twenty-two years ago, in a small lesbian bar in a Manchester back street,” Homobloc co-founder Luke Unabomber says. “Playing underground, black-heart disco to a crowd of loving and liberated people [means] we’ve never tried to be different for the sake of it. It’s just what we do.”
A founder of famed ‘90s LGBTQ-leaning dance events -- back when the controversial Section 28 law was still in motion in the U.K., prohibiting the apparent promotion of homouality -- Unabomber grew to become a beloved star in Manchester’s clubbing constellation. Now, over two decades later Homobloc, he and the city itself once again united the “homos, heteros, lesbos and don’t knows” (such is their self-imposed mantra), with the help of a stacked lineup including Robyn, Midland, Roisín Murphy, Seth Troxler, The Black Madonna and more.
Before the music kicked off, there were some house rules courtesy of Homobloc -- “Come as you are,” “Love is the message, no fakers, mugs or thugs” and, naturally, “Any homophobic behaviour will not be tolerated,” among them. With that in mind, fans were welcomed into the labyrinthian four-stage space by fake cops in pink crop tops, holy levels of drag and various glitter-drenched party people, making it obvious that all were indeed welcome.
First on the agenda was Scottish duo Optimo, who opened the proceedings with intergalactic jams, dancers contorting their bodies to astral symphonies before being brought back to earth with a silky edit of Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby.” Did we mention it was only 4:00 PM?
Next up in the main room, New York house purist Honey Dijon could not have been more rampant and ready, taking us through a journey of ballroom with an electric edit of Madonna’s “Vogue” and Robbie Tronco’s “C.U.N.T,” before segueing into pulsing tech-house cuts and providing the soundtrack for queens to sashay their way down a flashing catwalk. Attendees donned leather braces, wigs, toys and anything and everything else (or nothing else) that was fancied, while faces of LGBTQ+ persons and allies, from Keith Haring to David Bowie, flashed up on the massive LED backdrop. Miss Dijon then pushed the rolling tempos even further, interspersing the latest Patrick Topping club favorite “Turbo Time” to lay the foundation for a Robin S-borrowing bassline that sent the crowd into overdrive.
As we ran through to the concourse stage to catch Edinburgh-by-way-of-Germany hero Prosumer, his set -- comprised of 110BPM heaviness cut with the funky “Will Last Forever,” a track from edits-only producer Alkalino -- was suddenly invaded by partygoers and elaborately dressed dancers. These revellers clutched protest signs inspired the infamous homophobic Westboro Baptist Church, with the Church’s infamous messages of hate flipped to positive sentiments including “Poppers Don’t Preach,” “Raise your Sissy Fists” and “Smash The Cis Hetero Norm.”
Outside of forays into the catalog of the XX, little was known of what to expect of Romy Madley Croft’s set -- until she delivered a nostalgia-inducing treat of a show that launched with a thrilling, breakbeat-backed edit of Bronski Beat’s ‘80s anthem “Smalltown Boy.” Then Nilin & Kane’s seminal “Beachball” washed euphorically overhead, as an audible show of adoration for Alison Limerick's “Where Love Is” preceded a weighty edit of Mariah Carey’s “Honey.”As the Pet Shop Boys “Always On My Mind” rang out, one thing was clear: a gold standard for the evening had been set.
As we left behind the caliginous-with-sweat hall illuminated by a sparkle of a glitterballs and neon lights, overhead silk performers cascaded in circles around Robyn’s periphery as we caught the tail-end of her DJ set, her limbs writhing like elastic as she raged along to hefty Josh Wink tracks and prepped the packed crowd for a head-to-toe sequins-clad Roisin Murphy. Manically thrusting around the stage as if ready for Crossfit, she flailed and rippled along to the lovelorn yet animalistic grooves contained across her inimitable back catalogue.
As “Simulation,” a Dimitri from Paris and Aeroplane mix of “Incapable” and fresh-off-the-line disco single “Narcissus,” astonished, Murphy’s eye-boggling visuals of logos and torsos -- hitting the audience between the eyes at breakneck speed -- made you feel that if you weren’t already on something mood-altering, this is as close to nirvana as you might get.
We’ve known that Jayda G holds a penchant for disco and all it orbits since her debut LP Significant Changes dropped on Ninja Tune earlier this year, yet it’s her live sets that exudes an energy rarely seen regardless of style or genre. The Berlin-based producer had the room bouncing to sing-alongs she herself initiated, with Pure Energy’s 80s funk accelerator “Party On” becoming a dazzling moment of the night.
In its triumphant debut outing, Homobloc demonstrated that its reason for existence is for those in attendance to not just party in a safe space, but to feel supported in their freedom of expression as individuals, lovers, siblings and children of the night. The party was wild, ual, supportive, celebratory and important. You may think you recognize the rich musical contours of the Manchester scene and the spirit of non-conformity in which it operates, yet the event expanded this reputation, already feeling like an I-was-there moment that helped push the envelope even further.
From live acts to queer dancers, trans models, DJs and producers across the spectrum; Homobloc brought together and celebrated its target demographic, delivering on its mission and surely earning its place in Manchester party history. “A queer block party for all,” indeed.