There’s a moment during Homobloc every year called ‘The People of Homobloc’. A performer takes to the main stage of the Mayfield Depot, a cavernous industrial space, and reads a poem to the crowds of ravers.
This is followed by a DJ set, during which each and every drag group performing across the night take to the stage, one by one, until there’s not an inch of space left. Balloons fall from the ceiling, hands reach to the sky, tears are shed. It’s one of the most beautiful celebrations of queer joy you’re likely to see anywhere
Homobloc emerged from longstanding Manchester gay night Homoelectric four years ago. It was their first foray into events bigger than standalone DJ sets, and in collaboration with The Warehouse Project, they made the move to Mayfield Depot – with a capacity of 10,000 people, it arguably becomes the biggest gay club in the UK for the night.
The motto of Homobloc is “a queer party for all”, and that is undoubtedly what it is – the crowd alone is one of the most joyous things about the whole affair. This year’s incarnation built on the formula of the previous iterations – live pop headliners, alongside the best house, techno and disco DJs around. Thanks to being an all-day rave, doors close unusually early, and so by 7:15PM there was a heaving crowd in the Depot, waiting for Jessie Ware.
Ware’s latest album, That! Feels Good!, is an 80s-flecked ode to everything glitter, and her set bore this out. Her music has always felt like a release of energy, and in the context of Homobloc, felt almost poignant in its extravagance – the chorus of “free yourself!” becoming a mission statement.
Ware was one of two pop headliners, the other being Australian kitsch-pop duo Confidence Man, who have leapt from strength to strength this past year. Their commitment to camp made them a perfect fit for the night – outfit changes, light-up bras and champagne showers were all present and correct. Some dodgy AV issues aside, they were an ideal bridge from Ware’s pop to the club feel of the later acts.
By this point, the warehouse is constantly thudding – between three rooms, and several fringe parties, there’s always a beat coming from somewhere. The sensory overload is hard to express – the joy of the crowd, the mass of people, the heady cocktail of sight and sound. Following the sheer beauty of The People of Homobloc (performed by Cheddar Gorgeous and Will Tramp), the night well and truly transitions into a rave.
Salute picks up where Tramp has left off, with the Austrian DJ’s set floating between sexy, bouncy garage, and flashes of darker techno. The sets at Homobloc are harder to describe than most, because each is accompanied by a full drag performance. The memories of the DJ and the performers blend into one, almost physical, impression.
Moving now from the main room of the Depot into the smaller Concourse space – here, the booth is level with the dancers, flanked by a disco ball and a wall of spectacular lighting. New Jersey DJ Todd Edwards is in residency, conjuring up a higher tempo and rattling percussion. It’s here that the venue feels most industrial – either side of the dancefloor are runways, with dancers and drag queens seemingly floating above the crowd. It’s mesmerising.
This is how the blur between midnight and 4AM is spent, journeying back and forth between the Depot and the Concourse, as the beats get harder and the tempos increase. First, Avalon Emerson with jaw-droppingly skilful techno; next, David Morales with perspiration-inducing house.
The process culminates with the final two sets of the evening, both heavily anticipated back to back sets. In the Depot, one of the most fêted B2Bs of the year, Sherelle and I. Jordan, light up the dancefloor with a heady assault of jungle, hardcore and speed garage. They’re a duo who are patently friends as well as collaborators, and watching them grin and embrace throughout their set was almost as joyous as their selections.
But the main event was always going to be the closing act in the Concourse – The Blessed Madonna mixing alongside DJ Paulette. By this point the room is rammed, with very little space left to dance, and more a heaving tide of bodies. Opening with a remix of Sam Smith’s ‘Unholy’, the two DJs were so obviously having fun with their set, and the faithful remaining on the dancefloor were glad to assist.
Homobloc really is quite unlike any other event on the Warehouse Project calendar, and maybe even unlike any other dancefloor in the UK. A sheer release of energy, harnessing the communal joy of a rave to broadcast a message of pride and togetherness. For one night only, in a rainy former train depot in Manchester, the world seems like a much more colourful place.
All photography by Sophia Carey