Block9 Glastonbury Preview

Art & Culture

Continuing to edge ever closer to the mother of all UK festivals, Glastonbury Festival, the heat is picking up (literally) and things are all beginning to get a little bit exciting. 

You’d have thought that something of this age and size that sold out before you could say “is that a rain drop I see in the sky?” would have lost some of its sheen but not the mother. It continues to evolve adding new areas of excitement and wonder. Let’s face it, you don’t often venture to the main areas of festivals like this anymore. The beauty lies in unearthing hidden gems in further afield corners. 

Continuing our quest from back in 2011 we’re highlighting some of the more hidden gems on offer and catch up with the people behind said jewels. This week we preview Block9 and have a chat with Steven Gallagher and Gideon Berger, the team behind the creation of the weird and wonderful corner (well not really corner anymore) that houses the likes of a recreation of a post-apocalypic 1970s New York tenement and a London council block with a tube train crashing from the 4th floor. This is the part of Glastonbury where all the crazy shit happens once the sun goes down.

Please introduce yourselves, and let us know what you do, how you met and when you started working together.

We are Steven Gallagher and Gideon Berger, otherwise known as Block9.  Were a design duo who create massive music and art installations. We met in the old workshop of a West London events company and founded Block9 in October 2007.

How do you dream these things up, seriously? Whats the process and does it tend to start I had this mad dream last night

A lot of our inspiration for existing creations, especially festival creations, come from music. The NYC Downlow came from the cover of an old disco record.  The London Underground, equally, came from a genre of music (albeit moodier and straighter). For the NYC Downlow, think Chemise – she cant love you. For the London Underground think The Exemen mixes of Sia – Little Man. For our theatre and dance based sets, the work in process is usually more conventional. A brief, a script or some key references is what we work to.
I noticed youre in a new field in Glastonbury this year. Is this a move to try and evenly distribute the night time fun, thus avoiding the bottle- neck of thousands of people who have been on it all day desperately trying to reach intergalactic homosexual alien chaos at NYC Downlow? Because I know I was.

Ha ha! The new field is just more central and is bigger than our old field.  Bigger is better this year because it means we have room to launch our brand new installation, Genosys.  

For the un-initiated readers of these pages please talk them through a beginners guide to Block9.

Block9 is the name of the field we curate, and its where all the crazy shit happens in Glastonbury at night. Block9 houses NYC Downlow, a recreation of a post-apocalyptic 1970s New York tenement; London Underground, a London council block with a tube train exploding out the top; and our brand new installation Genosys, a giant brutalist tree comprising 55 tonnes of concrete and steel. Each installation houses a specific genre of music and is designed to be an experience rather than just wallpaper for the music youre listening to. Theyre all head wreckers!

The productions are amazing, my favourite part of Glastonbury, and Im not just saying that. But you must have a few moments before the final structures come together and theres nuts and bolts everywhere and youre feeling like the losing team on scrap-heap challenge. How do you overcome that and deal with scrap-heap Block(9)?

Failure is not an option! We have an incredible team who work through the night.  Careful planning and The A Team of Block9 (site manager, production manager and the core office team) all work together to run the operation with military precision.

What happens in the daytime there? I have to admit Ive never ventured inside before nightfall. 

We sleep, recycle, clean and restock. Then we sleep a bit more.

Whats the process for sourcing materials, do ideas often stem from materials that suddenly become available?

With our festival work, we tend to use a standard palette of materials that one would expect when building sets for film and television. With other work, its more likely that we get inspiration from the material itself. A good example of this is Underdrome at The Roundhouse, a giant polycarbonate bonsai tree that was what it was because of the properties of 10mm extruded polycarbonate twinwall. (You might want to Wiki that!)

You work with a wide range of collaborators. How do these tend to come about, how do you reach out to people? It must be an intense working relationship.

Weve been in the industry for a while now, so a lot of it is word of mouth. When creative people come together it can sometimes be really intense as everyone has a different vision. Generally though we just try to get on with it and be as flexible as we can while still remaining true to our own vision of what Block9 is all about.

How did NYC Downlow come to be? Its one of those places that Ive found myself lost in for hours on end to come out bleary eyed into the morning sun completely unaware Im in a field in Somerset. Its certainly been one of my most memorable experiences of Glastonbury and Ive been going since I was about 3!

The NYC Downlow was created by Block9 for Glastonbury 2007 as an answer to a gaping hole in the British festival scene; the absence of UK gay festival venues.

Most amazing Block 9 experience thus far?

My most amazing experience is about to happen. Kerry Chandler, my childhood hero and absolute house legend, is headlining NYC Downlow on Saturday night this year. 

Via the power of youtube or vimeo could you pick us 5 influences. Can be music, films, art whatever.

Optional 6th influence (NSFW)

What do you do for the rest of the year?

We also work on a commission basis in the arts and culture industry.  In 2012, for example, we created an installation as part of the Cultural Olympiad. Weve also created a set for the Roundhouse Theatre.  Theres always lots going on.

Complete the sentence: I’m proper techno because…

Naomi D. Passion.

Are you a kick drum, hi hat or a snare? And why?

We cant hear that question because were clinically deaf.
We always ask music artists we interview If your sound was a visual thing, what would it look like? So on the flip side if your constructions were a piece of music what would they sound like?

NYC Downlow:  Vintage disco and early house with a touch of funk.
London Underground: Some proper dubstep, UK garage, tuff new reggae, drum n bass and anything in between
Genosys: Pre-digital dance with some cutnpaste disco thrown in

What are you obsessed with at the moment?

Launching Genosys at Glastonbury Festival this year.  Its the launch and we have to get it just right.  We want to blow peoples minds!

Could you ever go to Glastonbury as a punter now?

But, but, but.who would run Block9?

When everything is in place at Glastonbury, is your work done and can you enjoy the festival or is there still plenty to keep you occupied.

Theres loads to do! After Glastonbury is finished, we are planning on jetting off to a festival or two in Eastern Europe to explore how we might be able to bring Block9 to a new audience in 2014.  Then well start work on our next commission. No rest for the wicked!

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