We talk to Homobloc founder Luke Unabomber and artist Corbin Shaw
“It was absolutely incredible. Completely life-changing. I really can't find the words to properly describe it.”
Sheffield-born multidisciplinary artist Corbin Shaw is talking about this year’s Homobloc. Specifically the first time he walked into Mayfield Depot next to Piccadilly Station. The 10,000 capacity venue, a former railway depot and a space of inconceivable scale until you actually walk in, is impressive enough as it is.
Homobloc feels like something that nobody else is doing
But as Corbin walked in for the first time on the night, he spotted something.
“There was a bit at the back and up there was a flag - the first flag that I had made at university - and it said We Should Talk About Our Feelings. I never would have thought, making that flag at uni on my kitchen table and now seeing it in this space, people dancing below it. It was mental really. It felt like a real milestone in my career.” He says.
It’s queer up north
On Saturday 11 December, a charity auction consisting of four exclusive bespoke flags made by Corbin, in association with Guts Gallery and Homobloc, will come to an end.
The four flags, It’s Queer Up North (2021), You Are Not Alone (2021), A Sea of People (2021) and Clubbed (2021), are part of a series of works “exploring the performance of masculinity in heteronormative spaces dominated by men”.
All of the proceeds from the auction will go to supporting Homobloc’s affiliated LGBTQIA+ charity partners including George House Trust, LGBT Foundation, akt (previously the Albert Kennedy Trust), and ALL OUT.
Three of the flags were showcased exclusively at the sold-out 6 November event and at the time of writing, bids on the pieces range between £2,000 and £4,000. They’re likely to fetch a lot more if they’re ever sold again.
The auctioning of Corbin’s art marks the end of a triumphant year for Homobloc. A queer clubbing experience in Manchester that has become huge beyond belief, brimming with colourful, euphoric ambition that attracts people from around the world. A vision of what clubbing can still be in a world of plague raves and EDM.
Practising what you preach
Homobloc was born in 1997. Formed in response to a gay village scene that was quickly becoming, as Homobloc founder Luke Unabomber describes it, overly tacky and “beige”. The festival-style queer block party, a cousin to the Homoelectric club nights and Electric Chair, chose acid, techno and Italo disco in the face of ironic pop and “bad trance house”.
"For homos, hetros, lesbos, don’t knows and disko asbos" read the Homobloc manifesto.
Formed whilst Section 28 - a law that prohibited the overt promotion of homosexuality - was still in full force, the event returned to Mayfield this year at a time when homophobia persists and homophobic hate crimes have almost trebled in the last three years. A queer block party of togetherness, freedom, creative expression and celebration has never felt more vital.
“It’s the best venue I’ve been to, honestly, in my whole life,” Corbin says.
“When you go out in London it never really seems to be that good. There’s no organic space anymore where it’s people just doing it. I remember a mate coming over from Berlin once and being shocked that you can’t just turn up to stuff.”
“I appreciate you have to buy a ticket to the Warehouse Project and that but Homobloc feels like something that nobody else is doing. It feels like it holds itself to all of the messages it preaches.”
The feeling of ultimate freedom
Corbin himself knows about those messages. They correspond with notes in his phone. Observations, thoughts and phrases. They’ve fed into his art and they’re emblazoned on the flags he made for the auction. The battle of masculinity and belonging are two themes that have been present throughout his life.
“I grew up near Sheffield where bassline is from and I went to a lot of raves growing up. It’s quite a hyper-masculine scene. A lot of bassline raves growing up were shut down. They’re quite aggressive, there’s associations with crime.”
“The thing with those raves was you’d always feel like you needed eyes in the back of your head. They were never relaxed. That’s why I was so taken aback by Homobloc. I feel like, and I know it sounds cliché, but I felt like anything was possible. I could dance however I wanted to dance. Look however I wanted to look. It was completely freeing.”
He jokes that everything else he’s been to since hasn’t been the same. Homobloc has raised expectations and the world can’t keep up.
The difficult second album
After the success of the first Homobloc party in Mayfield Depot in 2019, founder Luke Unabomber likens the pressure surrounding this year’s event to the difficult second album.
“The first one [in 2019] was incredible. The level of love in the room, the warmth, everything was just right. The challenge is coming back and doing that again. I’d like to think, having seen all the amazing feedback and seeing it with my own eyes, we did it. It exploded. I think as soon as people got in, it was just on fire.”
The team certainly did their utmost to pull out the stops for Homobloc 2021. Temperance Street was closed, the event took in the Star & Garter pub and - as well as a line-up that featured the likes of Hot Chip, Honey Dijon, Derrick Carter and Avalon Emerson - Mayfield Depot’s various chambers were given the ultimate glow-up. Add a sea of people, all equal, all free, having the time of their lives and you’ve got yourself a hell of a party.
Luke is especially proud to have had Corbin’s work front and centre at this year’s event and both speak fondly of each other. Two Sheffield United supporting kindred spirits. Luke remembers an immediate affinity with Corbin’s art as soon as he saw it.
“It really hit me because it was about masculinity and not necessarily fitting into what you’re meant to be. When I first saw Corbin’s artwork and it was saying stuff like ‘Soften up, hard lad’. It felt like a real moment.” Luke says.
The start of something special
After a whirlwind year, Luke says the masses will have to wait until the same time next year for their next Homobloc fix. Luckily the associated club night, Homoelectric, is set to return a little sooner in April. Homobloc’s work with charity partners will continue, with talk of a Homobloc Foundation in the offing. Campaigning at home and abroad will be at the heart of the organisation’s focus, as will further projects supporting queer artists and DJs.
Luke is under no illusion that discos can change the world. But he does think that when harnessed in a positive way, music can at least “stop the noise.”
“The bullshit and the aggression. For six or eight hours [a disco] can give people a moment of transcendental feeling where life feels better. A glimpse of hope.”
Cover photo by Rob Jones
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