The UK's largest queer rave is defiant in the face of hate

The UK's largest queer rave is defiant in the face of hate

Homobloc returns — Digital creator Aaron James, who appears in a new video released to mark the return of Homobloc, recalls a traumatic homophobic attack that reaffirmed to him the importance of queer solidarity and community.

One Sunday morning during the first lockdown, Aaron James jumped out of bed in his Manchester apartment, turned to his boyfriend and said, “Let’s do something fun.” He got dressed up and they barrelled out of the flat into the street. 

“We ended up just filming this little reel for Instagram of me pushing a shopping trolley down the street outside our apartment. It was just an off the cuff thing, we filmed it, put a Honey Dijon remix on it and put it up.” 

The resulting video, in which Aaron walks nonchalantly up the street, pushing a trolley, holding a disco ball and dressed in heels and a one piece with “J’adore Hardcore” emblazoned across the front quickly garnered attention when it was picked up and shared by the Homobloc festival account. 

It’d be months later that Luke Unambomber, founder of the festival, would reach out to Aaron. Homobloc held its inaugural event at the Depot in Manchester city centre in 2019. The festival shaped cousin of infamous clubnight Homoelectric, the event saw 10,000 people come together from all corners of the globe for a huge queer party, headlined by The Blessed Madonna. Other artists on the bill included Honey Dijon, Robyn (Dj set) and the XX’s Romy. 

The pandemic meant no event could legally take place in 2020, but as preparations for the 2021 event began, Luke enlisted Aaron to create a special video promoting the festival, aimed at showcasing Manchester’s thriving queer community. 

“Luke messaged just a few days before the shoot was happening and was like ‘Look, we’ve got the whole idea together, this is how we’re gonna do it, do you want to be involved?’” 

For Aaron, participating in the video took on a greater meaning, as it came just a few weeks after an attack on the street left him shaken: “I was on my way to the dentist, which I thought was the worst part of my day, and two guys and a girl literally just came out of nowhere behind me and attacked me,” he explains. 

“They asked me for my phone, but me being the person I am – I’m attached to my phone – I said no. I immediately thought, ‘why did I say that?’, and they pushed me on the floor, and kicked my head in a little bit. I managed to eventually get up and get away, phone in hand.”

As he recalls the events, Aaron pauses, choking back tears. With the attack leaving him scared to go outside, Aaron says he feels “lucky” that it happened during lockdown. The few times he did have to go out, Aaron made sure to have his boyfriend by his side.

“The threat of being attacked has always been there in the back of my head anyway, like, because of who I am and the way I look. It’s a risk but I think when it happened, it became real, because nothing like that has ever happened to me before.” 

The attack on Aaron comes as homophobic attacks are on the rise in the UK. Figures from the BBC show a near trebling of such attacks in the last five years. A spate of four homophobic attack in Liverpool in the last month have prompted hundreds to take to the streets to counter homophobia. 

Just weeks later, Aaron was back on those same streets, filming the video for Homobloc. “I was massively overwhelmed with nerves on the shoot just because I’m quite a nervous person. Even though I am a lot, in the sense of the way I dress or how people perceive me, I’m kind of a bit nervous with it.”

Once the filming wrapped, Aaron says he felt overwhelmed by the love and support from the community. “Even though shit can happen, there are always people to lift you up and support you, acknowledge who you are, and defend who you are.”

It’s why he was so keen to be part of the film, and why he’s so excited about Homobloc in November. “Through lockdown, I’ve constantly said to my boyfriend that all I want to do is to go out and dance.” It is, he says, the one time when you can be in a room full of strangers and feel nothing at all, and given the last 18 months, it’s what people really need right now. 

As Homobloc’s founder Luke puts it: “There’s never been a more of time for people to feel liberated. A place where we can be free and let loose together under one roof and hold up the flag for all things real and passionate. A queer party for all.”

Homobloc returns to Manchester on November 6 2021, view the full line-up here. The last remaining tickets are on sale now. 

Ben Smoke is Huck’s Politics Editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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