There’s a joke in Simon Amstell’s stand-up show Numb in which he says the key to avoiding despair while living alone is making plans. If you don’t make plans, “you wake up, and it just gets darker.” Ah, comedy; it’s funny ‘cause it’s true! Or so I thought until that truth came uncomfortably close to my own reality. I don’t live alone, but while lockdown has essentially cancelled making plans outside the confines of my flat, the sunny sky outside steadily getting darker was the depressing thought I woke up with on Saturday.
Had the outside world not been sealed off my plan for the night had been to go clubbing at a friend and colleague’s nascent London party Adventures In Paradise. Instead I was facing Ennui In Pandemic. But there was a saviour in the midst: virtual raving.
Cooped up fans are craving self-isolation soundtracks and DJs are itching to get back into the booth, with many setting up cameras in their bedrooms (sorry haters, DJ Paris Hilton was ahead of her time). On Saturday there was a bounty of options for anyone wanting to get waved while surfing the net. We’ve expressed doubt before that virtual raving could live up to the real thing, but back then in our 2016-is-undoubtedly-the-worst-year-ever naivety we didn’t foresee it becoming the only option anytime soon. This weekend virtual raving was gratefully something to do, it was a plan. So I put on my dancing slippers and got stuck in.
The evening begins at Resident Advisor and YouTube’s Club Quarantäne. It’s more sophisticated than your usual streaming set up, with an explorable digital interior and simulated Berghain-style queue and entry quiz. A friend is already in the dance so I message him for bouncer tips while I brave the 30-second queue. “Geezer on the door was sound, just wants to know if you know who’s playing - and asks you for cookies randomly lol,” he says. Unfortunately I’m not willing to feed him with my precious data, and reject the request in my entry interview. In turn I am then rejected from entering the club. Bastards. Luckily I’m currently sat in a cosy bedroom and haven’t just suffered through a mile-long queue in freezing Berlin. Within a minute I’m in on my second attempt. The plus sides of virtual raving are starting to come into focus.
It’s around 5pm UK time as I enter to the sound of Ryan Elliott laying down a buoyant soundtrack of piano house, including Omar S’ ‘Oops’. A few more pals from across the country pull up and we’re soon sharing typed out ‘woi’s as Elliott brings his set to a triumphant close. “It’s lit how it’s byob here,” comments a friend in Somerset, earning laugh reacts from Bristol, St Albans and Tottenham. I’m not on a dancefloor, I can’t see my friends or the DJ, but some of that camaraderie they bring in unison is coming through.
As Shanti Celeste takes over I go for a wander around Club Quarantäne. The “cloakroom” links out to an Everpress merch site, the “bar” invites you to donate to a bunch of worthy causes, and the “bathroom” is a multi-cubicled chat room. As you enter, the sound becomes slightly muffled - nice touch. The conversation inside is dominated by Italians. It’s just like clubbing in London. I try to find some of that smoking area new friend solidarity by cracking a gag about the current headliner starting a b2b project with Dan Snaith called “Daphni & Celeste”. “I need ketamine” comes the response from Cubicle 3, while Cubicle 8 offers “italiaaaa ne usciremo prima di tuttiiiii”.
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Shanti Celeste is in full flow now, dropping bassy wobblers and bouncing UKG. I’m able to Shazam tunes without having my vibe on the dancefloor ruined by a busybody telling me my phone being out is ruining the vibe on the dancefloor. Dee Jay Lloyde’s garage remix of Cathy Dennis ‘Touch Me’ and Sticky’s ‘Triplets’ go off and have me wondering if Shanti’s Insta DMs are being flooded with fist emojis as obnoxious booth hangers simulate that need to shove their hands in a DJ's face when a tune’s popping. She drops T2 ‘Heartbroken’ and the group chat erupts. Fucking hell, this is actually sick. Now vibing and no longer ashamed of ostensibly sitting alone in my room I search out some booze and finish a half-drunk glass of wine I left out on the side last night. Minesweeping without the fear of being spiked, result!
A dramatic change in scenery comes with the click of a button as I head over to New Hampshire where Eris Drew and Octo Octa are live streaming a b2b set from the middle of a forest clearing. There’s a mushroom softie stationed at the front of one turntable and they’re drinking a presumably psychedelic-infused tea as they rotate between rolling out bangers and embracing each other. Meanwhile in London, DJ EZ is just starting his 24-hour set on Boiler Room. Garage DJs aren’t generally the type of artist you associate with marathon sets, but then again the ones you do have no right to bore dancefloors with their turgid minimal tech for that long. Sunwaves would really benefit from an EZ-curated tent tbh. If there was any thought that EZ would ease himself in for the long haul, that’s quickly quashed as he draws for Stanton Warriors’ ‘Bring Me Down’ remix around half an hour in. “As you all know, kindness makes all the difference, that’s what we’re all about on this stream,” he says, encouraging viewers to donate to the My Kind Deed initiative. Keep talking and take my money you legend.
Trying to check back in on Eris and Octo is delayed by a buffering wheel. I’m already getting desensitised to the lightning teleportation powers of virtual raving. 90 seconds to get from London to New Hampshire? Sort it out Branson ffs. All frustration evaporates when the link loads to the sound of Gala’s ‘Freed From Desire’ being played, and soon the pair are scratching over acid like a prime Grandmaster Flash. The chat room is abuzz with quarantine feels and gushing over the set. “2019 no talking on the dancefloor 2020 pls chat me up while I dance alone in my apartment” begs one viewer, “this is such medicine everyone, we are lucky to have this time alive together” adds another.
Preparing to get stuck in for the evening I head out for my daily government sanctioned walk to the offy when a message comes through from a friend: Don Williams is dropping ‘Strings Of Life’ in Club Quarantäne. Nah! It’s like being caught in the club bogs when a classic is played, except I’m now 10 minutes from home rather than 10 metres from the dancefloor. It’s happened: I have FOMO from my laptop screen.
Hooking the internet up to my veins like an IV drip streaming every virtual rave going seems like the best cure once back in the room. First up a dip into Isolation Station’s 24-hour session reveals some kind of furry-themed jungle rave, with Gojii slamming through chopped up breaks as cartoon and soft toy animals dance across the screen and hang from the DJ’s dungarees. Good to see the club freaks are still doing their thing in the live streams. A starker, more utilitarian techno tip is being taken over at Milan’s The Temple of Lost Future venue in the midst of its 14-day world record breaking attempt. The soundtrack is relentless kick drums beneath slippery hi-hats and nine people are watching. Which makes it kinda feel like one of those bitter end rave crew moments, as the final scattering of dancers in the club soak up the closing onslaught. “Is everyone having a good rave?” I ask in the chat room to silence. The viewing figure drops to six.
EZ is, of course, still going at it hammer and tongs. Locking back in I’m greeted by a flurry of Zinc’s ‘Blunt Edge’, Heartless Crew’s ‘Heartless Theme’ and M-Dubs’ ‘Bump ‘N’ Grind’. “I’m meant to be pacing myself but you lot with the old-skool requests has got me going!” says EZ down the mic. Who is he kidding? He’s going to play 24 hours of straight bangers and it’s going to be sick. S Ruston is matching the pace over at Club Quarantäne. She whips up the Berghain vibes with a pounding techno number featuring a vocal repeating “Come with me to the dark room”, before switching it up with the potent rap of Princess Nokia’s ‘Brujas’, then again with Marco Bailey’s 90s trance smasher ‘Scorpia’, and then again when she ends on Skream’s classic “Let’s get ravey” remix of La Roux ‘In For The Kill’. It’s a mighty curveball of a closer and as the group chat erupts again it feels like one of those shared rave moments which will be remembered fondly, despite our current separation. Until a short message cuts through the facade: “Can’t tell you how much I wanna hit a dance rn”. Shutupshutup. The thought of actual raving and how long it’s going to be is harrowing. But a quick EZ piston pump through ‘Rhythm & Gash’, ‘Pow!’, ‘Get Get Down’ and ‘Hackney Parrot as he shouts out “Brenda the old-skool garage raver from Ipswich” seduces me back into the warm embrace of the virtual rave.
The rest of the night flies by with highlights aplenty. Leaving Records’ Twitch stream provides soothing ambient against a backdrop of pretty nature; House Of Yes raises spirits with erratic dance routines; Club Quarantäne continues to go off with groovy house from Cope, fun old skool cuts from Elissa Suckdog and Skee Mask’s skewed bass, breaks and grime selections. Zoom hangouts and Houseparty video calls fire up front left, right and centre. I think I end up virtually seeing more friends from across the country than I’ve seen on any one night out for a long time. I’m having enough fun that it’s gone 5am when I realise I’ve been on this internet session for the best part of 12 hours and call it time to log off. No Uber fare and in bed within seconds, dreaming about the virtual afters EZ will still be shelling it out for tomorrow.