When it comes to the future of dance music culture, like most COVID-19-related discussions, there’s a glut of conflicting arguments, opinions and facts that have led to confusion and polarisation. Despite us all being united by the levelling effects of the pandemic, opinion is staunchly divided. On one side you have those who believe it’s simply not worth any music events going ahead with the current risk of transmission, new outbreaks and subsequent precautionary measures like lockdowns being reimplemented. On the other you have those who believe we need to start reopening our societies, living with the risk and reigniting our economies. In a few territories the reopening of clubs has already happened, sparking controversy online. Videos of high-profile DJs spinning at parties in Italy, Tunisia, Croatia and Georgia, among others, have been featured on activist social media account Business Teshno, with widespread condemnation.
Italy has since reported a spike in cases and ordered entertainment venues to close again, with some media outlets blaming tourists, immigrants and nightclubs. Outbreaks have also been traced back to clubs in countries that have quashed the spread with greater efficiency, like South Korea for instance. And in the UK, the government refuses to even entertain the idea of reopening nightclubs, even going as far to ban background music in pubs and bars as is the case in Scotland.
Young people in particular have been singled out for spreading the virus by the media in many countries. DJs, promoters and partygoers have been lambasted online based on a perceived disregard for the safety of others who might contract the virus and die. Someone even circulated a spreadsheet (a “shitlist”) featuring details of artists who’ve been playing sanctioned gigs through the pandemic.
There are no easy answers to this but it’s important to maintain a level head, to look at the scientific data, to take advice from people with expertise and to work together to try and meet everybody’s needs so that we can safely revive our ailing industry while prioritising everyone’s health and safety.
Here’s a summary of a much longer piece, where Mixmag spoke to a variety of contributors – promoters, DJs, scientists and industry lobby groups – in order to attempt to address the many issues that face our industry, and some of the criticism that has been levelled at those who have opted to play in territories where the authorities have permitted parties to happen.
VINCENT DE ROBERTIS - GENERAL MANAGER (GUENDALINA CLUB, PUGLIA, ITALY)
“We opened in absolute uncertainty, at times in total darkness, lost in the mesh of legal interpretations, dense bureaucracy and no previous reference related to the Covid matter,” Vincent De Robertis says. The club he manages, Guendalina, welcomed Patrick Topping and William Djoko in July. “We had been working to respect and observe every single legal requirement: reducing the legal capacity by 40 per cent equipping the entrances with a mandatory mask policy and body temperature detection, providing sanitizers in every point of the room.”
Guendalina had a track and trace system set up, which, while not infallible, will most likely become the bedrock of best practice when it comes to COVID-19-related health and safety policies around the world. “In the unfortunate event of contagion, it would be possible to trace the entire network of contacts and isolate the origin in a few steps. Is the same type of treatment reserved for the overcrowded squares we see throughout Italy every day?” he asks, describing the demonisation of the club sector and lamenting the government’s management of club closures.
“We are thankful for having had the opportunity to have continued our activities, which in May was highly unthinkable but at the same time we ask ourselves: Could it have been managed differently by keeping the clubs closed from the start and providing contributions to companies of this sector?” he adds.
Later, during an exchange on WhatsApp, he tells us Guendalina received no economic support. “They forced us to open so as not to give us economic aid. On August 16 they closed us without giving us anything.” Vincent also tells Mixmag that the DJs accepted reduced fees to play at the club, which he says is reliant on international acts to sell tickets.
TITO PINTON - OWNER (MUSICA, RICCIONE, ITALY)
In Riccione, Musica is one of several clubs that opened this summer for its very first season and has so far hosted Bob Sinclar, Black Coffee, Ricardo Villalobos and Damian Lazarus, among others. Construction began on the 5,000 sq m venue in February and it was only 50 per cent complete when it opened in August, operating at 40 per cent capacity. The sprawling club is open air, like Guendalina, and followed similar guidelines to ensure their protocol was as safety conscious as possible.
“In the two months that people were dancing in Riccione, there was nobody in the hospitals,” Tito tells us. “Yesterday, I had a test and it was negative. I don’t know how many people I’ve been around in the whole time the club was open, thousands. Nothing has happened to me. I have two daughters and I’ve done my best to stay safe.”
Ultimately, the decision to open Musica, and the other venues in Riccione, came from above. The region’s mayor, Renata Tosi, asked Tito to open his club because “the tourist economy of Riccione needs your club,” he tells us. “They helped us, everybody in Riccione wanted the clubs to open. Everybody agreed with the decision of the Italian government. Even now it’s packed. The amount of people on the streets, hanging out on the beach… Outside of the clubs you can’t control that, you can’t trace them and you can’t remind them to stick to the rules.”
RENATA TOSI - MAYOR OF RICCIONE
Newspaper articles in Italy have blamed new spikes in cases on nightclubs, with local papers singling out Riccone after five people tested positive and claimed to have caught the virus in the clubs. “According to our data, there was no correspondence between COVID-19 cases and infections,” says Tosi. “The guys who tested positive said they were on vacation and [spent time] in many different places, from the beach, to restaurants, trains and buses.”
“Clubs, fitness centres, sports, dance, school and restaurants... If we think like this, everything is a risk,” says Tosi, speaking about the criticism levelled at nightclubs. “The cure cannot be the closure of economic activities. COVID-19 will be cured by killing the entire Italian economy.”
ALESSANDRO RAVIZZA - MANAGING PARTNER (DAZE EVENTS, ITALY)
Daze Events is an Italian sub-booking arm of global events behemoth Live Nation. Ravizza explains that the Italian government handed over responsibility for decision making to local authorities, “Every region could decide which measures to implement and how they would reopen,” he says. “So the regions where tourism is big business – Puglia, Sicily, the Venice area, Riccione, Sardinia – were the areas where the local government said, ‘Ok you can open, with these conditions.”
Ravizza confirms what Vincent De Robertis told Mixmag: that nightclubs have received no economic support at all from the Italian government. “For club owners it was a case of, ‘This is the only time we can try to make enough money to survive for the next 10 months. If we work hard now maybe we can survive’,” he says.
“One thing you need to understand to see the bigger picture is that, in a couple of weeks there will be elections in many of these regions,” he adds. “All of these people [who went to the clubs] are votes for the elections. We call it ‘The Italian Way’. On one side you don’t give clear rules so everybody [has to] take their own responsibility. So the government gave responsibility to the regional governments and the regional governments gave responsibility to the promoters. Of course, promoters were talking with local authorities but there were very blurred lines.”
TOMAS JINDRICH - PROMOTER (DRUM & BASS ON THE BOAT, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC)
On August 15, DJs Bryan Gee and Patife headlined at Drum & Bass on the Boat in Prague, Czech Republic. The country closed its borders and introduced a strict curfew on March 16, gradually reducing measures just a month later and lifting most restrictions by May 11. Soon after, clubs were allowed to open at 100 capacity and open-air events were also given the go-ahead, with the limits increased in June, so that 500-capacity venues could open their doors and outdoor parties could host 1,000 guests.
“The boat had a capacity of 300. Because of this, and the boat being open-air, we had no real legal limits on what we could do,” Tomas tells us. “To be honest, if our party had been planned as an indoor event, I would have cancelled it. Even myself, I don’t feel like going to a club and having to squeeze past people but the boat was great. The weather was good and the feeling was so wonderful.”
Photos and videos of the party posted to social media show people reasonably distanced from each other with lots of space on the boat’s two levels. Tomas reports that everyone was happy to finally have somewhere that they could go after months of club closures. “People are tired,” he says. “I don’t think there was any negative response before or after the event, which is marvellous. The feedback was super positive. It seemed obvious from ticket sales that there were more people who wanted to return to normal life than those who were afraid of it. It’s important to show the world that there is some hope and we can still have good parties.”
Mixmag approached several of the DJs who have played over the summer: Jamie Jones, Amelie Lens, Charlotte de Witte, Michael Bibi, Nina Kraviz, Tale Of Us, Adam Beyer and VTSS, none of whom wanted to comment.
Behind-the-scenes there were a couple of off-the-record conversations, but very few wanted to speak on the record. This is a shame because, as Benny Rodrigues pointed out in episode 21 of the DJs & Beers podcast, “It’s super important for those that are taking the gigs... If people are criticising you for it, explain yourself.” A total lack of communication about their appearances at these parties has only served to galvanise opinion against them. No one is obligated to speak, but as public figures it’s crucial to maintain open dialogue, especially in difficult times like these. By remaining silent, they’ve left themselves open to further judgement.
We've also spoken to DJs who have chosen not to play during the pandemic, despite being invited to play parties in territories where it was legal to do so.
TOMMY FOUR SEVEN - ARTIST/LABEL OWNER (BERLIN, GERMANY)
As well as running his own label, 47, Tommy co-owns a coffee shop and another event concept, both of which were hit hard by the pandemic. He received some government support but highlighted the fact that it’s not a sustainable way for creatives to live.
“I'm no expert but it appears it could take at least another year or so to find an effective vaccine,” he wrote. “Maybe it's time we try and adapt or create new legal event concepts that are as safe as possible, so they can operate within the ‘new normal’.”
So far he’s only played two shows, at Border One in France, an open-air venue which operated at 20 per cent of its capacity. Masks were mandatory and enforced by a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule. The other was organised by a new collective of promoters and DJs in Berlin, who linked up with the city’s Club Commission and their Health & Safety department.
So far Tommy says he hasn’t had any direct criticism, which is due in part to his open communication. “I understand the criticism and anger and I'm also disappointed in DJs who appear to be wilfully ignorant of the current crisis and not using their platform to set a good example,” he wrote. “I've not come under direct criticism that I'm aware of, like some DJs who have perhaps played an overcrowded and unsafe event. However, I think we're entering a dangerous state of affairs if we begin to dictate who can and cannot DJ. Instead, I feel we should support those trying to organise safe and legal events and oppose those who host illegal parties where there are often zero safety measures in place.”
Not one of the DJs we approached had any such messaging on their socials, though VTSS responded honestly and openly to criticism on Twitter. The issue of DJs taking bookings during the pandemic has brought up a variety of issues; ranging from public health and moral and ethical decision making to the spectre of capitalism, the catalyst behind so-called Business Techno.
This top tier of DJs, who are widely believed to earn tens of thousands per gig and, to some, don’t need the money, were prime targets for online critics: seemingly out of touch and willing to risk lives to accept high-paid bookings while the rest of us suffer. On the flip side, it’s important to consider that other DJs who have taken bookings over the summer are much further down the food chain and live month to month from their earnings. It’s a job, their main source of income and, with little financial support, the harsh truth is that resuming some kind of touring schedule is necessary for some of these DJs to be able to afford to live.
What Bill Patrick dubbed ‘the working class DJ’ is an often overlooked reality that is comparable to any other creative pursuit. People are struggling in every industry, and it’s no different for some DJs. However, because the apparent glitz and glamour overshadow the weekly grind, working class DJs don’t receive the empathy people in other industries often do.
SOLARDO - ARTISTS (MANCHESTER, UK)
Manchester house duo Solardo have also been the subject of online exposure, for an event they hosted in Dubrovnik, Croatia over August Bank Holiday weekend. The duo posted about the party consistently for a month, preferring to be open about their bookings.
“There are a lot of high profile electronic acts playing all over (not just us) and they're not sharing on their own social media, most probably so it flies under the radar,” James Eliot, one half of the duo, tells us. “We are doing exactly the same but we feel we need to be vocal about this rather than trying to hide it. Yes we may get some stick but we need to push for change and support for our industry.”
James and the other half of Solardo, Mark Richards, are lobbying for action to ensure the industry is revived safely and with careful consideration from the top down.
“Not being able to do what we love is a pressure on our mental health, also the feedback we get from people is that they are also suffering mentally,” Mark says. “People need to understand that this is not a money thing, it’s a mental wellbeing thing for us and for our fellow ravers.”
“We recently put a simple hashtag on a flyer #savetherave and at our Dubrovnik party the entire crowd were chanting it at us. That speaks volumes to us and we want to push this notion,” he adds.
“We don’t know what the path is to saving the nightlife scene, especially in the UK but without the pressure and the lobbying, we feel that the dance music industry is getting left behind. So many clubs are now suffering, so many jobs are being lost. The live music industry makes around £4.5billion to the economy and supports over 200k jobs. We need to push our government to action. We feel we are the worse hit sector, yet by far the least government supported sector. It's shocking. We need mass testing, we cannot wait for a vaccine otherwise I fear for our entire industry.”
JUMPIN JACK FROST
Jumpin Jack Frost is a drum ’n’ bass and jungle veteran, co-founder of the legendary V Records and, up until the pandemic struck, was still busy touring the UK and the rest of the world on a regular basis.
Frost has been grounded, like many of his peers, since March, only recently playing a solitary gig in Bristol, where he played at the Blue Mountain. The event was outdoor on the club’s roof terrace with strict social distancing rules and temperature checks on the door. He says he’s been offered gigs over the last few months, including some illegal shows, but he is staunchly opposed to anything that doesn’t adhere to stringent guidelines.
“We have to find a way to get clubland up and running again, so we have to start off by taking these measures and moving forward,” he tells us. “Otherwise it’s going to be at a standstill for a very long time.”
Frost came up during the golden era of UK rave, when illegal parties were one of the main sources of electronic music. Huge gatherings taking place in fields and warehouses up and down the UK. Today, he sees the events as selfish and irresponsible.
“A lot of the young people going out partying, it might be fine for them but then they go home to their parents or grandparents and take the virus with them… And they could get extremely ill and, in some cases, die,” he says. Frost lost his cousin to the virus earlier this year, and he was friends with UK rapper Ty, who passed away in May.
“A lot of the young people don’t think it can bother them but that’s only half the story,” he adds. “Some people are not conforming, they don’t wanna do what they’re told. Some people think the whole thing is fake. My cousin died of the virus, she was 62 and she had diabetes. Where did the virus come from? It’s very easily transmitted.”
Something else that has come up in a few discussions about the pandemic parties is the issue of music of Black origin being played at these events in relation to reports that Black people have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Frost rejects the notion that the DJs and promoters are being disrespectful to Black people through the events. “I don’t really look at it that way. I just want everyone to be safe,” he says. “All that talk, it’s like what do you want? Come on man, I know we’re going through social change but you’re pushing it a bit far.” Not everyone shares this viewpoint however: Carl Cox recently told Mixmag that partying during the pandemic was "irresponsible" and Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson wrote that she doesn't "believe there’s a good enough justification for any of these events to continue in light of having such limited and shifting medical facts" on the Dweller blog.
Despite his worries about the spread of the virus, Frost is also aware that we must find a way to restart the club industry. With over three quarters of a million jobs at risk and people deciding to party regardless of increasingly harsh restrictions on large gatherings, he’s aware that something needs to be done, but done safely.
“We have to operate under stringent guidelines, otherwise it’s not worth it,” he says. “But there has to be a roadmap back for people that work in this industry and people that want to party, otherwise, unfortunately, they’re gonna party anyway.”
THE BLESSED MADONNA
The Blessed Madonna has been out of action since March, cutting short a tour of Australia to jet home just before the UK entered lockdown. For the last six months she’s adhered to government guidelines, staying at home to work on her album and her recent mixtape and remix project with Dua Lipa.
“I have severe asthma and we don’t know what would happen if I got sick,” she tells Mixmag. “There are 28-year-olds that have heart attacks with this. In the last two years I’ve been hospitalised with asthma, I’ve had to cancel major shows and whole sections of tours because I could die.”
TBM’s love of rave culture goes way back to the early nineties. She loves to connect with the crowd, musically and physically, often inviting people to join her in the booth, sharing her drinks bottles, hugging everybody and allowing her personal space to be invaded frequently. She misses it, but for now, she’s adamant that she won’t return to the booth until it’s totally safe.
“The second I realised what this was, I moved virtually all of my shows and realised it was very clear that nothing was going to happen until there was some sort of manageable risk,” she says, acknowledging that her profession and the sheer amount of traveling she does poses a big risk to many other people. “There are weddings where one person has got 150 people sick. If I got sick, not only would it risk my life it would also risk the lives of many, many, many other people,” she adds.
As some nations have seemingly curtailed the spread to the point where cases have dropped close to zero, their governments have moved to get their economies back up and running, allowing clubs to reopen. As we’ve seen, this has led to some promoters approaching international acts to headline their events. The Blessed Madonna has received a few offers in the last couple of months, but says she declined. “I recognise that there are places that have got it under control. It’s just a personal decision for me. I need to work as much as anybody else, I don’t have infinite amounts of money but I also cannot work if I’m dead,” she quips.
“I’ve seen open-air events where they’ve truly managed to do social distancing and even that event in Guernsey where it’s completely Covid-free. I mean, lucky sons of bitches! Fucking right on man!” she adds. “But there are some distressing images. I’m not a virologist, but I don’t think it takes a degree in virology to say that, in most situations, it’s not a good idea to pack loads of people together. I don’t want to yell at anybody, people have to make their own decisions.”
Ultimately though, she places the blame with the governments that have failed to manage public health adequately. In October 2019, five months before the pandemic hit most of the world, global leaders and public health officials were involved in a pandemic simulation called Event 201. The event was broadcast live on YouTube and eerily predicted many of the reactions to the Covid-19 pandemic. A series of recommendations were published, to aid governments in their response to any similar circumstances that may occur in the future. This list of recommendations should have aided preparedness policies across the globe but it doesn’t seem to have helped much at all with our current situation.
“The most important thing is that it’s very easy to blame people in the public and people who are probably running out of money and need to work. It’s easy to shift the blame there when the fact is the governments are responsible for managing public health - not DJs, not ravers…" she says. “I don’t want to blame a 20-year-old kid for not managing a pandemic correctly. They shouldn’t be put in a position to even make that decision.”
Finger pointing and scapegoating has created division in society at large as well as within the electronic music community. But those pointing the fingers have failed to acknowledge the nuance behind each situation, nothing is ever as black and white as it seems to be.
“People don’t know how any of this works. From the outside it’s very easy to look at it and criticise,” TBM tells us before highlighting the online vigilantes that are inflaming their followers and shaming those who have accepted gigs.
“I have a slight bone to pick with this internet vigilante thing that doesn’t contact the people involved to talk about what happened,” she adds. “There’s a lot of that: self-appointed vigilantism with no accountability that’s anonymous and making these accusations. It’s just vague finger-pointing without any dialogue and that is concerning, too. We really don’t know enough about each individual situation.”
“I’ve had offers come in from places that have almost no cases and they’re open for business as usual. I made a decision not to go because I don’t want to be in that tiny percentage but where is the line?” she concludes. “Do we trust governments to tell us when that is? Do we read the paper and make a decision? Do we consult a virologist ourselves? There are so many question marks and very few periods.”
ANII is a Polish artist who has been based in London for the last decade. She’s released with Kompakt, Anjunadeep, Afterlife and her own label Aniitime, and was touring regularly before lockdown. Since Covid-19 hit the UK ANII has opted to stay home and focus on her music after she caught the virus back in March. “I actually went down with the first wave, I got tested and I had it in March” she tells us. “It hit me quite heavily, I was in bed for nearly a month. Then the lockdown happened and there were no opportunities to do anything anyway.”
She’s avoided playing illegal parties, despite having some friends who’ve organised them but admits she was scalded by friends for going to a socially distanced party back in June. Despite the risks, she’s empathetic to those who’ve been going out and blames the authorities for not offering any alternatives. “I think everybody’s in that need to go out because the lockdown [has been] so long,” she says. “[The UK government] hasn't even allowed any open-air events. In Poland it’s been different, they’ve been doing outside events and people have that opportunity to go out and unwind. Here, people go to the pub, get drunk and go to an illegal rave because there’s no other option.”
“I couldn’t focus on making music either,” she continues. “I was so ill, it affected my hearing and I had an endless headache. Recovery took at least two months, to get back into my normal senses.”
ANII explains that a lot of her friends in the scene lost their drive, finding that having zero exposure to clubs, people, the dancefloor and so on, sapped their creative energy. “When you lose the vibe and energy from gigging, people get quite depressed,” she says, adding that her focus turned to her label and production once she’d recovered from the virus, easing herself back in with a couple of remixes.
Despite having a rough time with Covid-19, ANII is adamant that we need to start working on a roadmap to restart society and that we should put our trust in people to adapt to the risks. She worries that the economy will continue to diminish, more people will lose their jobs and says those who want to party will still find a way to do it, whether it’s prohibited or not.
“I was really ill and it was difficult to get back on it. Now I’m ok, I’m not worried about getting it again, I don’t think it will affect me in the same way due to building antibodies,” she tells us. “We have to learn to live with it and they’re just making a big drama about it at the moment. They could just make masks mandatory and allow people to live their lives. If you’re sick then stay home and self-isolate. We’ve been in lockdown for so long, people are tired and they want to rebel. It’s like when you go to prison, when you come out all you want to do is party.”
We sent links to the videos posted by Business Teshno to several experts.
JULIAN TANG - CONSULTANT VIROLOGIST AT THE LEICESTER ROYAL INFIRMARY AND HONORARY ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR IN THE DEPARTMENT OF RESPIRATORY SCIENCES
Dr Tang’s research has focused on respiratory viruses and aerosol/airborne transmission. Of particular note is a series of videos created by Julian and his team that demonstrate the airflow patterns between two people via various actions: talking, laughing, coughing, sneezing, singing, breathing etc… using a thermal imaging system to demonstrate how aerosol travels out of people’s mouths during the different activities.
“I was looking at airflow dynamics post-pandemic 2009 [H1N1 influenza] and the videos are still very relevant,” he says. “If everyone wears masks it greatly reduces the outflow of aerosol and the inflow. Surgical masks can contain three to six times the amount of virus, and reduce the amount of virus coming at you by three to four-fold. So your overall exposure can be reduced by up to nine times.”
“When you’re dancing around you’re inhaling and exhaling more vigorously, so that protection may reduce somewhere. Plus breathing hard can lead to leakage of air round the side of the mask,” he adds. Even if a small number of people are wearing masks, it can help to reduce the risk. His analysis of the Italian rave clips continues by looking at the size of the crowd and the open-air location.
“Let’s say 10 per cent of the people at a rave are infected, so 100 out of the 1,000 people at this one. If it’s open-air then that amount of virus will be diluted by the massive atmospheric volume,” he explains. “Also there’s the effect of body heat. Even when you’re standing still your body can act as a thermal chimney, which will carry a lot of the virus up into the air away from the people as well. So that massive crowd will have a massive thermal chimney effect, carrying a lot of the virus up into the air away from people.”
“You can’t tell them [people at a party] to stay socially distant, it’s not going to happen,” he says. “There’s not much else you can do, besides keeping people outside. If you are going to have them inside, you need a massive air volume [high ceilings] and reliable ventilation to take away the air that’s coming off these people.” (Doesn’t bode well for good old, low-ceilinged basement venues…)
PROFESSOR ROBERT DINGWALL - PART-TIME PROFESSOR IN THE SCHOOL OF SOCIAL SCIENCES SUPPORTING RESEARCH AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AT NOTTINGHAM TRENT UNIVERSITY
Professor Robert Dingwall echoed Dr. Tang’s response to the open-air location seen in the Italian footage, describing how much it “drastically reduces the risk”. Professor Dingwall then focused on the scientific models being used in the press, which don’t always represent the behaviour of crowds accurately.
“The modelers tend to assume that crowds are random aggregates of individuals, all of whom are interacting with each other and that’s why public health people don’t like them,” he explains. “Social science research, which people have been doing for the best part of 100 years now, says that crowds are not aggregates of individuals, they’re collections of small groups.”
“They won’t be randomly interacting with everybody else in the audience,” he adds. “That means that the risks are not that different from any other social gathering, like the type you might have in your back garden for a barbeque. There’s been no spike from crowded beaches, or from the Black Lives Matter demos, so there’s no real reason to expect that there would be a spike from these sorts of events.”
Professor Dingwall was also concerned with the age of the people in attendance. In the UK 20 people aged 0 to 19 years old have died from COVID-19 since March, with 250 in the 20 to 39 age bracket. Scientists have repeatedly disclosed that anyone younger than 40 is at a much lower risk of death from the virus, so it’s unsurprising that young people are more willing to go out and party. “What you’re looking at are people who are not actually personally at risk of serious illness or death if they contract the infection,” he says. “Most of their other interactions will be with people of a similar age group, so they’re not likely to be taking it home to a grandparent.”
PROFESSOR PAUL HUNTER - PROFESSOR IN MEDICINE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF EAST ANGLIA
Paul Hunter is an expert in the patterns, causes and effects of emerging infectious diseases, including Ebola and was a lead media commentator during the outbreak in West Africa between 2014 and 2016. Professor Hunter has been a go-to expert for several media outlets during the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to his depth of knowledge. We showed Professor Hunter the video of Amelie Lens from Guendalina on August 15 and he immediately highlighted the outdoor locations. “One study from Japan suggested it was 19 times less risky, so you have only about 5 per cent chance of spreading the virus outdoors as you would indoors,” he explains. “But that is not zero. It does almost certainly carry some risk of transmission.”
Professor Hunter is cautious when it comes to blaming nightclubs for outbreaks. “If these sort of events are a major contributor to an increase in the risk of transmission, then almost certainly deaths will occur as a result,” he speculates. “However, we are seeing a lot fewer deaths per case now than we saw in April and it seems to be a less severe disease.”
“All we can ask of people is to comply with the current laws and guidance that’s being given and, if this sort of thing is ok under current Italian guidelines, then I wouldn’t necessarily criticise the promoters for doing that,” he says, speaking about the Italian footage. “The promoters aren’t experts in infectious diseases, they’re just following government guidelines.”
Professor Hunter’s advice is straightforward. “Enclosed spaces, poor ventilation and crowded environments are the main risk. You should be restricting numbers to the point that people can reasonably socially distance, which I realise is not what people who go to these sort of events want,” he says. “The evidence on face masks is not 100 per cent either way but they do offer some value in areas where you can’t otherwise socially distance. You could insist on wearing face coverings in this kind of setting.”
PROFESSOR JOHN ASHTON CBE - FORMER REGIONAL DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC HEALTH FOR THE NORTH WEST OF ENGLAND
Professor Ashton was involved with the Healthy Nightlife Initiative many years ago, which looked at nightlife in its entirety, not just the clubs but what happens around the rave experience; travel to and from the venue, relationships and sexual encounters, substance use/misuse and so on.
“Large-scale events are potentially problematic. It’s not just the events themselves, it’s everything that goes with it,” he says. For Professor Ashton it’s about making sure all the contingent activities around the club experience are also safe and healthy. “Pubs are a nightmare for young people. There was an outbreak in Stone in Staffordshire, 300 people in a pub,” he says. “Once you’ve got a few drinks inside you, or you’ve taken some substances, the barriers break down.”
Like Professor Hunter he is sympathetic to some of the issues that have led to illegal raves, and promoters in certain territories reopening when they’ve been permitted to. “All the raves have been popping up because young people haven’t been able to go somewhere else. The harm reduction approach would be to say, ‘We need somehow to find a way for young people to do the things they need to do’. But that means tight control, you need proper ticketing, you need enforcement, you need strict limits on numbers,” he says.
Professor Ashton suggests Glastonbury’s organisational capabilities should be utilised to trial a test run, where systems could be set up and rigorously tested for their efficacy.
“What it comes back to is the lack of large-scale testing. You need to be able to tell people they have to be tested before they can come. But the testing is still not sufficient to be turned around in a short amount of time,” he says. “From a public health point of view, if you were testing everyone within 24 hours of the concert you would still need to be doing the spacing, still doing the masks, still doing the hygiene. You have to do everything.”
With the lowest death rates and much lower risk of any serious complications, he says young people could be given more freedom to socialise, work and enjoy leisure time, while society’s most vulnerable are protected - as we do with most illnesses.
“Young people have been neglected. What I’ve been saying for two or three months is, young people should be able to get on and live their lives normally, to an extent - with all the necessary health measures in place, and regular testing - if they are not sleeping under the same roof as someone vulnerable.”
DR DAVID CREPAZ-KEAY - HEAD OF APPLIED LEARNING AT THE MENTAL HEALTH FOUNDATION
Dr Crepaz-Leay and his team have been taking a close look at the impact of the pandemic on mental health for the last six months. They are now trying to balance what they know about what’s good and bad for people’s mental health with what is and isn’t possible under Government guidelines. This includes a large-scale research project with Cambridge, Swansea, Belfast and Strathclyde Using population survey data provided by YouGov, sampling over 4,000 people across various demographics, at seven intervals so far since just before the beginning of lockdown.
“We’re all learning as we go along and it’s not helpful to either blame young or old people, and their behaviour, for this. We know that young people are feeling more isolated through this than any other group,” he says. “Therefore, when we speak about the mental health benefits of social activities, we have to prioritise young people because they are suffering more from social isolation and, we think, the economic implications.”
This, he says, provides context to the discussion around nightclubs, festivals and other such music events. “It’s not an event where the misery has been equally distributed and we need to think long and hard about how we make up for the acute distress and pain that’s been felt by some parts of our population, and young people have clearly taken the brunt of it.”
“Sometimes it’s very easy to find someone to blame, in this case it’s young people and rave culture. We’re seeing highly disproportionate reporting of illegal raves, compared to illegal gatherings in parks of perhaps more middle-class, middle-aged people,” Dr Crepaz-Keay says. “It’s just unhelpful and it creates divisive societies and the one thing we know about divisive societies is that they’re bad for everybody’s mental health.”
Lockdown measures and social distancing have become prime directives in limiting the spread of Covid-19, but Dr Crepaz-Keay points out the long-term repercussions, which lead to more deaths and misery. “You can absolutely stop the spread of a virus by stopping any kind of connectivity at all, but that causes incredible harm,” he says. “It may stop a virus killing people but it will lead to an enormous increase in domestic violence, significant economic impact and a massive impact on mental health, all of which harm people and affect people for life. It’s a real challenge to balance all these things.”
“We are picking up higher levels of suicidal thoughts and feelings among young people. That is the most extreme mental health impact you can think about,” he explains. “What we’ve found among the general population is about 10 per cent and from people aged 18 to 24 is 23 per cent, so that looks like an awful lot compared to 10 per cent.”
“There is no risk-free activity, we don’t want to spend our lives wrapped up in cotton wool, we want to be able to socialise safely and constructively. There’s no reason why club owners can’t demonstrate that,” he concludes.
LUTZ LEICHSENRING - CO-FOUNDER OF VIBELAB & SPOKESMAN AND EXECUTIVE BOARD MEMBER FOR THE BERLIN CLUB COMMISSION
“Right now clubs in Berlin can use their outdoor space and they can also do events with up to 1,000 people,” Lutz says. “But most of them don’t even allow people to dance because they don’t want to be policing their own venue. Part of the identity of the scene is that you can do what you want, as long as you’re not hurting anybody. But in these times you can hurt someone very quickly just by talking to them without a mask.”
“The numbers don’t really reflect that there is a great risk outdoors. When we had the BLM protests and the different protests all over, people came together in big numbers and there hasn’t been a high infection rate from those events,” he says. “Everywhere you don’t have adequate ventilation, the risk increases immediately.”
“Part of the human experience is to gather with others. That makes life actually liveable for many people. It’s important that we find solutions,” Lutz says. He is hopeful that the competitive nature of the pharmaceutical industry will lead to a vaccine being rolled out by the end of the year so that the most vulnerable people among us can be protected. That way, younger people can resume their activity, albeit still with a more responsible outlook.
Lutz’s organisation VibeLab have released a few reports, via their Global Nighttime Recovery Plan (GNRP), aimed at helping nightlife industries around the world to revive their businesses, here’s the latest one.
ALAN MILLER - CO-FOUNDER AND NOW A TRUSTEE OF THE NIGHT TIME INDUSTRIES ASSOCIATION (NTIA)
“In the UK we have one of the most professional, diligent, considerate, world-class set of promoters, organisers, managers, everyone,” he says. “The whole health and safety regime is so tight anyway.”
“We need to work out what it means to balance risks and to have acceptable recognition of the fact that there are risks out there. If we’re honest, and not just trying to protect the position that we’ve got ourselves into because we’ve got to legitimise why we’ve just had a shutdown. If we look at the data, not the models, very few of those in the demographics who are going to clubs and bars are going to be at much risk of anything. Except the risk of not earning money, being isolated, and all sorts of other psychological issues related to being alone.”
“Nothing is 100 per cent safe, we’ve just got to say it. You’d have to be mad to say you don’t want any safety,” he says. “You’ve got to be reasonable and exercise judgement and implement measures according to that. But not at the risk of obliterating our cultural, economic and social lives. So we’ve got to balance it as sensible humans. That takes exercising caution, judgement, sometimes experimenting, sometimes taking a bit more risk here and there.”
“When people disagree they think of each other as the enemy. I want to say to people who don’t agree, let’s have an honest and open conversation. I want to have an element of solidarity. No one can say they know everything about this, but we need a starting point from which we can overcome things together in a sensible way,” he says.
“The risk to younger people is slim, we need to protect the vulnerable so let’s focus in on that. Sometimes people don’t want to be rational and that’s fine, sometimes people are petrified, and they can stay in if they want to. But the whole of society shouldn’t have to stay in because some people are fearful.”