‘Our culture is at risk’. These words, written in bold on the WeAreViable website are, especially after reading their accompanying mission statement, hard to disagree with.
You can look up the reasons given as to why so many clubs and live venues across the UK have had their licences stripped in recent years. Long before Covid, there had been a flurry of questionable legal crackdowns, leading to venue closures and job losses. Now we’re dealing with questionable legal lockdowns, preventing the majority of artists, engineers and promoters from working at all. Either way, the government’s actions are forcing a decline in the entertainment industry with their only response seemingly being: ‘Rethink, Retrain, Reboot’.
For almost the entirety of 2020, we have had to live more confined, solitary lives and the country’s overall mental health is in crisis with many news sources pondering the question ‘is mental health the real pandemic?’ This is why movements such as WeAreViable are so important to those who can’t bear the thought of a world without proper places to enjoy live entertainment. It aims to support those working in the industry as well as providing a collective voice in conversations with local authorities and government bodies. Their biggest worry being that ‘if we do nothing we will all feel the impact’.
London-based DJ and long time Rinse FM affiliate Uncle Dugs founded WeAreViable in September of this year along with a handful of like minded individuals. “It started as a collective of people” Dugs explains. “We’re from entertainment in different shapes and forms: promoters, some artists, a dancer - everyone’s got a different role within the industry. We were all sort of in the same position where our livelihoods had been taken away and not just that but what we love and what makes our hearts beat”.
This sentiment rings true for the growing numbers getting involved in the movement. With that said, Dugs thinks that more could be done by those at the forefront: “People like us are very far down the pecking order in terms of the benefits we’ve got from pursuing music and doing what we love. I’m really frustrated that a lot of the bigger names within the underground, and especially the overground, have been silent throughout all of this” he emphasises. “It shouldn’t be up to people like us, we should be part of the bigger thing that’s led by the people that get listened to and noticed”.
During this time of great uncertainty, the electronic music community is managing to come together with ever more creative ways of keeping on. Jazz, one half of the virtual venue VClub, lost his gig as a freelance lighting technician at Glasgow’s The Arches after the venue was stripped of their nightclub license in 2015. “Their late licence got taken off them for breaches, I believe, though I could be wrong. The police had issues with it and they went to the licensing board and eventually their late licence got taken away” he explains. “Not only did we lose what was voted by the DJs themselves as one of the top ten clubs in the world but we lost a massive vibrant arts scene”.
Since Lockdown, Jazz and fellow technician Oli have founded VClub, a virtual nightclub based on The Arches’ original floor-plan. “The whole premise at the start of lockdown was ‘what can we do?’” says Jazz. “Both Oli and I used to work at The Arches and decided to rebuild that venue in 3D”. Unlike other livestreams and virtual events, VClub is a fully digital experience: “We use quite a lot of Computer Aided Design (CAD) software and we also have lighting visualisers which means I can control the lights using my lighting desk just as I would at a gig” he continues. “DJs playing, the speakers, a moving crowd, basically it creates more interest and it’s something a bit more immersive and recognisable. If you put it on your big screen, turn the lights off, with all the strobe lights and everything, it brings it out a bit more”.
But as innovative as industry members are proving to be at this time, getting by financially is harder than ever. “There’s a friend of mine who’s worked his whole life and was very successful until last year. He wasn’t a DJ or an MC; he worked more behind the scenes. I spoke to him a while back and he was having to eat from a food bank. It fucking broke my heart” tells Uncle Dugs. “Our main aim is to try and find a way back to live entertainment for all of us to enjoy, whether that’s as a consumer or as an artist or promoter - everyone that’s involved from the dancefloor to the stage. It’s paramount we get our industry back to work”.
For the event this weekend, the also-newly-formed Social Distance Club (SDClub) has been working hard to get a special roster of DJs together to stream live in aid of WeAreViable. Organiser Lynsey has been an active member of the Glasgow scene, having been involved with putting on parties alongside Pussypower Productions. “We had done a fundraiser party in January with another project Techno for Scottish Independence in support of Glasgow Autonomous Space (GAS) and were set to do another one in March but it had to be cancelled because of Covid. SDClub was started because I wanted as many people as possible to be involved regardless of their views on independence and we've had some fantastic DJs and producers from all over the UK and the world play over the last few months” she tells us. “At the start of lockdown we were doing quite a lot of livestreams just with people setting up cameras in bedrooms and things like that. Through this, I was introduced to Jazz and Oli and started doing the streams from VClub instead. They’ve been really good, I think it’s amazing that they’ve been able to build all of that since the start of lockdown”.
Lynsey’s involvement with WeAreViable came about after she noticed their online presence and after further reading, felt she should try to offer some support. “WeAreViable are working in the interests of everyone who’s tuning in and getting involved with the stream. So many have not only lost their source of income but also their creative outlet and a large part of their social life too. The shows are all archived on YouTube and SoundCloud so that when lockdown is over we can look back on some good memories of everyone working together to make things a bit better” she explains. “We're hoping for some donations on Saturday if people have a couple of quid to spare but if they don't they should still tune in and enjoy the night regardless”.
When asked for any final words, Uncle Dugs expresses a concise message: “I want to say thank you to everybody who’s supporting us. We’ll look back at this as a really important time, we already know it is. We’re all on a level playing field now and I think we’ll come out of this as better people”.
On Saturday 28th November at 19:00, SDClub is presenting a special line-up of DJs, all coming together digitally for a virtual club night on Twitch. The night is to raise funds for WeAreViable so that we can get back to experiencing live performances as safely and as soon as possible. Tune in here