Covid-19 has unequivocally shut down the events industry. The pandemic has pushed everyone to question not only when but if things will even return to what they were before; we’ve already been through two lockdowns in the UK and even though we can now see light at the end of the tunnel we’re still trapped in a state of uncertainty. There is a lot of concern for what the future holds - there have been some truly encouraging efforts over the year from many in the scene especially here in London and although Covid-19 is rearing its ugly head as menacingly as ever, that glittering possibility of normal life is looking possible with the advent of the vaccine. As someone that lives in London and flirts with both larger-scale events and more homegrown promoters, it has me wondering what clubbing in London might be like when all this is behind us.
Pondering how Covid-19 may be pushing the reset button on the events industry, how the industry's approach to money might shift, how venues will survive and how the focus on community may become the centre point of the scene, we thought it right to hear some thoughts on the topic. Whilst looking at how other artists including Juan Maclean and DVS1 have analysed the effects of the pandemic, we sat down for a philosophical chat about the future of the events industry with Frederik Sugden; a stalwart in the scene running both London Promoters Society and Threads Radio.
“Promoting somewhat alternative parties in a really sustainable way was becoming incredibly difficult”, says Frederick. One of the primary talking points amongst both partygoers and members of the music industry has been how the balance between the mainstream and the homegrown/DIY parties might be shifting. It can be argued that the real values of our scene - community, inclusivity and artistry to name but a few - lie more prominently within the grassroots parties.
“I think there have been some real positives come out of this period in regards to people’s consciousness and connections with others, drawn from a mutually challenging experience,” Frederick continues, “I would hope that agents won’t go back to demanding fees when they receive consistent feedback about how untenable it is and that certain successful promoters won’t feel like they need to always book the same headliners to excite people and that everyone will work together in a more communicative way”.
DJs and promoters alike have all had time to consider their direction over these several months; a chance to address what our real motivations are. Once social distancing is a distant memory for us all, will our perception of putting community over monetary profit be forever changed? Frederick suggests that community-based events and parties will become most important.
“So many community spaces have been taken away from their surrounding peoples over the last years and arguably, a focus on community and colourful humanistic localism has been stripped away from mainstream political priorities. Thus, irrelevant of Covid-19, events which are driven by a genuine care for providing accessible and open-minded spaces, are incredibly important. These are places where people can feel free, meet, create together - without them, art and community culture either disappears or goes rogue, and both of those are worse than having officially supported spaces which can be safe and enable amazing experiences.”
Over the last year, it’s become clear that the events industry and the promoters and artists that prop it up are super resilient. This has shown through the community-focused attitude that is still able to be kept alive through other means. Live streams, radio and even socially distanced parties have showcased that the passion is strong; a global pandemic can’t squash it.
“Even though a lot has changed, music hasn’t disappeared. Events are not the be-all and end of life”. Frederick runs Threads Radio and, like many of us have found, stations like his have been a really important connecting factor for the community in general. They are also prime examples of how we’ve all been able to get our fix since March 2020. Frankly, they are invaluable. They are a support network that doesn’t care how many people have bought a ticket or are dancing because both are obviously not current markers of success. Radio is all about keeping us all going and supporting the artists around us, without necessarily caring if they are internationally renowned or not. As well as giving more importance to homegrown promoters, local talent might also be given more of a focus.
“It is still great, and arguably very important, to promote international talent and enthral people by having artists travel in to perform…but I think this needs to happen on top of a foundation of localism, rather than as a contradiction or alternative to it,” Frederick hopes this continues post-pandemic too, “Whereas before, you might have had many promoters’ immediate priorities being those big attractions, but now I hope that when conceiving the line-ups, there will be a slightly more holistic look at the impact they can have by also valuing artists closer to home”
Could localisation also mean better representation of artists and diversity in line-ups from a race perspective? London is a hugely diverse city and amongst other groups such as Take Back the Night, Black Lives Matter has arguably become the biggest movement since the pandemic began. It’s given many a kick up the arse to improve the representation across the industry; out of DJ Mags 36 live streams from October to January, 50% of them featured people of colour. For the music scene, diversity is hard to ignore and given the positive moves many are making to become more inclusive, improvements in representation should be continuing to move forward. Race wasn’t an alien topic before the pandemic, but again this ‘reset’ can be a building block to reflect and repair what was in an imbalance beforehand.
Speaking with people like Frederick gives us some insight into what the world of nightlife might (hopefully) resemble this summer. Frederick and many others believe that community and localisation will be the real champion when lockdown is over. Our enlightening chat with Frederick got us considering how others figureheads in the dance music community might be reacting.
In a recent interview with Ransom Note, Juan Maclean stated that lockdown had reaffirmed his love for playing in smaller venues with an intimate crowd. This potential ‘reset’ and focus on localisation with nightlife clearly plays into the hands of a lot of artists; many throughout this period will have more than enough time to reflect on their own philosophies on performing and how they might want to return to the clubbing world when it all resumes. Might DJs and promoters start to swing from one way to the other, valuing intimate and community-led parties more after months of isolation? It will be a hugely emotional experience for lots of DJs and party-goers when a gathering can occur in the way we remember it and I’m sure that months of quarantine means many artists will be getting all the feels for returning to the decks - perhaps even enough to alter some perspectives on their own philosophies.
London-based DJ Posthuman comments on the same topic and predicts more of a coming together of smaller parties. “I suspect it will be much smaller and more locally-focused events rather than the medium or large venues we are used to. There will also be travel restrictions, and quite simply punters who are not comfortable with going out anymore. But at smaller events I think there will be such a hunger and appreciation for the occasion that the atmosphere will be absolutely electric. It'll be a big reset button. We'll be so done and bored with online streams, it could be the end of the Boiler Room era, and back to zero-phones clubbing as a norm. The lack of capacity will limit the money involved, so the larger fee international touring acts will be out of the game, and the focus will be back onto those doing it for the love of it.”
Through DVS1’s own initiative, Support Organize Sustain, he has been on this side of the fence in regards to propping up the communities that make dance music what it is. In this current situation, never has something rung more true. In thinking about what the scene might look like following the end of lockdown, DVS1 stated in an interview segment on the live Twitch event Distant Future: “When clubs reopen, does anyone really need to book a headliner and spend a bunch of money? The reality is we have a lot of amazing locals in a lot of territories around the world who have never had a chance to shine, and those people will now be able to pack a club.”
The important point that DVS1 alludes to here is what role money has in the events industry and how that might all be turned upon its head when the world switches back on again. A-list headliners cost a pretty penny and people will pay the money to see them. Supply and demand, right? These days, it isn’t out of the ordinary to pay up to £50 for an event with a top-tier line-up here in London. This has been monopolised over many years but what we might be facing now is a reset. None of these DJs are in demand right now, because there is no demand. When we all finally get to satisfy that aching chasm that has been left hollow by the lack of a clubbing experience, who is really going to give a crap about what top tier DJs are on the line-up of the first event they go to? If the novelty of being able to stand within 2 metres of someone is enough for a local community to band together for a post-lock down celebration, then will we still be drawn to the same events?
Although this could be positive for smaller promoters, it doesn’t escape the fact that the job losses and larger club closers are hugely damaging to the scene. An estimated 750,000 jobs have been at risk for the events industry since Covid-19 took over, and now the NTIA (Night Time Industries Association) has made a harrowing call that around 80% of clubs won’t survive past February. Whilst we still don’t know if that figure is entirely accurate as of today, less than 20 UK nightclubs were awarded funding in the latest government support package this April; the sentiment is still very concerning. These sort of casualties don’t fill us with a great deal of optimism but amidst the tragic loss of jobs and venues, this concept of a reset has to be the one tiny little nugget of hope we hold onto if we’re ever going to keep sane.
Renowned DJ Dave Clarke has also spoken out about the potential benefit this ‘reset’ might gift to the industry and bring the core values back to the forefront. In an online post, Clarke commented on how he was beginning to feel more and more suffocated by the corporate nature of the dance music industry and that a reset is really what the scene needed. When the artisan DJ is more in favour over an artist that requires deep pockets to book and an intercontinental flight from halfway around the world, the corporate nature of the events industry may just take a backstep. Could this potentially mean cheaper ticket prices and less of a monetised outlook for dance music?
When considering money from a wider industry perspective, it’s interesting to look at how dance music havens, like Ibiza, might re-enter the fray when clubs can reopen. The Spanish party hotspot’s world-renowned nightlife industry accounts for a huge 35% of jobs on the island and it’s no secret that things have drifted onto the commercial side of the fence over the years. Promoters and venues alike have been racking their brains to find a way that they can continue to stay afloat. Their solution? Cheaper ticket prices. Although they will only be able to host very small parties in the near future, clubs like Amnesia have been offering ticket prices for €45 which includes, if you can believe it, five drinks. We’re talking about a venue here which shamelessly charged €10 for water prior to Covid-19. A move like this gives promise to the wider commercial influence on the island. As well as clubs making some positive changes, local industry figures have band together to form ‘Social.Local’, an initiative to utilise local talent to reboot the industry on the island amidst pandemic uncertainty.
Back here in London, clubs and venues are very much in survival mode. With the grim reality that a lot of them won’t ever open their doors again, the scene may be looking towards how new spaces might be appropriated for dance music purposes. Many venues have some dates in the diary for the summer, and establishments like The Cause are still flying the community flag strongly, but we may be saying goodbye to a substantial number of locations. Despite this, there is a sense of resilience that has propped this scene up for decades, and it is this resilience that surely is set to be released back into the wild at the end of lockdown. I’m sure you know someone that is attempting to organise a ‘post-lockdown rave’, there’s nothing innovative there, but without the advent of the run-of-the-mill venue, we’re all having to think outside of the box. There have been reports of illegal raves cropping up all over the place, which funnily enough, hearkens back to the core values of this scene. DIY parties in DIY venues in their local communities seems like the most effective way that clubbing is going to resume - and how may larger venues react? Could what’s happening in Ibiza also happen here in London? It appears that this ‘reset’ could really sort shit out.
In general though, I think most of us can agree that a good party shouldn’t have to cost the world. When you consider that many of us also are operating at a reduced wage right now and some even have lost their jobs, all us music-lovers that are counting down the minutes until social distancing is usurped by freedom once again might not have a considerable bank balance to chuck at a big blow out. There has never been a shortage of cheap, or even free, homegrown events in London,but now they could easily be the parties of choice when things return to normality. Community itself is ever so important right now when many are so isolated; local promoters could have this amazing opportunity to bring everyone together again when hospitality events are allowed to continue. This shift in power could push some super exciting new promoters and artists to the forefront and provide some new aesthetics to the scene - not all doom and gloom then, you might say.
The argument that we’ve drifted away from true dance music values isn’t a new one and it’s something that organisations and promoters alike have been championing for some time. It can be easy to completely write off this time period as a total disaster for everything, especially the events industry, but as much as the industry is suffering there is scope to see it as an opportunity; a reset. A little push in the right direction by a global lockdown seems to be just the ticket that is needed for something fresh, weirdly enough. I’m sure that as soon as the cries of freedom ring around your neighbourhoods, there’s not going to be a shortage of events crammed in every bar that has room for a pair of decks or a sizable space that can house a decent party. Only a few more months to go, we hope.