Plotting a post-COVID clubland
Am I the only one? I can’t be can I?
I mean, it seemed to me that COVID was a clear disaster for everyone but the very rich, but if there was one redeeming feature it was some sort of reset. A chance to fix what is broken. I had a, granted, slightly romantic vision of a new dawn. People remembering our roots as a protest movement. A realisation that the top 1% of our biz were no different to the top 1% of society stuffing everything into their pockets and leaving nothing for the rest of us. A guilt about the air miles and carbon footprint of what we do. A sense that the economics of our biz had run out of control somewhat. A chance to instil real diversity into things instead of just lip service. Most of all, at least some kind of logistical plan about coping with the virus had to be around? All utopian dreams aside, where is the discussion about how we DEAL with this thing? Measures. Dialogue. Science. Logistics. Solutions. Where are they? If this thing is showing us anything it is that we are comprehensively headless. Not merely as an industry but as a society. Led by chancers only out to line their own pockets. There is no ideology anymore, only commerce.
Am I the only one who just looked-on utterly horrified at the Plague Rave DJs? I can’t be. In a sense, the homegrown plague raves lockdowned kids were having didn’t seem nearly quite so awful as the mega rich DJs jetting all over the world spreading COVID for cash. Let’s not mince words, not with this. Where there is money, there is a ‘professionalism’ that displays a great fear and conservatism about not ‘offending’ potential future income. So-far-so-what? I’ve written already about these DJs. What is different is; now we are actually booking again, nothing seems to stick. No one at an industry level is willing to do anything but desperately carry on as if nothing happened …for money.
And why not? I get it. I’ve not earned anything, not a red cent, no assistance, dole or grants. Zip. Nada. Zero. For 14 months. I see why folks want to set conscience aside. Sometimes it’s more prosaic than mere morals and honour. Sometimes a promoter has already paid the agent and the Plague Rave DJ for a postponed 2019 or 2020 gig. You didn’t know the postponement would be years, how could you? These days we generally have to pay the fat fee up front in-full. Or a very hefty deposit. How was anyone to know the DJ you paid handsomely would merrily ignore COVID and carry on with that money in their pocket? Anyone would want that cash back …and if that means going ahead with that postponed gig and bringing desperately-needed money in on top of your outlay, what else can anyone do?
That is why I am here, writing this with a slightly daft and bewildered look on my face. I asked a lot of questions in my second book about our business, but didn’t provide many answers. I don’t have all the answers and I certainly don’t think I should try and find any unilaterally . I think people with all the answers and in possession of no questions at all are the scariest people on the planet. Dialogue is everything. Really. It is the only way we can possibly grow. In one chat I had with The Blessed Madonna she spoke about how in the UK the proposed ‘Liberation Day’ on June 21st should not be about hedonism at all, but about celebrating key workers. We spoke about a possibility of giving free drinks and entry to these people who are the opposite of Plague Rave DJs. The genuine heroes who helped others, rather than helped themselves, sometimes at cost of their very lives. That day perhaps should be a celebration, an orgy of gratitude rather than of personal pleasure. So I merrily went about seeing who would join us. Who in the biz would pitch-in. “What, give things away!??” was basically the result. Am I the only one who feels like everyone is petrified of taking a stance lately? Let us be clear, the disco mirrors the world at large precisely. We cannot evade the Culture War, much as we would like to. It demands you take a side and indeed, places you on one side regardless if you refuse to choose. There is simply no escaping it. It was designed that way by some of the cleverest, most vile people in human history.
I don’t believe in ‘cancel culture’. Not one bit. I really don’t. It petrifies me. Flaming torches are not nearly as useful as pitchforks when it comes to baling hay, and yet people wave them together. Happy to set fire to everything in their righteous rage, including themselves. Am I the only one who has seen, time after time, people happier to attack those trying to oppose wrongdoing than the wrongdoers themselves? This is precisely why The Left always loses. More happy to claw at the face of their peers than go at the actual villains. More about a game of who is the most worthy and righteous than anything to do with change. It’s an easier battle after all, one you feel you can win.
I’m not asking, nor have I ever, to ‘cancel’ any DJs, promoters, businesses or venues. Even the horrible ones that say COVID is a hoax. The stupid are to be pitied rather than punished. Their education has to happen, however. It must! Doing nothing will not turn them around. Indeed paying them fat wads and continuing to help them prosper puts you very much in the camp of being part of the problem. In this vortex of untrammelled greed we now live in, the only recourse we can possibly expect is when we hit them where it hurts. In the place in the chest where the heart used to be, and now holds their wallet. They will change, if we make them.
So the big fat question is; ‘Holding the Plague Ravers to account, how?’ Yeah. Tough one. It is highly complex. The industry at large is also in the frame, naturally. As is every single maskless dancer. Like I said above, these new dates may be a postponed booking already paid for. So, fine. Do that gig. But perhaps not the next one? I myself book DJs, sometimes for large events. Don’t tell me nothing is going to happen because I will certainly do something. I will not book Plague Rave DJs. Forever? no! Cancelling doesn’t do anything but entrench wrongness. If I get the chance to say to the agent or act “not this year, because you spread COVID, but ask me again next year, seriously.” Perhaps that is a method? It’s mine, for what that is worth. We need more than this. We need to come up with a plan. Perhaps our industry bodies need to fundamentally ask what exactly it is they truly represent. Us or themselves? The wellbeing and prosperity of its members, or dull pieces of silver? And no, prosperity doesn’t mean money, cash is just a plimsol line on a ship. A measure of far, far more important things.
The reason I have to take personal responsibility is obvious, but why damage my own rep and career by speaking out? Easy. It’s very much linked to the New Stupid and global rise of the Far Right. It cannot go on. An uncrossable line is hoving into view. The greasiest, very worst of us doing exactly whatever they want, at the expense of human lives, with no consequences at all, everywhere. It’s a global plague far more deadly and long lasting. I might not be able to stop a rampant demagogue in power, but I can say a large NO to people who copy this behaviour in my world. And yes, without question they are connected. With no leadership at best, actively the most nightmarish possible examples of humanity at worst, why should anyone not blessed with too much brightness not copy them? If the so-called leaders are grifters and charlatans, why not follow their example?
Look at Resident Advisor and Boiler Room. Two of our biggest brands getting the fattest government cash handouts for essentially doing almost nothing. Both backed by gigantic investors. RA sells the tickets to the Plague Raves merrily, using our tax money to do it, then even has the nerve to tell us a year later it was wrong as if making some sort of stellar discovery, rather than finally having to do something after the rest of us were shouting about it at the tops of our voices it for over 12 months. Boiler Room very, very rarely paid any of the DJs who are the key component of their business model, but make millions from them. And again, they are the first to ask for handouts, and boy did they get them.
Somehow, bizarrely, the ticket sellers got the relief money but the venues and artists they sell the tickets for didn’t. This greatly reflects the drop in value we have placed on reality in favour of the internet. Enterprises that cross borders online, often with foreign backers, seem to be more important to UK mandarins than anything homegrown, yet simultaneously loudly claim to be patriots. Both RA and BR have cried crocodile tears and operatically hand-wrung when brought to account, but does anyone actually think they will change? Not unless we keep applying pressure. That much is certain. Like greedy children with cake all over their faces, they will grab anything and stuff it in their fun holes if we take our eyes off them.
Staggeringly, RA even started a campaign based on them not paying you back, disguised as worthy charity. And it was very much so if you understand that they themselves were the worthy charity. Their campaign ‘Save Our Scene’ seemed at first glance a righteous effort, but it stood up to little scrutiny. The caveat that we all should stop asking for refunds, whilst RA put up a notice saying they were ‘retaining our booking fee’ was so staggering and bold it was almost funny. They then gave an option for you to ‘strongly disagree’ and insist they paid you back but, surprise surprise, the process was predictably convoluted and blatantly designed to make any applicant give up in frustration. Airlines were playing the same murky game as an even larger scam. Happily promising flights they knew perfectly well would be cancelled, to be clear; cancelled by themselves, and then like RA, made getting your money back so difficult many simply abandon hope. Or in the case of Ryanair, flat refused to refund for a period of many months. Of course, any sane society simply automatically refunds, IN FULL, and doesn’t dare lecture you or obfuscate. All this is bilious enough but on top of them all getting fat Government bailouts? It beggars belief. How did we get this bad? What the hell happened to us?
There has to be a future for people of all genders, races and orientations in this business. There has to be a place for conscience and wellbeing. A greener business. A culture with more to it than the bottom line.
Is our industry so predatory and based on indoctrinating the very young that it has no conscience at all? Perhaps it doesn’t need one when its prey are so innocent and simple. The Kiddie Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang seems to be the model for dance music commerce, and that is about as far away from the scene we started as it is possible to be. And again, it’s hard to bring anyone to account when ‘the kids’ themselves are so daft, blinded by propaganda and easily led. If the Culture War is teaching us anything it is that there is pretty much half the global population who are so dense they need to whistle to know which end to shit out of. As I write this, right now opposite me in Dalt Vila, on the patch of bastion of the old walls where the IMS holds its outdoor event yearly, there is a nutter with a large speaker on a trolley shouting about ‘freedom’ into a mic and playing horrible distorted reggaeton to about 20 maskless idiots dancing around genuinely thinking the whole world is going to gravitate to their wee COVID party. Utterly unaware that the acoustics of the castle send the sound upwards rather than outwards and only they, and unfortunately myself and my neighbours, can hear it.
What is to be done about it all? I’m asking for help here. Many agree with me on this. Again, quite possibly as much as 50% of the population agree. We are a binary species and no-one knows this to a decimal place more than our politicians. We need a firm roadmap out of COVID and I don’t want to bear the burden of it. Frankly, I’m tired of being treated like some sort of whiffy leper in the wilderness who lives in a hole and capers for chips. You, yes YOU reading this knows this situation is so wrong it is almost a new level of evil. A word I do not use lightly. Zero accountability is the lip on the singularity of a total black hole of anarchy. A final triumph for crazed greed is the absence of agreed morality. They’ve been systematically killing consensus wherever it is. Science? – irrelevant. Truth? – nothing compared to honking opinions. Right and wrong? – whatever you want it to be at any given moment. No. It has to stop and sorry, absolutely no one is going to fix this for us. We have to act.
There MUST be accountability, and if our industry ‘representatives’ won’t do anything, then we must. After all, we are the industry. Even if you’ve never been paid stupid money to play someone else’s records, if you like a dance, you are one of us. There has to be a future for people of all genders, races and orientations in this business. There has to be a place for conscience and wellbeing. A greener business. A culture with more to it than the bottom line.
We are deep in the midst of a global industrial revolution in-reverse. We are abandoning the factories and returning to the countryside and once again weaving our own cottage industry on digital looms. We have to wrestle the internet away from greedy Techbros and Bitcoin Geckos and swivel-eyed Nazis and start to represent ourselves. We must break monopolies and speak to each other directly. I don’t have all the answers so I am inviting you to contact me with yours. Especially if you work in this industry and even better, have some pull in it. Especially if you’re a member of one of those communities who’ve been sidelined and marginalised by the dance-industrial complex, as I’m well aware that my own perspective is inherently influenced by my own privilege. All ideas are equal in our house. I’m not rich, nor powerful, please don’t expect me to facilitate your idea overnight. I can listen to it though. Hopefully collate some of the good ones into a roadmap to somewhere better. Somewhere moral. Somewhere perhaps we always should have been but lost our way somehow. It absolutely cannot go on like this. The same names and the same brands and the same 1% hoovering-up everything we own.
So get in touch. Comment below, email us, jump on the socials with your radical plans and your common sense solutions. Your idealism or your experience. We promise that at the very least, we’ll listen. Club culture started as a revolution, not a rat race, and maybe together we can remind people of that. At least let’s start thinking about real, practical alternatives that will help us all prosper together, instead of being tinned food for fat cats. Honestly, at rock bottom, what have we possibly got to lose but the worst parts of us? Let’s emerge from this as if from a detox: fresh. New. Real.
Bit late to the party with this but I’d like to stick my tuppence worth in on how we do our nights…
We Run a wee dirt box disko, a low roofed sweaty dark room that holds about 100. The only failure is it’s not in anyway disabled friendly if a chair is required.
Gender neutral toilets (basically there is only one) and we run a safe space for everyone which does take a little bit of work but it’s worth it… no dicks / no drunks / no sex pests. And this goes on every poster and all social media posts.
We run it as a not for profit co-op and we get live producers in with dj’s to accompany the live act.
Our costs are club hire (cheapest we could find) travel costs for any non local artist, beer food and flowers if requested.
We are genre free, we’ve done drone nights to speedcore nights.
We only (where possible) use local acts, about 80% of which had never played before outside of their house. We do all sometimes dj, but not every month, and sometimes we warm up, sometimes we finish, the night is curated around the live act.
We have booked other folk from further afield in Scotland, but small artists.
We are lucky enough to have a house with a spare room and we put the guests up there, we feed them with all the crew as we do a big curry feast on gig night. Everyone involved eats together before the night if possible. No hotels, no fancy restaurants.
We take down portions of curry for the sound guy, bar staff, door staff, security and anyone else involved who cannot make the crew meal. our sound checks can run on and on, and on with the live set up.
We ensure all artists get paid something. We often don’t cover costs with door money so we all chip in a little. Any paid gigs I get outside of this goes into the pot to cover extra costs 😀
We have only ever booked 2 “big acts” both live artists, both came to the house with the crew and were very happy about it and stayed over, you’d be amazed how normal these folk are.
None of us are rich folk, with amazing pay, we don’t have property, or rich Da’s to fund us, some of us work, some are students, some have kids, some no jobs.
We tried to play the “game” and be all cool and hip and wear black v necks and arm sleeve tatts and possible beards but it isn’t really us and not having a big name DJ in Aberdeen means lots of folk just are not interested so we thought why even try.
So, slowly over 5 years or so we found our crowd, or they found us, freaks like us, our nights will have old ravers, new ravers, punks, bikers, gay folk, straight folk, queer folk…not everyone can come each month, even we miss nights if we cannot get a baby sitter or have real life jobs (some medics in the crew work all hours!) which is where running it as a co-op really helps.
We learned who was really good at doing certain tasks, then we all shared that info and learned how to set up the PA, do the social media, poster design, sound, lights, we take turns on the door, doing the flyers etc etc, we all have shared all the skills and we can all swap roles if we need to or just for a change.
We run workshops to learn how to dj, for free, and we go do this in areas where kids won’t have access to these things (40% child poverty rates in the some areas of the city and getting worse) and at the odd festival. We then provide them with a gig if possible.
Our female members of the co-op run women only spaces for production and dj’ing.
We offer free mastering service to local producers. Totally free…no strings.
We did run a small co-op digital label, mainly just to get a batch of tunes from some of the folk who played live out there into the world. But I think only their mums bought a copy. Slightly over saturated market these days. Lolz.
Lots of “we” there and quite bullet pointy, but I’d just ramble on otherwise.
I myself stopped most things clubby and dance in 2007 for various reasons but returned to it in 2013 with the live nights.
And after doing a little bit of interwebbing and recoiling in abject horror in what dance music scene had turned into I wondered if it was worth the bother. We’d always done our own nights, as that’s the only way you’d get to play without having to spend time dealing with ego’s and idiots, but we were old now and it took a while to get our head around it all.
Being old and going from clubs full of beer, speed and violence, to hugs, cuddles and nice stuff, then watching the slow return to lads on coke, beer and lasses with shoes they can barely walk in, never mind dance in and the violence again, was almost as depressing as when everyone thought commercial trance was the shit and your great gran would rave at it at weddings..
So, so much had changed in those few years…No record shop in town anymore, a billion shit tunes online you needed to wade though to find any good ones, so, so many tunes that after the breakdown (extended) it just did exactly the same thing as before but with added a Whhooooooooshhh! Noise. I mean it was bad in 2007 but not every fucker had a black v neck on and had an arm sleeve gold fish tattoo, a digital imprint label and stubble.. And local club nights with 15 resident dj’s paying to play for 30mins to cover the costs of a superstar dj.
Over the next few events we agreed on the cobbled together model above, pretty much to try and make it the exact opposite of all that the scene seemed to have become and does fit our politics and morals better.
We’ll never make enough cash to have a big name in really, and we know it’s their jobs and feel a bit shit about it, we are all still fans, we go clubbing and do the odd festival, so we do pay to see big names elsewhere!
But we do feel what we do is worthwhile.
One DJ who got his first gig with us then joined the co-op (anyone who isn’t a gammon or karen is welcome) got his 2nd gig at Tresor new faces night. One resident has done a few 3000/4000 folk festivals now and got paid! :D. Live artists have gone on and got stuff out on known labels, the sounds guys get gigs and mastering work, a few quines from the dj workshops have taken up dj’ing and were getting gigs on local radio and down south before covid.
We’re tiny fish in a big pond full of shark dicks and proudly professionally unprofessional. But we’re nice folk and over the years we’ve found other nice folk, and we keep finding them, and they find us. This is defo the best disko nights I’ve been involved with in 25 years of doing them and if post pandemic we can get the venue again we will do more.
I hope this in some may may plant some seeds, other ways are possible, and although it may be not helpful to folk who try to make a living doing it, it may not work as any sort of model for other clubs nights but we’re comfortable with that and how we do stuff, it’s pretty stress free. 😀
We live in a world with too many bams with too much money on too many bad drugs with too much ego so there will always be big clubs paying big money for those that choose that route, it’s not for us but we wish them nothing but luck and joy..
Lee/jill/neil/colin/ben/neil/megan/molly/ros/patrick/jack/pete fea Binary School/ /fierce Collective (aberdeen)
There’s a lot to be said for a revitalization of the membership model that created and sustained The Loft and Paradise Garage. I was incredibly inspired and moved by learning what David Mancuso achieved for literally decades by putting his deeply felt desire to provide a safe, inspiring and uplifting environment for LGBT people and others into action at the Loft. We could likewise nurture residents, let guest performers be newbies and local underground stalwarts and celebrate our most innovative legends while maintaining clear respectful boundaries and behavioral expectations.
I’ve got enormous respect for what Ritetrax in Sheffield UK are doing by engaging and supporting some of the most marginalized and disadvantaged individuals, groups and communities into electronic music production and learning DJ skills, involving them in events as they “graduate” and supporting them as they move forward by hosting dry events to keep people safe from their own patterns of self-harm and self destruction as they gain confidence to find their voice and express themselves.
There’s hope, but it’s going to be tough sell to the many who have in the words of community development pioneer Paolo Friere become “submerged in the consciousness of the master” and see success in life in terms of aping the excesses of their own oppressors.
Thanks for writing this piece, and more power to you.
Sincere thanks for all your comments and ideas. There’s loads of emails and socials too on this topic to catch up with. Lot to think about. Good work. Thanks for pitching-in! – Secret DJ
I’ve been kicking around some thoughts on the ‘reset’ for a while. I haven’t ironed out all the wrinkles yet, but here it is….
Fundamentally, I see a return to smaller local scenes focussed on local talent and regular punters. Initially out of necessity whilst travel is limited, but also out of a desire to actually have a scene where it is about people coming together and having fun in a way that connects them.
The idea would be to build events around local talent, especially nurturing younger talent and even giving taster slots to kids, so they get to play on a soundsystem for a dancefloor of people. Some people I know locally have previously given DJ lessons to local youth groups, so maybe there is a tie in there.
Guest DJs would be the exception, rather than the norm – basically build the identity around a pool of regular more local people.
It would include a commitment around Diversity and Inclusion for both DJs, any other performers and also crew.
I’m thinking about some kind of standard tariff with fixed hourly rates for everybody – DJs and Crew – keep everything as transparent as possible. It might need to be tiered to some extent, but the idea would be even a guest headliner uses the same tariff, whilst maybe allowing some extra room around reasonable expenses. Some might say that it wouldn’t attract guests to sell it out, but if the thing is based on a local crowd of loyal regulars, then it isn’t relying on guests anyway.
There would also be profit share – with everybody included if the event makes a profit – so everybody has a stake in it going well and all benefit if it does.
Idealistic, maybe, but it could be done if the goal is scene development over personal profit.
I know there was a thread with Man Power recently where we all had this discussion and it feels like theres real support out there for this kind of grass roots focus.
I’m hopeful and plan to start talking to people locally here in Margate in the next month or so.
Just have to say pretty much YES and AT LAST to all of the above. Have mainly kept my own counsel on all of this because our situation in NZ has been very fortunate (though not just ‘lucky’) and different to pretty much everyone elses and it’s easy to come across poorly in that scenario but I completely agree. On the strength of what has happened down here I think another danger to come is that nearly all of the big promoters and festivals have opted to be even more conservative and safe with their booking post lockdowns, entrenching an already hideous bloated hierarchy. There’s never been a better time to try and start to break away from the controlling forces and gatekeepers and try to revive some of the spirit that allowed all of this to flourish in the first place. I’m pretty sure we managed a lot better 30+ years ago without all of them. Looking forward to the forum and thanks for sticking your neck out, you’re not wrong, not alone and it is appreciated and needed.
Great article and it’s something I’ve thought a lot about over the last year. This has given promoters, bookers, and clubs a unique opportunity to really return to (UK) Dance Musics roots. In the UK we have so many talented DJs that do we really need the touring DJ for a while? Let’s get the UK scene back on its feet and really highlight the talent (and clubs) that we have.
Some of the more established UK (international) touring talent should be offering themselves to UK Promoters and Clubs and saying, “guys, I really fancy a residency this year, can we work something out” instead of hopping on planes for the $$$ every weekend.
Instead of the flash, bang, wallop, fizzle, let’s get back to a darkened room. a smoke machine and a strobe light.
The next year in clubland could be really special. Dont blow it!
I got in touch with your publisher about speaking with you further as the context your recent book provides is so relevant, but at the time was not able to clearly contextualise as to why.
But with the recent developments since then, have made it clear the the ideas of protest raves and and Raveoloution are more relevant then ever.
I would very much love to speak on hese
All. The best
I suppose in an ideal world, like-minded club-goers would be able to group together to own and run their clubs as cooperatives. The loyalty a membership card used to inspire back in the 90s for any number of clubs I could mention brings a tear to my eye when I think back on it, and expanding that to the venue as a whole would be a beautifully ring-fenced way of building on that and protecting it from the vultures. These things take expertise and know-how, though, so there would need to be some kind of organisation to guide any such groups.
I love this writing and agree completely with the sentiment. I (as a consumer) won’t attend Parklife or by extension Warehouse project this year or next. But by how quickly Parklife sold out even with many, many like me the promoters and plague-rave DJs won’t really feel a backlash.
I was hoping for a return to small, local nights in nice bars and venues… powered by local acts and DJs. That looks unlikely to happen though as those venues, acts and DJs have been hardest hit (in the scene) over the last 12 months.
The one that we hoped to premiere our Live on Acid live act – Dulcimer – in Chorlton, Manchester is no more. And daily I hear about more and more venues that are the same.
So no answers from me I’m afraid. Just a deep and lasting sadness at the scene and the world in general.
Thanks for how you use your platform though.