This month, despite Nottingham’s bars and pubs reopening, the city’s nightclubs as we know them remain shut. Fortunately for all of the dancefloor addicts out there, some folks are coming up with a solution. Eileen Pegg speaks with promoters to understand what clubbing might look like in the current climate...
Nerves are normal before an event, but on 13 March as promoters Audiobahn were getting excited for their next Bar Eleven dance, things were more uncertain than usual. The standard social media post to hype up the crowd also reminded guests to stay home if they felt unwell, noting that it might be the last chance for a ‘mucky rave’ for a while.
Ten days later, the UK went into full lockdown with all but essential shops ordered to shut as the nation was instructed to stay at home. Three months after that, the biggest easing of restrictions to date was announced with news that in July pubs, hotels, restaurants and hairdressers were set to join the shops in reopening again, with reduced social distancing enabling this.
Nightclubs as we know them still remain only as a memory. There are, however, small movements showing us what clubbing might look like in the near future, including right here in Nottingham. Nitty hosted what it described as the UK’s first social distanced party in a Nottinghamshire forest in May, while on 11 July Polytechnica will be the first of a handful of promoters using The I Club’s outdoors space for a series of summer events.
Though clubs were shut in March, people quickly adapted to the new lockdown environment, making way for busy live-stream schedules. Globally, large-scale efforts such as Resident Advisor’s Club Quarantaene provided entertainment while also raising funds for a number of causes. Locally, a revival of independent radio has seen MyhouseYourhouse and Mimm Radio rise from the ashes, City Beat grew with new live chat-shows, Connect For Music continued to broadcast and Phlexx Records welcomed guests from all creative fields. Even festivals took place online, with Nottingham Outdoor Jazz Festival, Nottingham Global Roots Festival and more using streaming technology to connect to their audience.
However, the warm, fuzzy feeling of social interaction experienced at music events is difficult to replicate through a screen. Not to mention the sound quality of tinny laptop speakers vs fully kitted out venues. Anyone who’s gingerly attended six-person meetups over the last few weeks will agree that conversation largely focuses around the fact “it’s so good to actually see other people” with additions of, “sorry if I say anything weird…”
James Morsh, part of the UK party collective Nitty who brought together almost forty dancers in May, said of his event, which grouped guests together by their households, “Bottom line is, with everyone staying at home, it’s not good for your mental health.” He continued, “It was done to start a conversation about how we can kick-start the hospitality industry again. We’ve got to come up with forward-thinking solutions to problems, and the fact that we did it shows that it can be done.”
We want to do something to let people be with the music in the moment. To unite them for a good cause
Polytechnica – Staś, Kamil (Easy Audio) and Lukas (Xa'him) – added, “The pandemic changed us just as it changed the world, and it hasn't finished yet. But [at the time of interview] Notts hasn't seen a new case of COVID-19 in a week! We want to do something to let people be with the music in the moment. To unite them for a good cause.”
Though guidelines are loosened, the nation is divided into camps of people who welcome the slow return to pre-lockdown life while others wonder if it’s premature. At a time when the anti-racism protests of the weeks before were met with similarly mixed views, in comparison this is simply assembling for a ‘right to party’ (or shop, or drink a pint), rather than to drive social change.
For some, the new guidelines present a risk to carefully consider, while for others it’s an opportunity to make bold moves. When looking at Nottingham’s bars (many of them music venues) ahead of the approved openings on 4 July, while Bodega has announced outdoor table-service plans, places like Junkyard shan’t be pouring public pints just yet. Some don’t yet have the facilities or funds to meet the measures needed to operate – something which Music Venues Trust argues could require a £50 million cash injection*.
The I Club, with an easily accessible large courtyard, is set up well for outdoor events – not dissimilar in format to Bodega’s Summer Garden. When asked about how it might work, Polytechnica said, “The outdoors space is big enough for 200 people with social distancing in place. There is security there, toilet attendants, table-service, card payments only - all the measures to keep you safe.”
Noting that ticket holders will be given a ‘booth’ for four people max per household, graphics showcasing the proposed layout of the area are shared on social media. Polytechnica continues, “Everything is professionally prepared and ‘safety on the dancefloor’ recently got a new meaning. Booths are not some plastic cells – they allow speaking to friends. And you don't have to sit in them either, just dance and enjoy the moment. When you look at this from a different angle, people have more space to express themselves.”
While this setup might seem clinical to some, when compared to the growing number of illegal raves and street parties, it’s much easier to control, with every guest named and contactable. When speaking of his party, James said that keeping things in line with safety guidelines seems to be the best way to move forward, “After the first three or four hours it was going well then suddenly the police came.
“I explained what we were doing, showed them… the bin we have to keep everything tidy, fire extinguishers, social distancing - everyone was in their [2m] boxes, we showed them all of the emails [from the council, explaining plans to host the event as part of filming a documentary on social distancing partying] and explained when we were planning to pack down and they were happy with that.”
The only way we could kick-start the events industry is using the trace and track app or something, and make it mandatory... if you’ve been told to self isolate then you won’t be allowed in
Here in Notts, the promoters putting on these distanced events are relative newcomers. For the larger names such as Detonate and Wigflex, fans are waiting excitedly for their respective summer festivals which have been rescheduled for autumn. Though Polytechnica’s end goal is to merge Nottingham talent with the growing scene in their native Poland, each event so far is hosted with local DJs, keeping ticket prices at £10 per person (or at Nitty, free). Polytechnica also plans to donate funds raised to a LGBTQ+ charity, during the month that would have seen Hockley awash with local Pride celebrations.
With such a changeable environment, it’s difficult to plan too far forward. As Polytechnica says, “For now, we’re just focussing on our July party and want to be prepared 100%. Winter is months away. Clubs may reopen and we'll be there if it happens. Who knows what the second part of the year will look like? Starting in a positive way is our goal.”
James however has his sights set further ahead: “I’m planning to put a proposal to Nottingham City Council, to… look to do something else similar. In my opinion, the only way we could kick-start the events industry is using the trace and track app or something, and make it mandatory... if you’ve been told to self isolate then you won’t be allowed in.”
As Nottingham’s bars, pubs and restaurants open up again, how do you feel about dancing events like this? We’d love to hear your thoughts as we continue to adjust to life alongside COVID-19. Let us know at [email protected]
*Since the publication of this article, on 5th July 2020, a £1.57 billion investment into Britain's cultural and arts institutions was announced.