Return of the rave and the future of nightclubs, gigs and festivals

Tom Costello August 26, 2020
Return of the rave and the future of nightclubs, gigs and festivals

When lock-down descended over the UK in March, it spelt silence for the country’s nightlife and music scene. Nightclubs were closed and festivals were cancelled, but it has led to the rave renaissance.

Although we are seeing the pubs open up again, many nightclubs are still stuck in hibernation. They are frozen by the demands of social distancing and the only alternative to this slumber is a model which many venue owners deem to be unworkable.

For example, the nightclubs that are allowed to open are allowed to do so under the strictest of social distancing methods. These methods are so strict that although they may improve safety and protect those on their night out, it has diluted the clubbing experience to such an extent that many people may not want to go out at all.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay.

Dancing appears to be a thing of the past, with these reopened clubs looking more like bars. People are allocated to a table with chairs on the understanding that they stay there for the duration of their clubbing experience and don’t mix with others outside of their group.

Some may welcome this model with open arms after not having a night out for so long. Others will remain unconvinced and will have the unshakeable knowledge that a night out is just not the same as it used to be.

That being said, many are determined to have a ‘proper’ night out at all costs.

This has sparked a rave renaissance in the UK, where huge raves are appearing up and down Britain, with attendees numbering in their thousands.

This alternative to opening nightclubs is far from perfect. Although some might find more freedom on a night out at one of these raves, that freedom brings with it a number of uncontrollable dangers.

Photo by Zach Lucero on Unsplash.

This was tragically demonstrated in June at two outdoor raves in Greater Manchester. At that 6,000 person strong rave, a 20-year-old man died from an overdose, an 18-year-old woman was raped and three people were stabbed.

Not to mention, the obvious high risk of being infected with Coronavirus at such an unregulated, mass gathering.

As you can imagine, the UK government is now attempting to clamp down hard on these illegal raves, recently passing legislation in which rave organisers will be charged £10,000 if caught.

This may deter some but others will be determined to organise these raves regardless. Rave organisers argue that despite the risks, they are actually promoting human well-being by organising these events where people can get loose.

Although nightclubs and live music venues remain mostly shut, the alternative of mass illegal raves may actually cause more problems than regulated nightclubs being allowed to open.

Nightclubs are regulated, with security in place to throw out troublemakers and refuse entry to people who are so intoxicated they should probably think about getting a taxi. Raves are a free-for-all and whilst to some it can be a hugely liberating experience, to others that could have tragic consequences.

Neither opening or closing nightclubs can guarantee public safety.

Photo by Elena Di Vincenzo/Archivio Elena Di Vincenzo/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Live music venues have also taken a massive hit from these lockdown measures and are also left with a model of operation that is simply not viable.

For example, Frank Turner performed at The Clapham Grand in London, at what was designed to be a government-backed ‘trial gig’ Social distancing measures forced the gig to cut its capacity from 1,250 to 200 people. This proved to be simply not a viable future for the live music industry.

After that performance, The Clapham Grand’s profits were down so much that they couldn’t even break even and pay fully for the operating costs and couldn’t pay the performer’s fee at all. Frank Turner had to play for free.

Smaller music venues will be particularly squeezed by this model.

The situation for festivals is even more dire, with virtually all summer festivals (including Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, Boomtown, Creamfields and Parklife) being cancelled.

Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash.

Festivals being cancelled is not harmless and in fact, UK music festivals support 85,000 jobs with many of those festival workers having lost their income for the entire year. As for nightclubs, industry employment stands at 80,537 and as an industry it is worth £2 billion.

Melvin Benn, managing director of Festival Republic and organiser of Reading and Leeds Festival, believes compulsory coronavirus testing at the entrances may be the key to getting festivals up and running again.

He argued that social distancing doesn’t work at festivals and that they need ‘full houses’ in order for them to be economically viable. Social distancing at festivals would also be much harder to enforce than in nightclubs.

However, this compulsory testing would require huge funding from the government and the nation’s scientists.

The UK government has already pledged £1.5 billion of emergency funding to Britain’s arts and culture sector. That might not be enough for many venues however. Many venues that have remained shut will have haemorrhaged so much money from being closed that they will be simply unable to ever reopen again.

A petition to the government has been set up which calls on the Prime Minister to cancel the planned ‘Festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ in 2022 and divert that £120 million of funding to the UK’s grassroots music venues, theatres, art centres and other social and cultural spaces forced to close by the Coronavirus.

Money spent in nightclubs and festivals is money that will return to the state and be redistributed. A rave is outside the system – no such profits will be put back into the economy and public services. There may not even be profits at all and these events are often ‘come-one-come-all’ style events with free entry where people often bring their own booze instead of buying it.

There is no silver bullet that can address the crisis facing the UK’s clubbing and live music industries but remaining shut or adopting unprofitable, unenjoyable models cannot be its future and is actually spurring on more dangerous alternatives.

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