How will we party post-pandemic?
In nightclubs around the world, once-crowded dance floors have remained empty for months. If you need reminding, clubbing is close contact activity: People share drinks, hug, kiss and generally invade each others personal space until the early hours of the morning.
And while such escapism and a chance to blow off some steam might be welcome after extended worldwide lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, the current situation spells trouble for nightlife. How can people safely hit the dance floor while respecting new social distancing measures?
Some early attempts to reopen clubs and live music venues have provided clues to what the future of nightlife might hold. In China, where nightclubs have reopened, attendees undergo temperature checks before entering and register their personal information to make contact tracing easier. Venues are offering extra precautions such as disposable cups and hourly bathroom disinfecting.
In Shanghai, nightlife staff wear masks and keep bars and clubs disinfected for patrons. Credit: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images
“The fear is the challenge,” said Shane Davis, co-founder and creative director of Brooklyn venue Public Records, over video chat. “It’s the fear of the unknown, the fear of being among people that you don’t necessarily trust.”
For decades, nightclubs and raves have provided a sense of community in times of social or political upheaval, one that has often thrived under limitations and restraints.
In the 1970s, New York City discos offered a safe haven for LGBTQ visibility; in 1988, rebellious and hedonistic acid house parties swept the UK and birthed an entirely new music movement; in the 1990s, German techno thrived after the fall of the Berlin Wall, unifying the country’s once-separated youth.
While many venues will struggle to stay afloat without filling to capacity each weekend, it looks as though design, technology and some creative ingenuity can help reshape how people return to nightclubs, even if no touching is allowed. Here are some ways the party might go on in 2020 and beyond.
A new wave of subculture style
“What we designed was not going to be a piece of medical equipment,” creative director Miguel Risueño said. “Because then it’s a downer rather than something that makes you happy.” Credit: Production Club, Inc.
“We decided we needed to find a solution to bring events back — not in one year but tomorrow,” said creative director Miguel Risueño. “We came up with this idea of creating a suit that allows you to socialize.” Recognizing the history of club culture and costume, Risueño and his team opted for a neon-enhanced futuristic design.
“What we designed was not going to be a piece of medical equipment,” he said. “Because then it’s a downer rather than something that makes you happy.”
Production Club hopes to throw their first party with the Micrashell by the end of the year. Credit: Production Club, Inc.
Dancing in the open air
As Spain eases its lockdown, the country will allow indoor venues to operate with a maximum of only 80 people — an unsustainable capacity for spaces that often fit hundreds or thousands of patrons — while up to 800 people will be allowed at outdoor venues. Ticket prices could increase as a result. In the case of the Coconut Beach party, which only offered entry to 100 people, tickets cost at 70 euros ($77 USD) each.
Drive-in events have expanded beyond movies to live music and theater. Here, 200 cars line up to see German DJ Alle Farben perform in Bonn, Germany. Credit: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Motorists also pulled into a field in Bonn where DJ Frans Zimmer, aka Alle Farben, performed at “BonnLive Autokonzerte,” a series of car concerts inspired by the need for social distancing.
Virtual streams and listening rooms
Until people can freely return to dancing indoors, clubs will need to figure out how to adjust to social distancing measures. “The dance floor will adapt,” Davis said. “It might not be the same dance floor with people (wearing) masks, but maybe a different experience altogether.”
Berlin nightclub Kater Blau participates in “United We Stream,” an effort in March by the city’s musicians, promoters and clubs to keep live music going during lockdown. Credit: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images
New York City is still, at minimum, more than a month away from seeing the reopening of music venues, but will face the same challenges of other international venues trying to operate under new city laws. What Davis doesn’t want is to sacrifice the spirit of Public Records — which could be hampered by highly monitored, limited-capacity events.
“The beauty of nightlife…is that element of chance,” of being around others who “are unfamiliar and exciting,” Davis said. “If we’re not able to achieve that level of experience, then we’re just gonna do something completely different until we can again.”