COVID19: The impact of coronavirus on nightlife
30 min read
30 min read
Strobe lights, roaring music, alcohol, and cigarette smoke – all of this is part of most nights out. In spite of the repeated scenario, people keep yearning and looking forward to going out. Going out is fun, adventurous, liberating, and quite frankly, a unique experience each and every single time, although it seems repetitive. Partying as a form of escapism for some, a marketplace for others or just a way to spend time with your friends has been around for a long time. Early human beings started to rhythmically move together as means to connect and communicate with each other, which is known as a “collective effervescence” phenomenon, explained as a sense of collective euphoric vivacity that quivers through fellow humans as they share an experience. This ritual evolved over the course of years and is now what we commonly refer to as “partying”. The question is whether this powerful need to be part of the crowd-wide synchronism can be put on hold and if so, what type of consequences will there be? Nightlife is a billion-dollar global economy in its own right, but it is also a creative industry. As such, it’s been inevitably hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and we wanted to know how people around the world are impacted by the loss of nightlife to a certain extent. In this article in the Covid-19 series, we are going to talk about the nightlife industry, club-owners, and party-goers in order to fully grasp the scale of impact of coronavirus on nightlife across the globe.
Before we lay out the ins and outs of Covid-19’s impact on nightlife, we would like to lay the grounds for this article and take a look at the evolution of what we now know as partying.
Being socially active in urban commercial spaces, which practically comes down to dining, drinking, dancing, and enjoying music of all sorts, classifies as active participation in nightlife nowadays. It’s pretty self-explanatory, too – nightlife, as the word clearly states, includes nocturnal activities. In the 19th century, this term used to describe everything happening at night and taking place outside the home, which included working at night and walking the streets as well. The modern understanding of the term, however, appeared in the early 20th century as a way to describe commercial entertainment, which was changing dramatically in scale and started attracting the ever-growing group of participants. Nightlife as we know it stands for recreational consumption and is viewed as one of the most important components of urban economic and social life.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and skip some truly important markings of nightlife’s evolution. Instead, let’s dive into the historical timeline!
In colonial America and the early American Republic, cities were normally quiet at night. Everyone was working during the daylight hours and options where you could get some commercial entertainment were rather scarce. Additionally, colonial cities had curfews – which could actually sound familiar to you now if your country introduced those during 2020-21 due to the Covid-19 crisis. The curfews always began at a determined hour in the early evening and it was announced by the ringing of bells, the firing of cannons, or beating of drums. Anyone who would decide to defy the curfew and walk the streets was at the risk of being questioned, challenged, and even detained until morning. There were exceptions to this and midwives, doctors and servants were able to venture out, nonetheless risking their lives by doing so. Why would that be a risk you may ask yourself but the reason is quite clear – virtually no street lighting existed in the colonial era, which meant that those who were out at night most likely carried lanterns, experienced puddle stumbling, tripping over the sidewalk, and injuring themselves, while not excluding the option of being mugged or assaulted.
Whilst the dangers we laid out here served as a strong discouragement from venturing into the night, there were attractions that were tempting them to do so anyway. The options of being entertained came down to taverns and, of course, brothels – both ensuring that most people looking for that kind of evening pleasure were men.
The middle decades of the 19th century brought an abrupt expansion of nightlife. The ever-growing size and diversity of the urban population were driving this shift, along with the tectonic changes in street lighting, police protection, living arrangements, and the nature of work.
Industrialization came along with the encouragement of stricter work discipline and pushed drinking and socializing, which would normally take place during their unscheduled breaks, into after-work hours. With gaslighting, which was focused on streets in commercial districts mostly, pedestrians felt enticed to stroll there during early and late evening hours, thus encouraging shops to stay open later. Soon after, ice-cream parlors, oyster saloons, and restaurants started flocking these well-lit commercial areas. Police got reorganized, which further enforced the perception that light means safety.
The only major venue allocated for entertainment at night was the theater, which drew women and men more or less equally in the late colonial and early national periods in America. The theatrical performances went from being sporadic to more frequent in the early 19th century, especially in New York and Philly. Theater then wasn’t exactly what it is now. The house lights were up and the audience paid as much attention to the performance as they did to socializing with one another. They felt free to talk through the performance and even dared to interrupt the performers indulging in conversation with them, calling for encores of their favorite songs, and even booing performers that didn’t quite sit with them.
The theater also went through a reform of its kind as the elite Astor Place Opera-House in New York opened in 1847 with such an interior design that both the notorious third tier and the equally notorious “pit” weren’t part of it anymore. High ticket prices and scheduled events drove its somewhat pretentious appeal. And, another form of the popular performance venue, known as the Concert Saloons, emerged during the Civil War era, offering its audience, mostly men, a chance to drink and indulge in a flirtation with the waitresses while watching a variety of shows and spectacles.
Throughout the 19th century, taverns were drawing an utterly diverse clientele of men coming from different class backgrounds, pressuring them to mingle uneasily within the shared spaces. Brawls, drunken encounters, and an overall rowdiness at night marked this chapter of nightlife history without a doubt.
Late hours were controversial for two reasons. Firstly, they interfered with people’s ability to rest and get ready for the next day of work. Secondly, the urban nightlife mostly included the least respectable activities, such as drinking, gambling, and getting involved with the streetwalkers.
Electric lighting further encouraged the boom of commercial nightlife. Illumination once again made streets seem not only more exciting but safe. Advertisements in the form of signs, theater marquees, and dazzling store windows just added to the cluster of the new-found and exciting illumination. This is also when the theater district in Times Square started surfacing as a famously urban and utterly bright urban node of the early 20th century. Times Square quickly became the hub of nightlife not only for New York but for America as a nation, above all, thanks to the nexus of mass transit lines and its proximity to the Grand Central Station.
What contributed to the expansion of nightlife in the early 20th century the most was a slow but sure decline in hours of labor and a gradual rise in income. Bachelors were still making the majority of the night crowd, patronizing concert saloons, pool halls, brothels, gambling saloons, and burlesque spectacles. Additionally, fraternal organization meetings were driving large numbers of men, both married and single, out at night.
Almost every sort of expansion is seen as a threat by some more than others. Moral reformers saw the uprise of nighttime leisure activities and made an effort to purge all public amusement in any shape or form. For instance, commercial dance venues proliferated during the first decades of the 20th century, which were seen as a threat to the morale of youngsters by encouraging them to drink and be in close contact with other parties. In order to adhere to certain rules, dance palaces were paying attention to their reputation, thus hawking the behavior of the audience, and depressing jazz music that was thought of as a means to stir up sexual feelings.
Then came the Prohibition, too, trying to shut everything down – which, for a hot second, seemed to be working even. Many nightlife establishments and venues withered and even closed. However, within just a few years, clubs were back and stronger than ever, thriving in the form of underground speakeasies and jazz clubs. Women were going out to drink, occupying those same small, dark spaces as men. Couples ditched courting and started dating. During the early 20th century, Harlem flourished with cultural and artistic expression. This era was actually known as the “Renaissance of Harlem”, where figures such as Aaron Douglas, Alain Locke, and Langston Hughes found a spot where they could use their artistic creativity, while empowering different races to stand their ground and show that they are artistic and humane, too.
Seemingly, in a blink of an eye, nightlife became a synonym for the unleashing of rhythm, the trembling of the floor, murky lights, velvety drinks, and a genuine spread of joy. This boom soon spread to house parties. Partying was not and still isn’t limited to public, commercial venues anymore. Nightlife became cool and stayed cool in almost all its shapes and forms.
The nightlife wasn’t reserved for Americans only, and one shan’t dare think so. Let’s look at the city of lights, love, art, and one might even say, the city of everything – Paris.
Entertainment in the form of cabarets originated in France in the late 19th century and at first, it consisted of a series of amateur acts connected by a master of ceremonies. Its pungent humor was mainly directed against the conventions of bourgeois society. The cabaret trend was started with the opening of the famous La Chat Noir, back in 1881. Located in the bohemian district, Montmartre, attracting many artists, this place soon turned out to be the magnificent magnet for the seekers of leisure pleasure and an epicenter of Parisian nightlife. Grand names, such as Debussy and Satie, frequented La Chat Noir and their shadow plays were featured there, too.
Now, we can’t talk about Parisian nightlife without mentioning the red windmill better known as Moulin Rouge, can we? This outstanding venue was built in the red-light district of Pigalle, where it still stands. It quickly gained fame thanks to its blend of the disreputable and bourgeois clientele. Its most famous performance, the Can-Can, where bendy female performers could, and oftentimes actually did end up kicking a man’s hat from their heads.
The Montmartre district was the perfect place for jazz, too. Both wars and the Great Depression shushed some of Europe’s nightlife but soon after, they were back up and running, with the desire to dance and drink the bitter memories away.
A Parisian club, Whisky-a-Gogo, is the first club to drop the jukebox and experiment with two turntables, so there are no breaks in between songs. Soon after, disc jockeys who were doing then what they are doing now, mixed the latest pop hits and opened the door for discotheques or discos, if you will. No longer do you have to entertain your guests, you just need to supply them with space where they can be part of a large commercial party. However, by the 1980s, discos started losing some of their charms and the clubs went back to experimenting with live performances.
Cutting to the 1990s and present (or recent present times), the nightclubs turned into EDM arenas. If you’re not an EDM type of person, fear not, evenings in modern-time Paris are offering endless choices, many turn to an overcrowded and overpriced form of nightlife but still, rest assured that no matter what you prefer, and if you’re an easy-going party-seeker or someone wanting to relax with contemplative classical music – Paris has it all.
Berlin, the capital of clubbing, one of the few metropolises around the globe without closing time, the place where 24-hour parties seem to be more of a rule than an exception.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the entire city turned to one huge scene hosting electronic music events never seen before on such a scale. The Wall coming down was a symbol of coming back together and creating a “new culture” on the unique dancefloors of new Berlin.
Ruins, abandoned buildings, power plants, hangars, and even underground stations and thrashed spaces became temporary nightclubs hosting thousands and thousands of people. The relief and freedom were channeled through partying all the time. Berlin’s youth was searching for harder basses and no vocals – which explains how Berlin quickly became a synonym for a techno capital.
Many of these individuals who started illegal parties after the fall of the Wall now own successful Berlin techno places. They knew how to cater to music-lovers and club-goers from the very beginning so they built a club scene where strangers feel at home and can show their true colors – no matter how weird and quirky they may be.
There are many clubs in Berlin, maybe too many even. Still, each club boasts its own kind of vibe, clientele, and label. These clubs keep things going non-stop – literally, as they don’t have a closing time. Truth be told, there are no comparable clubs such as these elsewhere in the world.
When it comes to London, its clubbing and underground bars proliferated in Soho, starting from the early 20th century. Soho’s position somewhat dictated the future of nightlife in London, due to it being next to the district of fashion and shopping while being a district of migrants. Soho soon became a staple of London’s cosmopolitan and bohemian era, thanks to all the jazz clubs, queer clubs, and bottle parties happening right there and then.
Their wish to challenge social conventions started back in 1912 when Frida Strindberg decided to open one of the very first nightclubs for queer socializing in Mayfair – The Cave of the Golden Calf, located in the Heddon Street, not far from the Café Royal, which had been the purlieu of Oscar Wilde and his circle and a well-known gay venue of the time. In between the two wars, Soho became and reinforced its ethnic and sexual diversity.
In the 1960s, there came an influential club founder, Newton Dunbar, who founded a space specifically focusing on disaffected minorities. Joe Strummer, Bob Dylan, Desmond Dekker and many of their contemporaries were frequently visiting the Four Aces, which serves as a testament to its great cultural importance. Around this time, Bob Marley also lived in London for a few years, further reinforcing the ever-changing new world.
The 80s in the UK are marked by the increasing popularity of House. House music dominates the UK charts and becomes a staple of UK dance music.
From house music, through the years of techno, all the way to drum and bass – all of these marked the 90s in the UK and then the new millennium made them mainstream, while UK Garage takes hold. Still, by the late 00s and early 10s Drum and Bass gains popularity once more as artists like Chase and Status and High Contrast gain huge commercial success with their releases.
London’s clubbing game was strong but even before the global pandemic, it started dealing with frequent club closures, thus moving out from certain parts of London and systemically changing London’s nightlife.
We could go on and on, talking about the best places to party and party types all over the globe. This planet of ours offers countless options when it comes to partying but let’s stay on track and introduce the C-word, yes, we are referring to the coronavirus, a highly infectious disease that appeared in late 2019, raged all over 2020, and even now, in 2021, doesn’t look like it’s willing to let us see its back.
That being said, there’s is virtually no chance you haven’t heard of coronavirus by now, so instead of going over its beginnings, development, the devastation it caused all over the world, we’ll cut to the chase and talk about the scale of its impact on the nightlife supporters, party-goers and organizers.
When we’re talking about coronavirus, there are some rules that we are, or at least should be, aware of. In order to prevent the spread, we’re constantly told to keep the distance, wear a mask, sanitize our hands, and hold off from touching ourselves or others. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? However, it goes against anything you’d expect to do on a night out. Let’s think about it, parties are usually packed so there’s almost no chance to keep the distance unless it’s a private party with a limited number of people in a fairly large venue. But let’s face it, that type of party is not even the topic here. Secondly, one should wear a face-covering mask, whereas normally, due to the music, be it live or not, it’s really hard to talk to another person, which is why we all got accustomed to yelling and perfected our lip-reading skills – but with a mask, all of that’s gone. Touching ourselves or others is off limits here, too – but it’s almost inevitable on a typical night out. How many bodies do you have to brush upon while going to the bathroom to wash your hands? What about all those droplets flying around at epic parties, let’s just not go there at all.
This paragraph alone should suffice and be the clear reason why most countries actually banned clubs, they locked them up, shut them down, and are fining the ones who are not going by the rules here.
Numerous countries were or still are in lockdown. This excludes the possibility to organize or go to a party, in theory, as there are always those who dare to break the rules, for which certain governments do have a way of dealing. Here’s how England is dealing with them:
For instance, people who are attending house parties where there are more than 15 people will face £800, doubling their fines if they repeat the offense. The organizers aren’t spared from this new penalty system in the UK. In fact, for organizing an illegal party, they need to pay an astonishing £10,000 fine. The Chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Martin Hewitt, said that over 250 party organizers had been fined £10,000 since August 2020.
And England isn’t a lonesome country in this illegal partying game, Europe as a whole has crowds flocking to random events organized on social media and instant messaging apps, ignoring the risks and possible consequences.
The vast majority of nightclubs across Europe are shut but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all its party people are staying home. In fact, illegal raves are thriving and growing in popularity on a massive scale. Outdoor parties for hundreds, sometimes even thousands of people are in full swing, thus increasing the media panic and causing headaches for the lawmakers and police forces. Some countries have even tried to bring the nightclubs back.
For instance, Switzerland allowed venues to reopen in June after the first wave of infections, under the condition that the attendees share their contact details, which obviously backfired as they started giving false information, which in turn led the lawmakers to introduce mandatory I.D checks in certain areas. Spain tried reopening its nightclubs in Barcelona whilst June was sunsetting, just to shut them down again as the virus started its surge again.
In most countries around the world, the idea of packed venues, crowded dance floors, and jolly attendees is just too much to even consider right now. There’s a shared fear among the nightclub owners sensing that theirs will be the last business allowed to reopen. Until then, party lovers will continue to party in secret, despite the backlash.
The party cities that we introduced at the beginning can serve as a fair example of what’s going with the party-goers while the cities are practically shut down.
In Berlin, partying is a huge part of the city’s identity. Illegal eaves take place in fields in the outskirts of Berlin. There are DJs, with their turntables connected to generators, playing house music and techno, tents selling beer, and the crowd who is usually warned to keep a distance of at least 1.5 meters, which they usually don’t. Most of these parties are free to attend and they take place in isolated locations in order to run away from police scrutiny. Encrypted messaging apps, such as Telegram, are mostly used to organize these parties and advertise them.
Don’t get us wrong, this article’s purpose is nowhere near the judgment of partygoers. We get it, blowing off steam after a long period of isolation is a much-needed way to relax. But, the point is, gatherings in parks are allowed under certain, understandable conditions. If social distancing measures are in place and there is no alcohol, people are allowed to relax, breathe the fresh air, and share it with other people, while sharing distance, too.
In the pre-covid world, a pond that’s about 19 kilometers away from Paris, represented just another spot for fishermen to practice their fishing techniques. In 2020, however, it turned into the perfect space for a slightly different crowd, comprised of hundreds of young people who got there by purchasing their tickets off of an event created on Facebook, advertising a DJ lineup – which is exactly how it’s done with regular, legal parties. The catch was the way party location was shared as it was released via email less than one hour before it officially began. The attendees were warned that they should approach the site quietly and keep the location to themselves in order for it to stay secret.
The attendees of these parties all have their way of understanding Covid-19. And there is a wide range of options here, too – from thinking that it’s non-existent and a hoax to knowing that it’s there and it’s deadly but they don’t really care about it.
The news outlet The Guardian has declared that Britain is now in the midst of a “shocking return of rave.” About 30 years ago, young people here created a moral panic when they began holding parties in secret locations, fueled by ecstasy and acid house, a new type of dance music at the time.
Today, the moral panic is less about drugs and more about the coronavirus, with fears that illegal parties could promote another wave. In June, 6,000 people attended a party near Manchester, in northern England, where a woman was raped and several people were stabbed. Parties have been taking place around Britain every weekend since, with fewer reports of violence. But criticism from newspapers and politicians has been harsh.
There isn’t nearly enough space in this article as we’d want it to be in order to cover all major party scenes across the world. However, what we can do is jump to the actual numbers, thus unraveling what this new year, 2021, could bring to the music associations, venues, and clubs.
One thing they all agree on is the desire to have all the clubs and venues up and running as soon as possible. Certain conditions must be met in order to secure the festival season and, inevitably, there’s a need for substantial financial support as this sector has been beaten down in 2020 – like never before.
The members of Live DMA, which include roughly 20 music associations, translated into over 3000 live music venues, clubs, and festivals from 17 European countries, participated in the Live DMA survey, expressing their thoughts on the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the sector both short and long-term. The Live DMA research report, published in September 2020, talks about the scale of the impact of the pandemic on live music venues and clubs, in which it showed they were at a 64% estimated loss of their income at best – going up to almost 100% loss for privately held, commercial venues in certain regions.
In their new report, dating 2021, all respondents unanimously agree that there’s a lack of income that’s normally generated by the audience. Strict restrictions were placed on the audience and only 5% rated this issue as just slightly problematic, 25% expressed serious concern about it, while 70% said it’s extremely problematic as a financial burden during this crisis.
All respondents, on the other hand, share the struggle to meet their payment obligations as their liquidity has been put at risk.
When it comes to their outlook on the future of venues and clubs, they have unambiguous doubts about the number of people that will be willing to return to them after the pandemic is over. Only 27% of Live DMA members share a stand thinking that they should be able to go back to the pre-pandemic audience levels, while 42% of the members expressed their slight uneasiness about the matter and 32% are genuinely concerned.
The vast majority of respondents state that the support from governments is not going to cut it and be sufficient to mend the damage and losses related to the pandemic. They also don’t have high hopes of seeing any improvements in 2021 if governments don’t change their stance. Only 10% said that this is not posing an issue for them, 15% expressed slight concerns, 45% of respondents have expressed considerable concerns and 30% of them are extremely worried.
It’s become clear to the public worldwide, that cases of people getting infected whilst partying in a nightclub aren’t outliers. Japanese karaoke nights, lavish parties in Zurich, Florida’s famous beach bars lost their charm in a blink of an eye and quickly became major super-spreader risks. In South Korea, there was a case where public officials traced over 100 infections connected to a single infected pub crawler in Seoul.
In addition to being seen as the perfect place to spread the airborne transmission of the virus, clubs are struggling to keep their program going due to border-closures and lockdown restrictions as international artists aren’t as available as they once were.
Strangely enough, the survey had the exact responses when asking whether club owners are concerned about the lack of available international artists and performers both during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Closing all bars and clubs until we have the majority of the population vaccinated might sound like an easy fix, but it really isn’t. Banning nightlife activities would be not only economically disastrous but also impossible to control, and most importantly, socially harmful. The only recommendation that musicians, music promoters, night mayors, and founders tend to agree on is the urban nightlife moving outdoors. Still, monitoring and managing this idea of moving everything outdoors isn’t easy at all.
Many cities have had their nightlife sector operations undergo difficulties over the past decade or so. Expensive rents that kept rising, the ever-changing urban demographics, the residents, frowning-upon nocturnal activities, have forced some bars and clubs to shut their doors. Ex-industrial areas welcomed new residents who see nightlife as a nuisance. All of this created the need for the concept of having night mayors, intermediaries between businesses and the local authorities that act as mediators and help shape policies.
The pandemic acted as an intensifier of the already tense attitude towards the nocturnal activities. However, it also shed light on the economic and social importance of the clubs and bars scene. In order to grasp the economic significance of nightlife, let’s just think about Berlin, where nightlife tourists brought the city an astonishing €1.5 billion in 2018. This incredibly hard period has impacted everyone’s perception of nightlife, even the conservative media voices expressed their unease about its future. The so-called night-time economy seemed seductive, extravagant, and excessive, and now that it’s almost gone, there’s a general fear about the aftermath.
It’s pretty clear that without a vaccine, indoor nightclubs simply can’t return to their old ways of doing business. Reopening fully before the spread is contained doesn’t seem to be viable and it would only do more harm than good. With scanty ventilation, sweaty crowds, and its de rigueur clamor, indoor partying seems to be the best way to spread the coronavirus, which doesn’t make it appealing.
Some clubs have tried experiencing, attempting to make the indoor conditions safer. Some reopened trying to follow the recommended physical distancing but essentially are all showing bleak results.
Even some of the most influential nightlife advocacy groups are advocating for clubs to remain closed. For instance, Berlin’s Club Commission stated they simply can’t create and guarantee the offer of safe conditions without watering down the meaning of what the city’s night scene stands for and offers. And they have a good point there, if nightclubs are to reopen without doing business in their pre-pandemic ways, they will most likely go belly up – really fast.
Online Clubbing would have sounded absurd in the pre-pandemic world but now, over 1-year into this wrathful fight with coronavirus, it makes all the sense in the world. With the venues facing shutdowns and a risk of being put out of business, owners, DJs, and partygoers let their minds wander in order to find new, creative ways of keeping their audiences engaged. In the world since 2020, almost everything went online, clubbing wasn’t going to be an exception.
DJs kept setting up their turntables, mixers, with the addition of webcams and a slightly different venue (their homes) and started live-streaming their sets, while the clubbers RSVP’d without having to go through the hassle of: “What am I going to wear for the party”, and have decided to wear their pajamas and let loose.
There’s been a kick of ingenuity that club owners, DJs, and musicians all over the world, from New York to Singapore, have shown, trying to work together and cope with these disastrous times.
Club owners and venue operators have been given a chance to take their time and come up with a solid gameplan on how they should prepare for their reopening, whenever that may be.
Here are some of the most popular predictions for the nightlife when we say goodbye to the Covid-19 crisis.
Venues that already have access to the use of outdoor space have a headstart, not only because they can manage organizing outdoor events throughout the crisis but because the taint associated with crowded indoor venues will linger even when the cases plunge. This is the chance for the venue owners to embrace the open space and start being inventive with it. Those who don’t have outdoor spaces as part of their venues should start thinking about expansion or moving to a different space that allows outdoor gatherings.
There’s a certain magic to a music festival and the energy of a large crowd. And this is also supported by the share of venues dedicated to large audiences versus small ones.
Covid-19 may not put an end to those large festivals but it will delay them for sure. In the meantime, club owners should consider creating an intimate vibe and popularize, smaller, curated events.
Although industry workers should have always been really focused on cleanliness, the pandemic will only end up forcing everyone to implement numerous cleanliness habits that should have already been put in place but the chances are they weren’t. Well, the future of nightlife will make them a necessity. So, if you are a club owner, invest in hand sanitizer, contactless payments, frequent and regular cleaning, and everything that will put your club goers’ minds at ease.
Can’t predict the unpredictable, but…
It goes without saying that the future is unpredictable, which makes it hard for everyone, not only club owners, to prepare for what’s coming. Still, in a myriad of ways the pandemic impacted the nightlife scene and brought it to its knees. It’s not the time to surrender but instead, everyone should focus all their efforts on finding effective and safe ways of bringing the party back – without rushing into it but instead, reopening when it is safe to do so. Let’s face it, partying is so much better when you don’t need to worry about getting yourself or someone else infected with a potentially deadly virus.
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