At nightclubs all over the world, once crowded dance floors have remained empty for months. If you need to be reminded, clubbing is a close contact activity: People share drinks, hugs, kisses, and generally invade each other’s private space until dawn.
And while such an escape and the opportunity to emit some steam might be welcomed after locking up all over the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, the current situation poses problems for nightlife. How can people safely touch the dance floor while respecting new social steps that distance?
Initial attempts to reopen the club and live music scene have provided clues about what might be happening in the nightlife. In China, where the nightclub has reopened, participants undergo temperature checks before entering and registering their personal information to facilitate contact tracing. Places offer extra precautions such as disposable cups and disinfecting the bathroom every hour.
In Shanghai, nightlife staff wear masks and keep bars and clubs disinfected for customers. Credit: Hector / AFP / Getty Images Shooting
“Fear is the challenge,” said Shane Davis, co-founder and creative director of the Brooklyn Public Records venue, via video chat. “This is fear of the unknown, fear is among people you don’t need to believe.”
In South Korea, a group of new cases linked to a nightclub
forced all of Seoul’s bars and clubs to be temporarily closed only a few weeks after long-distance social measures abated. Last weekend, friends gather to dance
in the open in Münster, Germany – perhaps the first electronic party approved in Europe since the wave of infection forced places to close.
For decades, nightclubs and raves have provided a sense of togetherness in times of social or political upheaval, which often develops under limitations and restraints.
In the 1970s, New York City discotheques offered a safe place for LGBTQ visibility; in 1988, the rebellious and hedonistic acid house parties swept through Britain and gave birth to an entirely new musical movement; in the 1990s, German techno flourished after the fall of the Berlin Wall, bringing together the youth of the once separate country.
While many places will struggle to stay afloat without filling capacity every weekend, it seems like design, technology and some creative ingenuity can help reshape how people return to the nightclub, even if touch is not permitted. Here are some ways that the party can do in 2020 and beyond.
A new wave of subculture styles
One studio based in LA had imagined a protective device that seemed to come right out of “Tron.” That Micrashell
The concept is upper body suits and helmets with N95 particle filtration that can be worn on one’s clothes. To keep the design airtight and – in theory – virus-free, users drink from alcohol tubes installed in settings and communicate through built-in loudspeakers. The Production Club, which also designs world tours for DJs and electronic artists, is currently prototyping concepts and seeking funding, hoping to offer them en masse to places that can only operate with limited capacity.
“What we have designed will not become medical equipment,” said creative director Miguel Risueño. “Because then it’s a mistake rather than something that makes you happy.” Credit: Production Club, Inc.
“We decided we needed to find a solution to bring back events – not in one year but tomorrow,” said creative director Miguel Risueño. “We came up with the idea of creating a suit that allows you to socialize.” Being aware of the cultural history and costumes of the club, Risueño and his team chose a more sophisticated futuristic design.
“What we have designed will not become medical equipment,” he said. “Because then it’s a mistake rather than something that makes you happy.”
Personal protective equipment (PPE) can begin as a necessity – newly opened clubs require or masks that are very pushing – but plain surgical masks and disposable gloves are unlikely to stay in the norm for a long time. Fashion clubs often embrace style trends that serve a purpose, from fan hands to keep you calm while dancing, to handkerchiefs offer a code system
for sexual identity and liaison.
The Production Club hopes to hold their first party with Micrashell later this year. Credit: Production Club, Inc.
Masks, in particular, already have a history in certain club and subculture scenes – cyber gangs take advantage of the sci-fi theme with PVC or gas masks, and kandi ravers assemble colorful beaded masks. At festivals, participants often use bandanas to protect themselves from the elements. Clothing can also be another preventative barrier. Bigger than life avant-garde silhouette
featured prominently among the children of the New York club in the 90s, and could be viewed casually to keep others at a distance.
Even if full rave clothing is not attractive, wearable technology can rise to the challenge. Already, the Brooklyn StrongArm Tech technology company already made
a mobile-sized device that can warn someone if someone else is closer than six feet away, and capture the information needed for contact tracing. Although it has been touted as a way for people to get back to work safely, similar devices can be used in bars and clubs.
Dancing in the open air
Open spaces are more likely to develop after a pandemic decreases. At a recent event in Münster, event staff at Coconut Beach added another layer of social distance through a circle on the floor that stretched six feet apart. That tactic was seen again recently TikTok video
from Slovakia, where party visitors gather under the subway to dance in a closed field.
Because Spain makes locking easy, the country will allow indoor spaces to operate with a maximum of only 80 people – unsustainable capacity for spaces that often fit hundreds or thousands of visitors – while up to 800 people will be allowed in open spaces. As a result, ticket prices can go up. In the case of the Coconut Beach party, which only offers entry to 100 people, each ticket costs 70 euros ($ 77 USD).
Limited entry can lead to more dance events going underground, which carries greater risk. Unapproved raves in the woods or open fields, of the kind that hit England in the 1980s and 1990s, and still appear to this day, can see a revival in response to new restrictions or closed clubs. In Leeds, England, three people were arrested this week for attending Party of 200 people
about protected nature reserves.
Drive-in shows have progressed beyond films to live music and theater. Here, 200 cars lined up to watch German DJ Alle Farben perform in Bonn, Germany. Credit: Andreas Rentz / Getty Images
Meanwhile, in Schüttorf, Germany, promoters look to the cinema for new types of dance parties – and safer, holding drive-in raves
which keeps everyone isolated in their cars.
The driver was also drawn to a field in Bonn where DJ Frans Zimmer, aka Alle Farben, appeared on “BonnLive Autokonzerte,” a series of car concerts inspired by the need for social distance.
Virtual streaming and listening room
Around the world, clubs have made people dance in the privacy of one’s home, by taking their virtual programming. In New York, with more than 25,000 restaurants and nightlife spots plagued by viruses, Brooklyn clubs have hosted dance parties on Zoom or built their own websites for live streaming. They include the Public Records online effort, Public access
, which Davis calls “the 24-hour music television channel,” which has featured an eclectic mix of audio and visual.
Until people can freely return to dancing indoors, the club needs to think about how to adjust to the steps of social distance. “The dance floor will adapt,” Davis said. “It might not be the same dance floor as people (wearing) masks, but it might be a different experience altogether.”
That could include more “listening experiences,” he said, instead of traditional dance parties – more like sound cafes and popular small venues in Tokyo, which developed because of decades of dancing in the country after midnight . In Berlin, the nightlife undergoes drastic changes when venues try to greet visitors safely – clubs that usually remain open for up to 60 hours at a time, such as the large indoor and outdoor space, Sisyphos, open quickly as a beer garden with live music, by dancing not yet permitted.
The Berlin nightclub Kater Blau participated in “United We Stream,” an effort in March by city musicians, promoters and clubs to keep live music going on during the lockdown. Credit: John MacDougall / AFP / Getty Images
New York City is still, at least, more than a month away from seeing the reopening of music venues, but will face the same challenges from other international venues that are trying to operate under the new city laws. What Davis didn’t want was to sacrifice the spirit of Public Records – which could be hampered by limited capacity events that were heavily watched.
“The beauty of nightlife … is an element of that opportunity,” being around other people who are “unknown and fun,” Davis said. “If we cannot reach that level of experience, then we will only do something completely different until we can again.”