Dance music culture in the UK is about to head into the harshest winter it’s ever seen. Harold Heath argues that the time to act is now.
That inescapable 4/4 pulse, feeling the low end in your guts, music so loud that it’s all-encompassing. Heat rises from the bodies jacking close to one another. The DJ cuts out the bass and arms reach for the ceiling. Smoke, sweat and the crunch of plastic cups beneath your feet. Long nights spent packed into dark rooms with hundreds of other strangers, no thought given to sharing their air, or what we might be breathing in, united by the beat, one nation under a strobe.
For the near future at least, that’s all gone: Covid-19 made the dancing stop. From the mega-festivals to the smallest provincial basement rave, every night club, party and rave is shut down, leading to a resurgence in illegal events.
The UK’s night-time economy is the country’s fifth-largest industry. It accounts for around 8% of UK employment and according to the Night-Time Industries Association is worth around £66bn annually. But not at the moment. Currently, for DJs, live acts, singers, musicians, drivers, promoters, club owners, sound engineers, lighting crews, roadies, bar staff, administrators, security, tour managers and all other the people who work in the night time industry, there’s little or no work. And no one knows when it will start again, or how it will. And in the meantime, we wait at home.
We stay online, sharing videos of ourselves desperately having fun at home to live streams, looking for the merest taste of that rave communion that we are now missing so acutely. Thinking about how we’ll never moan again about being stuck in a drizzly queue for half an hour to get in a rave. Never again will we complain that the DJ’s having a bit of a mare this evening, or gripe that the smoking area is a cab ride away from the dance floor. Give us that poorly tuned sound system, overcharge us for drinks, take our money: we just want to come back.
But come back to what?
The cross-party Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee reported this week that Britain faces mass redundancies and venue closures in the arts due to late or ineffectual action by the UK government. The Music Venues Trust estimated in June that 93% of UK grassroots music venues face permanent closure.