Now the dust has settled after London’s ‘Save Our Scene’ protest against lockdown and clubs are set to reopen on the 19th July, Harold Heath wonders how we might think about ‘saving our scene’ going forward.

Last weekend’s ‘Save Our Scene’ protest has neatly split ‘the scene’ it’s intending to save along the fault line of the pandemic. One side refuse to DJ until restrictions are lifted, are furious at those playing, organising and attending plague raves, and genuinely baffled at seemingly pointless protests with maskless attendees gathered together in close proximity, just weeks before restrictions are due to be lifted. The other side meanwhile, channels their anger – at the government, the lockdown or even the ‘scamdemic’- into large-scale protests like this one – which are likely to be a health risk, could even put the lifting of restrictions back while also being extremely unlikely to actually effect government policy. 

The inclusion on the Save Our Scene bill of well-known plague rave and covid-denying DJs meant that many in the dance music community felt uncomfortable supporting it. Some DJs who appeared at the Sunday event also supported or attended a broader end lockdown protest on the Saturday which was itself supported by the likes of Lawrence Fox and David Icke and which featured the full range of science-deniers, anti-vaxers, conspiracy theorists and out-and-out racists who now seem to share a cause with the ‘Save our Scene’ protesters.

Slogans like ‘Let Us Dance’ replace a complex and nuanced issue with meaningless platitudes that are difficult to not get behind but which can easily misdirect the justifiable anger away from the government towards policy instead

Another reason the event was difficult for some to support was the lack of any clear political goal. What we need in the short term is immediate, targeted, industry-specific support for venues and freelancers until venues can open safely, along with support and guidance on risk mitigation, and in the long term, a national recognition of club culture as the vital economic and invaluable cultural practice that it is. These goals were notably missing from any of the event rhetoric. Instead, Sunday’s event simply aimed todraw attention to the devastating position that the Government has put our world renowned industry in” while offering no solutions beyond the Night Time Industries Association’s continued mantra of insisting that venues re-open. Whilst “drawing attention” could be useful, it leaves a gap into which vague slogans like ‘Let Us Dance’, ‘End Lockdown’ or ‘Reopen Clubs Now’ seep, replacing a complex and nuanced issue with meaningless platitudes that are difficult to not get behind but which can easily misdirect the justifiable anger away from the government towards policy instead. 

So instead of blaming the government for eighteen months of poor decisions that have meant they had to lockdown several times, people blame the lockdowns themselves and demand they end, regardless of any potential safety issues. And instead of demanding funding and support for venues and freelancers, or insisting the government actually deliver a reliable test, track and trace system that could make re-opening as safe as possible, some simply insist that venues open again immediately, regardless of any health concerns. And in the process dance music has turned on itself, each side baiting and insulting the other via social media, perhaps forgetting that in a few months, we’re all going to be working alongside each other again.

This lack of political engagement is hugely problematic for any movement purporting to be supporting clubland and for many in the scene, it feels like any political impulse from within clubland is being co-opted by some very unsavoury elements from the far right. 

This is where we in dance music need to recognise our common ground rather than the issues we disagree on

Music writer Ed Gillett attended last Sunday’s event and noticed that unlike any other protest there was no noticeable rise in noise as protesters passed 10 Downing street with “very little sense of the political context/message as anything other than secondary”. So many #LetUsDance and #SaveOurScene social media posts proclaimed that ‘now is the time to get our voices heard’ but if we want our voices to be heard then the reality is way less fun than doing balloons on Piccadilly to the sounds of ‘Freed From Desire’. Because here’s the tragic and tragically dull truth. We don’t achieve political change by going on a march. We achieve political change by sustained, grassroots activism that may include marches. A march is just the very tip of a much larger activism iceberg, one that needs to have some kind of clear and inclusive goal in order to ensure the entire scene can get behind it.

And this is key; this is where we in dance music need to recognise our common ground rather than the issues we disagree on. Despite all our differences, we all have much in common. We all love and value our nightlife culture and want to preserve it and support it. We all agree, at least, on that. But the pandemic is likely to financially impact nightlife for years to come and if we all want to ‘save our scene’ then we might have to take part in local and national activism in order to protect club culture. (What might this look like? See below). 

No doubt actual activism is not as easy, fun or instantly gratifying as going on a party-flavoured march but looking at the political history of our country, it is clear that it’s likely to be way more effective in actually enacting political change like getting industry-specific support for clubs while they recover, ensuring full support for venues to open safely and looking forward, recognition of the financial and cultural value of club culture. And that’s what we all actually want right? 

Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

So what might a nationwide, grassroots campaign to support nightclubs, venues and industry freelancers look like? 

Goals that are inclusive are important so that everyone in the scene can support the movement – so finding our common ground is vital. As an inital suggestion, something like “getting industry-specific support for clubs while they recover, ensuring full support for venues to open safely, and lobbying for recognition of the financial and cultural value of club culture” might at least cross the current divide in dance music. 

How might we turn these goals into political reality? 

It might include members of the dance music scene lobbying local councils, attending council meetings or maybe even standing for council. We might need to contact our MPs and write to government ministers. Grassroots activism needs to raise awareness, so social media, marches and protests are important, but so are local newspapers and magazines, local radio and TV interviews or phone-ins. We can try to get our friends and family outside of clubland onboard and get them to lobby and campaign too. We might need to link up with relevant NGOs, local charities or organisations, reach out to the student population in our towns and cities, get their Student Union and campus newspaper involved. Musicians, artists, singers, rappers, DJs and producers can all add to the message via their music. We may need to fundraise for venues and related nightlife businesses. We might need to think where we spend our money – where relevant we can organise boycotts and buycotts, using our consumer power to back up our message. Oh, and in the next election, don’t vote Tory, they don’t care about clubs, or for that matter, you. 

(Main picture: Getty)

5th July, 2021

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