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.
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 to “draw 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.