ESSAY: Big DJs are Eager to Get Back Onstage. The World may not be as Ready

by | Aug 10, 2020 | Essay | 0 comments

Recent weeks have seen a number of household names in house and techno perform for sizable audiences in countries with varying levels of control over COVID-19. While the events mostly comply with local laws and regulations, they may still be ruled reckless in the court of public opinion.

DJs are anxious to return – and one can hardly blame them. Countless performers across the globe have forgone their primary income source as a result of a festival collapse that unfolded when the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic five months ago. As lawmakers gradually lift restrictions in step with improving case and fatality figures, some think it natural that career musicians would move to resume their livelihood.

Others aren’t as sympathetic.

Levying pointed criticism is an anonymous dance music industry watchdog operating under the pseudonym Business Teshno (BT). Since registering their first social media account in March, they’ve shared screen shots, video clips and other documentation of what they consider misdeeds on the part of the techno/house elite. Lately, their sights have been squarely set on DJs who accept bookings for large-capacity events. For better or worse, the targets are many.

Guendalina Club in the Italian city of Lecce boasts a full entertainment roster. Patrick Topping and Michael Bibi headlined the outdoor venue on July 25th and August 1st, respectively. Across the country, Musica Club in the comune of Riccione played host to Loco Dice on the former weekend, and Ilario Alicante and DJ Tennis on the latter. Few face masks can be seen in video clips from the events shared by BT, which show crowds in outdoor areas swelling to pre-pandemic levels.

It’s a scene in stark contrast to the horrific headlines that emerged from Italy in the early months of the COVID-19 crisis. Lombardy – less than a five-hour drive from Riccione – was the first region in Europe placed under quarantine after the country’s new case counts broke 1,000 per day in early March. Single-day case counts peaked at 6,557 on March 21st, with single-day deaths peaking at 971 on the 27th, forcing medical professionals to make crushing decisions about whom to provide treatment as hospital beds filled up.

Over the past four months, though, the numbers have trended in a direction that could make the return of nightlife a more plausible prospect. Daily confirmed case counts dropped back down to the hundreds by mid-May, and bars and restaurants opened back up soon afterwards. 

Even as many Italian politicians feared that loosening lockdowns would cause a resurgence, case counts by day remained between 150-400 through almost all of June and July. A month ago, experts asserted that the likelihood of a second wave was “pretty low” on account of Italians’ fearful compliance with emergency guidelines (event footage notwithstanding). 

The situation is not the same in France, a country whose population is comparable to that of Italy (66 and 60 million, respectively). Their peak saw 7,500 cases confirmed on April 1st, followed by a heart-wrenching single-day death toll of 2,003 on April 5th. For most of May and June daily case counts remained in the hundreds due to a strict lockdown, but towards the end of July they had once again risen over 1,000. 

That didn’t stop Parisian techno festival brand Possession from moving forward with their August 2nd event. Headlined by Amelie Lens, the outdoor gathering drew what looks like hundreds of revelers in video from the event uploaded to Possession’s Instagram account – most wearing masks, but none visibly social distancing. 


View this post on Instagram


Thx 🌈🙏🚀 @amelie_lens #possessiontechno #possessionparis #amelielens #techno #djset

A post shared by Possession (@possessiontechno) on

Two days later, the French government’s scientific council warned of a second wave, saying, “We could at any moment tip into a scenario that is less under control.” August 6th, 7th and 8th saw respective single-day case counts of 1,615, 1,520 and 2,181.

Spokespeople on behalf of Amelie Lens and Possession have not responded to Selector‘s request for comment at the time of writing.

Given the novel coronavirus’ typical incubation period of 2-14 days, none of France’s recent cases could be reasonably attributed to the Possession event itself. That it took place at all points to inconsistencies in how seriously lawmakers of different nations (and, in turn, organizers of events in those countries) take matters of public health.

July 31st marked the official cancellation of The BPM Festival: Malta – only 36 days after it was announced. Intended to replace The BPM Festival: Portugal, which was canceled on account of COVID-19, it would have run from September 11th-13th. 

Organizers cited a decision by the Maltese Tourism Authority as having forced their hand after the island country reported their highest surge in cases thus far in 2020. Only 835 cases in total have been confirmed in Malta thus far – but with the nation’s population sitting at only 515,000, that translates to around 616 cases per capita. For the sake of comparison, France’s total case count of 185,000 and population of 66.9 million put it at 340 cases per capita.

Electronic musicians don’t all share the same urgency to resume gigging amid the coronavirus crisis. Dave Clarke has said that he turned down bookings in countries where he could legally perform. “…Whilst I appreciate the offers to play in some territories that seem to have different laws than the country I live in, I felt like it just wasn’t a good decision to take them,” he wrote in a July 27th Facebook post.

“Of course, like the whole DJ community, I miss playing out, but unless it is a safe environment for the crowd as well as the staff I simply cannot play,” he went on. “It sets a bad example, and aside from being risky it has the chance of pushing a return to some semblance of normalcy even further back, which does no one any good.”

Darko Esser shares Clarke’s sentiments – and more loudly. “Participating in any way, shape or form in events without proper social distancing protocols in place is tantamount to playing with people’s lives and being complicit in the consequences resulting from it,” reads a passage of a letter the Dutchman shared on Twitter. “It doesn’t matter if you are a visitor, DJ, booking agent or promoter. This is on you.”

For plenty, however, the ends justify the means. Chris Liebing, who was so wary of the virus in April that he called out United We Stream for the risks posed by live streams in empty clubs, engaged Esser with an opposing viewpoint, suggesting that he follow a more case-by-case approach.

I do turn down offers, actually did so today, but I accept those where I know about the local conditions, infection rates, the legality of the event, and of course which promoter is doing the party,” Liebing tweeted. “If I, with a good conscience, can do the gig, I will do it, as I also feel life needs to continue in areas where the government and the people have done an amazing job controlling the virus.”

As evidenced by the apparent turnout at the past two weeks’ events, plenty of fans are just as eager. Some trust the reopening timelines in places where the gatherings have been held – but others question the severity of the virus in the first place.

Mixed messages and clumsy responses on the part of officials have led many across the globe to suspect that case and death figures have been inflated to appease various interest groups. Nicole Moudaber herself alluded to “discrepancies in the narrative we are presented with” when a fan asked if she thought the pandemic was a scam on July 28th, going on to say, “some things do not add up.” Even in Germany, whose population seems largely concerned about a potential second wave, police say roughly 20,000 demonstrators gathered in Berlin on August 1st without face coverings to protest government restrictions.

Still others prefer to tread cautiously. They recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has offered a rare glimpse of what happens when the public, the media, and lawmakers respond to scientific research being conducted in real time – not simply when academics publish conclusive findings. They understand that despite the unprecedented and international collaboration between experts of multiple disciplines made necessary by the pandemic, much about the virus remains unclear. These are the community members artists stand to alienate by accepting bookings, whether legally or otherwise.

At the time of writing, worldwide confirmed cases of COVID-19 sit just shy of 20 million, with a resulting fatality count of nearly 722,000. At least 25 potential vaccines are in various stages of clinical trial in labs around the world.

All COVID-19 case information cited above was published by the World Health Organization.

Image credit: Josu Gonzalez

Recent Articles