Nightlife used to be exclusive, intimate and real. In my conversations with Michael Capponi, a well-known businessman in the Miami nightlife scene, we’ve discussed just how seismic these shifts have been.
He reminded me that there was a time where a typical midsize (10,000-square-foot) venue raked in $75,000 to $100,000 per night.
The clientele was satisfied, and club owners raked in plenty.
A good DJ was usually paid under $1,000 per night.
Capponi told me that was when the DJ boom (a.k.a. the EDM era) happened.
As DJs grew more popular, they started demanding extravagant rates.
When DJs began requesting fees in the realm of $50,000 a night to play, smaller clubs couldn’t afford to pay, which led to hundreds of the best clubs closing.
Club owners started building massive clubs to house hundreds of high-priced tables.
These rates pushed out the locals, while the wannabes and suburbanites flooded the scene.
While the nightlife scene has been greatly impacted by the pandemic, club owners and venue operators have the opportunity to take the time now to prepare for their reopening (whenever that may be)
I expect the venue owners who are prepared to safely accommodate people when the time comes will be those venues that appeal most to attendees.
There is a clear advantage to venues that can immediately operate outdoors,
but venue owners, event organizers and producers still have options to ensure a safe return to a more intimate nightlife scene in the future.
Here are four predictions, as well as tips, that venue operators should consider when planning their post-Covid-19 reopening, whenever that may be:
1. The Future Is Open: Venues that can make use of outdoor space will likely fare better.
Even if cases plunge imminently (which seems unlikely), the stigma associated with packed indoor spaces will linger.
Now is the time for venue owners to embrace outdoor space, and if they have none, consider expanding or moving to a space that allows it.
A nightlife isn’t just a luxury. It is one way that a city can festively express the life that inhabits it.
Avenues where people can gather, jam out to a good mix, dance, flirt, and drink the nastiest tequila like it’s water, are needs that transcend Maslow’s reductive hierarchy.
And in this party ecosystem, the DJ is the center.
If you’ve ever felt a black light-bathed, bass-boosted evening grab you by the waist and spin you around,
it’s very likely that the axis was a skilled DJ manning the deck, pumping out bop after bop.
They’re the ones who manage the mood and momentum of whatever revelrous function you happen to be at.
There is something about the way a disc jockey can break slam from a Janet Jackson swinger to “Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac that transfigures a weekend, makes it divine.
No one is suggesting in their right mind that DJs do work of the same pertinence as that of the medical frontliner, God no.
But they give something valuable. Whether they’re using a Mac or a turntable,
DJs act as the keepers of the city’s nightlife, who carry the weekend the way Atlas carries the world.
“Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” is, oftentimes, a statement of fact.
Jorge Wieneke, like some cosmic being travelling between dimensions, is used to visiting other worlds.
Virtual worlds, specifically—Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin, the works.
And when he was a denizen of Second Life (basically Sims, but blown up to the scale of an MMORPG),
he got the idea of throwing raves in this virtual world. Second Life is a janky, low-poly environment, but that was part of the fun.
“Parang siyang abandoned ware. But actually that’s what I wanted to tap into, the concept of abandoned spaces,” he says.
“You know how people used to throw warehouse parties?”
Throwing raves in such complicated digital infrastructure proved difficult, but Wieneke held onto the idea.
He knew it was possible for a virtual world to capture the sense of community that could transpire in a physical club.
That was something that happened for him in Ark (a virtual survival game involving resource-gathering and… dinosaurs), when his guildmates threw him a goodbye party for his last day in the game.
“They built us a raft, they harvested a bunch of mead and drinks, and then like, we were sailing around—just chatting, voice calling. We were just drinking in-game, eating in-game.
And then after that they created some sort of mausoleum and then buried my character alive.” That ain’t the sort of shit you can do in XXXX.
Weineke’s experience in these virtual worlds, which all had their own things going on, set the foundation for Club Matryoshka.
The elevator pitch is it’s a virtual club hosted in a Minecraft server, but it’s first and foremost a community.
Club Matryoshka was a thing well before the pandemic. But when the lockdown took effect, Jorge saw an uptick in Club Matryoshka attendance.
Y’all should’ve been at their listening party for the Oh, Flamingo! EP Volumes, which included in its lineup a brigade of talented DJ’s.
You came into the show and the first thing you saw was a dance floor on top of a treehouse, towering over a vast canopy, all rendered in Lego-like shapes.
Partygoers could participate directly as Minecraft players, their blocky avatars prancing about the server’s pixelated terrain.
Or they could stream the listening party through Twitch.
“Personally din, ever since the lockdown started, I’ve noticed how much more I’ve relied on the arts,” Ramirez says.
“As frequently as I would listen to music or read books or write or illustrate before the lockdown, doubled pa iyon or tripled since the lockdown started.
Creating Club Indoors was, I guess, how we were able to express our fear the best we can.
We have no idea what’ll happen after this ‘ends,’ whether or not this will end ever, and how creatives and non-creatives alike will be able to cope.”
It is worth nothing that many of the gigs hosted by these platforms were benefit gigs,
encouraging attendees to donate to different causes that help those struggling the most in the pandemic.
The increased prevalence of these channels speak to replicating the nightlife experience, but another side to DJ-ing in the time of COVID is how these new circumstances affect DJs on the level of craft and practice.
There are a lot of things that these DJs can do now that weren’t totally imaginable in a pre-pandemic world.
“There’s also the new challenge of recontextualising music from the club to the home,” Osmeña observes.
“I’ve started to be more mindful about my selections, and I’ve started to ask myself,
‘What would people want to dance in their bedroom to?’ With this in mind, I’ve been trying to throw more curveballs.
People can definitely appreciate more textured and left field music this way.”
The largest shift, Michael told me, was when some of the top DJs began demanding rates anywhere from $125,000 to $350,000 per night.
Could that be what killed the scene?
The new breed of club owners who acquiesced essentially ended all smaller venues.
In the past decade (before Covid-19), nearly half of U.K. nightclubs closed. Of course, this isn’t all the clubs’ fault.
Many external forces have imposed themselves: shifts in generational preferences, the rise of dating apps and more.
Add the coronavirus, and now even the trendiest clubs are sitting empty.
And it’s not just mega-nightclubs and DJs hit by the pandemic.
Even charity events with hints of nightlife have been rescheduled more than once. For example, the Little Lighthouse Hearts
And Stars Gala (where VIP tables start at $5,000) was originally rescheduled for November 2020 but has been pushed again to spring 2021.
2. The Future Is More Intimate and Curated: There’s something magical about a music festival and the energy of a large crowd; those will return in due course.
Meanwhile, venue owners not involved in festivals should focus on smaller, more intimate events.
Even if you still have a viable business plan for a mega-club,
I recommend diversifying into smaller clubs, lounges or upscale restaurants that rely on original programming
(not just headliner DJs) and allow for people to converse and hear each other.
3. The Future Is Clean: I believe service industry workers should always have worn masks, especially in the kitchen.
The pandemic has forced us to implement many cleanliness habits we should have already adopted. Let’s keep them.
This includes hand sanitizer, contactless payments, frequent cleaning and more.
Among the establishments that have shut down for the foreseeable future are bars and clubs, and understandably so.
These are places where warm bodies grind up against each other, where partygoers pass glasses and pour liquid courage straight from bottle to mouth, and touch reigns supreme.
It’s something we’ve all realized by now—the places that make us feel the most alive are the places where we make the most human contact. Hay. Alexa, play “Watermelon Sugar.”
Samantha Nicole, co-owner of Today x Future and Futur:st, has shared her experience of her establishments struggling to make ends meet in lockdown, and the way some people might consider her work non-essential.
“Most of the time, our work—our bread and butter—is reduced to ‘Bisyo lang ‘yan.”
Those people couldn’t be more wrong. “Bars are an essential part of life,” she writes.
“We cultivate spaces of celebration, community, and growth.”
So. Our nightlife is kind of on life support, but something happened after a few days in quarantine. Songwriters started streaming little shows.
There was so much IG live TV, so many little social media concerts.
I could scroll through my Facebook feed and, every four or five posts, find a forlorn bard on their guitar or Yamaha keyboard, crossing the distances that the coronavirus wedged between artist and audience.
And the DJs? They adapted. They were bringing the parties to our homes.
And they were doing it with such impressive regularity that at one point during lockdown
I was drinking coffee to someone else’s live set, greeting the 11 a.m. sun with house and hip-hop.
DJs and their craft have had to evolve at the drop of a hat.
They’ve had to make adjustments to their practice in a COVID-afflicted world,
revealing our relationship with the parties we used to frequent, and the bars and clubs that wait fervently to take us in again.
How are DJs doing it? What is it like to tune in to a mix of bops in this new normal?
And if the idea of a Minecraft club still weirds you out, consider for example Minecraft’s uncensored library, or the fact that American Football played a show in the game.
In many ways, Club Matryoshka is a culmination of how the internet has polished and perfected the art of cultivating alternate channels and platforms on which DJ’s can perform.
Club Matryoshka is unique and is its own entity, but Wieneke and his crew were not the first.
The most prominent example is Boiler Room. Wieneke will point you in the direction of Club Cringe, Neuro Dungeon, and the VR chat Loner Online.
Transit Records, which is described as “somewhere between a DJ collective and events production concept” by co-founder Sean Beautista, has been taking cues from the concept of “pirate radio” in particular.
“Ever since quarantine and the shift to digital, we’re hoping to create a hub for underground and left field performers through our online platform,”
Bautista states. “Alongside programs hosted by our resident DJs; we plan on inviting guests, from both local and international scenes, to broadcast and share their crates of music.”
They mainly utilize two channels: Twitch, a streaming platform normally used by gamers, and JQBX, a Spotify extension that allows groups of people to act as DJ’s,
and queue up and play music in real time. Y’know Netflix Party? JQBX is like that, but for music.
(Side note: JQBX has made it particularly easy for people who aren’t necessarily professional DJs to dip their toes in the craft and replicate a club setting.
A friend of mine hosted a listening party for Carly Rae Jepsen’s newly released Dedicate Side B on JQBX a few days ago. That was a good night.)
It’s easy to sympathize with the opinion that these virtual spaces could never truly replicate the physical, IRL experience, because it’s true.
But they can still cultivate a sense of community, and satiate those starved of human interaction.
“What I love most is that group chats help replicate the feeling of our usual club banter,” says Andi Osmeña A.K.A.
Baby Ikea. “We can come close to the feeling of the shared energy on the dancefloor, and being able to see people react to your music through text makes it feel a lot more engaging.”
These platforms sort of act like prods, which is to say that many DJ’s will just independently stream a set without necessarily playing for a larger entity. Goyo Larrazabal for example, a former COMELEC commissioner
(!), regularly streams sets on Facebook with a turntable setup that bangs out everything from disco classics to Rita Ora remixes.
Like, go to his Facebook profile, look for his videos, and you’ll find his sets.
With the abundance of channels and platforms on which one can listen to a DJ set, it’s actually possible to go “club-hopping” from the comfort of one’s bedroom.
Get on JQBX, switch to somebody else’s set on Twitch, hop on Facebook to check out this fucking excellent budots set, and get on JQBX again, as if you were drunkenly staggering to different loud joints in the same bustling neighborhood.