DJs: you need to say no to gigs if they’re not safe

In the history of DJing, the DJ has always played a critical role – not just as a musical selector, but also as the room conductor and vibe controller. They’re filling the room with music, but they also have ability, at any time, to make it stop or change. In a year where in-person high-activity enclosed spaces full of people are one of the highest danger environments possible, traditional dancefloors are – at best – an unnecessary risk.

Let’s kick this editorial off with the core point: if you’re gathering a large group of people for a leisure activity in a region that still has an out-of-control pandemic, you’re part of the problem. It doesn’t matter how hungry you are to play a gig, how long it’s been since you’ve played in front of people, or how much you miss those big soundsystems. Yes, we miss them too – but this is not the time.

Dancefloors are meant to be safe spaces. In a pandemic, they’re not safe.

Dancefloors are a second home for so many of us. They are spaces that we (DJs, promoters, event producers) build, curate, and thrive in. How many times have you found yourself absolutely blissed out on the dancefloor, watching your favorite DJ, surrounded by friends, and feeling so content with that exact moment?

Safe spaces. Over the decades of dance music and nightlife, this is what the best dancefloors have been. They are a safe haven, an escape from the world, a moment in time in which you can lose yourself in the sound. But when there is a contagious pandemic spreading through the world like a tidal wave, bringing people together for a DJ gig (particularly those without masks, social distancing, and indoors) inherently has dangerous, unsafe implications.

By saying yes to a DJ gig so that you can get the satisfaction of playing out again, you are ruining the safe spaces that we have worked so hard to build. As individuals come together and dive into their normal dance floor activities, many become inebriated, any rules that are set tend to become looser. People become less mindful and enforcing social distancing becomes harder. The crowd gets drunker, higher, and the risk of COVID spread gets stronger.

DJing a gig right now is for your own satisfaction – but it hurts our larger society.

Let’s be frank. If you’re saying yes to a DJ gig right now, you’re doing this for yourself. You have a yearning to be back on the decks, and this satisfies it. But as a DJ, you’re playing a big role in making this party a “thing.”

In-person events have a ripple effect if an attendee catches COVID. Say one person comes to the event with COVID, knowingly or unknowingly, and gets other attendees infected. It’s pretty easy when asymptomatic cases are so common – attendees might feel 100% healthy. Those attendees then head home and share it with their circles – the wave continues.

As of September 6, 2020, the CDC has reported has reported over 6.2 million cases and 188,051 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States alone. In the last week, there have been over 290,000 new cases. This pandemic is not halting anytime soon. Partying like it doesn’t exist, though it may seem “fine” in some eyes, hurts our society’s efforts – nationally and internationally – to move forward and put the pandemic behind us.

Consider the recent Reunite Festival that happened in the Mojave Desert, claiming to be a “protest” for legal protection and so the cops didn’t shut them down:

And as the author of the above piece at EDMTunes puts it:

I’m genuinely curious as to why DJs feel ethically ok with playing at an event like this. You’re asking your fans, supporters, and friends to gather at a party in the desert with hundreds of people at a time in which we are supposed to be sticking to our own pods, socially distancing, and being respectful of each other’s health.

Plain and simple: events like this are reckless behavior that will only prolong this pandemic. The more these illegal events happen, the longer we will have to wait until we can all return to the dance floor.

Your dancefloor looks to you.

DJs often tell groups what to do (ever seen a pro wedding DJ lead a line dance?), where to go (“Last call!”), and when to be where (“I’m playing at 10:30, get there early!”). As a DJ, you’re largely the reason why people are gathering on this dancefloor, these groups are looking up to you. You have fans, friends, supporters – and when you ask them to come to a gig, they’ll come. And in a pandemic, if you ask them to come to a gig, they’ll, well, still probably come.

That means you’re putting them at risk – for your own personal endeavor, your own success, your own paycheck, and your own satisfaction. And is that really worth it?

Probably not.

These responsibilities as a leader, as a DJ, and as a role model of sorts do not change whether we’re in a pandemic or not. Even if the venue claims they’re enforcing mask wearing, even if it’s outside and there’s a claim that there will be social distancing, and even if you’re gonna make a lot of money by playing the gig, ask yourself: are these risks worth potentially contributing to more deaths?

Consider the “drive-in” show thrown by The Chainsmokers back in July in The Hamptons. The event, though claiming to be a drive-in, was shared widely across social media, showing videos and photos of a massive pit in front of the stage filled with – you guessed it – tons of people who weren’t social distancing. Though they may have set guidelines, they definitely weren’t enforcing them – and this is where things get messy.

That very same weekend, two other artists – Lee Burridge and Kaskade – both played events on the East Coast to crowds of people who, again, gathered to watched the artists they love. These are cities that have incredible nightlife scenes, and crowds that are missing them.

Look at the crowds in this events. No masks. No distancing. And though these artists may have chosen not to explicitly post on their own socials about these events, we live in an internet world – everything gets online eventually.

As performers and artists, we should not be choosing to put our community at risk in this way. As leaders, as role models, as representatives of the music industry that we have built, these are bad decisions that we are making for our own career growth and satisfaction.

Irresponsible parties could come back to haunt our industry

In the US, there’s a big campaign going on right now by the National Independent Venue Association called #SaveOurStages / #RestartAct. These are named after legislation currently introduced in both the US Senate and House of Representatives that aim to support the future survival of independent venues, theatres, and event promoters. The live event industry is getting absolutely slammed right now, and there’s a very good chance that without major federal funding, 90% of independent venues in the US could be forced to close forever.

But when parties continue on, what happens? Historically, renegades and illegal parties have been used to justify extreme legislation against our communities. In the midst of a pandemic, throwing parties stands to set our industry further back and could be brought up as justification to deny funding for these at-risk businesses, their employees, promoters, performers, technicians – and so on down the line.

Events must be safe before they can happen

In 2016, after the terrible Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, California, I wrote an article called “How Can Promoters + DJs Keep Events Safe?” Part of the core idea behind this article was to highlight how everyone involved in an event (organizers and performers) must play a role in keeping their attendees safe. Four years later, this concept of creating a safe space – logistically, environmentally, emotionally – still stands, albeit in a different scenario.

Right now, particularly in the United States, there’s no way to guarantee a safe event that looks anything like DJ-led events of the past. We need to face the fact that nightlife will never be the same in a post-COVID era, and we must re-evaluate the rules of the dancefloor for our community’s health and safety.

We know this isn’t an easy subject to tackle. If you’re interested in reading another perspective on the music industry during COVID, check out this great take on the relationship between the “business techno” scene and privilege.

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