DANCING ON OUR OWN – IS CLUBBING’S FUTURE DIGITAL?

Originally published by VOCAL GIRLS here

In a matter of days, the Covid-19 lockdown brought our daily lives to a screeching halt, leaving us trapped inside, desperately trying to stave off endless boredom.

The music world is amongst the industries hit especially hard, with venues closed indefinitely and concerts and festivals cancelled or postponed for the foreseeable future. Even more discouraging; in a recent panel discussion for The New York Times, experts suggested that the earliest we can expect to see live music events returning would be Autumn 2021. That’s no live performances, no festivals, no clubbing for around 18 months – at least.

The prospect of this feels incredibly daunting for both musicians and music fans alike. For many of us, going out to enjoy music – whether it’s seeing your favourite band live at a gig or dancing all night with your mates at a club – is one of our main joys in life. It’s something to look forward to when you’re going through a rough time; a way to find a sense of community and connection with others when you’re feeling isolated; an escape from reality and the dirge of day-to-day life.

And in our current situation, that desire for an escape – from reports of the death tolls mounting day after day and the pervading sense of anxiety for what the future might hold – has never felt more intense. But thanks to the tenacity of musicians, artists and performers from all over the world, we’re seeing our sorely missed concerts and club nights being recreated digitally. 

One of the most raved about of these new digital clubs is Club Quarantine, which hosts online queer parties via Zoom every night throughout the lockdown. Initially it began as a way for a group of queer friends and creatives from Toronto to hang out together during quarantine, but in a matter of weeks it’s become the hottest digital party on the internet!

Club Q’s founders are made up of Casey MQ, the club’s resident DJ; Andrés Sierra, musician and regular DJ for Club Q; Mingus New, a digital artist and Brad Allen, a comedian and performer. Together they create a line-up of LGBTQ+ DJs, artists and performers each night for an audience of up to 1000 digital clubbers.

But how does it work? Every night at 9 p.m. EST (2 a.m. GMT) one of the Club Q team drops a code for their Zoom meeting onto their official Instagram page. This code grants you admittance to the club itself, and once you’re in you’re greeted by a screen filled with dozens of other queer partiers raving from the comfort of their own homes.

“The idea on paper of standing in front of your laptop alone and dancing can seem kinda weird to people, and we’ve had friends who were hesitant at first,” says Brad, “But once they come in they realise this is actually something really exciting and they just have a blast.”

Since launching in mid-March, they’ve amassed a following of over 50,000 on Instagram. Their line-ups have included the likes of Charli XCX, Charlotte Day Wilson, Dorian Electra and Pabllo Vittar.

“Charli XCX was the first big-name to reach out to us and that was quite early on, like around day 4,” says Mingus. “When we saw the email from her PR team we all lost our shit. That was kinda the moment where everything switched.”

Regardless of the clout they’ve received after getting huge stars on the bill, they’re dedicated to keeping Club Q a space for the queer community. “It shouldn’t just be ‘fans’ and ‘stars’, it’s supposed to be a queer space after all”, says Brad.

Club Quarantine is one of the most prolific examples, but similar club nights have also been emerging over here in the UK. There’s Queer House Party and Quarantine Queens which hold their events via Zoom every Friday and Saturday respectively, and are well worth checking out if you’re UK based and in need of a good night ‘out’ *in*! Outside of these explicitly queer events, music broadcaster Boiler Room, which for years has shared live streams of DJ sets, has now started hosting events via Zoom as well.

The idea of watching a DJ set at home via a live stream isn’t anything that new, but what sets these online Zoom parties apart is the opportunity for people to see each other and interact. Although primarily used as a video conferencing platform geared towards holding business meetings online, Zoom meetings are proving to be one of the most effective ways of creating virtual spaces for people to hang out with each other.

Unlike a typical live stream which is broadcast to an unlimited number of people, Zoom’s upper limit for the number of attendees is 1000 – and in some ways this helps to recreate the feeling of exclusivity and excitement you get when going to a ‘real’ club.

Club Quarantine has become so popular that they’ve had to start making use of Zoom’s ‘waiting room’ feature, creating a quasi-queue outside the club’s virtual door. You’re not one amongst hundreds of thousands of other “viewers”, you’re part of a particular group of people all hanging out in the same digital space together.

Seeing other partiers dancing for their webcams, letting their hair down and having a good time while you’re all enjoying the same music takes you away from the isolation of being locked-in at home and helps you feel engaged with your other partygoers. Transferring the club environment onto the internet and filtering it through the lens of social media makes for an exciting new dynamic, where clubbing gets mashed up with performance.

There’s a particular thrill you feel when your own screen gets spotlighted, and you know that right now everyone else in the club is looking at you; for a moment you’re the star of the show. Even if you prefer not to share your video with everyone, you can still feel like you’re actively part of the experience, rather than just passively listening to some music being streamed.

Fully replicating the feeling of being out at the club while being stuck at home might be a goal that remains forever out of reach though – there are some aspects that just can’t be recreated. There’s something to be said for that feeling of energy pulsing through the air when you’re surrounded by people all dancing together; the strange sense of unity you find amongst strangers when you’re all sharing a moment in the same time and space.

But, as its own unique experience, digital clubbing offers some benefits, and they’re ones that are well worth preserving even once we’re allowed out again. For one, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper – there’s no need to order an Uber and you don’t need to spend money on overpriced drinks at a bar when your own kitchen is right at hand! It’s also much more accessible; the traditional club environment is not well suited to everyone – like those with disabilities that standard club setups don’t accommodate; or those with social anxiety and being around large groups; or those with young children they can’t leave home alone. There are tons of reasons why people might find the experience of clubbing inaccessible, and in some ways it’s remarkable that digital events like these haven’t been more common prior to the lockdown.

It’s still uncertain how long lockdown will last – but for the time being these virtual clubs are keeping the party going. While it seems unlikely that digital clubbing could completely replace the IRL nightclub, one can hope that it might end up sparking a positive change towards a more inclusive type of partying in the future.

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