How the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the global dance music industry.
The touring artists
Sote, producer and live performer, Tehran
My upcoming European tour had to be cancelled because there are almost no flights out of Tehran at the moment. And it looks like Europe is now getting more aware of this matter's seriousness. I privately teach sound art and synthesis here in Tehran, but had to cancel all my classes in the past few weeks, and they will probably remain cancelled for another month at least. Unfortunately, my sources of income have been eliminated by the coronavirus and are nonexistent at this point.
It's been difficult to keep morale high. However, I've fought to boost my spirits and turn this negative element into something positive. So, I've been composing every day. And everyone is trying to work and live in isolation until things get better. Here in Tehran and in the whole country, all public events such as concerts have been cancelled. Schools and universities have been closed in the past couple weeks. People are pretty much staying home, and the usual crazy busy Tehran is pretty empty. Traveling between cities is either prohibited or strongly advised against. Talking to friends and colleagues, the general mood is down. Iranians in the past year or so have had it very rough; more and more people are getting depressed. Usually, at this time of the year, Iranians are getting ready for the Persian New Year—March 20th, the first day of spring—and everyone is happy and excited. Businesses are normally very busy and everything is alive.
Caterina Barbieri, producer and live performer, Milan
Due to the coronavirus outbreak and Italy's subsequent lockdown, I had to cancel my American tour in March and other projects scheduled for April, May and June, as well as postpone a performance at Teatro Grande in Brescia, one of the most affected areas of northern Italy. It was very unfortunate as my agency and I worked a lot on the American tour, which I was relying on for my income. I was obviously looking forward to it, and I said no to other things to be able to do this tour. This scenario puts under serious threat a whole ecosystem of touring musicians and professionals in a music industry that's already fragile and vulnerable under normal conditions. Most artists face a complete loss of income as well as the psychological stress of no clear end to this dystopia in sight. We don't know when things will go back to normal and for now the only real and most direct way to support us through this crisis is Bandcamp. This is a dark time for everyone but we have to act in solidarity with the most vulnerable parts of our community—my thoughts not only go to artists but to everyone in the independent music scene, from sound technicians to promoters, from agencies to journalists and club staff.
I consider myself quite lucky as my "busy" year with gigs and album's promotion was last year and I wanted to devote most of my 2020 to make music at home so I can say that in some ways my personal timeline synched up with the virus and I appreciate this moment of break very much. A positive side to this crisis is that it forces us all to take a moment to incubate new ideas and shift our ways of thinking and living—this is an important, epochal opportunity to make changes in our world, on a smaller and bigger scale. I hope people realise that this is a big opportunity. The distance that keeps us apart is unbearable now, but it will make our community stronger, as we will learn how to value all those moments of communion that we usually take for granted and that we are sadly deprived of at the moment. Music is always much appreciated after silence!
Dee Diggs, DJ, New York City
The shutdown of large gatherings as a preventative measure working against the spread of COVID-19 is necessary, even though it affects my income negatively. It is disappointing and destabilizing, but I really can't afford to get sick either, so it was kind of a lose-lose situation considering how expensive medical care is in the United States for an uninsured individual like me. In the short term, I'm out $500 for my canceled gig this weekend. In the longterm, my early April European tour hangs in the balance (that's $$$$ on the line). Luckily so far, I've only had one out of five performances cancel. The dates sit just beyond what most government closings have mandated. I still get to wait and see if it is feasible, which is a glimmer of hope that I am grateful for.
The general mood in New York is anxiety like always, but people are staying in mostly. You can definitely notice how much emptier the trains are at rush hour. Most music industry peers I follow online have been very supportive and solution-oriented online, which I appreciate. The challenge now is to stay healthy, stay sane, and stay compassionate towards each other until life as usual resumes. I am loving the COVID-19 memes! So many good ones floating around :))!
Ash Lauryn, DJ, Atlanta
Coronavirus has affected my work immensely as my entire EU tour has been cancelled. I would have not actually flown to Berlin had I know this was going to happen, but when I boarded my flight on Tuesday everything was fine for the most part. Everything got cancelled not even 24 hours after my arrival. This situation makes a major impact on my finances, but I think for the most part I'll be fine. There are a lot of others going through this same situation, and I at least get a little a comfort in knowing that I'm not alone. This is one of the harsh realities of working in a gig-based industry, and I think we all will learn a thing or two from this.
The mood in Berlin from those I've talked to and spent time with isn't as bad as one would think. People are staying positive for the most part, but are also still somewhat fearful of the unknown. Right now all we can do is wait. (And wash our hands.)
Keira Sinclair and Kim Oakley, POLY Agency, Berlin and London
Coronavirus is an entirely new situation that we are collectively impacted by. We are starting to see the devastating impact of cancelled events, which has shone a light on how fragile the electronic music ecosystem is, and how interconnected we all are. Initially these implications are financial but we will soon also experience social effects from not being able to gather and dance. As of now, we have no secure income, yet still have the same ongoing costs of running an agency—we have a team of people who work with us, and we need to find a way to support them as well as our artists.
As coronavirus has spread, it's been a difficult headspace, with some countries continuing bookings business as usual while we were already dealing with cancellations. Our aim with all cancellations is to reschedule the date—however this is going to have a long-term impact on our income as there won't be a new booking fee paid, yet the work still needs to be done again. This is going to challenge our ways of working but we're hopeful it will also open up a new paradigm for collaboration, understanding and long-term thinking. Despite the devastation of loss of earnings, we are all working together—artists, agents, promoters, venues. We are really inspired by the way people are doing this. Now more than ever it's important we are proactive, and work in an agile way, to support each other to ensure we have an industry to come back to.
The record shop
Nicola Mazzetti, founder of SERENDEEPITY record shop, Milan
We're still open for business, but all activity has been interrupted here in Italy. Everything will remain frozen for a while. Without people on the streets, we lose the central part of our business as a record shop—people coming in to buy records. Our only job now is to ship the orders we receive on the website. As it is a situation that evolves day after day, we have not planned for the long term. But for the moment, we have decided to offer our customers in the city free shipping so that people can still have the pleasure of opening a new record in these quarantined days.
The radio station
Marco Aimo, Raheem Radio, Milan
At the beginning it seemed like the coronavirus would be easy to handle, but right now we have to stay at home to stop the disease spreading. We can still operate Raheem Radio remotely, but the station is also involved in events and concerts, which have all been cancelled. At the moment people are taking it day by day. It seems crazy but this frozen situation has helped bring to light the need for communities to re-think the world. We can stay with our children at home. We can use technology to connect with each other to talk and think. In a really fast world, having some time to stop and reboot could be an interesting and positive thing.
Obviously many small companies and clubs are at risk of closing forever, and some of them will. This is a big problem involving many people and the government has to do something, otherwise our society will collapse. We have a radio station that connects many different clubs, and shines light on the music and cultural reality of this city. The community has responded in a positive way, sending us recorded material, and there are other broadcasting experiments happening on other platforms. The music industry will suffer but it is also making a soundtrack for hope. It is a difficult moment, and some people are scared, but I think most people are trying to turn this quarantine into something positive.
Luca Esposito, Basic Club, Naples
This situation has practically broken our legs. In agreement with the other clubs in the city, we decided to close even before the ministerial ordinance, because the health of our people comes before anything. Being in the south of Italy, where indoor clubs close for the summer, our annual work is already reduced to six or seven months, so staying closed for an additional month—the impact on our business will be huge.
In total transparency, I can say that Basic Club is coming from a positive season, but it might not be enough. Even if we are closed we still face the same fixed costs, including rent, utilities, salaries, bills and so on. We must tighten our belts and look forward, hoping the government will help us in some way. Our clubbing industry, and specifically the underground scene, was already having difficulties for many reasons, and many colleagues of other clubs are not sure they can reopen when everything is over.
In Napoli, it seems like we're living in a horror movie, for real. Very few people are on the street, none after 6 PM, all with masks and permits in their pockets just to go to work or some extreme necessity. In a sunny and friendly city like Napoli used to living outdoors, based on human contacts—it's really hard. I like to be optimistic, and I hope that this bad period makes the value of simple things, of real things, reappear. A hug, a smile, a record that touches your soul, the emotion of good music, a drink shared between two, a chat with a person you've never seen before, or simply being together in a place to share the same passion.
Samuel Swanson, co-owner of Cakeshop, Seoul
The start of the virus had an impact on us even when it was just in China. Once it hit Korea, things got incredibly quiet and now we have a steady small crowd, very local. Basically every international booking until April has been cancelled, staff has had to be cut back and we've all had to get by on less. Landlords are giving 30 percent rental breaks in Seoul so that helps somewhat.
We were asked to scale back and have had limited events. We have taken the initiative to ensure customer safety with frequent disinfecting of the entire space, installation of air purifiers, hand sanitizer provided, temperature checks at the door and limiting capacity, among other measures. At the moment, Korea has almost no restrictions on visitors from other countries but the reverse isn't true, so that may be an issue until the end of spring. We believe this could last for a while though and are preparing for the long haul.
Team behind 宀 (Mihn Club), Hong Kong
In terms of cancellations, about 80 percent of February, 100 percent of March and 80 percent of April bookings have been cancelled. Not only international artists such as John Talabot, Anastasia Kristensen, Cleveland or Batu, but also amazingly talented artists from Asia who we were really excited to work with. It was of course very upsetting but we quickly decided to stop worrying too much and simply focus on the local scene, with more gigs for our residents, regulars and new people.
It's obviously not optimal on the financial side as turnout has been lower, but we are nonetheless blessed with a steady group of ravers that come to support as much as they can and are helping us go through this crisis. We felt the mood rebound during the past week but now that the West is seeing exponential growth with the virus, we assume people will remain vigilant about social activities for, at least, the next four to six weeks.
Carmen Herold, cofounder of Zhao Dai Club, Beijing
Our club has been officially closed since January 19th. That's long, but since things seem to be slowly but steadily clearing up, we hope to reopen in May depending on how many cases Beijing has by then. We are now completely out of any income, which is a super heavy burden for small independent clubs. Unfortunately there is no financial support system from the state, which makes it almost impossible to keep us alive. We haven't been able to pay our staff, we can't afford rent anymore. I have thought about doing a fundraiser and I'm eager to set something up that can potentially save us, but it's difficult since everyone seems to be hit now. Beijing is and has been very depressing in the last few months. Everything is shut down, everyone is under some sort of self-quarantine or in actual quarantine. This is definitely the hardest time we've ever been through.
Masahiro Tsuchiya, founder of Rainbow Disco Club, Tokyo
So many people are affected and confused here. With fast-changing information, I guess lots of people don't even know what to do. Everyone is just worried about where it goes from here. It is really tough, but it is what it is. I visited the bank and Japan Finance Corporation for advice. Not only myself but people in all the industries seem to be struggling. Seeing that exchange and financial markets getting disrupted, I feel like things are going to be much worse than the 2008 financial crisis. We see fewer people in town. There's no doubt that this unforeseen situation is afflicting society, both financially and mentally. I hope things will be getting better gradually in Japan, but in the time of a global pandemic, it can't be said to be resolved even if the outbreak settles down in your country. We really need to help each other. I have even started feeling like this will become a springboard that leads to change the world dramatically.
The DJ and promoter
Luz, Room 4 Resistance, Berlin
Our home, Trauma Bar Und Kino, announced this week that the venue will be closed until the end of the month and our first event of the year has been postponed. The cancellation affects all of the artists who were booked to perform at our event, all of whom were relying on their fees, as well as the venue and all the staff who have lost their work shifts. The spread of the coronavirus will have very heavy consequences at all levels of the economy and it will impact our industry especially hard. As always, the poorer and more marginalised people in our scene will be the ones suffering the most.
It's impacting my ability to financially survive as I currently only rely on DJ gigs, panel discussions and workshops for a living. My situation was already precarious before, living from gig to gig, paycheck after paycheck like many other artists. All my gigs are now getting cancelled. I was scheduled to go on my first Asian tour by the end of April but it probably won't happen. Four of my scheduled gigs are in China. Cancelling my tour means forfeiting my international flights, paid at my own expense and non-refundable, as well as losing income on the seven gigs scheduled across Asia. I don't know if my tour in the US at the end of June will be possible by now, or if i'll be able to perform any of my upcoming gigs.
I think people [in Berlin] are just starting to realise that what is happening is extremely serious, and they're just beginning to think of the consequences for our scene. Artists are—with good reason—very worried about being able to survive financially. This particularly affects smaller, marginalised artists on the fringes who rely on gigs to survive. As venues in Berlin are already announcing closures, a lot of dance clubs won't be able to carry the financial burden of closing for even a few weeks, and they will probably close down. Record stores might also close down as people self-isolate, and so on. The whole economy will be badly affected.
We also have to think about the psychological consequences for people who are already suffering from mental illness, depression and anxiety (which includes many people in nightlife as well as in the communities we serve) and how isolation may worsen their mental health.
I think it's important to call on all event promoters to take responsibility and cancel public events NOW. There is now concrete evidence that there is nothing to do to stop the virus, but we can try to slow it down by social distancing, which can make a huge difference in the ability of local public health systems to respond to the coronavirus. If we don't try to slow down the propagation now, the medical infrastructure will be overwhelmed and won't be able to handle this crisis. We can look at what's going on in Italy right now and try to learn from their experiences to help prevent other countries from going through the same catastrophe.
It is upsetting and a difficult decision to cancel an event and there are financial consequences that we shouldn't downplay, but it is also our civic duty to all do our best to slow down the propagation of the coronavirus and to protect the people who are most at risk in our society.
Seeing festivals and large-scale events going ahead this weekend in the UK is an example of shocking irresponsibility, despite all the reliable information available urging quick and drastic action. I have also seen events deleting people's valid concerns about public health on their Facebook event page. Not cancelling events at this point will only accelerate the spread of the virus and create more cancellations with financial consequences in the long-term.
The next months are going to be very tough and we will need to have each other's backs and support people who are most at risk in our scene. We will need to be creative and come up with new ideas and solutions for our industry and community. From our perspective in Berlin, we hope that the German government will support the venues, artists and anyone else who needs it, as they cope with the disastrous consequences of the virus. Community support and care will be essential!
We're keeping track of the different resources available for the electronic music scene during the coronavirus pandemic. Please email [email protected] with any suggestions.
Nyshka Chandran contributed to this article.