Nyshka Chandran speaks to promoters in China, Singapore and Vietnam about how "all the uncertainty" around COVID-19 is affecting business.
The coronavirus, technically an umbrella term for a large group of respiratory infections including the common cold, was officially renamed by the World Health Organization as COVID-19 last week. Like influenza, the coronavirus spreads among people in close contact, leading Asian health officials to recommend the cancellation of large-scale events. This has dealt huge financial and logistical blows to the live music and nightlife industry in Asia.
In China, where the coronavirus originated in the city of Wuhan, the number of confirmed infections have crossed the 70,000 mark. Several venues have closed their doors on orders from authorities. TAG, an underground club in Chengdu, announced its temporary closure and the cancellation of its annual seven-day Spring Festival in late January. In a statement on Facebook, TAG said it will "wait indefinitely until the situation is stable to open the door again."
Loopy, a pillar of Hangzhou's experimental electronic community, has also temporarily closed after cancelling several February and March bookings for artists such as Mama Snake, Russel E.L. Butler and DEBONAIR. Despite being forced to shoulder economic losses, club manager Yifei Shu told Resident Advisor he supported the authorities' decision and he hoped to resume operations by late March.
Outside of China, neighboring dance communities are also hurting. Several international artists scheduled to perform in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong have called off or delayed gigs amid worries over travelling to Asia, according to promoters. After China, Singapore currently holds the highest number of cases of COVID-19, followed by Japan and Hong Kong.
POSTPONEMENT ANNOUNCEMENT pic.twitter.com/xzrQXT48Ri— Sónar Hong Kong (@Sonar_HongKong) February 13, 2020
Sónar Hong Kong, scheduled for March 28th, announced it will postpone its fourth edition to a new date that's yet to be determined, promising full refunds. The dense metropolis, already in turmoil following months of violent protests, has over 60 instances of infection. Art Basel Hong Kong, planned for March, has also been called off.
Unknwn Fiesta, a new festival in Manila aiming to be "a celebration of Filipino heritage and culture through music, art, food and design," was set to take place on February 22nd. It's also announced its postponement, with full refunds.
Gilles Peterson was due to play in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong from February 14th through 16th. According to Singapore-based events agency Collective Minds, that was postponed. Stormzy's upcoming performances in Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, also organized by Collective Minds, have been moved from March to November 2020.
In Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, techno haven The Lighthouse said it has experienced "a few" cancellations as touring artists don't want to risk quarantine and travel delays after exiting the country. "People aren't afraid of the virus itself, but the context around it," Lighthouse music director Laurent Godet said to RA. Vietnam has reported 16 patients so far, the same as Germany.
Singaporean booking company Blackout Agency said it had to cancel regional tours for Mattheis of Nous'klaer Audio and John Talabot of Hivern Discs "because of all the uncertainty." "We don't know if the situation will get worse, how long it will last, or if there will be a travel ban on Singapore or quarantine for visitors leaving Singapore," Blackout founder Zach Kim told RA. "Some sponsors have also pulled out from our events because management is worried about attendance and potential infections," he said.
While safety remains everyone's top priority, many promoters attribute the widespread fear to misinformation. Scientists are still investigating the exact source of the virus, and wild animals are believed to be the likely culprits.
"It's been blown out of proportion at times, people are paranoid and overreacting," Kim said, referring to the situation in Singapore. "People don't know what to believe anymore."
"Panic and mass hysteria have been circulated on traditional and social media," Zaran Vachha, founder of Collective Minds, told Gig Life Pro, a network of Asia's music industry professionals. "What has happened here is the whole continent has been tarred with one brush. Asia is being treated as one entity with China," he continued, noting that the United States continues to receive visitors every year even when millions of Americans catch the flu.
"In a time where people are only looking out for themselves, hoarding toilet paper and supplies, it's important to note that culture has the unique power to bring people back together," Vaccha said. Speaking to RA, he admitted to losing "a lot of money" but said his team has "a plan in place," though he did not provide further details on Collective Minds' next steps.
Many promoters are finding alternative ways to keep the music going. Shanghai's Club ALL hosted a virtual club night earlier this month, posting a series of mixes on a website and inviting listeners to send pictures of themselves at home. Loopy, meanwhile, is planning a livestream show that will focus on local artists.
More optimistically, the recovery rate of COVID-19 is growing faster than the official death toll: globally, around 1,800 people have died, while about 13,000 have recuperated as of February 18th.
Find the latest statistics on this interactive map created by Johns Hopkins University.