At last, clubbing has returned – though with some huge caveats. The government removed all Covid regulations on Monday – but in their place are “guidelines” putting all responsibility on businesses and individuals to ensure their own protection. Infections are rising, especially among still-unvaccinated younger people, and while mandatory vaccine certificates are being introduced for crowded venues like clubs, that won’t be the case until September. Not only are young people more likely to be clubbers, they are more likely to work in hospitality, too. Some people find it impossible to see how clubs can functionally reopen: clinical virologist Dr Julian Tang of the University of Leicester says: “I don’t think there is any really safe way to do this … if all restrictions are lifted.”
Nonetheless, venues will be opening, with varying degrees of self-imposed restrictions. Carly Heath is Bristol City Council’s night-time economy advisor, and has the responsibility of representing the interests of clubbers, venues and promoters – who have no recompense if they end up being closed down. A long-time lover of “soundsystem culture – the sort of clubs where you don’t wear your good shoes”, she understands the urgency of people wanting to get back to the unique shared space of the dancefloor. “You look at the football, the Euros, we want that same ‘yessss!’ moment that people had together: but at the same time it’s hard to moderate your behaviour in that moment.” So what can we do? Heath, along with Dr Zania Stamataki, a viral immunologist at the University of Birmingham, has provided a guide to clubbing responsibly.
Do your research
No, not in the conspiracy theorist YouTube-rabbithole sense. But check out every detail of your night out. “Are promoters taking into account ventilation?” asks Stamataki. “Will they be able to keep social distancing, and if they’re not then are masks mandatory? Of the people attending, do we know if people have been tested or vaccinated? What’s the demographic?” Heath says a lot of venues and promoters are being every bit as strict as they were before the 19th and should share detailed Covid safety information already, “so maybe don’t go calling them before you’ve checked the information online!”
Perhaps the most vital thing you can do is test before going out, and stay home if you have even a hint of symptoms, for everyone’s sake. “If you go out tonight with a mild cough or a mild headache,” says Heath, “and that ends up getting the venue pinged, that’s 10 days’ worth of gigs you could end up cancelling.” Stamataki reminds us that though lateral flow tests are “not infallible”, they do reliably pick up high viral load – the most infectious time – and so remain helpful.
“If you’re a DJ, you wear ear protection at work,” says Stamataki. “If it’s sunny you wear sunscreen, if it’s rainy you take an umbrella. We have to think about things like this now: this is risk mitigation.” And Heath reminds us: “Altern-8 wore masks back in the day, and it looked brilliant. Why can’t we?”
“You could go out with your housemates and friends you’re in a bubble with,” says Stamataki. “With these friends you can cuddle up and shout in their faces and you won’t have to worry. You can’t do that with strangers!”
Good ventilation is often impossible in traditional venues due to noise restrictions. So think constantly about distancing, if you want to have a conversation move away from the speakers [to avoid yelling], and if you feel crowded, says Stamataki, “trust your gut: you’d rather not be in that environment, either move outdoors, or move on to somewhere else.” The ideal, of course, is to stay outdoors – which is where open air spaces like Costa Del Tottenham and Manchester’s Escape to Freight Island come into their own.
Remember why you do this
“We need to draw on a message of unity,” says Heath; “of looking after our community. That includes the venues, the promoters, the staff, as well as your friends. Late-night culture is so important to this country, and as much as we want to get back to it, we need to protect it, too. I’ve been so bowled over by the resilience of promoters who might not have had income for over a year; but it’s not over, and it needs everyone to do what they can to support them now.” As Stamataki starkly reminds us: “the organisers may have taken a lot of precautions to keep us safe, but it still comes down to personal responsibility.”