​The future of socially distanced gigs doesn't look good.
The way forward for socially distanced gigs would not look good. Picture by WIN-Initiative by way of Getty.

On a Tuesday night time in late July, folks slowly trickled into an empty venue for what was the primary indoor socially distant gig within the UK. Ticket-holders have been excited to be current for a wierd milestone: this was the attainable future for stay music, no less than till a coronavirus vaccine is broadly accessible. Solely 200 folks attended – sat round tables quite than standing – in comparison with the venue’s ordinary capability of 1,250. This was as many because the venue may maintain whereas following social distancing pointers.

There was one apparent drawback with proceedings: the “crowd” weren’t allowed to sing. “I very practically pulled out of the present,” says Frank Turner, who headlined the gig at Clapham Grand, when he heard this information from good friend and venue supervisor, Ali Wolf. “The top of the present is while you break down the barrier between performer and viewers and it turns into a collective exercise. When you can’t have a singalong, that’s ‘what the fuck?’” However the present did go on – to a silent viewers offering lonely claps between songs.

“It was very unusual to have Ali MCing the present, and as an alternative of popping out and saying ‘go loopy!’ he was popping out and going ‘don’t go too loopy, relax a bit’,” says Turner.

This trial present was held to gather information to indicate the federal government the fact of socially distant indoor gigs. When the federal government introduced that they could possibly be held from August 1st, music followers have been partially delighted and curious. Those that placed on exhibits have been extraordinarily harassed.

“There was truly a number of dismay within the business when the announcement about August 1st got here round, as a result of lots of people who run venues have been like, ‘Everybody’s going to assume it’s high-quality to have gigs and it’s not. What can we do now, how can we exhibit this to folks?’” says Turner. “That’s what this present was about. If each venue within the UK began placing on exhibits just like the one I did on Tuesday, everybody would go bankrupt in about two weeks, in the event that they’re not already.”

The night time efficiently confirmed that these gigs are a monetary impossibility. Even though Turner waived his efficiency price, Clapham Grand misplaced cash due to overhead prices and having to function at 20 p.c capability. However the music business was keen to cooperate to make one thing like this work and present that venues – and audiences – would observe the very strict pointers on social distancing.

After the present, the viewers stuffed out questionnaires concerning the expertise. Turner and people on the venue additionally gave suggestions to the federal government. The evaluations that ran within the following days have been clear: the primary socially distant gig was a failure – financially, emotionally and experientially.

Would Turner quite play these anaemic exhibits or forfeit gigs completely? It’s a query that every one musicians are questioning because the months tick on throughout this pandemic and a vaccine stays hypothetical. “I’ve gone forwards and backwards on it a number of instances to be trustworthy,” he says. “There’s a large a part of me that thinks if I can’t do what I do the way in which that I do it, then I shouldn’t attempt to promote a tragic model of that.

“However on the similar time, I would like to have the ability to look again and assume that I used to be part of the answer, quite than sitting on my arse and complaining about this era of historical past we’re presently residing by means of.”


The confusion round the way forward for stay music started in March, when the lockdown started within the UK and upcoming exhibits and festivals have been cancelled or rescheduled for later that 12 months. By the top of Could, something rescheduled for August or September began to look ridiculously optimistic. As soon as the summer time got here round and festivals and gigs have been booked – or moved once more – to early 2021 and summer time 2021, even that started wanting doubtful.

“I’ve bought the managers and brokers of exhibits that bought rescheduled for September 2020 coming to me saying ‘do you assume we must always transfer this date?’ and I’m like in fact we must always, these exhibits aren’t going to occur,” says Jon Dunn at London-based promotion firm Parallel Traces Promotions. “Which makes me assume outdoors of what we do, the followers and the bands actually do assume there’ll be exhibits this 12 months.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson’s preliminary speak of easing lockdown from 1st August – plans now retracted as COVID instances rose within the UK – confused anybody not coping with the finer particulars of stay music. “We’ve bought artists approaching us attempting to do exhibits now and we’re nearly attempting to be political in our solutions, saying that we don’t assume it’s an awesome factor to do,” Dunn says. “I feel the entire business is agreed that social distancing will not be workable actually.”

It’s political for varied causes. A number of insiders inform VICE that you want to be at 80 to 90 p.c capability to cowl the prices of even operating most exhibits. The very precarious nature of stay music means it’s a “break-even course of at greatest”, as one unbiased promoter says. When you have been a 200-capacity venue, you’d be capable to match a most of 40 folks in with social distancing measures. Individuals should put on masks so can’t drink beers, which is how bookers, brokers and venues all know cash is made. Even with out masks, 40 folks wouldn’t imply sufficient drinks gross sales.

A gig on the Camden Roundhouse. Picture: Robert Stainforth / Alamy Inventory Picture

Greater venues face similar issues. “The overheads of opening these venues are simply too excessive,” says Ed Lilo, the expertise purchaser at Reside Nation. “If a present at Brixton Academy, which is 5,000 capability, sells 3,000 tickets, then the band most likely lose cash as a result of they don’t break share on their cope with the promoter. The promoter positively loses cash and the venue loses cash.”

Considered one of these venues is the Roundhouse in north London. Lucy Wooden, their head of music, has been working with the venue’s manufacturing workforce to work out what’s doable. She’s found that, as a 3,000 capability house, two metre social distancing takes capability to 222 folks. Even at one metre social distancing, it’s nonetheless solely 495 (“we simply couldn’t cowl our prices doing a present with 495 folks within the house,” she says).

One possibility is to make the venue totally seated – one thing now being thought-about for the interim interval between socially distant gigs and regular gigs returning – however Wooden says it’d contain leaving some seats empty and plenty extra stewarding to ensure folks adjust to the social distancing. “It’s actually difficult since you wish to reassure audiences that they’ll be protected however you don’t wish to be so heavy handed that individuals are fearful of standing in queues,” she explains.

There lies one other drawback: it’s not nearly venues and logistics. It’s about folks eager to return to gigs in any respect. In a Roundhouse survey of 1,500 individuals who had booked gigs with them, 80 p.c stated they have been lacking stay music, however far fewer have been assured about returning to exhibits. “Disinfection regimes and temperature testing, all these various things we have to herald, will value some huge cash,” says Wooden. “We’re already planning to carry a number of that stuff in, however any grassroots or smaller venues are going to have actual bother placing these types of measures in place.”

With out authorities assist or having the ability to put the suitable social distancing measures in place, over 400 grassroots venues are susceptible to closure. It’s one thing Dunn retains serious about as he continues to reschedule gigs right into a future date that’s leaping away from him:  “We’re shifting exhibits into new venues, however what number of of those venues will even be round?”


We do know what the totally high-tech way forward for socially distant gigs will seem like for the only a few venues in possession of the required funds – and it’s bizarre. The Piano Works, a live-band jukebox membership, has an otherworldly system in place – a part of which includes a queueing to undergo a Tardis-like machine –  of their London venues.

First, you’d get a thermal imaging scan – a temperature any increased than 37.eight levels and also you’re turned away – when you’re having your ordinary safety and ID checks, the latter of which is able to robotically file your particulars for a monitor and hint system. Subsequent, you undergo a conveyable tunnel, the place you’re sprayed with chlorine dioxide. “If they’ve any viruses or dangerous micro organism on their outer pores and skin or clothes, it destroys them utterly so that they don’t truly even must sanitise their arms on entry. It does that in about 5 seconds,” says Tristan Moffatt, the operations supervisor at Piano Works.

Contained in the venue, there’s a grid sample of 1 metre traces. If clients wish to cease and socialise, they’ve to face in the course of their little portion of the grid, so everybody can simply socially distance themselves. If you wish to purchase pints, you may order in your cell to keep away from a queue. After which the star of the present: a PuriFog air machine that operates very similar to a disco smoke machine. As an alternative of air, it huffs out two completely different disinfectants.

“One system is protected to be distinguished whereas individuals are within the venue and you can try this between seatings, and that can take the pathogens out of the air, and the opposite system you may run while you shut the venue,” says Moffatt. “All of your workforce have to do once they come within the subsequent day is wipe your meals and drinks surfaces. You understand each single day while you open your venue that it’s utterly disinfected.” In response to the corporate that manufactures this product, it’s 1,700 instances more practical than the typical guide disinfection spray system.

All of this sounds heinously costly, however Moffatt assures me that every one the tools is on the market to lease on a month-to-month foundation, quite than the corporate having to take one crippling monetary hit. However then he additionally admits that with the “no singing and dancing” rule, it’s pointless opening venues. There’s completely nothing to recommend that there will probably be any steps to transition between the no-singing-no-dancing-socially-distanced-gig and the right return of gigs as soon as we have now a vaccine. All of those extravagant further measures may be for nothing.

Maybe the true dilemma is whether or not we even wish to return to those exhibits as music lovers. The entire cause Dunn is dissuading artists from eager to do exhibits as quickly as attainable is as a result of gig-goers being unable to get proper as much as the barrier isn’t interesting to anybody who loves thrilling stay exhibits – least of all a promoter. “That’s the very first thing anybody does when there’s a sizzling band the place the present’s offered out – folks wish to transfer to the entrance they usually gained’t be capable to try this if there needs to be a two metre hole,” he exclaims.

“We by no means attempt to push acts into venues that we predict they’ll’t promote. It’s all a couple of sold-out buzzy viewers. That’s why we get into exhibits within the first place, it’s about having these moments. You nearly can’t articulate them, however all of us really feel them – and that’s why we go to gigs.” Taking part in boring exhibits could possibly be disastrous for some rising artists’ careers in the long run.

After months of not making any cash, one nameless promoter informed VICE that they’d quite e-book in style and bigger artists to make sure they receives a commission, quite than probably riskier (i.e. smaller) artists who may not promote out anyway. Sure scenes will inevitably undergo extra – classical, instrumental, ambient and acoustic music will fare higher than exhibits that thrive off a mosh pit and motion, like punk and metallic. If festivals don’t go forward in 2021, it will likely be disastrous for everybody: artists, promoters, PRs, competition firms.

But some within the business are frightened that even exhibiting assist for socially distant gigs will make the federal government assume the stay music business’s issues are solved and concentrate on different industries. “If we begin taking place the street of socially distanced gigs, it will not be greatest for the long run,” says Dunn.

It’s the oceanic swell of a crowd that I’m lacking – one thing that may’t be recreated or faked, no matter precautions. For an actual stay gig, it’s clear we are going to all have to attend. As Wooden says when reminiscing concerning the Roundhouse in full-swing: “It’s the expertise of being shut to one another’s our bodies and listening to one another singing alongside, it’s that closeness that brings that ecstatic feeling of togetherness. With out all that, it’s only a completely completely different factor.”


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