When I borrowed the interviewer’s chair for the Moggcast earlier this month, I took the opportunity to ask about the Government’s approach to the nightlife industry.
My concern was that as lockdown gradually eases, there was a danger that particular groups or sectors risked getting left behind, trapped in a system which is gradually getting less onerous for society as a whole.
Of course, clubs aren’t the only part of the cultural sector under threat: some theatres are already closing. And it isn’t difficult to see why the Government isn’t in a hurry to let nightspots re-open, as their high-footfall, low-margin business models are almost uniquely ill-suited to the era of social distancing.
But clubs pose a challenge which things like theatres don’t, namely that young people seem decidedly unwilling simply to wait for the Prime Minister’s say-so to go out.
Instead, frustrated clubbers are helping to fuel a dramatic resurgence in illegal raves. (Wildcat stagings of popular plays and musicals are not yet in evidence.)
This isn’t entirely a new phenomenon. The UK rave scene has endured, albeit with a much lower profile, since its Nineties heyday, sustained by a backbone of amateur enthusiasts and privately-owned soundsystems. These events occasionally get shut down by the police but are no scourge on society.
Yet there is a big difference between this semi-private fringe and a party scene which replaces shuttered clubs outright. Larger crowds of less-experienced party-goers means an increased likelihood of injury and crime, not to mention much greater disruption to nearby communities.
If this situation continues over the summer, it also becomes more and more likely that organised crime will start moving into this space. Such groups can clear huge sums off ticket sales, use their events to push drugs, and have the infrastructure to rebound from equipment seizures or other setbacks in ways the amateurs can’t.
Worse still, if dire industry predictions do come true and hundreds or thousands of nightlife venues shut their doors, the gangsters moving into the party scene could be well-positioned to buy up vacant clubs and move into the official scene when Covid restrictions are finally eased.
Speaking on LBC today, the Prime Minister was pressed on the timeline for opening various businesses, including gyms. But there is little sign that clubs, which probably lack much of a constituency at Westminster, are on the Government’s radar: Resident Advisor notes that the ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’ document mentions them only once. This needs to change.
There may not be a good answer. It is indeed difficult to imagine how such venues could operate with social distancing in place. But this must be weighed against not only the relatively low risk Covid-19 poses to the young, but the obvious fact that they appear ready and willing to take those risks with or without the Government’s permission. The question isn’t whether people will go out this summer; it’s who profits.