Reflections from the bedroom: How has the absence of nightclubs affected UK dance music?
Over the best part of last year, we have been suffering from the longest party drought since the Puritan Choir. But the number of people motivated to maintain Britain’s rich and burgeoning dance music history has astounded me. I wanted to explore how the lockdown had affected both emerging and full-time producers in the UK and how they’ve dealt with this new, alien situation.
In the absence of nightclubs and parties, what is it that gets them out of bed? And has the UK’s production scene thrived in spite of Covid-19?
As I sit in my bedroom, I laugh at the fact I thought we would be back clubbing by June latest. The face staring back at me on the inevitable Zoom call is that of London-based producer Lewi Boome. He’s sitting on a cream leather sofa, his cat strutting in the background past a palm that’s edging its way into shot.
I begin our conversation by asking what motivates him to continue to produce music, despite the world being so bleak at the moment. With a giggle, he responds, ‘My motivation is definitely growing as the threat of getting a job shining Rishi Sunak’s shoes becomes less of a joke and more of a reality.’
Prior to lockdown Lewi’s relationship with partying was sporadic. ‘I wasn’t going out a lot for the second half of 2019, I was working a shit job at the time that only allowed me to work on weekends. We ran a party the exact weekend everything started closing down, which got me back on the horse, but obviously Covid wiped everything out from that point on, so it was short-lived.’
Though clubs were now out of the picture, it seems that – at least from the outside – over the course of lockdown Lewi had really started pushing his production career forward. He released some of my favourite tunes of the year.
Being holed up at home had quite an impact on the type of music he was producing. It also gave him time to reflect on exactly what he wanted to be putting out into the world. ‘Before lockdown I was making all kinds of speeds and styles but since March I don’t think I’ve made more than one track above 105 BPM. This reflective period has helped me to really pin down my sound a lot more, which is a problem I’ve been struggling with for years’.
Bristol-based DJ and producer Manami has had a similar experience. Her productions have instinctively reflected her mood at the time, and she noticed a difference in her mindset in the first lockdown compared with the second.
‘During the first I was feeling really positive and as a result I was making really bright and uplifting music. I was aiming to write tracks that worked for home listening as well as in the club.’
‘At the time we all thought this was going to be over by August, so it was easier to contextualise this period as the time to pause and focus. If it wasn’t for that focused time, I wouldn’t be where I’m currently at in my production ability’.
I know where Manami’s coming from. The first lockdown felt like an opportunity to reconnect with my creative side and do things that I never would have had time to do in the hustle of daily life. But with the second, it felt like we’d taken a step backwards.
We were moving even further away from being back in the club. For Manami, producing helped to fill that void and transport her back to that space.
‘Recently I’ve been missing the club a lot more and I often find myself imagining that club space, surrounded by the music from the sound system, the dancers, and the energy. I’ve found myself writing music that takes me to that place. Being able to channel my heartbreak for the complete loss of the scene, into the music that I make, has been like a type of therapy to get me through this pandemic’.
When listening to Manami’s music this becomes very obvious; the thumping, Italo-driven rhythms seem far removed from the grey world of isolation.
London-based producer DJ Tess still has the club fresh in her mind too. With a string of party-starting releases over the course of both lockdowns, her passion for the dancefloor has not been stifled.
That said, it took Tess some time to settle into lockdown. ‘The first one was a bit demoralising. For a while I had the feeling that what I was doing was useless in this strange new world we were living in. But, the positive side of it is that this feeling has inspired me to experiment more while producing and to learn some new techniques. The first lockdown I’d say that, despite the nice weather here in London, it was darker but the second one turned out to be more productive and positive.’
What’s clear from my conversations with everyone is that the abundance of time has allowed people to experiment and find new grooves in their own sound. Perhaps that’s a precious silver lining?
As a DJ this really resonates with me. I’ve played several sit-down gigs during lockdown and they’ve been an amazing opportunity to play the music I like, without having to really concentrate on getting people to dance. That led to me preparing for sets like I would a studio mix — something I found fairly alien at first. But after a few sets I adapted and my sets became a true reflection of how I felt when I was preparing it.
To explore this idea further I spoke to Nervous Horizons boss man, TSVI, a producer who has built a name for himself through his unique take on percussive techno. Had the absence of clubs caused him to stray away from this club-orientated form of music?
‘Definitely it has changed! I think my sound changed three or four times during lockdown haha. But yeah, I don’t feel the need to make club tunes right now. At the moment there is no place available for this type of music to function, its purpose, so whenever I try and force myself to make a drum track nowadays it usually sounds shit and I end up deleting the project.’
Lockdown has shown how situational making music can be. For creativity to flow, a producer needs to see and feel the sensations their music has on an audience. On the other hand, not having the distraction of making music that lends itself to the club environment has allowed musicians to experiment and make music they wouldn’t normally. As a result the end product becomes a more organic example of their self-expression.
‘My mindset is different now,’ TSVI continues. ‘I’ve adjusted to what’s going on and if I’m not productive it’s not the end of the world.’
Looking to the future, I wondered how this change in production approach would affect the dance floor. Lewi thinks that audiences will be more open-minded.
‘To an extent, I think dance floors will be a lot different when they’re back. People are being exposed to a lot of new music and artists that they haven’t necessarily heard of before, hopefully that will play a part in who promoters book and what people want to hear on a dance floor.’
This evoked an air of optimism in me. It’s clear that the lockdown and closure of clubs has not halted the stream of music being released, instead it’s allowed producers to thrive.
The economic strains caused by Covid-19, alongside the possibilities of extortionate visa costs for European DJs, will hopefully see promoters focusing on booking new and local talent closer to home, particularly those who have made a name from themselves during this pandemic — something that’s very exciting.