Earlier this month, more than 20 cities, including Manchester, London and Edinburgh, small and large venues alike, turned their lights on red to symbolise the crisis facing the industry in the aftermath of the country’s first Covid-19 related lockdown.
This was Red Alert Day, part of the #WeMakeEvents campaign calling for urgent and sustained help from the government.
Despite the government’s cash injection of £1.53 billion, the live events industry, which is worth £42.3 billion, is already facing 114,000 job losses and it’s estimated that 50% of the sector doesn’t have enough money to last through the next three months.
By the time the industry is supposedly reopening next spring, it’s looking likely that 60% of people in the sector will lose their jobs, especially those self-employed and relying on the furlough scheme which is set to end months before the industry will reopen.
Without live events, it’s doubtless the UK would lose a big portion of its economy. But in the grand scheme of things, this industry is worth much, much more. Nightlife and all it entails, whether that’s theatre, live music or clubbing, has a huge impact on our mental health.
“As a young adult I’ve always felt that going out had been great for my mental health,” Imi, a Manchester-based student tells The Overtake. “Nothing else in my life has quite the same effect for me, the combination of socialising with my friends, chatting to strangers, dancing and listening to music, even just having something to look forward to and get excited about are all really therapeutic for me and make me feel connected to people”.
It’s been really hard to think positively, feel good about myself and incentivise myself to work
Since having that taken away, Imi has noticed a detrimental effect on her own mental health. “I’ve felt quite lonely and isolated, and I’ve noticed that I’m drifting back into negative thought and behaviour patterns that I initially developed before I started clubbing”. Without the motivation of being able to go out and do what she enjoys most, Imi says, “it’s been really hard to think positively, feel good about myself and incentivise myself to work”.
Michelle Scott, a psychotherapist at The Recovery Centre, agrees. Being able to connect with others, explore and feel as though you belong somewhere, are all really important for mental health, she says.
Meeting new people and socialising with friends releases the hormone oxytocin and activates what is known as the social engagement system, both of which — importantly — make us feel safe. “Because of everything that’s been happening, all the stress signals…will be a lot,” she says. “And we’re having to deal with this constant threat all the time, so we’re constantly feeling anxious; we’re constantly getting ready to fight or fly,” she tells me. Not only is this exhausting, but it can impact on our sleep and general mood.
I think that the community aspect of nightlife is key for people feeling a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves
For Lo5ive, cofounder of Kultura Collective, creating a space safe and encouraging community is what putting on events is all about. “I think that the community aspect of nightlife is key for people feeling a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves,” he says. “That act of releasing yourself and being able to transport into a different mindset, even just for a few hours, can make a huge difference.”
Shared experiences are really primitive to humans as tribal animals. It’s something we strive for and something that helps us to feel grounded, Michelle says. It also gives us a sense of purpose.
And this isn’t something new to the pandemic. Paul McNally, a journalist who used to DJ at many of the acid house warehouse parties in the 1990s says: “Without a shadow of a doubt people used to come along, not only to have a good time but to catch up with friends and faces they only ever saw in the club.”
“It sounds made-up when you talk about it now,” he adds, “but there was a sense of your own little community.
“You’d bump into people from different cities that you only saw at these events. It would be like catching up with old friends.
“Having a group of people all with the same interests at the same place made everything just feel more comfortable.”
Kultura Collective are equally as motivated by bringing together a diverse range of people and creating a safe and inclusive environment at their events. Zac James, also part of the Manchester-based Collective, says, “Underground music events go far deeper than hedonism — for many people, events are a defining part of our culture; places where communities are built and can come together.
It’s invaluable for our society to have those places where people feel they can let their barriers down
“It’s invaluable for our society to have those places where people feel they can let their barriers down and connect with others freely, and somewhere for underground music and culture to develop and be shared.”
For people in marginalised groups, having somewhere to express their true selves and meet people they relate to can feel like a lifeline.
“The fact that nightlife won’t be returning any time soon is probably one of the most disheartening things about the pandemic at the moment,” Alex, a student from Leeds tells People News Chronicle. “I have especially been missing LGBTQ+ events [and] venues as it has been months since I have interacted with another queer person and it feels like I am missing a large and important chunk of myself, especially considering how often queer identities are forged on the dance floor with techno, disco and drag ball culture.”
Historically, queer people have relied on nightlife for community building so I think we are all finding its absence really difficult
Michelle emphasises the importance of having that choice of who we socialise with outside of our colleagues and family. She says that having a strong sense of identity, which is often tied up in nightlife in ways we might not realise, is hugely important for our mental health. As Alex notes: “For queer people who live with family who are not always that accepting, being able to be free and open in a space made for you and your ‘chosen family’ is vital.”
“Historically, queer people have relied on nightlife for community building so I think we are all finding its absence really difficult,” he says, adding that it’s especially concerning that some of these spaces might not be opening back up once the pandemic is over.
Mass venue shutdowns are expected to be a big side effect of the industry’s turmoil. While grassroots venues have been promised £2.25 million worth of grants to save many from permanent closure, iconic venues have already had to be saved by outside investors, such as Gorilla and The Deaf Institute in Manchester and Sheffield’s The Leadmill, which was saved by a crowdfunding campaign organised by the Arctic Monkeys. The fear is that grants won’t come quick enough to save others in less fortunate positions.
As a trans man, Oscar who works with Independent Venue Week, has also felt the effects of losing access to one of his “social lifelines”.
He says: “Being unable to hang out in a safe space with other people like myself and being stuck at home for so long has made me feel a lot more uncomfortably self-conscious.
I’ve felt symptoms of my anxiety returning and I deeply miss the release of energy
“I’ve felt symptoms of my anxiety returning and I deeply miss the release of energy and the buzz that jumping around in a sweaty room gives me.”
This — the physical aspect of going out to a gig or a club — is exactly what makes live events markedly different from socialising with your friends at home. “Physically, we process a lot of our feelings through our bodies,” says Michelle. “If you’re nervous, you get butterflies in your stomach. So just being able to use your body in a positive way, again, is really good for our mental well being.”
She adds that dancing is actually really good for us, especially since our bodies instinctively react to music. “If you go to that full-body that full sensory experience, all your senses are getting engaged, you’re very present in the moment because you’re still so captured by all the new sounds, smells and the people, you’re brought right into the present moment,” she says. “It’s almost like getting a holiday.”
If you can have a new experience…that can help [you to] break the negative thought patterns without realising it
It’s also these novel experiences that help us to think creatively, something that is innate to us as humans. Going from work to home and back again without experiencing anything new or different, it’s difficult to think outside of the box and disrupt any negative thought processes we might have encountered during lockdown. Michelle says: “You might be anxious [or] depressed and you get stuck in the loop. If you can have a new experience…that can help [you to] break the negative thought patterns without realising it.”
For Michelle, creativity is an essential part of human nature, and without supporting the events and arts industries, we’re in danger of suppressing and damaging that side of us.
It’s easy to think of those who are missing live events and nightlife as selfish and immature, especially if you only see them as an excuse to binge drink. But, for those with stakes in the industry monetarily or culturally, it’s essential that it doesn’t get forgotten about in the mess that has been the UK’s Covid-19 response.
If the lockdown raves taught us anything, it’s that nightlife and the subcultures established there will never disappear for good. But, as Zac puts it: “It would be unforgivable to see such an integral part of our culture left behind due to Covid-19, it needs to be protected.”