As the coronavirus pandemic continues shutting down live shows, the only thing certain about how or when these events will return is that nothing is quite yet certain. COVID-19’s effect on the dance scene has been nothing short of devastating, particularly given that gathering in nightclubs and at large-scale festivals are crucial cultural and economic drivers of a genre largely defined by live events.
Currently, clubs around the globe are shuttered, and a spring and summer’s worth of dance festivals — Ultra, Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, Shambhala, Electric Forest and Burning Man among them — have been postponed or altogether scrubbed from the calendar. Meanwhile, the mayors of New York and Los Angeles have stated that “it’s hard to imagine” that mass gatherings will resume before 2021.
But the fact remains that, sooner or later, clubs and festivals will return — although things will likely look different when they do.
Kobi Danan and Rob Toma are two of many dance industry professionals who’ve been closely monitoring developments in the context of COVID-19. Danan is the founder of the Los Angeles-based events company Framework, which produces and promotes large-scale house and techno shows with artists including Chris Lake, Jamie Jones, Guy Gerber, DJ Harvey, Black Coffee and partners like Art of the Wild. Danan is also the founder and owner of Los Angeles’ Sound nightclub, which opened in 2012 and has thus far been able to retain its 15 full time employees.
Across the country, Toma is the founder of New York’s Teksupport, which produces some the city’s biggest dance events including Time Warp, the revered techno-focused event that started in Germany and was brought to the States by Toma and his team in 2016. Teksupport also produces the American iteration of Ibiza-based event Circoloco, among many other shows.
Between them, Danan and Toma have decades of experience in the dance world. Both agree they’ve never experienced anything quite like this current moment. “If we can get through this one,” Toma says, “we can get through anything.”
Here, the two industry leaders predict how clubbing and dance events might return after coronavirus.
1. First Thing’s First: Everyone In the Live Dance Events Industry Is Hurting Right Now.
“Everyone is exactly in the same spot — the only difference is numbers,” Danan says. “Some people are better [off] because they have revenue streams they’ve held onto. When I said our company had all these sold out shows…before we closed, that means a lot of our money was out already advancing and marketing all these shows, and the following week it was supposed to come back to the account and we would operate from that. But everyone got hit really big, and the bigger you are, the bigger you got hit.”
2. …But People Seem to Be Working Together.
“I can’t speak for other promoters,” Danan says, “but every single artist we work with… not a single artist kept [their advance]. They all sent it back. Or, if the money was not [yet] advanced, they just sent an email saying, ‘We’re not going to ask you to deposit.’ Artist managers have been great… even though this industry got hit harder than ever imagined across the board.”
3. Clubbing Will Return Before Festivals…
“Personally, I believe that it’s going to be tough on large gatherings for a while,” says Danan. “The smaller clubs will come back online first. The big gatherings closed first and the smaller gatherings will open first, followed by those larger ones.”
4. …However, Clubbing Will Be a Much Different Experience.
“Things are not going to be the same, that’s for sure,” Danan continues. “We’re going to be more conscious to the sterility of the environment — face masks and sanitizing stations with waitresses helping customers clean their hands. Our operation will have all of those things installed, and in the beginning we’ll probably require tests, if the tests are going to be fast enough. Let’s say that Sound is 700 capacity — we’ll operate at a 300 capacity to give people more space.”
5. Promoters Will Do Whatever It Takes to Get You Through the Door.
“My plan is to do a reduced cover, or no cover, if we can find a sponsor to pay for the artist and the artist expenses,” Danan says. “I’m going to do non-cover shows for awhile, because I want people to feel they can get out of the house, be in a safe environment and not [spend] money they don’t have.”
6. Radius Clauses Will Be Relaxed.
“We can’t give radius clauses when we need to grow [the scene] back,” says Danan. “If you have CRSSD, then EDC the following weekend, then Coachella the following weekend, then another Coachella and then Stagecoach, you think we can say, ‘Hey you can’t play CRSSD, you can’t play EDC.’ We have to be, as a community, working harder to make sure everyone gets a good experience and accommodating everything that can be done to help one another.”
“There can’t really be radius clauses in this current time, especially if a festival or a large scale event is being postponed — it couldn’t hold its radius,” says Toma. “The general consensus is that radius clauses are going to have to be softened up, and anyone that says different is completely crazy.”
7. Camaraderie Will Rule.
“I think [right now], people are coming together more than they normally would,” says Toma. “I feel very strongly that at least in the beginning of when we’re back, a lot of artists are going to be more mindful and accommodating… and easier in certain negotiations, just because they want to see the scene come back stronger. I think it will [affect rates] in some shape or form, but it really depends on how long this pause is.”
8. Making Up For Lost Time May Not Be the Right Move.
“I don’t necessarily think people trying to make up for lost time should be the attitude to have,” says Toma. “I think some people are sort of thinking that, but there’s a difference between an artist who didn’t tour and didn’t make that money, to promoters who laid out money for shows that didn’t happen and can’t recoup that money. It’s the difference between money spent vs. money not actually made. Losing what you worked hard for is a lot more difficult than losing what you could have made.”
9. Some Events Will Have to Fall Off the Calendar.
“The postponements are overlapping into our fall and winter season, which is Teksupport’s busiest time,” says Toma. “Everyone is trying to reschedule, and bigger festivals are moving to weekends when they never were. If we’re moving 11 shows [to the same time] as the 25-30 that we do during September through January, we’re sort of competing against ourselves. We may have to just bury some of these events, because you can’t postpone or reschedule every single thing. Everybody is trying to figure out how to put 12 months of shows into three months, and it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter if you have the headliner, they’re all not going to work.”
10. Artists May Be More Cautious About Where They Play
“The other [potential] issue is some artists wanting to take the safe bet and not be the guinea pig when [clubbing] does come back, because you don’t know what the economic impact is going to be to the average raver,” Toma says. “We had year-long plans with certain artists, or they [planned to] work with us two times in the market and then with someone else for a third play. But as things get postponed, there are too many what-ifs, so we just have to keep making the best decisions as information becomes available.”