Saturday 14 November 2020 7:00 am

Why virtual clubbing could lift your lockdown blues

Save our SMEs

Ibiza may be the world’s best-known clubbing destination, but for real connoisseurs of nasty techno, Berlin is where it’s at.

Read more: How to eat well during a pandemic, from pre-mixed cocktails to Michelin home delivery

Most famous among its venues is the legendary Berghain, a vast concrete cathedral to dance music where club nights turn into club days and back into club nights, and the world’s top DJs provide the entertainment. It’s so successful that it’s developed a reputation for being virtually impossible for tourists to get in – if you don’t Sprechen Sie Deutsch, you’re out of luck.

At a recent event, however, Berghain out Berghained itself by turning away 40,000 clubbers, which must be some kind of record. The night in question was Club Quarantäne – a virtual party taking place over the internet. Turning away so many potential visitors was a self referential joke by the event organisers – a quick press of F5 gave devotees of dance music another shot at getting past those bouncers – a luxury rarely granted in the physical realm.

Club Quarantäne is one of many virtual events now taking place as the entertainment industry attempts to deal with the waves of restrictions and lockdown that make regular trading impossible.

Another interesting solution to the problem of hosting live events without crowds is the latest concert announced by former Oasis singer Liam Gallacher. On 5 December he will play a gig on a boat chugging down the Thames. For £16.50, you can tune in live through your browser or an app and watch him serenade the indifferent grey water.

Liam Gallacher will perform an online set on a boat down the Thames

“Online programming is, in many ways, harder work than live entertainment,” says Jillian George-Lewis, Creative Entertainment Programmer at The Hippodrome, which has been hosting a series of digital events called Lola’s in Your Lounge since the start of covid restrictions.

“The biggest issue is, without doubt, tech. Online performances, like all performances, run into tech problems and I really missed having our sound and lighting engineers on hand. There’s also the issue of communication. When someone is streaming from their phone it’s not easy to get a message to them if something is going wrong.

“Early in the season, I booked in my great friend the comedy magician Christian Lee, who accidentally spent his whole Instagram Live set with the camera on its side. I was frantically texting his wife to tell him to turn it round but she was hiding upstairs as she was sick of his jokes! Whenever we see him now, we speak to him with our heads tilted, which he doesn’t find anywhere near as funny as I do.”

Lola’s in Your Lounge encompasses a wide variety of live sessions, including singers, magicians and musicians doing live sets from their homes. There are also workshops on things as diverse as hula hooping, HIIT fitness classes, vintage hair and make-up classes from burlesque performers and vegan baking sessions.

Given live online cabaret acts are essentially a new medium, George-Lewis says she’s been surprised with how quickly people have taken to it, with audiences quickly starting to act in similar ways as they would a live performance. “It was great to see some genuine interaction with the performers, with people chatting on the live streams and requesting songs.”

Unlike other live online events, the Hippodrome season is free for its social media followers, although it has experimented with a more exclusive “pre-show Zoom party” at which those on the guestlist could hang out with west end singer Ryan Molloy before a live performance. “Everyone made cocktails and it was a lot of fun. My memories of the set are a little hazy though, just like a real-life night out!”

for a lot of people with certain disabilities or health issues, this is normal life for them, so I think it’s vital that venues, shows and producers consider making more of their productions accessible from home or share access to their back catalogue of performances.  

George-Lewis says she’s desperate to see physical live events resume, but says the new virtual events platforms should have a place going forward. “It’s a new way to engage people and we as an industry must constantly evolve the ways we use technology to reach a bigger audience. and keep striving for inclusivity. It’s especially important for people with disabilities or health issues who might not otherwise be able to attend live shows.”

So while a trip to Berghain may be out for the foreseeable future, don’t be disheartened. Shake up some cocktails, plug your laptop into the TV and experience the closest we have to live entertainment, all without having to worry about getting a cab home afterwards.

• The next Lola’s in Your Lounge is on 22 November at 3pm on FB Live. The Hippodrome is also launching a season of socially distant concerts from 2-20 December – buy tickets at fw-live.com.

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