According to The Journal of Infectious Diseases, by February 2021 just 10% of COVID-19 cases had been traced to outdoor transmission. Nevertheless, Woods is quick to point out that, while her session is outside, people should take precautions. “The only way we are going to protect the industry is by making sure everyone going to the events is negative. For us, because the party is outdoors — and obviously we know the risk of transmission is greatly reduced outside — we’re not asking for proof, but we are strongly asking people to test. And we are encouraging people to wear masks. Especially places like the toilet blocks.”
Like Denby, Woods sees a Government failing on emphasising that tests are routine parts of life, and ensuring supplies are maintained. “The messaging around regular testing seems to have dropped away, and it’s only venues, cultural leaders, and artists that are pushing for this. I saw earlier that the lateral flow tests had run out, which in a way is good, because it shows there’s a willingness in the public to do that. We always get blamed when everything goes wrong, but actually I think the take-up rate, the compliance of the public, has been quite high. And I think at the start [of the pandemic the Government was] surprised at that. But if you’re engaged and can’t even get a lateral flow test, where do you go from there?
"We had momentum and a good reputation before, we’ve always worked really hard to make sure people felt comfortable at our nights," she continues, clarifying that while there have been many hurdles, the focus remains on delivering something truly special for all those in attendance. "I think with so many unknowns we want to provide that experience of music that people have missed so much.”
Alongside house music stalwart Yousef, Rich McGuinness was behind The First Dance, two Liverpool warehouse raves in May that formed part of the UK Government’s Event Research Programme [ERP] — a series of mass gatherings used to assess transmission risks. This weekend their regular series, Circus, returns to Merseyside, with events on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th July, headlined by Jamie Jones and Paul Woolford. DJ Mag asks about the differences of reopening now compared to the trials.
“The only thing that has really changed is the ticketing. For the ERP it was one ticket per person, that was to do with the data... there were some complications with how Government could store the data,” he explains, before running through safety measures for this weekend. “Cashless bars, plastic screens to protect staff, all staff in public areas will be masked, sanitisation points. All that stuff we were doing then we will continue with. That’s just going to be normal from now on.”
McGuinness recounts how “the atmosphere was so positive” at the trials, the crowd understanding how lucky they were to be there, and the part they had to play in making the events a success. While expecting a similar attitude for these new shows, he’s quick to point out experience — and budget — count for much in COVID-era clubbing.
“The problem you’ve got is that when we were first able to reschedule events we were told this would be without any restrictions. Then for this grey area of passes, no passes, testing, no testing... for them to blur the line at the last minute is just a ridiculous complication,” says McGuinness. "When you have ten days notice, and nobody is really being clear with you, how are people meant to pivot? It’s alright for us, we’ve been through it once, but most of these people haven’t worked in 18 months. Where are they supposed to get the resources from?”
Stuart Glen runs The Cause, which is already up and running thanks to the team's determination. The venue requires proof of a negative lateral flow test for entry registered with the NHS online, and revellers must present a photo of this with faces visible, as well as ID, on arrival. On-site testing using donated lateral flows is in operation, at a cost of £10, to encourage testing at home — with any proceeds going to charity. He’s clear on the biggest concerns, and why conscientiousness and trust are crucial right now.
“My biggest concern is having a team to operate. It’s everyone’s choice whether they want to come down and be in a crowded environment. But if I don’t have a team then I can’t operate. If they can’t work then I can’t do anything... if staff get Covid, or have to isolate, what happens?” he asks, before summarising the way forward for an already-beleaguered culture, made up of businesses that can’t afford further closures.
“Just do whatever you can, basically. You’ve got to open, you have to trade, the system has to come back to life... we have to get through this," he continues. As our conversation comes to a close we ask: how did it feel to finally fire up the rig and welcome ravers into the club? “We opened on Sunday, and it was great. Amazing. People were really open, having it, and just loving it."