In Fifteen Months, the World Changed

Thursday, March 12, 2019 was the last live DJ I danced to before the pandemic led to shutdowns across the world. I didn't know then that Thursday, June 3, 2021 was the next time I would be able to dance indoors again. I had a feeling that things would shut down soon, so made sure I went out for Ed Rush at elements. Sure enough, events that hadn't already been cancelled began dropping like flies that weekend. I had a couple tentative bookings be rescheduled indefinitely. Live entertainment came to a screeching halt and life's focus came to curbing the spread of Covid-19 until a vaccine could be developed. DJs, production companies, and venues all began scrambling to understand the scope of what the new restrictions meant and what the timetable for a real return to normalcy looked like.

Once the realization that this would not be two weeks to stop the spread, attention turned to what could be done to bring music to people sequestered in their homes and protect the venues for when we could return. Livestreaming on Facebook, Twitch, and other platforms took off as DJs found ways to reach captivated audiences. Webcams and microphones became scarce as demand for gear competed with people working from home and remote learning. Crews like Rabbit Revolution worked to create a streaming infrastructure to fundraise for groups impacted by the pandemic, and some DJs gained audiences large enough to monetize their work through Twitch. Venues like The Phoenix Landing held weekly streaming events to help pay their employees who were out of work while restaurants and nightclubs were forced to remain closed. During this time I started Eye on NE Streams, a link post where people could find New England DJs playing streaming or radio shows.

After the second wave of Covid was brought back under control in New England, restrictions began to slowly get lifted, with bars and nightclubs at the end of the line for industries allowed to get back to business as "usual". Small outdoor events started popping up around the region, alongside a healthy streaming community where, per Manindabag, "We lift each other up, it's all about having fun". I was streaming with my son playing Minecraft while I DJ'd. Twitch raids connected audiences from across the world to performers they loved but had never heard of before. Facebook groups like New England DJ Livestreams connected audiences to DJs who were finding their groove online, while some DJs preferred to stay quiet and hone their craft or focus on music production during the pandemic. People had settled into a bit of a routine, but were still chomping at the bit for any ways to get out and dance, and indoor dancefloors were still quite a ways off.

New Hampshire was ahead of the curve in relaxing restrictions on indoor gatherings. They started allowing DJs to play for seated patrons, though not without concerns over the safety of attendees and adherence to state guidelines. The rest of the states moved back and forth in their phases of reopening as data around cases, transmission, and deaths fluctuated in the region and nationwide, with most erring on the side of caution. Vermont even was restricting travel based on positivity rates per county of origin.

Once vaccines became authorized and available beginning in March of 2021, the data on transmission and vaccine uptake informed the state that restrictions could be continue to be relaxed. Restaurants in Massachusetts and Rhode Island allowing performance for seated patrons who were eating allowed venues like Platforms in Providence, RI and Electric Haze in Worcester, MA to find creative ways to allow DJs to connect with an in-person audience, even if they couldn't dance. The Phoenix Landing held live + streaming events for their regular weeklies, with live diners and a livestream through the early evening hours. Urban Farm Fermentory in ME provided an outdoor setting for small events, and outdoor pop-up events like SunSets Boston gave people a way to get together and dance outdoors.

Data from New England looked so good in fact, that almost the whole region decided to skip the rest of the phases of reopening and lift all restrictions for Memorial Day weekend. Since then, events have been scheduled, booked, and well attended, with festivals requiring proof of vaccination or negative Covid test, and people heartily and happily supporting the comebacks of their favorite local events and venues. With streaming events starting to slow down as live events came back, I began thinking about how to continue to serve the New England dance music community as it seemed Eye on NE Streams had run its course.

The sheer number of events starting to happen meant that the link posts I had made for streams wouldn't allow enough links to share everything going on. I decided that an event calendar website would work best, so that I could still support streaming events, as well as the new indoor and outdoor events sprouting around New England. I also wanted to give people a place to learn more about the DJs, music producers, and event production crews, the backbone of our community. In early-mid June, as we were all reacquainting ourselves with society again, I interviewed a group of New England DJs, producers, and people related to event production on what got them through the pandemic. They spoke to me about their experiences in life and the New England dance music scene, how the pandemic affected them personally and professionally, and how we rebuild the scene from the devastation of fifteen months of no live events.

The presence of Covid and whether we have the right protocols and performative measures in place to prevent further outbreaks was a concern of most everyone I interviewed. Most agreed that we are getting to a point where most everyone who wants the vaccine is able to get it, so now it becomes a test of whether that level of saturation is enough. But with Delta variant cases on the rise now, many people today are taking pause, returning to former masking habits, and fears of reinstation of restrictions, or another lockdown, as has happened in the UK and some European countries are growing.

We also discussed the place of livestreaming in the new paradigm of music, with most seeing it existing as a different, not competing, avenue for DJs to reach an audience. Some saw it as an opportunity, "for DJs who don’t normally play out live a lot, Twitch and various other internet platforms offer ways to connect with a wider audience". Others forsee internet available content for listeners who aren't able to physically come to a venue, but now have a way to get an experience live. Everyone agreed that they have made connections through streams and lock downs that they never would have thought possible.

Looking to the future, everyone was hopeful that cases of Covid stay manageable and excited to see people in person again. Those that have played gigs have been overwhelmed by the support and positivity of everyone who has come out. There is worry about how many venues won't make it through, as many have already closed their doors for good since the pandemic began, especially if we have another lockdown. Many saw it as an opportunity to rebuild the New England dance music scene to be more inclusive and inviting to members of the local community. In everyone I spoke with, I heard hope in their voice. Hope for a return to community, to family, to music for the sake of music. Hope for dancing. And hugs.

Here are their stories. I hope with all of them, and all of you. - Mr. EyesLee -

What is a DJ if you can't dance? What is a VJ if there's no lights?

RIP Glen Washington

What it really means to be locked in the lab for 15 months

Restrictions, transitions, timelines, and the return of loadouts

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