As another weekend approaches, I’m wondering which DJs I’m going to see and which friends are up for letting loose and cracking on. But right now clubs are only open online and I’m limited to seeing friends and meeting new people via the crackly audio-visual chaos of countless Zoom calls. Welcome to The Sesh during a global pandemic, where we, the Great Seshing Public, are very much online and just trying to establish a semblance of normality while blowing off some steam within the parameters of lockdown.
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Over the last decade live streams have become a staple of dance music culture but right now they seem especially poignant. “I think I can say for all my friends that music is what's keeping us sane through these surreal and scary times,” says Christina Hernandez, who’s Managing Editor of Dancing Astronaut and Mixmag’s Trance Editor, and based in LA. She and her mates have started a weekly ritual of watching a set by the likes of Guy J, Digweed or Atish together via Watch Party on Facebook, with chat flowing between them on Zoom or WhatsApp. “The rave is usually the main way we connect with each other physically since we're all working during the week. We still need that vital connection, so video-chatting is the best substitute we can have for now!” Christina says that this part of the weekend is a “priority activity for sanity” and also an outlet for another majorly important thing: dancing. “I'd say it's a 50/50 blend of chair raving and actually getting up and going crazy on our bedroom or living room floors. I still get quite a lot of exercise from dancing alone in my room, actually.”
This global situation reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons where Bart breaks his leg and has to watch Lisa and his friends have fun in a swimming pool outside from the confines of his room. Except that the whole world is now stuck inside and the swimming pool is all of the plans that we’d made over these wonderful months where spring turns to summer. Some ardent seshers, however, are not to be deterred from partying like they normally do. Rory Forsyth slides into my DMs to explain that whenever he and his international cast of 12 cousins meet up, they always find time for a dance. Navigating multiple timezones has been a little tricky, but that only adds to the fun of the psychedelic new reality we find ourselves in, and jokes aside, this kind of human contact is what’s going to get us through. “I think this kind of thing is more important than ever right now. It’s perhaps the only time we're all universally experiencing something like this, so it’s important to keep each other’s spirits up,” Rory says. “Music has always been a way of bringing people together and the fact that technology allows us to continue the party without leaving our homes is brilliant. Coronavirus will never stop the rave!”
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These gatherings of friends and family have, perhaps inevitably, morphed into fully-blown virtual events, such as Club Quarantine, a queer club run by four creatives from Toronto, the idea for which was sparked during a fateful Zoom call. “We planned it like, ‘OK let’s do this properly, let’s have a night, let’s dress up, let’s kiki,’” explains recording artist Andrés Sierra, who co-founded the project alongside musician and artist Casey MQ, digital content creator Mingus New and content creator and comedian Brad Allen. “That was just the first night – somebody made an Instagram account as a joke, we posted a joke photo and then it just kind of started snowballing.” Club Quarantine now has 40,000 followers, hires a bouncer to screen people trying to get into its nightly Zoom raves and has hosted the likes of Venus X, Charli XCX and Tinashe.
“This is a conferencing app that we’re using to run a queer club,” Andrés laughs as we talk about the ways in which Club Quarantine has hijacked the format for live streaming audio and hosting communal parties. “It’s all about queering the space and it’ll be queering Zoom if it has to be. You can do anything when you’re in your room,” says Casey MQ. One guest is famous for multiple outfit changes per party while another films themself pole dancing using different camera angles. “You can deliver a look and put on a whole moment and paint your face and present that to everyone or you can be in your PJs snuggled up in bed,” Andrés adds. “You can be in your kitchen making pancakes, you can be with your roommates doing a 1000-piece puzzle and we’ll spotlight it and the comments will be like ‘yes puzzle, go off puzzle!’” Seshing aside, events like Club Quarantine are crucial in creating a space for the LGBTQ+ community to meet online and ride out this sketchy period in time together. “It’s really nice to be able to log in once a night and see all these amazing, beautiful queer people living their best lives and just being – people are genuinely feeling themselves in their own homes,” says Andrés. Club Quarantine is also aiming to become more self-sufficient and has been paying artists who have asked for a fee using money raised via PayPal donations and funding from Red Bull Canada, a step toward a new blueprint for ways artists can earn money during quarantine.
Brick and mortar venues have also opened their doors online, like New York’s House Of Yes (HOY), the theatre-infused club and creative collective based out of Bushwick. “It felt good to throw ourselves into a new project during a time of immense uncertainty when we're not sure what the future of nightlife holds,” says Jacqui Rabkin, HOY’s Cultural and Marketing Director. “It's so important to keep creating during these times and find new ways to foster connection between people. We knew our audience would be hungry to connect digitally and dance together in whatever way possible. Also, because our club is already so oriented towards self-expression, costuming, creativity, and connection, we knew that people would be excited to show off their dance moves, props, and creative outfits on video for everyone else to see.” HOY use Zoom for video, Mixlr for audio and OBS to broadcast onto Twitch, hosting Digital Dance Party every Saturday, complete with the club’s resident performers and a dress code that encourages dressing up and freaking out. “We have to keep moving, dancing, creating, and connecting,” says Jacqui. “It's part of our core fabric as humans. House Of Yes is embracing the challenge to move from IRL to URL with open hearts, and looking at it as an opportunity to bring even more people together. Now, people all over the world can tune in to our parties whereas beforehand they couldn't be physically present at the club. People want to keep dancing and we want to keep dancing with them!”
Ever ones to keep the party going for the love of the music and their local scene, promoters like Glasgow’s Lewis Lowe has utilized Zoom and Mixlr to make sure cancelled events still go on ahead in some virtual shape or form. The Redstone Press founder managed to host a label party featuring DJs from New Zealand, the Netherlands, England and across Scotland, somehow co-ordinating the sets through a happy blur of booze and shit chat. “I was really anxious before doing it because I usually feel so self-conscious and awkward on video calls but seeing so many friends and everyone in the same boat was easy and fun – you forget how much you instant message folks and don’t see them face to face when you do stuff like this,” Lewis says. “If this lockdown continues everyone should try to get together at least once every couple weeks and just be stupid and weird like you normally are with your mates. Everything else in life is so serious at the moment that it's a real breath of fresh air.”
And what better way to achieve the comforting regularity of our lives pre-corona than with the humble pub quiz, beloved of everyone everywhere and one of the easiest ways to have fun together on a group call that isn’t scrolling through Snapchat Zoom filters for hours on a Friday night? “My old man has run a monthly quiz at the local rugby club for as long as I can remember, so I’ve learned from the best,” says Michael W, who’s running quizzes on Twitch to make up for his clubnight, EQ Presents, not being able to run IRL in Dunfermline. “I feel a responsibility for offering a platform for those who would attend our nights to maintain the social aspect of their lives. Having an activity people can engage with outside of their physical surroundings is paramount to helping us remain connected and maintain healthy relationships with one another that may be damaged by the current pandemic.”
It’s not everyday that you stroll into a boozer and Plastician is doing a music quiz based on questions written by the likes of Skream and Oneman. He’s been using OBS to broadcast on a Sunday night, with banter popping off in the chat and fans and artists alike competing to show that they know the most about dubstep, for instance. “It's a bit of light entertainment,” Plastician says. “Sometimes you may learn a thing or two, like the fact Mala worked with my mum or that MC Terminator was given his professional football debut by Ian Holloway. These are trivia nuggets you may be able to use yourself when we actually get back into pubs again!” Like everyone in this piece, he emphasises the importance of community but also says that it’s vital for artists like him to harness new trends and ways of communicating during a period when everyone is inside and online. “We don’t know how long this will go on for, so besides working on music and my label, these live-streamed sets, quizzes and seminars will become the closest thing to looking active on the gig circuit that promoters have as an indicator,” he says. “So if anyone out there is cynical about all of this, I couldn’t care less – it keeps me sane, provides an opportunity for people to connect and socialise in some capacity online, and gives me a platform to showcase myself.” With so many options available online, The Sesh will continue through lockdown, with weekends looking as busy as ever.
Seb Wheeler is Mixmag's Head Of Digital. Follow him on Twitter
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