Electronic music festival Riverside

Podcast: Nightlife culture under threat from Covid-19 restrictions

The Scottish Government’s lack of engagement with the country’s nightlife culture – such as clubs and music venues – is “unacceptable” and threatens its survival, according to the chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association.

The claim comes more than two weeks after the trade body, together with leading industry figures including club owners and festival promoters, warned of a “tsunami” of job losses in coming weeks, with 75,000 hanging in the balance.

With cases of Covid-19 rising rapidly again across Scotland – and the reopening of clubs and venues looking further away then ever – they have called for discussions with politicians to put a plan in place to save nightlife culture from devastation.

In a new podcast The Ferret heard from musicians about the human cost of the lockdown. We heard from an established DJ now claiming benefits and saved from homelessness only from a musician’s charity.

Others feeling the brutal impact of the necessary public health restrictions include key venue staff on the UK Government’s furlough scheme, due to end in less than six weeks, as well as those in associated industries who had been made redundant or fear their business may collapse.

The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA)  claims there are over 6,000 businesses within the sector across Scotland’s four biggest cities, contributing significantly to the economy, as well as providing “rich entertainment and cultural tapestry”.

In July the UK Government announced a £97m rescue deal for Scotland’s arts and culture sector. It came weeks after the Scottish Government announced a £10m “lifeline fund” for performing arts venues. Other packages have been made available too but the nightlife figures claim a sector specific package is needed.

Rebecca Vasmant DJing nightlife
Rebeccca Vasmant DJing

Michael Kill, NTIA chief executive, said that while issues such as the continuation of the furlough scheme were in the control of Westminster, the industry was frustrated at the continued lack of Scottish political engagement.

He shared a letter written to Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary of the Rural Economy and Tourism, in which he warned that the sector is “is one of the worst affected by covid” and warned of thousands of job losses.

It claimed there was “extreme confusion” about the roadmap for reopening. He wrote: “This, in addition to the lack of access to adequate support for businesses over the coming months, is a recipe for catastrophe.”

But his request for a meeting to discuss both funding and a conditional re-opening plan was not taken up.

Instead he received a “bog standard” reply, acknowledging his “very real concerns” but adding: “It will not, and should not, feel like a return to normal life yet. We understand how difficult this situation is for those sectors and activities that are still waiting for the date when they can resume. It is important not to undermine the sacrifices and progress that we have all made so far by making the remaining changes too early.”

Kill told The Ferret: “The coalition that we brought together in Scotland was very, very disappointed at the bog standard letter, at that response.

“We’re not going to allow ourselves to be ignored and we’re definitely not going to allow that to be the last word in terms of us pushing Scottish Government to do the right thing.

“We’ll fight for the response that we need, which is to understand what the future looks like and to also understand what support mechanisms will be in place so that we can make sure that the industry survives this very, very difficult time.”

He claimed that while a High Court decision that insurers should pay out business interruption insurance was “a positive light” it was still dependent on insurers “doing the right thing” and would not save the industry.

We’ll fight for the response that we need, which is to understand what the future looks like.

Michael Kill, NTIA chief executive

He also warned that the illegal party scene would grow if more discussions were not held around a re-opening schedule.

Last weekend Police Scotland, attended 405 parties, and made six arrests. Several DJs and promoters told The Ferret that they were aware of “smaller house parties” though large-scale raves – such as those seen in Manchester – have not happened.

Some said larger events were viewed as “irresponsible” by the dance community. However the Sunday Mail reported some commercial DJs were continuing to take bookings despite new guidelines banning gatherings of more than six people from two households.

Music writer Arusa Qureshi, who was made redundant as editor of arts and listings magazine The List due to the pandemic, said: “In terms of gigs and club nights, I think that if there isn’t some kind of proper intervention, the nighttime economy is not going to survive.

“There’s so many people whose jobs are at risk because and I think, without some kind of further action things like illegal raves, for example, are definitely going to spring up. It’s just going to spread the virus further and make things even worse.

“It’s a matter of people’s health and well being and, but also their mental health because of we’re talking about job losses and mass redundancies.”

S/A/M aka Samantha Bagg
S/A/M aka Samantha Bagg performing

Cat Reilly, a booker for Stereo, a Glasgow club and venue, and one of the DJs behind the club’s queer friendly night Push It, added: “I think there needs to be some dialogue that’s specific to gigs and clubs. We have no official channel with the government, we have no official advice coming through that isn’t seen by the public. It means that you can’t plan ahead and you can kind of make contingency plans.”

Dave Clarke, manager of Glasgow DJ duo Slam and one of the founders of Soma Records, agreed that it was “very, very difficult for a whole industry to have no guidance as to what to do once the furlough and self employed assistance finishes.”

He added: “I do think up till now the both the Scottish Government and the UK Government the packages have been as widespread as anyone could have hoped for. But come the end of October everybody’s cut adrift.”

Clarke is also a director of electronic music festival Riverside, which was cancelled in May due to Covid-19 restrictions. He and his team are currently planning next May’s Riverside, with the hope that restrictions will have lifted sufficiently, but feels largely left in the dark.

He claimed that while engagement with the Scottish Government was important, it was up to the UK Government to put more money forward.

“Nicola Sturgeon is a great communicator and that is really helping a lot of people focus,” he added. “But she doesn’t have the economic clout. The [Scottish Government] need to have borrowing powers, really.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “For now, nightclubs must unfortunately remain closed as they involve prolonged close social contact.

“We are acutely aware of the potential impact on people’s livelihoods – which is why nightclubs can apply to our new £15 million Culture Organisations and Venues Recovery Fund which opened for applications yesterday, part of our £59 million emergency rescue package for arts, culture and heritage.

“Overall, our total package for businesses during this unprecedented economic crisis now totals £2.3 billion.

“However, it is the UK Government which is set to withdraw furlough support next month, unnecessarily risking many thousands of jobs.

“They should follow the example of countries like Germany by extending furlough – and if they fail to do so then the necessary financial powers should be transferred to Scotland so that we can take the action needed here.

“We are of course keen to explore with the sector how a safe re-opening could be brought about – but the top priority must be to stay safe, protect others and save lives.”

A spokesperson for HM Treasury said: “Our package of support, including the furlough scheme, has saved jobs and continues to protect the livelihoods of people across the country. 

 “We’ve not hesitated to act in creative and effective ways to support jobs and we will continue to do so as we recover from this crisis.”

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Source documents

Header photo thanks to Soma Records/Kierian Patton 

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