Peckham-based band Sweat spent lockdown conceiving and coding its own online venue from scratch. Its 3D club space, SweatNet, hosted a month-long VR festival where attendees could watch hologram performances, simulate conversations in the ‘pit’ and visit merch stands. Viewers were also encouraged to donate to independent venues via a link inside the club.
But it’s not just the ‘where’, but the ‘what’ of nightlife that has been reframed in light of Covid-19. Generation Z were already providing glimpses of their expectations of slower, health-conscious and intellectually stimulating nights out, which, having been catalysed by the anxieties of a global pandemic, are set to be adopted across generations.
Think events like those offered by Nowadays in New York, which integrates health-conscious drinking into its offering, or Weed Rave in Los Angeles, which combines cannabis with dancing and yoga.
Those dedicated to boosting their mental resilience will lose their inhibitions, free from enhancement, at community events such as Special Guest, in which audience members are invited to take to the stage for 60 seconds and share a thought, idea, story or party trick. More transformative still are sober club nights like Misery, which integrates therapy-based practises into its queer and transgender people of colour (QTPOC) parties.
Founder Aisha Mirza sees the event as a necessary response to a youth mental health crisis. ‘A lot of people aren’t going to call a therapist and have a consultation,’ they say. ‘But they are going to come to a club.’
It’s this kind of community creation that’s at the heart of the anti-corporate return to nightlife. For Gen Z, recreation is inseparable from their unflinching attitude towards equality, and the pandemic has laid bare the possibilities of spaces away from the tangible (discriminatory door codes) and structural barriers they had become accustomed to.
It’s one of the reasons the illegal party scene skyrocketed during lockdown, as clubbers sought the anti-establishment roots of the nightclub through underground events that repurposed car parks and roof terraces for multi-day events.
Providing a safe space for marginalised communities is key here, and something brands can and should tap into without centring themselves. Jägermeister recently launched a fundraising campaign to support LGBTQ+ spaces with a short film that gives a voice to bar owners, activists and archivists to discuss the positive impact of lesbian bars amid record closures.
The documentary also expands on the brand’s #SaveTheNight campaign, which provides curated community events for LGBT+ groups and works to preserve nightlife during and post-pandemic.
Organisations have a key opportunity here – whether it’s embracing and refining digital, embedding caring practices or striving for equality in every aspect of their offering – success won’t be achieved by striving for the oft-criticised, post-pandemic mantra of a ‘return to normal’.
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