plague raves: what were they thinking

8 min readNov 16, 2020


When Dixon played in Tunisia in August, he was sending out a clear message that the economic interests of high-profile DJs are worth taking advantage of other countries’ less stricter COVID-19 rules. In this case, a country where the number of cases multiplied since.

We have made it clear that holding large events like these are irresponsible during the pandemic. In June, The BPM Festival announced that it had plans to go ahead in Malta by moving from its original location in Portugal. Dubfire and Chris Liebing were billed to play at the event. During a YouTube discussion, Dubfire indicated that the death toll was low at the time and that “they only had nine deaths and very few cases,” in the country. Locals, however, who contacted us from Malta weren’t so convinced. They were concerned. Despite retweeting our thread on this issue, Dubfire and Chris Liebing didn’t feel the need to address the concern from locals or pull out of the event entirely. Unsurprisingly, BPM Malta got cancelled too, only 35 days after its announcement and despite it being cancelled, people still travelled to the country.

Similarly, EXIT Festival was due to take place in August and organisers wanted to send “a message of hope to the world” despite warnings from scientists not affiliated with Serbia’s government stating the obvious covid numbers were on the rise in the country. Maceo Plex, Nina Kraviz, Boris Brejcha, Amelie Lens, Marcel Dettmann and Kobosil were all in the lineup. The Serbian government vehemently downplayed the virus and encouraged large events to take place, such as the Adria tour, which ended up being a super spreader event where many tennis players contracted the virus including Novak Djokovic.

We’ve documented some of these “plague raves” in the past few months and tried to focus on two key areas in France and Italy. We mainly focused on these as their testing capacity and history of handling the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year allowed us to have a more reliable dataset to put the measures in place in context. The videos we have seen raised more questions than they answered. Between the period of July 15 — August 15, the region of Puglia, Italy, became the new hotspot for the biggest names in techno. It didn’t require a virologist to determine that these events would further spread the virus, yet it wasn’t on us to judge them as right or wrong. Seeing a rich white DJ jetting off to Tunisia for cash on the day the COVID-19 situation was declared critical in the country made us speechless, however.

At this point, big name DJs had no shame in performing at these plague raves, but they were being careful not to publicise their sets on social media. Since the superstar DJs dispensed their usual “off to Puglia” posts while sitting on the stairs of a private jet or holding their Rimowa, we had to find other ways to source the videos we had used to highlight these events. We searched through hundreds of videos to find footage that gave a clear indication of the crowd size and therefore if and how the COVID-19 measures were being executed, if any, at these events. Whenever possible, we talked to people who had attended these events to get an idea of how it could possibly be safe for ravers. From our discussions, we understood that one of the worst things about these events was that big names make people travel, thus, if you are a famous DJ, surely it is your responsibility not to encourage large crowds to gather?

Every video we have shared on plague raves has been studied by data scientists who compared these locations to the number of COVID-19 cases in the area. These procedures took us days and sometimes weeks to make sure we had everything factually correct and verified in terms of location and dates. Despite our focus on big name DJs, we have also attempted to shed light on other events with lesser known DJs, which took place in Paris, Amsterdam and other cities. After our posts had attained huge attention, some DJs, promoters and venues started to restrict video recordings.

It was interesting to see how our coverage of these plague raves changed the behavior of many DJs who have been part of them. While some openly communicated their gigs and even explained their reasonings, others continued to pretend that they’re on vacation in Puglia or Mykonos. In the end, it was impossible to hide these events from social media.

There was a strong backlash against us after some DJs criticised people who were upset to see what we shared. That outrage against people criticising these events came primarily from privileged white men, who just want to get back to playing shows and making even more money. Their stance seemed to be that various governments allowed events to take place, making them safe and legit. Ironically, these DJs are the same people who questioned the same governments’ decisions just a few months before, or acted shocked to see events in Puglia without masks, just to headline shows themselves a few days later ending up pretending that they’ve not played any gigs this summer in interviews. The hypocrisy was shameless.

One of the biggest arguments in defending these plague raves was that people should listen to experts not DJs. Ironically, certain DJs ended up arguing with scientists which made clear that these DJ’s interests are nowhere near the safety of people. Which brings us to a point many people were wondering about. What is our opinion about these plague raves? After some of the bigger platforms had commissioned their writers to dig deeper into this topic, unfortunately there was only one article that did the topic justice.

As mentioned above, we don’t think we have the authority to judge anyone who’s playing at these events, but we kept constantly tracking COVID-19 numbers across these locations and can safely say that these events were not a good idea going by the data and conversations we had. However, it’s telling that weeks after we started to report on these events, COVID-19 numbers in France had multiplied and are more than fifty-eight times as high since then. Italy imposed new restrictions in mid-August specifically targeting nightclubs as cases were increasingly detected among younger people.

Professor Andrea Crisanti, the leading virologist at the University of Padua, warned in mid-August about the dangers of allowing clubs to hold events because these spaces “offer the best conditions to spread the virus.” He told the Washington Post that he was surprised “they even allowed them to reopen in the first place.”

We also spoke to Professor Crisanti about why clubs have a higher likelihood of spreading the virus. He told us that the two factors that greatly enhance the spreading of COVID-19 are close contact and intense physical activity since intense physical activities such as dancing lead to increased respiration and thereby aerosols which make the chances for transmission generally higher. This is even more so the case in closed spaces. In such environments masks only help to a limited extent. In nightclubs aerosols are likely to hang around and build up for a long time. This turns parties there into “superspreading” events and explains the difference between them and bars.

It is for these reasons that the nightlife sector does desperately need support from governments, but it shouldn’t ignore the fact that its failure to organise responsibly (see unionisation, supporting smaller venues, coming together) in the last decade is one of the key factors why it has no real voice and cannot lobby governments as other sectors and industries have managed to do.

On top of that, DJs from marginalised communities are now intimidated to explore other ways of generating income outside of playing gigs due to the huge backlash against New York-based DJ collective Discwoman, who were mocked and ostracised for trying to raise money for LGBTQI+ people and women of colour DJs. The hateful targeting was led by Jane Fitz and supported by the likes of Jackmaster, HAAi, Wes Baggaley and many more, in particular, notably Nina Kraviz who was at the forefront of the plague raves this summer.

Bill Hanage, an associate professor from Harvard’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said faster test and trace could be the long-term solution and the most realistic way that clubbing can return safely. If club-goers would instantly know after the event whether they are infected or not, they could take the necessary measures which are foremost to put oneself in quarantine.

“I think [faster testing] is smart,” he explains.“Because the direct risks of infection to the typical clubber are not high — although I wouldn’t count them out, knowing what I do about long covid — and the major concern is the potential for transmission, very rapid forward tracing and isolation would greatly limit the impact of any transmission in the nightclub.”

In Switzerland, big name DJs were praising the systems in place for nightlife, but covid numbers continue to rise in the country. Up until late August, clubs could have a 300 person capacity provided all attendees wore a mask. Now, there’s no limit if patrons wear a mask. Top Swiss epidemiologist, Professor Marcel Salathé, confirmed recently that there are still substantial issues to solve and that Switzerland is far from where it should be. The bottom line is, Switzerland’s covid model isn’t working as the top DJs want us to believe.

In Zurich, 300 people had to quarantine in June after one person at the Flamingo Club tested positive for the virus, so it’s clear that some clubs aren’t equipped to deal with the health and safety of club goers. The same club allowed people to use fake credentials openly for their test and trace system, something that kept happening in Clubs from Bern, Hamburg to Berlin were Clubs also have been found to have made similar mistakes.

Meanwhile plague raves reached Europe’s biggest cities. While it’s obvious that authorities are struggling to contain the spread of COVID19, DJs seem more and more open to participate in these illegal raves as seen a few weeks back in London. Meanwhile the biggest names in dance music have moved on to territories with less stricter COVID19 measures as Florida/Tulum while Europe is struggling with the 2nd wave/lockdown.

One thing is clear: we know that the last few months have been extremely challenging and as it stands, there is no clear solution for venues and nightclubs in the short term. We are aware that at a grassroots level, people need support. We are referring to the thousands of bar staff, cleaners, ticket office staff, smaller promoters and many more who are sitting without an income and can’t pay their rent. They need support. But we will not support selfish big name DJs, who proclaim “it’s good to be back” as if they’ve really struggled from their fancy apartments during the lockdown, just so now they can make some more quick bucks by taking advantage of the situation and acting irresponsibly. Although we don’t solely focus on plague raves, we’re determined to stay and offer a different perspective on the dance music industry and we won’t stop.

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