The end of April and the start of May saw Liverpool and Barcelona host the first pilot music events since the world was locked down more than 12 months ago. Thousands of partygoers crammed into venues across the cities. No social distancing. No mandatory masks. It felt like the days of old.
It’s been a long time – too long – but finally after more than a year when all of us have been virtual prisoners in our homes, only able to venture out to grab some food and essentials, toilet rolls piling up in our cupboards, our freezers rammed like Tetris blocks with meat, bread and microwave dinners, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Those lockdown days are almost behind us. The nightlife industry has laid down a marker – undeniable proof that parties can be organised and run without fear of rampant Covid infection. We’ve stared the virus in the face, screamed let’s have it, taken all it can dish out and claimed victory. Nothing can stop us now.
Spearheaded by legendary Liverpool nightclub, Circus, the aptly named The First Dance held at Bramley-Moore Dock hosted Sven Vath, Jayda G and Yousef on Friday, Fatboy Slim, Yousef plus special guest and Hot Since 82, amongst a packed weekend line-up.
Tickets had only been made available to Liverpool City Region residents in advance and cost £32.50. Not a bad price to see your favourite DJs spin some tunes at an event that will likely go down in the annals of time.
Everyone attending had to prove they had tested negative for Covid the day before, be registered with a GP and agree to be guinea pigs for the UK government’s Event Research Programme (EPR). Though, these added restrictions didn’t deter the 6,000 people who rocked-up to a warehouse in Liverpool for the two-day event – proof positive – if you ever needed any more – that we may be living through a pandemic, but we’re all still buzzing for a party.
Circus founder and DJ, Yousef said before the event, ‘The First Dance is going to be a historic moment for electronic music and events across the UK.’ We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!
Not to be outdone by UK ravers, live gigs also returned to Liverpool on Sunday 2nd May. 5,000 people packed tents at Sefton Park in what felt like a mini festival on the Mersey. Stockport guitar band, Blossoms, headlined the event and Zuzu, a Liverpudlian singer-songwriter opened to massive applause saying, “Oh my God, look at youse, I’m going to cry.”
Away from the main stage, pop-up bars sold pints of Strongbow in paper cups, huge queues formed at the progressively grubbier Portaloo’s and all around were people with wide grins and stars in their eyes, seemingly intoxicated by the fact that they were hearing live music for the first time in God knows how long.
Inside the tent, messages flashed on screens asking revellers to ‘Be kind’ and ‘If someone wants a bit of space, give them room.’ Another said, ‘It’s fine to wear a mask in the big top if you want to.’
Under pre-Covid circumstances, this might have seemed corny, even unwanted, but times of yore have passed. In today’s day and age, messages like these bonded people together and served as a reminder of how far we’ve come in the last 12 months.
It’s not the first time that Liverpool has been chosen as the chosen field test location to help the UK government gather data needed to implement pandemic policy. In November, Liverpool was selected for the mass testing trial where residents were offered regular coronavirus tests.
Matt Ashton, Director of Public Health for Liverpool, has gone on record to say that Liverpool had been chosen to host pilot events because of its success in containing a spike of Covid-19 cases at the height of disadvantaged communities back in July 2020.
Very quickly, a local public health campaign was launched, a walk-in testing centre was opened, and community buildings were closed. These actions, ‘squashed the virus in under two-and-a-half-weeks and proved what local areas can do when they take control of the situation.’
Successes like these proved, beyond any doubt, that if you want to find somewhere to gather research and test projected success before nationwide rollout, Liverpool’s your city.
The UK government wants to get big crowds back to events as soon as possible. This includes both live music and sporting events. The science-led Event Research Programme (ERP) are working closely with local councils, piloting a range of events across different settings, venues and activities to see how safe it is for large crowds of people to mix.
It’s fair to say that so far, so good.
The ERP Programme started with the World Snooker Championships in Sheffield on 17th April and has continued on, with the FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley where 4,000 people were seated outside, and of course Circus. The FA Cup Final where 21,000 people will be invited to attend will conclude the pilot scheme on 15th May
Each event will provide the government with key scientific data. Decisions will then be made by the top brass about how to safely reopen large and small-scale events in-line with Boris’ lockdown roadmap – specifically Step 4 which will start no earlier than 21st June.
Not to be outdone by the Brits, 5,000 fans packed Palau Sant Jordi arena in Barcelona to see popular indie pop band Love of Lesbian during the last Saturday in April at what is thought to be the biggest concert in Europe since the start of the pandemic. Though masks were worn, social distance guidelines didn’t have to be followed.
The Spanish health authorities used the gig as part of their own pilot scheme to see how effective rapid testing at mass events could be. No one got through the doors without first talking a Covid test earlier in the day. Testing was done at three separate stations in Barcelona, with the results sent to everyone’s mobile phone.
Of the 5,000 partygoers who turned up just 6 people tested positive for Covid within 14 days of the event. This is a lower infection than what the Spanish population is currently experiencing and 50% less than the infection rate among young people.
Infectious disease specialist, Joseph Maria Llibre said that ‘there was no sign that suggests transmission took place during the event’ – if anyone can clear up any concerns about catching Covid, it’s an infectious disease specialist, right?
It’s safe to say that the recent pilot parties in Liverpool and Barcelona have been a roaring success. Data doesn’t lie. You can’t fake the number of people who turned up to Circus, Sefton Park and the Palau Sant Jordi arena. Covid hasn’t dampened our appetite for having a good old-fashioned rinse out.
It’s clear that pilot schemes are working. People want to engage with their communities, go and support local acts and seasoned DJs, be part of the scene. The vibe, the spirit, the togetherness is there.
This is something that will never die. Pandemic or no pandemic.
Interested in learning more about the UK government’s pilot events? Click the link below to learn everything you need to know.