If you live in the United States, the two main images you see daily are federal troops / cops tear gassing and shooting protestors with less lethal rounds on a daily basis in Portland and increasingly across the country, plus the Coronavirus pandemic that shows no signs of slowing down with a leadership that seems to prioritize profits over people. Some of the economy has reopened in stages, but what has been left out of the recovery has been music and any live entertainment. Packing large groups of people together in communal spaces just isn’t feasible with a disease that has already killed 150,000 people so far in the United States and left others with long term health complications. That is what makes this past weekend so frustrating.
This past weekend saw videos emerge from three different events – The Chainsmokers playing a drive-in charity concert on the Hamptons, Lee Burridge playing a show in Queens and Kaskade playing a boat party in Florida. The Chainsmokers event was an official, town-sanctioned charity drive-in event with two Southampton city officials performing. It raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities like No Kid Hungry, Children’s Medical Fund of NY and Southampton Fresh Air Home. The videos were posted by their manager.
However, as The Chainsmokers got onto stage, social distancing seemed to break down. The promoters In The Know Experience say they did what they could to enforce the rules with announcements, security guards walking the grounds and lines delineating where cars and people should stay. Goldman Sachs CEO, David Solomon, who performs as DJ D Sol, also opened, which raises questions about the company’s views on the crisis as well. The event was sponsored by a hand sanitizer company of all people. The other two events didn’t seem to be official and the artists have not commented on them.
There have been plenty of secret events and official concerts around the world and even in the United States before this and there will plenty more in the coming weeks. People are going to congregate around music. However, this past weekend, the reaction felt different. The music business is dying, especially the live music business, and seeing wealthy white men playing gigs to crowds of largely wealthy white people sent people over the top. The tone deafness is staggering.
In the midst of a pandemic, when many DJs have been without income for five months and are struggling to pay rent, DJs who do not need the income are out there playing gigs that could prolong the pandemic, increase infections and keep music shut down longer. It isn't clear if the DJs were paid fees for these shows, especially if they were charity gigs, but the safety concerns remain. These aren't isolated incidents (see Chase Rice) and not all of the blame should be placed on them, but there needs to be some accountability for the DJs and the promoters.
Promoters need to understand that their actions have consequences for the wider community and that a few bad apples spoil the bunch. Selfishly putting on shows without social distancing, rigorous testing, temperature checks (which are dubious because they don’t catch asymptomatic people) and constant mask wearing will only increase infections and halt re-openings. People take off their masks when they drink and drunk people don't wear masks, so that makes it even harder. As we get into the fall and winter, the financial pain will deepen in colder climates for promoters who can’t throw any sort of event outdoors and can’t safely do anything indoors at limited capacity.
New York State is currently investigating The Chainsmokers concert for flouting the state's own rules on events and social distancing. Dr. Howard Zucker, the NY state health commissioner sent a letter to Southampton’s Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman (who performed at the event), noting that currently "no non-essential gathering is permitted in excess of fifty individuals" and asking several questions about how the event came to be according to Gothamist.
"I am greatly disturbed by reports concerning the 'drive-in' concert held in your town this past weekend, which apparently involved thousands of people in close proximity, out of their vehicles, a VIP area where there was no pretense of a vehicle, and generally not adhering to social distancing guidance," Zucker wrote. "I am at a loss as to how the Town of Southampton could have issued a permit for such an event, how they believed it was legal and not an obvious public health threat."
What will come of this, we will see, or this could just be control freak Governor Andrew Cuomo political posturing. He probably doesn’t want to mess too much with the donor class of the Democratic party over a charity event.
There is no easy solution to this. DJs needs to get back to work and promoters need to get back to putting on shows. The government has proven itself largely incapable of supporting the arts through its PPP program. The Chainsmokers did get some PPP money to cover touring costs. However, endangering the safety of your fans just for a show isn’t the right option now. Cases are exploding across the country and these events, especially where people are close together (see the Lee Burridge video), that can make transmission very easy.
One frequent comment is that this is all a protest, like what electronic music has always been. However, this isn’t in the spirit of protest that dance music was founded on. That was a group of marginalized people seeking a safe space to dance and be themselves away from society's prejudices. Wealthy white people congregating in private or financially exclusive parties where they can afford the health consequences of possibly getting sick during a global pandemic is the opposite. The grocery store worker, security guard, driver, and their grandma who may get sick and has to go to a crowded, understaffed, underfunded emergency room is the consequence of this.