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Scientists held a concert to test live music without social distancing

Primavera Sound trialled rapid testing at the event in December, hoping to bring back live music in 2021

James Manning
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James Manning

It was almost like a normal Saturday night: hundreds of ticketholders arrived at Barcelona’s Sala Apolo on Saturday December 12 to see performances by Renaldo & Clara, Mujeres and DJs Marta Salicrú and Unai Muguruza. People were even allowed to dance.

But this concert was put on by Primavera Sound festival in collaboration with local medical officials. All attendees had to take rapid antigen and PCR tests for the virus before entering. And organisers hoped that the results would show whether live music and nightlife can return in 2021 without social distancing.

Primavera Sound invited its database of contacts to take part, in order to ‘do concerts normally and safely, without losing any of the attractions of the experience of live music’ – like standing, dancing, drinking and mingling with other fans.

And even if you got tickets, you weren’t guaranteed entry. On the day of the concert, all participants who tested negative were be divided into two groups. The first entered the concert; the second did not. Those randomised groups enabled scientists to set up a full clinical trial.

Attendees still had to sanitise their hands and wear masks, and were tested the day before the concert. They also underwent one final test a week later. (Anyone who completed the whole trial got a day ticket for the festival’s next edition.)

The point of the test was ‘to demonstrate the viability of activities like this, if they are carried out under adequate medical and protection conditions’ and with official approval, said festival director Pablo Soler.

Now we’ve finally got the results – and they’re good. The researchers say that running an event like this is ‘not associated with an increase in Covid-19 infections’. In other words: as long as other safety measures – obligatory mask-wearing, hand sanitisation, one-way systems and proper ventilation – are in place, live music can take place without social distancing.

If those results stand up to scrutiny by medical authorities, the Primavera experiment could point the way forward for rapid testing unlocking live music and nightlife again in 2021 – even in smaller venues which haven’t been able to open under strict capacity limits.

Even more excitingly, it could mean a green light for the return of dancing, moshing and all the other non-seated bits that make live music fun – without having to wait for a full vaccine rollout first. And that, dudes, is most excellent news.

Meanwhile, arena concerts are back in Australia – and you can watch Barcelona’s opera house put on a concert for 2,000 plants.

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