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Liverpool’s First Dance event
The Blessed Madonna at Liverpool’s Circus club. Photograph: Jody Hartley

How the world’s clubs came back to life

The future of our nightlife venues is riding on government-run test events

Huw Oliver
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Huw Oliver
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Clubs, they said, were going to be the last places to reopen. Because let’s be honest: what could be more unhygienic than drinking loads, going out and properly losing yourself in a room full of writhing strangers.

And yet, in certain parts of the world, it’s already happening. In Australia, which has largely avoided the worst of Covid, nightclubs are packed. In Israel, one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, venues can host up to 1,000 indoors. And now several European cities are reopening their clubs too – albeit tentatively, and for very limited crowds. All these one-off events were sanctioned by officials, and their basic aim is to test the viability of reopening nightlife venues this summer.

Sala Apolog
A packed crowd at Barcelona’s Sala Apolo. Photograph: Sala Apolo


Back in December, Barcelona’s Sala Apolo held a masked-yet-non-distanced DJ night where all attendees were rapid-tested beforehand. Then Amsterdam let 1,300 punters attend a concert in March with fluorescent drinks to help monitor saliva transmission. And this Saturday, Paris will welcome 5,000 gig-goers to an arena in the city’s south-east (masks required).

But perhaps 2021’s most ‘authentic’ night out so far was at Liverpool’s Circus club last month. I know because I was there, getting literally vommed on. Within an impressive ten minutes of me arriving, an early casualty had careed out of nowhere and spewed pink puke on my shoes.

Liverpool test event
Ravers at Liverpool’s Circus club. Photograph: Jody Hartley


For eight hours, distancing and masks and hand sanitiser were out. In their place: hugs, snogs and very little general hygiene. Beer flew through the air. People fanned and scythed and finger-wagged. Everyone wanted to chat, and there was a buzz about the room I’ve never experienced.

Otherwise, this was a Big Night Out like any other – the difference being all 3,000 of us had to have had a negative lateral flow test the day before. Movement and air quality were monitored to analyse transmission: it’s hoped the experiment will pave the way to UK clubs reopening from June 21 (or soon after). Promisingly, the authors of the Barcelona study found no one at the event had contracted the virus. So definitely start planning that outfit, but maybe not your best trainers.

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