Belgian DJs touring abroad during the pandemic: both sides of the argument

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Despite the risks involved, some Belgian DJs decide to travel abroad to play shows. 

There are two sides to this story. One of the DJ that wants to protect his livelihood, and of the people who think it's irresponsible to travel and play shows, sometimes with dubious health precautions.

Clubs and festivals have not been able to organize proper parties for over a year now. Last summer, we saw events that try to cater to the raver's needs as much as possible within the legally allowed framework, but none of those could replace the real deal. Since the second lockdown, virtually nothing has happened in the event industry at all. As Belgium was sliding into this strictly no-event season and artists started dealing with increasing pressure, we started seeing DJs do their thing elsewhere. Many places around the world like India, Tanzania, Russia, Egypt or, more recently, Mexico have become the prime destination for anyone around the world who wants (and can pay for) a real party. These are the only places on the globe that allow dance events and don’t require a strict quarantine upon arriving (Israel, Australia and New Zealand allow music events but have strict immigration policies).

In recent months, DJs travelling to these places for a gig have come under scrutiny from the music community, who have labelled these artists as plague rave DJs. After all, they are putting themselves and many other people at risk by participating in this industry. This critique seemed to have hit a peak around the holiday season, but as vaccine rollouts have been going in the right direction globally (although catastrophic exceptions are plentiful), the discussion requires an update. However, the fact remains that events with hundreds of people are taking place, and DJs are flying around the world to play them – some of whom Belgian. To provide more nuance in a very heated debate, we spoke to people on both sides of the argument.

The conversation about this topic has radicalized completely.

Not everything is what it seems

Jochem Peeters, an artist booker at Kurious who represents dozens of Belgian DJs, says things aren't as straightforward as both sides might think. "I can't say booking requests are flying in, but when we receive an enquiry, we always contact our artist for an open conversation", he explains. "The decision is always theirs; it’s my duty to explain the risks involved. Reality has shown us that we often can’t trust a government or promoter to communicate openly about infection and hospitalization rates because they'll have their reasons to minimize the risk. Wherever they go, DJs have to go into quarantine upon return, which we take very seriously, and that's usually the part when most DJs decline".

The biggest argument travelling DJs make for their case is that they are not doing anything illegal and – if they follow the rules – they have no reason to say no. "If the Belgian and Mexican government allow me to travel, and the promoter does everything by the books, I feel it's unfair the DJs get targeted for it online”, explains Mark V., a Belgian DJ who went to Tulum for a series of gigs and who wishes to remain anonymous. In theory, that’s true, but there’s a bigger picture that gets overlooked. “I decline every offer I receive”, says house producer Nico Morano. “The first thing I did when I got asked to play in Egypt was asking my friends over there what the situation is really like. They told me that the authorities have no capacity to deal with a major pandemic and its implications and that they keep these industries running because they can't afford the economic costs of losing tourism". 

"The situation is different in every country, and every country has different reasons to keep the event industry open", says Peeters. "But that's what it often boils down to: too often, the risks are swept under the rug. Many of the world's biggest DJs are in Tulum right now, playing events with over 1000 people and no mask in sight. Promoters have become aware of the backlash and impose no-camera policies. That doesn't feel right if you ask me". This policy has recently been backed by the Mexican authorities, who have implemented a decree that states that visitors of music events should hand over their mobile phones during the events. This measure aims to minimize the spread of party pictures and videos and the unwanted attention it brings with it.

The situation is different everywhere, and every country has different reasons to keep the event industry open. Too often the risks are swept under the rug.

As sources show, the claim that places like Tulum don’t have a Covid-19 problem has proven to be false. India is dealing with a horrible new outbreak, while many international DJs were doing tours just a few weeks ago. Additionally, there’s the inequality argument; most of these parties are visited by a lucky few that can afford it and don't seem to think about the broader implications this might have. Are these DJs doing anything illegal? No. Are they responsible for the crisis? No. Did they indirectly contribute to the problem? They probably did.

The backlash can be brutal. A long year filled with frustration has left a large part of the music industry more dedicated to their beliefs, and tempers get heated on social media. Influential artists like Dave Clarke, Carl Cox and Bicep have railed against these travelling DJs, blaming them for a severe lack of responsibility during a time that demands solidarity. "I think the public naming and shaming of DJs that decide to leave is a bridge too far”, says Peeters. “That’s not helping anyone; we should be having a constructive dialogue, but the conversation has been completely radicalized”.

Why do it? And why don’t?

“On the one hand, it felt amazing to play in front of actual people again”, explains our anonymous source Mark. “But on the other hand, I felt scared too”. “It's a weird feeling of relief and stress at the same time”, says Steven C., another Belgian DJ who just returned home from a round of gigs in Tulum and who wishes to stay anonymous too. "I doubted for a long time, but after two lockdowns and a frustrating year without any perspective, I needed to change my approach", he continues. "I expected we would have made some progress by now. It’s like I'm on my own. I don't receive any benefits, money was running out fast, the offers kept coming, and I wouldn't be doing anything illegal. In Tulum, everything is outdoors, you need to show a negative rapid test before entering any event, and there are testing facilities all over the place. So at one point, I just went for it".

DJing is my life, my passion; I’m not made to play for a camera, I longed for a real human connection.

“I was sick of all these livestreams”, continues Mark. “DJing is my life, my passion; I’m not made to play for a camera, I longed for a real human connection”. The fact that not everything is what it seems in Tulum has proven itself quite dramatically, as Mark returned from Mexico with a Covid-infection and became severely ill. “I took the risk, and I knew this could happen, so that’s on me”, he says.

So, what made Morano decide to decline these bookings? “I’m an obedient person who doesn’t like to break the rules”, he explains. "I've been watching from the sidelines as everyone made hefty arguments in both directions. So, in the end, I'm left with a feeling of utter confusion. I acknowledge I don't know enough about the subject and I just don't have a good feeling with those promoters, so I decided not to take any bookings. I sure do feel that itch to leave – and I must admit those Tulum Instagram Stories look tempting, but I also know that the problem will linger on for much longer if I go there. In the end, I want this pandemic to go away, and touring is perpetuating that problem. On the flip side, I've never made more new music”!

To post or not to post

Perhaps the biggest frustration many critics have is that touring DJs often make conscious decisions to hide any information about their shows. “If you decide to go, then you should stand by your decision”, says our anonymous source Steven. “I remain careful, of course – posting a lot of pictures will lead to controversy - but I certainly didn't mind posting a few Instagram Stories. "I get why other DJs don't – it’s the same reason why I choose to remain anonymous here – this whole debate has become toxic, and the reactions can be vicious”. But that doesn’t matter to others. “If these touring DJs would just be as open about their current gigs as they would be about every other detail they share, they wouldn’t be dealing with such a backlash”, says Morano. “Honesty is the best policy”.

The pandemic has made artists nervous about becoming irrelevant once the industry takes off again.

The pandemic has also made artists nervous about becoming irrelevant once events start happening again over here. "And that's why connecting with people in real life is so important", says Steven. "If bookers start to make big plans soon, you have to make sure they’re thinking of you – and I bet they haven’t watched that livestream”.

In the meantime, there’s a general feeling that things are slowly moving in the right direction again amongst people in Belgium, and when we do arrive at a point clubs and festivals can take place again, the lineups will be more local. “I think the demand for parties will be so high – and the risks to book big international DJs with ever-growing fees so big – that we’ll see a lot more locals on the bill”, concludes Peeters. “However, I also believe it’s naïve to think the careers of these touring DJs will be impacted in any meaningful way”. For those wondering where this discussion will end: let's retain an open dialogue and make sure we can go back to safe raving once we can.

"},{"type":"text","text":"","key":1619457798,"id":3,"description":"

Not everything is what it seems

Jochem Peeters, an artist booker at Kurious who represents dozens of Belgian DJs, says things aren't as straightforward as both sides might think. \"I can't say booking requests are flying in, but when we receive an enquiry, we always contact our artist for an open conversation\", he explains. \"The decision is always theirs; it’s my duty to explain the risks involved. Reality has shown us that we often can’t trust a government or promoter to communicate openly about infection and hospitalization rates because they'll have their reasons to minimize the risk. Wherever they go, DJs have to go into quarantine upon return, which we take very seriously, and that's usually the part when most DJs decline\".

\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nThe biggest argument travelling DJs make for\ntheir case is that they are not doing anything illegal and – if they follow the\nrules – they have no reason to say no. \"If the Belgian and Mexican\ngovernment allow me to travel, and the promoter does everything by the books, I\nfeel it's unfair the DJs get targeted for it online”, explains Mark V., a Belgian DJ who went to Tulum for a series of gigs and who wishes to remain anonymous.\nIn theory, that’s true, but there’s a bigger picture that gets overlooked. “I decline every offer I receive”, says house producer Nico\nMorano. “The first thing I did when I got asked to play in Egypt was asking my friends over there what the\nsituation is really like. They told me that the authorities have no\ncapacity to deal with a major pandemic and its implications and that they keep\nthese industries running because they can't afford the economic costs of losing\ntourism\". 

\"The situation is different in every country, and every\ncountry has different reasons to keep the event industry open\", says Peeters.\n\"But that's what it often boils down to: too often, the risks are swept\nunder the rug. Many of the world's biggest DJs are in Tulum right now, playing\nevents with over 1000 people and no mask in sight. Promoters have become aware\nof the backlash and impose no-camera policies. That doesn't feel right if you\nask me\". This policy has recently been backed by the Mexican authorities, who have implemented a decree that states that visitors of music events should hand over their mobile phones during the events. This measure aims to minimize the spread of party pictures and videos and the unwanted attention it brings with it.

"},{"type":"quote","quote":"The situation is different everywhere, and every country has different reasons to keep the event industry open. Too often the risks are swept under the rug.","key":1619512600,"id":4},{"credits":"- Nico Morano, who chooses to decline all incoming bookings.","image":{"orientation":"landscape","images":[{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-600x401.jpg","filename":"b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-600x401.jpg","type":"thumb"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-401x600.jpg","filename":"b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-401x600.jpg","type":"thumb-portrait"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-1200x802.jpg","filename":"b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-1200x802.jpg","type":"normal"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-802x1200.jpg","filename":"b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-802x1200.jpg","type":"normal-portrait"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-802x802.jpg","filename":"b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-802x802.jpg","type":"cover"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-2000x1336.jpg","filename":"b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-2000x1336.jpg","type":"big"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-1336x2000.jpg","filename":"b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-1336x2000.jpg","type":"big-portrait"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-1200x630.jpg","filename":"b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706-1200x630.jpg","type":"og"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706.jpg","filename":"b4938cc62837eb0ad9eb70ab03c60706.jpg","type":"original"}]},"id":5,"key":1619461550,"url":"","type":"image"},{"description":"

As sources show, the claim that places like Tulum don’t have a Covid-19 problem has proven to be false. India is dealing with a horrible new outbreak, while many international DJs were doing tours just a few weeks ago. Additionally, there’s the inequality argument; most of these parties are visited by a lucky few that can afford it and don't seem to think about the broader implications this might have. Are these DJs doing anything illegal? No. Are they responsible for the crisis? No. Did they indirectly contribute to the problem? They probably did.

\n\n\n\nThe backlash can be brutal. A long year filled\nwith frustration has left a large part of the music industry more dedicated to\ntheir beliefs, and tempers get heated on social media. Influential artists like\nDave Clarke, Carl Cox and Bicep have railed against these\ntravelling DJs, blaming them for a severe lack of responsibility during a time\nthat demands solidarity. \"I think the public naming and shaming of DJs\nthat decide to leave is a bridge too far”, says Peeters. “That’s not helping\nanyone; we should be having a constructive dialogue, but the conversation has\nbeen completely radicalized”.

Why do it? And why don’t?

\n\n\n\n

“On the one hand, it felt amazing to play in front of actual people again”, explains our anonymous source Mark. “But on the other hand, I felt scared too”. “It's a weird feeling of relief and stress at the same time”, says Steven C., another Belgian DJ who just returned home from a round of gigs in Tulum and who wishes to stay anonymous too. \"I doubted for a long time, but after two lockdowns and a frustrating year without any perspective, I needed to change my approach\", he continues. \"I expected we would have made some progress by now. It’s like I'm on my own. I don't receive any benefits, money was running out fast, the offers kept coming, and I wouldn't be doing anything illegal. In Tulum, everything is outdoors, you need to show a negative rapid test before entering any event, and there are testing facilities all over the place. So at one point, I just went for it\".

","id":6,"key":1619450497,"text":"","type":"text"},{"id":7,"key":1619495623,"quote":"DJing is my life, my passion; I’m not made to play for a camera, I longed for a real human connection.","type":"quote"},{"html":"

Hernan Cattaneo B2B Nick Warren at The Soundgarden Tulum 🌴🌴🌴

Full covid protocol including proof of vaccination or recent negative covid test required for entry. Sanitation & temperature check on arrival #Tulum #TheSoundgarden #dj #NickWarren #HernanCattaneo pic.twitter.com/b44PntrVys

— The Soundgarden (@The_Soundgarden) April 23, 2021
","id":8,"key":1619523459,"quote":"","type":"codeblock","disableResize":true},{"description":"

“I was sick of all these livestreams”, continues Mark. “DJing is my life, my passion; I’m not made to play for a camera, I longed for a real human connection”. The fact that not everything is what it seems in Tulum has proven itself quite dramatically, as Mark returned from Mexico with a Covid-infection and became severely ill. “I took the risk, and I knew this could happen, so that’s on me”, he says.

\n\n\n\n

So, what made Morano decide to decline these bookings? “I’m an obedient person who doesn’t like to break the rules”, he explains. \"I've been watching from the sidelines as everyone made hefty arguments in both directions. So, in the end, I'm left with a feeling of utter confusion. I acknowledge I don't know enough about the subject and I just don't have a good feeling with those promoters, so I decided not to take any bookings. I sure do feel that itch to leave – and I must admit those Tulum Instagram Stories look tempting, but I also know that the problem will linger on for much longer if I go there. In the end, I want this pandemic to go away, and touring is perpetuating that problem. On the flip side, I've never made more new music”!

\n\n\n\n

To post or not to post

\n\n\n\n

Perhaps the biggest frustration many critics have is that touring DJs often make conscious decisions to hide any information about their shows. “If you decide to go, then you should stand by your decision”, says our anonymous source Steven. “I remain careful, of course – posting a lot of pictures will lead to controversy - but I certainly didn't mind posting a few Instagram Stories. \"I get why other DJs don't – it’s the same reason why I choose to remain anonymous here – this whole debate has become toxic, and the reactions can be vicious”. But that doesn’t matter to others. “If these touring DJs would just be as open about their current gigs as they would be about every other detail they share, they wouldn’t be dealing with such a backlash”, says Morano. “Honesty is the best policy”.

","id":9,"key":1619466389,"text":"","type":"text"},{"id":10,"key":1619469282,"quote":"The pandemic has made artists nervous about becoming irrelevant once the industry takes off again.","type":"quote"},{"credits":"- Jochem Peeters, artist booker at Kurious","image":{"orientation":"landscape","images":[{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-600x401.jpg","filename":"c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-600x401.jpg","type":"thumb"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-401x600.jpg","filename":"c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-401x600.jpg","type":"thumb-portrait"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-1200x802.jpg","filename":"c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-1200x802.jpg","type":"normal"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-802x1200.jpg","filename":"c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-802x1200.jpg","type":"normal-portrait"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-802x802.jpg","filename":"c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-802x802.jpg","type":"cover"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-2000x1336.jpg","filename":"c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-2000x1336.jpg","type":"big"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-1336x2000.jpg","filename":"c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-1336x2000.jpg","type":"big-portrait"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-1200x630.jpg","filename":"c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5-1200x630.jpg","type":"og"},{"url":"https://i.redbullelektropedia.be/c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5.jpg","filename":"c8fcf74a5052b6d38ad890cd9e6326f5.jpg","type":"original"}]},"id":11,"key":1619503511,"url":"","type":"image"},{"description":"

The pandemic has also made artists nervous about becoming irrelevant once events start happening again over here. \"And that's why connecting with people in real life is so important\", says Steven. \"If bookers start to make big plans soon, you have to make sure they’re thinking of you – and I bet they haven’t watched that livestream”.

\n\n\n\n

In the meantime, there’s a general feeling that things are slowly moving in the right direction again amongst people in Belgium, and when we do arrive at a point clubs and festivals can take place again, the lineups will be more local. “I think the demand for parties will be so high – and the risks to book big international DJs with ever-growing fees so big – that we’ll see a lot more locals on the bill”, concludes Peeters. “However, I also believe it’s naïve to think the careers of these touring DJs will be impacted in any meaningful way”. For those wondering where this discussion will end: let's retain an open dialogue and make sure we can go back to safe raving once we can.

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