Interviews

Long live the dancefloor

Words by Allyssia Alleyne
Photos by Luis Nieto-Dickens for Elsewhere

When the pandemic forced the closure of clubs, many wondered if the dancefloor would ever recover. Here, London and Brooklyn promoters share their stories of the snapback

Nadine Noor Ahmad still remembers that first night back on the dancefloor in September 2021. Pxssy Palace, the club night they co-founded for queer womxn, non-binary and trans people of colour in 2015, was back at Colour Factory in Hackney Wick for its first party since London went into lockdown in March 2020. A thousand guests showed up for the sold-out event – dancing, kissing and even taking to the runway to perform. Behind the main stage, the words “Home is where the dance is” glowed bright. 

For Ahmad, this line has long been a personal maxim. “The dancefloor has felt like my home even more than the place that I was staying at whatever time. And I think a lot of queer people, they feel that, too,” they explain. “I was so fucking overwhelmed that night, but in a good way. Obviously, there was not much going on during lockdown, so I was like, ‘Oh my god, someone’s outfit! Oh my god, someone’s dancing!’ Everywhere I looked, there were so many beautiful things happening at once.” 

The success of Pxssy Palace’s return – and of its next two monthly parties, which also sold out almost instantly – seemed to quash any doubts about the return of the dancefloor in a post-pandemic scene. (“Will clubbing survive the pandemic?” asked one Guardian headline last April.) But it seemed clubbers were not only willing, but eager, to breathe and sweat all over strangers to an electronic soundtrack.

Pxssy Palace were far from the only ones to find themselves fielding high demand after two years of on-and-off lockdowns: last summer, dance music events were some of DICE’s most popular draws. Between July and September 2021, we sold more tickets to electronic music events across France, Spain, Italy, the UK and the US than any other genre.

And those tickets often sold quickly, too: in the last six months of 2021, all three of La Terrrazza’s reopening events sold out within a week; tickets to Peggy Gou and Helena Hauff's event at Nitsa went within hours; and Ben Böhmer’s show at The Roundhouse sold out in less than 60 minutes.  

The
dancefloor
has
felt
like
my
home
even
more
than
the
place
that
I
was
staying

But it wasn’t just major acts and parties pulling them in. Last summer, Elsewhere, the three-storey nightclub and music venue in Brooklyn, drew huge crowds at short notice with relatively unknown local artists and DJs – a feat that was practically unheard of for the venue, which had historically relied on touring talent with large, loyal followings to fill the rooms.

The first weekend Elsewhere was able to put on unseated events on their rooftop, in June 2021, talent buyer Sean Clements and his team converted three 100-person seated shows into 700-person general admission events in less than a week. “The acts we booked were really great DJs, but I wasn’t expecting them to sell out a 600-cap or 700-cap room. But the minute I flipped it, sales just picked up,” says Clements. 

On the first night, Elsewhere brought in local DJs Niara Sterling and Marco Weibel to play. “It was a really amazing moment. They were doing some house stuff and then, later in the night, went into some good amapiano, which is a little bit newer for our crowd, and people were going in on it. There was a crowd that was just coming because things had reopened and they were like, ‘We’re just gonna go party.’” 

For all of the practical anxieties that surrounded the return of the dancefloor, it was somewhat inevitable – especially among die-hard fans. According to Danielle Hidalgo, an associate professor at California State University, Chico, and author of Dance Music Spaces – a new book about authenticity and commercialism within club culture – these sites have always been prized by fans for their “extra special” traits, such as the sound quality, the lighting, the way the dancefloor is set up, and, in some contexts, the friendliness of attendees. 

“In decades of academic work, folks have been talking about the import of rave spaces, or the import of these dance music spaces. It’s really about connection, and also having access to a space where they can experience some kind of release from the everyday. And then also, some clubbers talk about these moments of transformation or transcendence,” says Hidalgo. 

In recent interviews she’s done with clubbers about their pandemic experiences, Hidalgo says many reported that “there was a loss, that they didn’t have access to those kinds of experiences, and that those experiences were really important to their mental health.” 

For marginalised communities, Ahmad believes that sense of loss cut even deeper. “For queer and trans Black and Brown people, the club has always been more than a club,” they said. “Over the six years that I’ve been doing Pxssy Palace, so many people have come in and said that they weren’t sure [about their identity] and the dancefloor was a place where they could discover themselves. It’s amazing how much representation and seeing other people living their unapologetic free lives around you can make you feel empowered to figure out who you are, too.  

“The club has become more of a place where you can feel free to be who you are and discover yourself because, unfortunately, we’re not supported enough in the daytime to be our full selves, and increasingly the outside world has become a little bit scarier,” says Ahmad, pointing out that reports of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes skyrocketed during the pandemic. 

It’s
really
about
connection,
and
also
having
access
to
a
space
where
they
can
experience
some
kind
of
release
from
the
everyday

Since Pxssy Palace’s first post-lockdown event in September, life in London has, in many ways, returned to normal. That return to normal has touched Pxssy Palace, too: sales still regularly exceed pre-pandemic numbers, but the urgency has subsided, with tickets selling gradually after they go on sale, rather than all at once. (Ahmad is unbothered, though: “As exciting as it is to sell out within minutes or a few days or within a week, it also feels unfair to people like me, who don’t know where they’re going to go until the very last minute.”) 

Clements has noticed a similar shift at Elsewhere, with demand for events returning to “more or less to what we were used to” before the pandemic. “It’s not like it’s way less exciting, but there’s so much more going on and people are really getting back to normal life right now. People are boosted, and jobs are coming back and all that stuff, so it’s definitely slightly more of a lift to market these events now, compared to last year, where it was a lot more automatic.”

However, Clements remains optimistic going into New York’s second post-lockdown summer. “It’s not really in people’s minds that they will retract from what they have going on right now, so I think it’ll be a really fun summer. We’re expecting that, and to have some really cool bookings coming up that we missed out on in 2020, and hopefully more artists and more people being able to travel to Elsewhere without having to worry so much,” he says. “So yeah, I’m really excited.”

We’re on a mission to get people out more