Queues snake out from nightclub doors and patrons shuffle from foot-to-foot. They’re anxious, excited and waiting for the answer that will decide the future of their night. It’s a possible vision of live music in Berlin in 2021, a familiar scene twisted to match the modern times. The club is KitKat and since early December it’s been one of the city’s many Schnelltest (or rapid test) stations. With results promised in 30 minutes, it’s easy to see why many in Berlin’s hobbled music industry see the rapid tests as the answer to their problems.
In Barcelona, officials have opened up to the possibility. In December, the Fight AIDS and Infectious Diseases Foundation organised a 500-capacity concert with rapid, on-the-door testing. Its results will help scientists understand how the coronavirus spreads in crowds, but rapid tests may not be a viable solution for some time – if ever. They are subject to smudged numbers and worrying inaccuracies, and to rely on them would be to pour gasoline on a fire that rages even as the first round of vaccines edges out of the labs.
Berlin’s venues will remain closed for the foreseeable future, even whenever this hard lockdown is lifted. Those organisations, venues and collectives with the resources to do so will be able to make the shift and weather the storm. The Berliner Philharmoniker’s Digital Concert Hall is in full swing and the CTM Festival will go online this month, broadcasting partly from inside a Minecraft server.
Grassroots organisations and collectives that had struggled to find spaces long before the coronavirus have the dubious advantage of surviving ad-hoc. Collaborations between the institutional heavyweights and innovative up-and-comers, like Volksbühne Digital teaming up with the DJ collective No Shade, showcase exciting new perspectives brought about by reduced budgets. Meanwhile, the upcoming launch of Refuge Worldwide Radio, a fundraising organisation working with grassroots groups in Berlin, is another example of how music can become a platform for good.
On a broader scale, larger players such as Berlin-based VibeLab and Night Time are advocating for international recognition of a Global Nightlife Recovery Plan. The aim is to help cities support local night-time businesses, cultural scenes and livelihoods. Their plan sounds radical, innovating for a truly 24-hour city, but it’s hard to argue against its logic of safe, sanctioned and socially distanced “activations” of the city streets for cultural events. As the weather slowly improves, it presents a solid case for an alternative to the summer’s illegal and impromptu events.
Until then, there’s reason to remain hopeful and engaged. Artists and venues are reacting to the situation with remarkable ingenuity. For its 99th compilation, Dixon’s prestigious Berlin label Innervisions released an augmented-reality record that allows listeners to craft their own remixes. This kind of interactivity may have teething problems, but will likely stick around even after a vaccine arrives. While it’s hard to talk of positives in the face of such a crisis, we can fight for a new, reimagined scene. Rather than plaster over the pre-existing issues with dodgy tests and grand reopenings, we could build something truly new – as Berlin has done before.