Fatboy Slim on DJing at Liverpool’s COVID club pilot: “It didn’t feel like a dream – it was more of a return to reality”
The dance music icon headlined a pilot clubbing event in Liverpool this weekend, DJing for 3,000 people for the first time in 14 months at a trial for nightlife without social distancing. He describes the surreal feeling of being back on stage in front of thousands of ravers
“DJing at ‘The First Dance’ pilot clubnight in Liverpool was an absolute joy! It was a joy that the government was foresighted enough to allow us to do it and it was a joy to, after 14 months, just all be in the room at the same time. It was quite strange to walk in there though, because we’re so used to not being amongst that many people. Stepping back into a club for the first time in so long, it gave me that ‘hairs on the back of your neck’ feeling; tingling with excitement but also a flutter of nerves.
“It was the weirdest feeling and really emotional to see all the old faces, my DJ mates and a crowd who were just so over excited. The atmosphere was electric and the strange thing was that there wasn’t any kind of rustiness; it was like when an old friend you haven’t seen for a year – and then when you see them you just carry on the same conversation you left off on. No one had forgotten how it all works. It was just ‘here we go again!’
“There were a lot of cheers and touching and hugging. It’s weird because you take it for granted being able to touch each other, so I found myself over-hugging strangers – just because I could. But, as soon as you hugged your first person, it was like, ‘ah yeah I remember this’. This intimacy that we’ve had a fear of and a respectful lack of for so long – it’s very much like riding a bike.
“Stepping back on stage and seeing people without their masks on was quite surreal, too. I can’t lie, there was a slight amount of panic because I was worried I might be a bit rusty after not DJing out for 14 months. I only found out I would be playing about three weeks ago and I spent the last three weeks just going through a year’s worth of records that I haven’t played out, just reacquainting myself with my previous job. Because, for the last four months (after 10 months of boredom), I’ve been serving and waitering in a cafe that I own, so it was really good to get back to my old job. I was really nervous until about two minutes in but then I remembered how much I love my job and that interaction and conversation with the crowd.”
“It was amplified by the fact that we haven’t done it for so long, and because we were the chosen few who were lucky to take part in this trial run. I’ve done a few livestreams and it’s amazing how different DJing is when you have an audience. When you can see people and their reactions – the excitement spiralling. Predictably, it wasn’t going to be a difficult gig.
“The tune of both nights – Yousef played it on Friday and I played it on Saturday night – was ‘Free’ by Ultra Naté. It just took on a whole new meaning and life. There was a joyous feeling of freedom, albeit temporary. It was very emotional. There were points throughout the night where people were crying. People were making the most of the freedom, too, and licking each other’s face. It’s safe to say we carried out the experiment to its fullest extent.
“Personally, I felt safe in so much that everybody who came was committed to being part of an experiment. Everybody had to do the COVID-19 tests and fill in the doctors forms; we were aware that we were guinea pigs and opening ourselves up to infection. But, equally, our reward was seven hours off from the restrictions. Everyone was throwing themselves into the spirit of it; there was no one who was going to go there and then be freaked out.
“Yousef, who organised the weekend events with the rest of the CIRCUS team and the government, said he’d been having 4am daily conversations with the scientists and the government for months leading up to it. There were a lot of hoops to jump through, and restrictions, to allow us to be unrestricted. We had to embrace the potential danger of it, in a way.
“Obviously, I was about the only person in the room old enough to have been vaccinated. One weird thing was that the security staff were all wearing masks because they weren’t involved in the experiment and there were random scientists walking around with clipboards doing little checks – they were checking the airflow system and had little monitors on wire cages on the walls.
“But then when we left, we quickly realised it’s just a one-off thing. As soon as we got back in the car to drive back to the hotel, it was like ‘masks back on’. Obviously, we’ll see from the results on Wednesday when we all do our tests, but in terms of it being in a controlled environment, from our point of view, it was a total success. It’s weird because on social media everyone is saying they’re so jealous but they’re realising that – hopefully – this is the beginning of the door opening for gigs and for DJs.”
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“Anything we can do to speed up the responsible return to normality is good. And the commitment from the government to think about doing it is great as there was a definite feeling that we were going to be last on the list of their priorities and things to reopen. Doing it in a controlled scientific manner, it’s great that the government has acknowledged that it’s worth spending money to hurry along our return to work because, for a while, everybody in arts and culture felt left out. We’ve already ascertained they don’t really believe the nightlife industry contributes that much in the economy. It did feel like we were being forgotten in the restructuring and rebuilding of the economy.”
“So well done to the government for at least giving us a chance to test out and see what happens. I think the scientists will learn an awful lot from what we did this weekend. Hopefully, they’ll learn much from our behaviour – but the main thing they’ll probably note down is that people like to do a lot of communal singing. We definitely tried that out. Everyone, like me, will have a very sore throat from shouting at all their mates over the music. Who knew the thing that would be most out of condition would be our tonsils?
“It didn’t feel like ‘this is a dream’, though; it felt more like a return to reality. Just back to normal. It almost felt like all the social distancing and masks were the dream.”
As told to Ben Jolley
Fatboy Slim will be embarking on a UK arena tour this November. Visit here for tickets and more information,