“My energy levels have never returned to what they were,” says London-based DJ and broadcaster DEBONAIR. “I don’t have the muscle strength and energy that I did two years ago, because I’ve had a chronic illness for so long.”
DEBONAIR suffers from long Covid, an illness affecting an estimated 1.3 million people in the UK, according to the Office of National Statistics [ONS]. 18% of those surveyed by the ONS reported that their ability to undertake day-to-day activities has been limited. By one estimate, over 100 million people worldwide will have developed long Covid symptoms six months after recovery. These can include heart palpitations, fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”), insomnia, dizziness and a range of mental health issues. As the scope of testing widens, the number of patients reporting long Covid symptoms is also increasing. In the UK, one in 10 people are reporting symptoms that last for 12 weeks or longer.
In turn, long Covid is affecting those who work in dance music. Whether it’s in audience-facing positions as DJs, or behind-the-scenes as event producers, programmers or writers, dance music — with its emphasis on late nights and lengthy events — is facing a challenge in how to deal with this new, widespread illness.
Community is at the root of dance music, yet the very act of being together indoors in club spaces heightens the risk of catching the virus — which, in turn, can lead to long Covid, an illness that the industry seems unsure of how to handle. Whether it’s a lack of empathy, or lack of understanding of why people can’t regularly perform to the best of their abilities, there needs to be a safety net for those who require extensive periods of recovery.
After contracting the virus at the onset of the pandemic, DEBONAIR’s anxiety increased. The 35-year-old had “absolutely crazy” heart palpitations, despite never having experienced heart issues before. “I’ve gone through different phases,” DEBONAIR explains. “I’ve been bed bound and haven’t had the energy to digest food. I haven’t been able to eat full meals for long periods. But it’s also not been at all linear. I’m doing better now, but I certainly don’t have the health I did before.”
As a broadcaster and DJ, long Covid diminishes DEBONAIR’s ability to perform. For a decade, she’d presented a regular show on NTS Radio, but with long Covid, she found it a “real struggle” to maintain it. “I was finding it a lot harder to be sharp, to think clearly and find words, which, as a presenter, is obviously a real issue,” she admits. When clubs reopened in 2021, DEBONAIR found performing to a high-energy crowd taxing. The path she had built up as an artist was severely under threat.