As countries across the Global North vaccinate their populations against Covid-19 and exit pandemic-related restrictions, the dance music industry is entering a moral and ethical quagmire. Many want to claw back a sense of normalcy, which includes attending clubs and festivals. Yet while the majority have stayed at home for the last 18 months, a minority have continued to party — and it’s divided the industry.
Often named “plague raves”, in-person events have been the subject of heated online discussions. Governments have been criticised for putting attendees and local populations at risk, and DJs have been criticised for travelling to perform. Artists and promoters have been framed as legitimising potentially dangerous gatherings, particularly in countries with low vaccination rates and poor healthcare infrastructure.
As vaccine programmes roll out across the Global North and stall in the Global South, what responsibilities do those from vaccine-rich countries have when booking, performing at, and travelling to in-person events in vaccine-poor countries? Now, with borders functioning like steel doors, the dance music industry, with its reliance on international tourism, needs to ask itself how it will operate in pandemic times — and in few places are these questions more pertinent than in India.
Much of the exasperation around in-person events in India has been directed towards a handful of European DJs who have played there legally. Charlotte de Witte and Sven Väth have drawn criticism for their early 2021 bookings at tourist- centric venues in Goa like Hilltop and Sunburn. What has been missed in the discussion, though, is that these parties are not a rare few. Since October 2020, the Indian dance music industry has largely continued to operate as normal, with events led almost entirely by Indian artists and promoters.
When the pandemic forced India into the world’s strictest lockdown, 63.1% of live event companies reported up to £90,000 in losses due to cancellations. When restrictions were lifted in October 2020, bookers and artists attempted to make up for lost time. Major cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and New Delhi held limited-capacity events. By the new year, India’s winter party season was in full swing, with international DJs announced for multi-city tours.
Throughout all of this, there was little to no specific legal guidance from the Indian government around hosting in-person music events, apart from the universal sanitisation and social distancing rules. National and state governments have offered no grants or income support schemes. According to a recent study by the Centre for Global Development, the number of people in India who have died due to the pandemic is likely to have exceeded three million, nearly 10 times the Indian government’s official death toll.
With the data supplied by the New York Times and other organisations, this could mean that just over half a billion people in India were infected with Covid-19 by 25th May 2021. If this population were a country, it would be the third most populated in the world, after China and India. One of the study’s authors, a former chief economic adviser to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said, “True deaths are likely to be in the several millions, not hundreds of thousands, making this arguably India’s worst human tragedy.”