Joshu Doherty has been putting on parties for nearly 15 years, but it’s never been this difficult. “The last five months,” he says, “have been harder than I can ever remember.”
Doherty, better known as one half of Posthuman and the brain behind the I Love Acid clubbing brand, is not alone in feeling this. His experience is one shared with promoters of all stripes since Covid-19 restrictions began lifting in England, Scotland, and Wales this summer (clubs in Ireland and Northern Ireland opened in autumn, though venues in the republic were forced to shut again in early December). Party throwers have faced a new set of challenges that social media highlight reels can only do so much to mask, stretching their inherent optimism to its limit as the new year comes around.
“The biggest issue is no-shows on tickets,” says Bugged Out! resident Lemmy Ashton. “Pre-Covid, about 15% of people who bought tickets wouldn’t show up. Now it’s ballooning massively.” According to promoters, bookers, and venue managers DJ Mag speaks with, average no-show figures now hover around 30 to 40%. For a sold-out 1000-capacity venue, that’s a difference of hundreds of people. In North London, The Cause has seen no-shows climb as high as 75 to 80%, resulting in just a handful of people wandering the venue’s labyrinthine expanses.
There are myriad reasons for these drop-outs. Some people don’t want to risk catching the virus in a club before visiting family or heading off on holiday; others are forced to isolate after a housemate or close contact tests positive; rescheduled shows, meanwhile, have been crammed into smaller and smaller windows, making calendar clashes inevitable. Stuart Glen and Eugene Wild, proprietors at The Cause, which will close for good at the end of 2021, suggest that lots of people booked tickets so far in advance — a flurry of purchases followed the government’s roadmap announcement in February 2021 — that by the time the party comes around months later, plans and desires have shifted.
Very few punters are claiming refunds on their unwanted or unused tickets either. While intentions here may be pure — wanting to support promoters by letting them keep the cash — the knock-on is party planners and venues are unable to predict how many people they’ll see through the door. Sold-out-but-empty dances don’t just affect the vibe in the club, they can lump promoters with hefty unexpected fees, as they have to make up minimum bar spend shortfalls from their own pockets. Venues buy in drink stocks and arrange bar and door staff shifts according to expected attendance too. If half the crowd just doesn’t materialise, then everyone’s in the red.