Industry Red Alert

When things hit the fan in the middle of March most people in the nightlife community who were paying attention knew we were in some trouble.  While a month of no gigs would be a significant blow to the finances, it wouldn’t be enough to ruin us.  Two months might take some significant finessing, strict budgeting and odd jobs, but we can roll with the punches for the greater good. 

Here we are 6 months later. 

A good portion of the smaller capacity nightclubs opened early in the summer and some have fared better than others with some managing to stay open with limited nights/hours, strict new policies and no exposure incidents.  Some experienced low risk exposure events and were forced to temporary close, upgrade their venues to meet safety specifications, and then allowed to reopen.  It seems that the government was doing a good job working with industry to make our venues safer.  They definitely did become safer.  Much safer than any private gathering with no security staff, safety guidelines, and built in contact tracing through Vancouver’s Bar Watch program. 

Unfortunately, with daily infection numbers reaching the highest levels of the pandemic last week, the hammer came down the day after Labor Day.  Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry dropped the bomb and closed all nightclubs and banquet halls, and imposed restrictions on alcohol at restaurants stopping sales at 10pm.   It felt like familiar snapback to reality of the first day back to school as a kid.  That snap in the air and cruel slap in the face of that first early morning saying… Summer’s over, time to get to work! 

Only for all the DJs, entertainers, sound techs, bartenders and security staff it most definitely is not back to work and this is a whole lot more existential than the back to school blues.  The very next day the first casualty was reported when Gastown mainstay The Metropole Pub was forced to close its doors for good.  I’ve played there and I have DJ friends that have been rocking that spot for years, so it drives the point home pretty hard.  

The 10pm alcohol curfew for restaurants needs to be reassessed.   Trust me, I get the inherent dangers with nightclubs, and those of us who rely on these establishments as clients and employers know that for most of the population, you probably care about our industry the least, but robbing establishments who have made significant changes to make their venues safer and rely on the later hours to make ends meet could be a nail in the coffin for half of these businesses in the city.  What are the economic and downstream health consequences of that? Don’t punish all the establishments who are abiding by new health protocols for the sins of those being irresponsible, yank the licenses of those who aren’t taking it seriously.   

Another interesting point is that most venues have been closed for months now, yet cases continue the climb. I’m all for mitigation efforts and enhanced safety protocols, but industry wide closures seem like a blunt and draconian economic gamble that may need to be explored further. I’m glad other regions are doing things differently because when everything is said and done we need a clear path for dealing with public health emergencies in the future without relegating thousands to bankruptcy, mental health trauma and suicide. If everyone did the same thing we wouldn’t really have a clue.

Reality is, this is just the beginning, things are going to get worse before they get better, and there isn’t much we can do about it.  At least the government has been proactive in getting CERB payments to people in need, but at this point it’s not enough.  I don’t want to hear anybody bitching about people taking it.  WE ALL WANT TO WORK.  The government is deciding that we should make the sacrifice for the greater good and I’m all for it, but we should be compensated for it.  The CERB should continue indefinitely to those being told by the government they can’t work and further to that, there should be additional compensation for those in the hardest hit sectors like entertainment, tourism and hospitality.  We were the first to close, and we’ll be the last to open up.  

Also, while I’ve got you, on behalf of all the artists and technicians who have been honing their crafts and building their businesses for years if not decades, take your “just get another job and do something else”, turn it sideways and find a really dark place to leave it.   Plenty of us have put significant efforts into finding new employment opportunities, but I don’t know if you’ve ever applied for a job in a pandemic, but it’s not exactly a walk in the park.  Sure, there’s a labor shortage in BC, but asking a guitar player to do a construction labor job is probably about as suitable as asking a drywaller with no musical experience to play keyboards in a cover band.  

There has got to be a better way.   

Perhaps in the future if we find ourselves down this road again, the government will have some contingency plans and jobs programs for placing these displaced workers in suitable roles. 

You know what a lot of entertainers are good at?  Self-promotion, media and marketing.  The average DJ or musician has significant skills and experience in the world of social media.  Maybe if you paired these people with businesses looking to fill these types of roles it might make this situation a bit better and result in less people needing government assistance.  Just a thought. 

With British Columbia recording its highest infection rate of the pandemic yesterday at 165, and hospitalization rates continuing to climb, it’s looking like the coming months are going to be a dark and long affair.  

Buckle up.  Winter is coming.  

What’s the situation looking like in your neck of the woods?  Give us an update in the comments, we’re curious how other jurisdictions are handling the situation.  

Jamie “JT James” Thirsk is a DJ, producer and writer based out of Vancouver, Canada.   A veteran of the DJ and recording worlds. he has produced several projects in the genres of hip hop and electronic music under various aliases such as James Divine, Track Nicholson and Sandy Villanova.  When he’s not on the decks, in the studio or staring into a blank word document you can catch him at the beach, hiking through the forest or telling people how much yoga can change their life.  Look out for his latest collaboration with James Landau, Wulvun, and their debut single ‘Far Away’ streaming now on all major platforms.

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