Please Be Careful If You’re Protesting This Weekend



Photography: Aiyush Pachnanda


How can racecourses be filled with thousands, but small club events of even 1-200 people can’t even happen?

How can stadiums be filled with tens of thousands of football fans, but festivals a quarter of that size can’t go ahead?

From a raver or DJ’s perspective, we have reached one of the most frustrating points of the whole COVID experience so far. The goalposts have been moved so many times. The live events, hospitality and music industry has been let down on multiple occasions, yet they’ve jumped through so many hoops to find solutions at every stage since things began opening up in July 2020. It feels that the industry which all forms of music thrives off is right at the bottom of the government’s priorities.

People are angry. Livelihoods are at stake. Organisations, venues, businesses, all their staff, all individual artists and everyone else involved within one of Britain’s prized cultural sectors have lost staggering amounts of income and suffered acute health problems. Tragically, many haven’t made it through this.

This is where we are at exactly 15 months into pandemic-related restrictions on our personal freedoms and people are taking to the streets, enraged at the double standards shown by the UK government and so many other issues that surround the lockdown. Freedom protests have been happening globally including daily marches in London and two major marches are happening this weekend.

Saturday June 26 will see crowds gather for the Freedom March organised by Stand Up X, which a protest against all lockdown restrictions imposed on all individuals and sectors and issues such as imposed vaccine programs, masks and vaccine passports.

Sunday June 27 will see a separate protest organised specifically for the music industry run by the Save Our Scene group called Freedom To Dance. It’s been organised with the authorities and promoted with a festival-style line-up.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Save Our Scene UK (@saveoursceneuk)

“This Sunday is a big fat warning shot,” states Save Our Scene founder George Fleming. “If they don’t open the clubs and hospitality industry on July 19 we will be there fighting daily until they do. It’s quite obvious we’re safe to open. There have been pilot events where 58,000 took part and only 15 caught COVID, five of which were caught at home. What is their reasoning? Especially when 20,000 can gather in Leicester square for the football. It feels like an attack on the one industry that makes life worth living. Where would we be without it?”

Capturing the feeling of many artists and industry professionals, the Freedom To Dance march is expected to be one of the largest single industry demonstrations in years and is a huge operation promising big production and even bigger line-ups with significant figures across house, techno, bass and D&B all representing the frustrations at how the music industry has been treated by the UK government. The protest’s name references the Freedom To Party demonstration that happened on January 27 1990 when ravers gathered on Trafalgar Square against the government’s heavy handed Criminal Justice Bill which was designed to quash the country’s thriving free party and rave scene. The similarities end there, however. Sunday’s event looks set to attract a lot more than the estimated 8,000 who protested 31 years ago and it’s been run with approval from the authorities. This, as well as the timing of the march, has caused division for many music fans and industry professionals.

“I feel what the Freedom To Dance protest is doing is divisive and the day they chose was unnecessary,” states a well known DJ and promoter who wishes to remain anonymous. “We should be there on the Saturday regardless of where you’re pro or anti vaccine, that means nothing. We should be there in numbers supporting each other. To hold the Freedom To Dance protest this Sunday is not helpful. It’s confused and divided people. People are dying out here, starving and suffering terrible mental health. This isn’t about putting on a festival and dancing in the street. They could have done it on another day.”

The persistent division that seems entrenched in all aspects of society right now is rife among all conversations regarding this weekend’s marches. Criticism has been made that the Freedom To Dance demonstration potentially dilutes the whole case the live industry has been fighting since the WeAreViable campaign. Meanwhile criticisms have been made of Saturday’s march from individuals who aren’t against the vaccine and don’t share all of the freedom protestors views.

Fundamentally, everyone wants the same thing: to get back to some type of pre 2020 sense of normality and enjoy the same level of freedoms we had back then. Unfortunately for some that’s where the similarities end and the focus of the debate surrounding the protests remains on the issue of vaccines.

“We are not against the Freedom march at all,” states Fleming. “I am pro-choice. I don’t think we should require vaccine passports to get into a venue and I definitely don’t think children should take it. That’s that. But we don’t want to take the conversation away from music. For us the conversation is music and music only.”

Many industry figures agree and will be performing and protesting at the Freedom To Dance march on Sunday and fully back the event’s message. Observations have also been made, however, that one or two of the DJs on the line-up have expressed anti-vaccine views on their social media while others have been rumoured to perform at ‘plague raves’ during lockdown, which does devalue their appearance at the government-approved event. The fact the protest has been promoted as a festival with tiered line-up announcement phases and major production expenses, when the industry has fighting tirelessly for raves to happen during all this time, has also been questioned.

“We are fighting for the same thing,” says Fleming. “The reason we picked Sunday was because a lot of DJs couldn’t get involved on the Saturday due to commitments. We’ve got a massive load of production coming, worth half a million. It needs to be signed off by the police. We are solely for the music industry and the industry only. That’s what our previous protests have been for. I totally respect the freedom march on Saturday, I respect what they’re fighting against, but we didn’t want to get our message confused with everyone else’s.”

A common saying that’s floated around the internet during this last year has gone along the lines of ‘we’re not in the same boat, but we are in the same storm – some are on yachts, others have only one oar’. Right now it feels like the events and hospitality industry’s last oar has snapped and the dinghy has about 100 holes and deflating rapidly. For some promoters, agents, artists and individuals within the more underground and niche corners of dance music, who’ve been working tirelessly at grassroots level during the COVID restrictions, it feels like the Freedom To Dance protest has cruised in like a super-yacht at the last minute. For many others, it seems more like a life jacket. A chance to finally scream at the government and show them how professional and unified dance music is and how much of a legitimate industry its become since the halcyon days of acid house… And how we’re not going to stop, even after 15 months of complete rave shutdown.

“This industry has bent over backwards to make things work,” says Fleming. “Through pilot events they’ve proved they’re not adding to the spread of the virus. Over 10,000 venues have shut permanently. 400,000 live event staff have lost their jobs. It shows where the government’s priorities are at the moment and this needs to be challenged.”

Regardless of any division in opinion within the industry or among the wider raver community, this is something that will hopefully resonate with all protestors this weekend. But whether you demonstrate on Saturday or Sunday, our essential message is to be careful, respectful and safe. Gatherings like these have been continually scapegoated and used as an example for further restrictions and, as this week’s heated debates online have proved, not everyone shares the same agenda or beliefs about any of the aspects relating to COVID, lockdowns and the relentless attacks on our freedom.

“Let’s get it right, whether it’s 5,000 or 5,000,000 turning up on Saturday or Sunday, the government won’t open things because you’re there. But they might use it as an excuse not to,” states Wilf Prophecy, one half of drum & bass duo North Base and also one of the UK’s largest promoters who’s behind a huge array of events from Metropolis to Parklife.

“I won’t be going, that’s my personal opinion. I had COVID two months ago and I’ve lost people to whatever this disease is. But I also have friends who tell me it doesn’t exist. There’s a lot of weird shit going on. I support people’s right to protest. If that makes you feel good and works as an outlet for you, then do it. Just know what you’re going into. I can’t help by feel it will turn from something political to something much more dangerous. There are too many people going with too many opinions that the more extreme sides of those represented will dominate the headlines and the results of these marches.”

As one of the most frustrating points of the whole COVID experience so far reaches fever pitch, with just three weeks left until the next proposed ‘reopening’ for the events industry, all eyes will be on London this weekend. And if cases rise again, it’s likely that it won’t be the football crowds or the horse racing fans who take the blame, it will be the events industry and the youth movement that powers it. Huge respect to everyone making their voice heard and fighting for the scene this weekend but please be careful, be clean and tidy and keep your wits about you. We’re not out of the woods yet.

Photography taken by Aiyush Pachnanda who’s been documenting many of the protests during lockdown. Follow him