By Niamh Ingram
Things have changed over the last few months in the dance music industry. Big time. From summer, when many of us managed to go out (in a fashion closest to normal that we’ll be reaching for a long time), all the way through to lockdown 2.0, there’s had to be huge changes in the way the industry operates. This - combined with constantly monitoring that they’re meeting the ever-shifting guidelines of what is ‘covid safe’ and what isn’t - is a concern that was simply incomprehensible this time last year.
We all appreciate the efforts they go to, yet I’ve always wondered what the thoughts of the people right in the eye of the storm are. A new perspective on a situation is always interesting, and Matt’s - Distrikt’s bookings, events and social media manager - was certainly that.
Well known and loved in Leeds for being at the heart of the underground music scene, Distrikt is only one of the countless venues that has had to drastically adapt, something highlighted in our conversation.
First and foremost, what were the changes you had to make in order to reopen when Boris allowed it?
We have had to adapt a lot since we reopened back in July. We had a lot of changes in place and it was very different adjusting to the new measures, but we’ve adapted very well. Throughout lockdown one we spent our time wisely and refurbished the whole venue, giving it all a fresh lick of paint, rebuilt our DJ booth and improved the sound dramatically with new speakers and system ready for a grand reopening.
When we opened, we had set up signage indicating people to social distance and remind people rules to follow around the venue, pay by contactless where possible, one person at a time in the toilets, sanitise hands regularly etc. We put sanitising stations around the venue, on entry and exit points and a one-way system was introduced. We used QR codes on our posters to so people can book tables easier and view our menus from their tables. We took bookings initially through our social channels but soon after implemented a booking system using Design My Night which helped everything run smoothly.
We still had DJs on, playing every day we were open - but at a reduced volume - and they were required to wear masks, as did all our staff, to protect them. We introduced a ‘no dancing’ policy too, which has been difficult to manage on some nights (everyone just wants to have fun) but for the most part, customers respect the rules and our venue. They’re just happy to be out, even though they’re sat down, enjoying some music and normality.
How do you feel about the changes you’ve made – do you miss the mixing, and not having to worry whether your visitors are less from 2m from one another?
It has been a challenge, but I feel confident with how we have approached it. We do miss it, there's no doubt about that. Nothing more we would love than having a full-blown party with hundreds of people in our venue! It’s still been ace under the restrictions though, if anything it's made us more sought after. We’ve been fully booked most nights - especially weekends. We are usually booked up 2-3 weeks in advance for Friday and Saturdays, but even midweeks and Sundays have been crazy, thanks to our amazing DJs and promoters. They’ve just been super excited to still come and provide some incredible music at our venue to provide some more chilled, sit down vibes, but we do miss all of our Distrikt family and partying past 10pm.
I assume you’ll have a lesser capacity due to social distancing policies, has this impacted your revenue at all?
We have taken a hit just like so many people in the hospitality industry have, especially with the 10pm curfew. We’re currently only open 6 hours a day: from 4-10pm now on Tuesday-Sundays, with Saturday being our longer opening day for 8 hours from 2-10pm. Our prime hours used to 10pm-2am so we’re losing out on that massively on that, which accumulates to over 24 hours of prime service down the drain each week. Regardless, we are getting by and the support from our community and customers has been amazing. Everyone seems to want to be with us every night that we’re open, and we are still rammed with full tables. We aren't allowed to take any walk-ins really, unless cancellations or no shows appear, but it is so different compared to how things used to be.
What do you make of the ‘Let the music play’ campaign that was floating about online over lockdown – do you expect to see anything develop from this regarding funding?
I think it's a great campaign, which we have been active supporters of. They have already achieved a lot: rallying support and extending the furlough scheme, getting more support for the arts, and the organisation of demonstrations and protests. The Arts Council had the Cultural Recovery Fund, but we missed this deadline as we didn't realise we could apply for it whilst being open and active. It was quite a kick in the teeth seeing fellow bars and venues get this support to keep them afloat in these times whilst still open and trading as we are, so we are hoping there will be a future round of funding to help us further if this continues longer - but we will push on till then. Distrikt will never die.
Finally – the big question – do you think you’ll keep Distrikt as a seated bar, when the time comes where social distancing no longer is required? Or will it be back to business as usual?
As soon as we can be back to business as normal, we will be. I can’t wait to hear the sound of the tables being cleared away to open up the dance floor once again at the start of events, like we used to. We will still take bookings of course - but we can't wait to have everyone up and finally we will DANCE. We have a wicked opening party and some major acts planned soon as we can get back to it, not to mention all the huge bookings that we were meant to have last year which have been pushed back. We had some huge bank holiday parties planned with Kenny Dope, Dj Tennis, Cristi Cons & Sammy Dee + Cartulis Music: Z@P, Unai Trotti, Junki Inuoue & Rapahael Carrau + tons of other shows that got postponed with the likes of Youandewan, Ruf Dug, Cinthie, La La. These will all happen as soon as we can, but it simply isn’t viable for us to book massive DJs under the current circumstances. It's just a waiting game now, but the comeback for actual parties and events will be huge for the whole scene - not just our venue.
Until then we are bringing food back to Distrikt after this current lockdown which will be announced in more detail soon. We are teaming up with the guys from Falafel Guys who run spots on Briggate, and Assembly Underground for a very special pop up at our venue - so very excited for that.
You can keep up to date with Distrikt’s reopening at www.distrikt.co.uk, or on their Instagram @distriktbarleeds
Image credit: Joel Hirst