Nightclub Zouk’s DJ Nash D performing in front of a video camera during a ‘cloud-clubbing’ party live-streamed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: AFP/CATHERINE LAI
Nightclub Zouk’s DJ Nash D performing in front of a video camera during a ‘cloud-clubbing’ party live-streamed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: AFP/CATHERINE LAI

Singapore — Strobe lights flash across a near-empty dance floor, as a DJ live-streams thumping electronic music from a Singapore nightclub to revelers confined to their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The outbreak sweeping the globe has shuttered once lively nightspots from London to New York, but innovative DJs have started putting their performances online so clubbers don’t miss out.

The trend is another example of how Covid-19, which has left some 3.6-billion people stuck at home under lockdown, is up-ending daily life in ways unthinkable until recently as governments impose social-distancing to stem its spread.

After Singapore ordered the closure of many entertainment venues last week after a steady rise in infections, popular nightclub Zouk threw a “cloud-clubbing” party, streaming live performances by six DJs via an app.

It took place on a Friday night when the club is often packed with hundreds of party-goers — but only a handful of people were allowed to attend, most of them staff members.

DJ Nash D conceded he found it weird at first. “When you play for a dance floor with a room full of people, you can feel the energy come back, and I like to DJ off that energy,” the DJ, real name Dhanish Nair, said. But he quickly got used to it, and said live comments from clubbers scrolling past on his laptop were helpful: “Whatever song requests they had actually guided me in a certain direction.”

As well as the comments that came in via live-streaming app Bigo Live, clubbers sent virtual gifts to the DJs such as bells and snowflakes that can later be exchanged for cash.

The nightclub partnered with gaming equipment company Razer and the live-streaming app, attracting 200,000 total views for the three-hour event. At its peak, 5,600 people were watching.

‘Dancing together, apart’

In China, where the virus first emerged last year, DJs and nightspots started live-streaming performances at the beginning of February when the country’s outbreak was at its pinnacle.

Shanghai and Beijing venues pioneered live-streamed clubbing on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, which also allows fans to buy gifts that can be swapped for cash. Beijing club One Third attracted more than a million viewers and generated nearly 2-million yuan ($280,000) in rewards from its fans in a five-hour live-stream, according to news website iFeng.

Closed nightclubs and DJs stuck at home are also hosting virtual dance parties in New York, the epicentre of America’s worsening outbreak.

Live performance outfit The Dance Cartel has started hosting “social dis-dance” parties for “dance nights together, apart” three times a week. Participants dance with one another over the Zoom video chat app, with some donning costumes and others setting up coloured lights.

The parties are free but people are encouraged to make donations to the DJs and hosts.

With the death toll from the virus now above 48,000 globally, online clubbing only looks set to get more popular.

Singapore’s decision to close nightclubs came as authorities slowly tighten restrictions after a jump in cases, with the city-state so far having reported about 1,000 infections and four deaths.

Despite the challenges, some performers are slowly warming to the idea of online clubbing.

“Online, I feel that everybody is more in their natural state,” said Singapore DJ LeNERD, real name Patrick Lewis, who played at Friday’s event. “They are more themselves and they are more honest.”