Revellers are turning to virtual raves and nightclubs to get through Covid lockdown

By ITV News Multimedia Producer Ann Yip. Music by

Unable to meet with family and friends, or go out unless for essential reasons, thousands of revellers stuck at home are turning to virtual raves to get through lockdown.

The virtual rave scene was born when hundreds of DJs who found themselves out of work when the pandemic struck turned to online livestreams. After nearly a year since the first Covid lockdown, some of these raves have grown beyond being just livestreams.

One virtual nightclub launched in January, called NVY, allows people to shake their hips on a Zoom dancefloor in front of a DJ, professional dancer and fellow clubbers, who will also be dancing in their living rooms.

This is after they check in with the host at the virtual entrance, of course. 

  • Clubbers are greeted by the host at the door and can then navigate to the club's different rooms and dancefloor

Clubbers can visit a bar, where bartenders advise on the drinks that can be made with ingredients in their kitchens; the quiet rooms, where they can chat to fellow ravers; and even the toilets. 

There are bouncers too. Tech workers have the power to kick mischievous revellers out of the party.

The virtual entertainment venue launched by Murdo MacLeod uses green screen technology to create the illusion of a nightclub.

Physically, it is based in Castleton Mill studios in Leeds, with just six sound proof presenter booths representing the different rooms in the nightclub. 

Speaking about how his virtual nightclub has helped ravers, Mr MacLeod said: “There’s many people out there that are living alone and they’re really craving that social interaction.

"They could get on a Zoom call with friends. But in here, they can meet like-minded people and have social interactions with them."

  • Mr MacLeod talks about how his virtual nightclub has helped people in lockdown:

One reveller had so much fun dancing in their living room that they reported their feet became sore, Mr MacLeod said. 

He added: “There’s also some very amusing feedback.

"For example: 'I didn’t have to wait in a taxi queue', 'I didn’t feel the need to go to a takeaway because I have healthy food in the house'.

"People are comparing it to nightclubs and pulling positives from being in a virtual situation."

Mr MacLeod decided to start the virtual nightclub after his pop up bar business Zest Mixology, which provided drinks for corporate events, was hit hard by the pandemic. 

He turned his business into a takeaway for six months. But by October, he decided virtual entertainment was the way forward. 

The virtual nightclub uses green screen technology Credit: NVY Nightclub

Mr MacLeod, who has 20 years of experience in the nightclub industry, said: “I am a fan of DJ streams. It was quite innovative a year ago when DJ streams first came to the nation. I spent a lot of time watching these streams and that’s also what gave me the inspiration. I knew we could do so much more, and here it is.”

NVY nightclub, which operates every Saturday night and plays mainly house music, has been attended by hundreds of revellers, with more than 300 subscribed for the next event. 

Entry is free. But guests can choose to buy cocktail sets to be delivered to their homes so they can enjoy the same drinks with their friends. They can also pay for VIP booths. 

A look at the virtual dancefloor in NVY Nightclub Credit: ITV News

DJ Bucky, who works as a full-time developer during the day, has also been bringing the virtual club scene to life, but this time by using his programming skills.

The 30-year-old from Belgium, whose real name is Wouter Dendas, has been building up an international audience on live streaming platform Twitch. 

Using his tech skills, DJ Bucky sets a virtual backdrop for his livestreams, they can be inside a nightclub or outdoors. Dozens of ravers appear as avatars running around as the DJ is spinning records on the stage.

  • A look at one of DJ Bucky's raves which allows ravers in the virtual club to open the roof, trigger snowfall, visit the bar and trigger a rainfall of bombs

They can also use their avatars to order virtual drinks and can even change the lights and open up the roof to enjoy the fireworks.

Speaking about how he has helped his fans deal with lockdown, he said: "There's a lot of people that struggled with the fact of not being able to go out.

"I believe having the virtual club can help a lot of people. It's not just about music, it's about interacting with each other, feeling the vibe."

He said there have been a few cases where people who have struggled mentally in the lockdown have thanked him for providing the virtual space.

The hobbyist DJ has always enjoyed going to clubs and listening to techno music with friends. But when the pandemic hit, nightclubs shut and the loss of social interaction hit him the hardest.

  • DJ Bucky says his virtual raves has helped people who are struggling with lockdown:

He explained how he started livestreaming last April: "I used to just spin records at my place, but then one day, I started streaming, there were Twitch friends coming over and it was so much fun. So I decided to do it every week. And now we’re doing it three times a week.

By July, he said the concept of the virtual club was born as his streams became more interactive.

Although DJ Bucky admits he does not make much money from DJing (yet), he livestreams for up to eight hours on Friday and Saturday until 5am in the morning, and every Tuesday or Wednesday. When asked why he spends so much time holding virtual raves, he said: "It’s a lot, but it’s so fun to see all the reactions. It’s really fun."

London-based DJ Nate brings ravers a plethora of RnB, Afrobeats and hip hop tracks every Saturday night. And for many cooped up at home, it really is the highlight of their week.

The DJ from Ealing, whose real name is Nathan Williams, is one of countless DJs whose work suddenly dried up in the first lockdown.

Despite the setback, the DJ started livestreaming from home by popular request last April.

He said: "People were at home. They said: 'There's no parties, what can you do for us? Can you go on the radio?' And then it just kicked off. Lots of DJs like myself were livestreaming online."

  • DJ Nate said he started his virtual raves due to requests by people:

Demand grew throughout the first lockdown. In one virtual rave, DJ Nate had up to 700 people tuning in from Europe, America and the Caribbean.

DJ Nate said: "People do come to interact, some people do comment and say stuff (in the chat box) as if they are in a party. Some people prepare themselves and get drinks or have video calls with friends while they're listening."

The livestreams stopped in the summer as he could get small gigs.

Now, with the UK back in lockdown and some parts of the world out of lockdown, his audience is more UK-based, with his raves on Instagram being attended by up to 200 people at a time.

DJ Nate has been doing Instagram livestreams since April last year Credit: DJ Nate

The 29-year-old makes no money from his virtual raves, so why does he do it?

"I guess it’s people," he replied.

"With DJ and entertaining, the reason I do it is gratification for people, seeing people enjoying themselves. When I go on livestreams, I get messages from people saying it's the highlight of their week, and that type of stuff really does push us."

He continued: "Just this weekend just gone, I got a messaging saying: 'It's been my highlight of this lockdown'.

"They love logging in and interacting with people and they've met people and built relationships from just chatting in the stream."

  • DJ Nate was asked why he holds his virtual raves, despite making no money from them:

DJ Nate is looking for alternative work, but has been able to get by financially with freelance graphic design and music marketing work.

Before the pandemic, he had up to five gigs each weekend, and during the week, he would be busy preparing for the gigs. In summer, he would usually travel to popular party destinations such as Ibiza for work.

Speaking about how he is coping with lockdown, he said: "At first, the lockdown was tough, because there was no end day in sight but now it’s improved. My mood has improved.

"I can see it’s getting to the hotter months because I do enjoy summer more. It's getting better and that fact that we’re seeing the vaccine rolled out, it looks like we might get back to some form of normal soon."