The psychic impact of a world without nightlife

Let's take a moment to mourn the night.

Welcome back to this experimental, relaunched and regular edition of Critical Party Studies, a newsletter about the art of going out. I’m Adlan Jackson, a “nightlife writer.”

Let’s take a moment to mourn the night.

As long as I can remember, I’ve sought out videos like this on Youtube. This week, I’ve been into this song, Chicago band Beach Bunny’s single “Ms. California,” and so I type “beach bunny ms california” into the search bar, and perk up when it auto-populates with “live.” For most songs that become important to me, it becomes urgent to me to see them performed in front of an audience. You’ve heard a million times that there’s something about the live experience that recorded music can’t replicate, blah blah blah. But I hope when you watch a video like this that it imparts a sense of why nightlife is not frivolous, but a vital part of our collective psychic wellbeing. Here’s a band fronted by a 22-year-old woman playing a new song to a sold-out audience in a historic venue in their hometown, and the crowd is screaming back every word.

As real as the toll the COVID-19 outbreak has wrought on the music, nightlife and hospitality industries has been made by the visceral, empathetic reporting of many great journalists in the past couple of weeks, I still feel a little nervous to, at a time like this, kvetch about a lack of parties to go to. There’s certainly no shortage of sickeningly maudlin gestures, and even in the best of times, my writing skews purple, as you know.

But I hope when you watch the video above that it’s clear that it’s not just a sentimental musing of mine that every audience is an ad hoc community. That night mattered, and not just in the moment that audience was together, giving and taking each others’ energy, leaping excitedly or shrieking their bliss at seeing the band in their headphones in the flesh. That show contributed to the structure of their lives, long before and long after Beach Bunny was on stage. It gave them joy to relive afterwards, and it gave them something to be excited about, at work or at school in the days leading up to it.

It’s getting hard to get excited about anything. I said on Twitter, rather dramatically, that “nightlife is hope.” It’s right in the word “nightlife” that it’s the compliment to a day of toil, a relief. Even the privilege of a reduced workload in this crisis, in this world without contrast, is swallowed by a widening greyness. Even the things I’m still looking forward to—exciting writing assignments and whatnot—without opportunity for celebration, feel like mere words on a screen. This feeling is familiar; it’s grief.

And that it’s the spring is a twist of the knife. Typically, this is the time to rediscover aspects of ourselves we had to sacrifice when winter came. This should be the time to treasure delicate things, but now flowers are blooming and greeting empty streets. This should be the time to enjoy the return of tastes we’d forgotten, and savour them, even knowing that they’ll leave again. This should be the time, essentially, to celebrate.

I’ve complained myself that a night out can be a cycle of made and broken promises, naive ambitions and humbling disappointments. That’s still true, but every night out is also a celebration, if not of a birthday or an accomplishment or a wedding or a death, then of simply making it through a week of living in our dumb, dumb, dumb society. We’ve arrived suddenly in a world without celebration. Yes, we can and should watch live-streamed performances, but as much as I like to drop an F in the chat, it’s no substitute for that leaping, churning mass at The Metro in Chicago. It’s no substitute for being one of them.

Dashboard Confessional plays Webster Hall

I had not one, but two (2) Dashboard Confessional posters in my childhood bedroom in Kingston, Jamaica. If I hadn’t started listening to them, it’s very possible I would never have started writing? Read what will be my last live show recap for awhile, of their March 10th show for Bowery Presents, here.

FORTNITE

Here’s what to do in New York for the next two weeks.

Well, so, it ended up not being a great time to relaunch a newsletter about nightlife. Cherie Hu, who writes the essential music industry newsletter Water and Music, has put together a living document compiling live-streaming events and so I’ll plug that in lieu of event listings.

I was going to, on the suggestion of friend-of-the-blog Leila (an illustrator whose work you can find here, by the way), start making playlists of the artists I featured in this section, but things changed. Instead, here’s a playlist of songs from artists I was looking forward to seeing, but had their performances cancelled due to the outbreak. Buy things from them:

Other Stuff

  • I interviewed Tennis for TIDAL Read about the necessity of touring under streaming austerity, and learning to live with the abyss next door. Read that here.

That’s it! Can you believe I do this for free? Me neither—pay me to write by clicking here. As always, the Instagram for this project is @CriticalPartyStudies and you can e-mail me at criticalpartystudies@gmail.com if you want to talk. Subscribe and tell your friends if you think it’s good!

Welp,

Adlan