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Quarantune, celebrating pre-COVID dancefloor memories
Submitted by Samantha Togni. Photography Lewis G Burton – @lewisgburton

Introducing Quarantune, the blog celebrating pre-COVID dancefloor memories

The platform provides a welcome space for DJs, producers, and photographers to share their favourite music moments from before the pandemic

2020 was a tough year for the live music industry. Concerts, gigs, and festivals were almost entirely cancelled in the UK following the coronavirus lockdown in March, and the sector has now halved in size according to a report released in November. However, the vaccine is being hastily administered across the country – well over half a million people have already received it and the NHS hopes to jab as many as 22 million people before the spring – meaning that 2021 could see the return of the live performance as we once knew it, in all its sweaty, overcrowded glory. 

Keeping the magic alive since the lockdown, an online platform called Quarantune has been celebrating  memories from the dancefloor, the field, the festival, and beyond, providing artists with a space to share experiences and to reflect on navigating a difficult year. On the website, DJs, producers, photographers, and music journalists are asked to share a music-related memory in the form of a photo, and explain why that moment is significant to them.

Now, Quarantune creator Niamh O’Connor has announced a limited-edition photobook of selected Quarantune photos and interview excerpts, with 50 per cent of the profits going to The Scoop Foundation, an Irish NGO raising funds in positive ways to support the welfare and education of displaced young persons in the Middle East, as well as homeless youths in Dublin, and those living in Direct Provision Centres. We caught up with O’Connor to talk about her project and her hopes for the future of live music.

When did the idea for Quarantune form?

Niamh O’Connor: Back in March, Just as things were beginning to get scary and seemingly out of control with the virus, I moved back to my family home in Dublin, having lived in London for almost six years. I had been working as a club booker, writer, DJ and ‘events person’ (everything from artist liaison, to door/guestlist to managing an event itself) and after a few days at home, I began to wonder about the friends, colleagues and personal connections I made over the last three years working in music. Would I see these people again? I wasn’t sure at all but I thought it would be a fun way to stay in touch by asking them to share a resonating, music-related photo and to have a chat about how they were dealing with the knock-on effects of COVID that were beginning to unfold at the time.

I was on furlough at that point – later to become redundant – and had the luxury of free time and of energy that I had to put somewhere, so I set up the Quarantune website and sent out a load of emails and DMs to artists, DJs, promoters, photographers and anyone else I crossed paths with over the last three years.

What did you hope to achieve with the project?

Niamh O’Connor: I hoped it would become an open platform where people would feel comfortable to say how they’re really feeling and coping. I then realised it would be a good way to highlight the behind-the-scenes grafters, of which there are many in music, and share their insights and recollections of club culture from around the world. These are the multi-taskers; the promoter-come-record shop owner, the photographer-come-journalist, the DJ-come-graphic designer etc, incredibly talented and creative people who had their work and means of income swiftly cut off due to COVID. 

I just had this anxious energy going through me, so if Quarantune was the thing that was going to keep me occupied and in touch with music and friends, and even make a few new connections online, that would be a nice bonus too.

What do you miss most about the aspects of the music scene that COVID has rendered impossible?

Niamh O’Connor: Meeting new people, I miss that so much! Sometimes I would come away from a night out or an event I was working at and feel very inspired and motivated to create, be it in music or writing. I always felt more confident, like: ‘if they can go out and do their own thing and make it work, surely I can too?’ I would feel liberated, as cliché as that sounds. Michelle Manetti for example, who features in the book, launched her Fèmmme Fraîche (FF) night in 2015 and has since built up a loyal FF community and celebrated event series, as well as becoming an established DJ and producer in her own right. I love seeing how much a sound person and their idea can evolve after consistency and years of hard work – very inspiring altogether. 

Do you have a favourite contribution to the series?

Niamh O’Connor: That is really tough! There are so many photos and stories that stand out in the book. My friend Blixa took a photo from Terraforma and it perfectly captures a bizarre, crusty moment from the festival. Another friend, Maurice Anthony Moran, submitted a photo of Fuinneamh Festival in Ireland where he played a last-minute DJ set, and his accompanying story about the work-related consequences that followed cracked me up.

Alice Austin took a great photo of two DJs and producers, Bic and Ross, hanging out in Vault Artist Studios in Belfast and she describes her impression of the city and flourishing dance music community in Northern Ireland in colourful detail – you can really see her talent for music journalism.

Holly Lester sent in a strobe-lit photo she took on a dancefloor in Azerbaijan, where she played in February of this year. But her insight into the electronic music scene in this territory was particularly intriguing – I knew nothing about dance music in that part of the world, so learning about club culture across various parts of the globe is another highlight from the contributions. But everyone has their own photo and story which is memorable for multiple reasons.

How did you decide who to include in the book? 

Niamh O’Connor: As I received a mix of high-quality and low-resolution images throughout the year, I wanted to ensure the book had a mix of both – the aesthetically pleasing to the grainy iPhone blurs. Quarantune is a visual and written reflection of dance music in all shapes and forms so the contributions had to reflect this with a combination of established and up-and-coming names, and a balanced ratio of gender, race and nationalities. 

In an ideal world, I would have done a book with every single Quarantune contribution but I didn’t have enough budget or time. My sister Aisling, who designed the book, put this together quite late in the lead up to Christmas but we managed to pull it off just a week before Christmas! Although the book is 100 pages, I underestimated how big a task it was going to be, but I’m delighted with the outcome. Big shoutout to my sis supporting this project and giving her time and incredible skills to help me out. I am looking forward to seeing what else we can come up during these volatile days.

Visit the Quarantune blog here and pick up a copy of the photobook here.