“Last night we were all saying that we felt like kids on Christmas Eve,” said Olivia Hall, a 19-year-old student describing a conversation between herself and her friends. “We were all sat last night watching the telly thinking: ‘Oh God, we don’t want to go to sleep because we’re not going to sleep,’ we were all lying in bed too excited.”
Hall and her friends were some of the first to arrive at an empty warehouse on the outskirts of Liverpool city centre, which, with the help of a thumping sound system and LED lights, had been transformed into a day rave for 3,000 people.
The event, the first of its type in the UK since last March, and aptly named the First Dance, was one of two daytime raves taking place on Friday and Saturday, as part of a government scheme to pilot large-scale events. The aim was to gather evidence on how events might operate safely this summer as restrictions ease.
“Until the gates opened, and the first person walked on to the dancefloor, I didn’t know that the event was actually going to happen,” said Yousef, the producer and DJ at the helm of Circus, the events company running the event. Although Circus has been a staple of nightlife in Liverpool, and beyond, for almost two decades, this event in particular felt for Yousef like something from “a different planet”.
Working with various events companies, and liaising with the central government, Circus faced “a new, enormous hurdle” every day in order to make the event happen.
The 6,000 people at the events, all residents with a Liverpool postcode, were not required to observe social distancing or wear face coverings.
The line-up featured house, disco and techno DJs from across the globe, including Jayda G from Canada and the Blessed Madonna from the US. A negative lateral flow test taken beforehand was required to gain entry.
“What you’re seeing today is an iceberg scenario – it’s just a little bit at the top, and all the work is underneath,” Yousef said.
The excitement of the crowd, mainly made up of students and young people, was clear as soon as the rave began, with dozens running into the warehouse screaming as soon as they passed security.
One of them, Lara Hamilton, a 19-year-old student in Liverpool, said she was “absolutely thrilled” to be there. “It’s so weird that I don’t know how to act but I’m so excited. It’s been a very long time coming, and we’re ready to have a ball.”
For Denver Pollet, a 20-year-old student, the event marked an opportunity to “take life back” after having given up the last two years of teenage life. “We’re sick of wasting days sitting in the house and doing nothing. We’re all so ready to experience life again.”
The event was also an opportunity for people to show off their carefully planned post-lockdown outfits. Ryan Moore, 25 and donning a green sequinned vest, said he’d had his outfit for the rave planned since he bought his ticket. “The one thing I’ve most looked forward to is an excuse to get out of my trackies,” he said.
The general fear of contracting coronavirus at the event seemed to be fairly low, with clubbers reassured by the thorough safety checks in place.
There were, however, some nerves among both customers and staff. After getting used to wearing face masks and observing social distancing, Charlie South, working behind the bar, said it felt “a bit weird”. “It feels a bit too good to be true. Maybe it’s too soon?” she said. “We’re a bit like guinea pigs almost.”
Though the event was a huge achievement, for Yousef it was still a bittersweet moment. “Even though we’re all excited to party, I want to make sure we don’t forget the reasons we’re here,” he said. “It’s been a terrible year for a lot of people … the fact that so many people have suffered is at the back of my mind when I’m playing. It’s going to be emotional for a lot of people.”