From Saturday night fever to Covid-19 fever, the slow agony of nightclubs


Almost all nightclubs in France have closed their doors since mid-March and will not reopen this summer. For the owners of establishments and the whole economy of the nightlife world, it will now be necessary to wait until September, at best. Some may not recover from the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t even have anger anymore, I am so resigned.” Alexis Marty, private driver in the south of France, has not worked since mid-March and the confinement put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Like this 46-year-old man, used to driving the biggest DJs in clubs, all the players in the nightlife are at a standstill. Last blow for this industry, the decision of the Council of State, which estimated Monday July 13 than prolonged nightclub closings were not “disproportionate”. The court dismissed an appeal filed by the National Union of Discotheques and Leisure Places (SNDLL). The hope of reopening on July 10 and seeing the activity of nightclubs – and 100,000 employees in the sector – take off again has gone up in smoke. Result, the mirror balls do not turn any more this summer, a period usually synonymous with high season for the clubs, forced to cut the sound.

“I am very, very worried, says Patrick Malvaës, president of SNDLL. Dhe people will lose their business, I do not rule out gestures of despair … ” Near Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine), Mike Ludwig, the boss of Le Tremplin, a large nightclub located on the outskirts of the city, began a hunger strike on June 21 to protest against this prolonged closure. “In three months, I am already at 90,000 euros in debt, knowing that I have a rent of 11,000 euros per month. In terms of aid, we have partial unemployment, it’s very good for our employees”, he points out to France Inter. But for the employers, aid (solidarity fund, loan guaranteed by the State, etc.) is often long overdue.

Result, according to an internal survey carried out among SNDLL members, “30 to 35% of managers want to stop because they can no longer take it: this represents between 7,000 and 8,000 unemployed employees”, alert Patrick Malvaës. An equivalent gauge “at number of jobs that Air France will cut and they have received billions of euros in aid “, deplores the leader. At the start of the crisis, the national discotheque union demanded a specific recovery plan of 500 to 600 million euros.

With one voice, all the actors interviewed by Franceinfo denounced the government’s “double standards, two measures” in terms of health policy. For them, it is obvious, the nightclubs were unfairly blacklisted. “I don’t know why nightclubs would be more prone to being ‘clusters’ than bars, restaurants, gyms or swingers clubs. Why is a single profession still taboo? Why stigmatize it?”, asks Jean Roch, the famous owner of the VIP Room in Saint-Tropez. “I don’t know why they want to kill the clubs”, Sébastien Santovito, alias DJ Fou, also protests. Exploring the question, he evokes the consequences of the bad reputation attributed to the night world for decades: “We were taken for dealers, thieves, whatever else … On social networks, we were attacked, I hadn’t realized that people didn’t like us.”

Sébastien Santovito has lived off his passion for twenty years and, for the first time, he is preparing to spend a summer at home. “We are bored”, he laughs. Enjoying a certain notoriety, he is not too worried about this year because he had managed to put some money aside. “I am more concerned for other DJs and people who work in this environment”, he concedes, even if he prays that the situation does not drag on. “Next year, I will have to work”.

Others do not have this flexibility and are forced to defy the ban, such as Eric Moro, manager of Paradisio, near Lorient (Morbihan). Illegally, he opened his establishment three nights in a row on the weekend of July 10. “Mort for death, you might as well go to glory. Between Urssaf, rents and other charges, I owe 150,000 euros “, declares the one who is indicted for opening of a drinking establishment despite an administrative decision to close “ and summoned before the criminal court.

There are parties everywhere, we can’t say that the discos are closed. They just changed their name and are no longer called ‘discos’, quite simply.Jean Rochat franceinfo

To justify the prolonged closure of these establishments, the public authorities obviously put forward health reasons. “Let’s not take reckless risks. The health authorities tell us that we can do things outdoors while being careful. On the other hand, in closed places, it is impossible. So let’s wait”, explains to franceinfo Frédéric Hocquard, assistant to the town hall of Paris, in charge of tourism and nightlife. An argument that Jean Roch rejects: “In Italy, in Spain, the clubs have reopened, we could at least have put in place a ‘coastal law’ to save activity in seasonal establishments”, he regrets. “We can face a small reopening at least, but not a white season. No club can hold, it is the killing of a universe”, he blurted out, while the number of nightclubs has already fallen by 70% over the past forty years, said the Union of Trades and Industries of the Hotel Industry (Umih) to BFMTV.

Patrick Malvaës does not have the same speech. Aware of “real health issue”, he nevertheless said he was against reopening at least, according to certain strict rules of physical distancing. A hypothesis evoked by certain actors of this sector before the deconfinement. “Giving up the very essence of a profession is killing it. Reopening in degraded mode is not worth it”, decides the trade unionist.

The priority is not reopening, it is aid.Patrick Malvaës, president of National union of discotheques and places of leisureat franceinfo

While waiting for a hypothetical return on the dancefloors, people find other places to party, which sometimes outraged the owners of the nightclub. “I’m happy for those who own a bar or a restaurant, but it pisses me off that they bite our bread and turn into nightclubs”, takes offense Sébastien Santovito.

“The problem has been moved, continues Jean Roch. The parties are now held in villas, apartments, on boats, they can be out of control, especially where alcohol can be free. ” The owner of the VIP Room fears “the excesses of these wild festivals”. “The discos act as nannies for many. We are there to entertain people but also to keep them busy until 6 am. Currently, in certain seaside towns, it is anarchy in the streets when the bars close The police and gendarmes will be overwhelmed “, abounds Sébastien Santovito.

Example in Sables-d’Olonne (Vendée), where up to 200 people between the ages of 16 and 25 fought with the police on the night of July 14-15 in the streets of the city center. “It’s a real societal issue, sums up Patrick Malvaës, nightclubs are sometimes the only cultural focus in certain areas of the country. We are witnessing a resurgence of violence and I am also waiting to see the road safety figures “.

From now on, all are feverishly awaiting the start of September, or even that of next summer, like L’Amnesia, the legendary club of Cap d’Agde. In a press release published Friday July 17, the establishment confirms that it will not welcome revelers before June 2021. Curtains throughout the summer season, but also winter. On Facebook, its leaders evoke “a difficult government decision (…) The Minister of Health had asked discotheques to reinvent themselves, some have done so”, but not this institution on the Mediterranean coast. “We consider that Amnesia must offer you a program worthy of the biggest festivals, which unfortunately is not possible given current health restrictions“, concludes the press release.

On the Saint-Tropez side, Jean Roch should also look to 2021. “For me, reopening in September doesn’t make sense. It would be like opening a ski resort in the middle of July.” Faced with this very dark picture, the various players retain at least one positive point. While the resurgence of the pandemic in France has recently forced the authorities to make the wearing of a mask mandatory in enclosed spaces, no one can blame nightclubs. For once.

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