COVID-19 is the anti-MDMA. What could be less conducive to social distancing than an illegal substance that makes people want to congregate and touch each other? The memory of Andrew Weatherall, producer of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, spinning the decks in a sweaty basement club in Leeds just before Christmas 2019 now seems like a parallel universe. Weatherall died of a pulmonary embolism in February, aged fifty-six. I spent more time reading obituaries for the Phil Spector of the E-generation than news items about an obscure virus in China. But pleasure has been replaced by the reality principle. I miss dancing but feel no desire to be part of the illegal lockdown clubs and block parties that hit the UK headlines this summer. Health and moral questions aside, I wouldn’t have the first idea how to find them.

The ease with which one can find a place to boogie on a Friday night is, in my book, a reliable indicator of quality of life. Samuel Johnson said that when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. But the venerable doctor might have revised that sentiment had he found himself after midnight in a city whose dance floors are as moribund as its art scene is vibrant. The exceptions are few and far between. At the 100 Club on Oxford Street, where the Sex Pistols once held court, a motley crew of lesser-known groups comes together every January for an old-school punk knees-up. Early in 2020, a band commanded the audience to sit on the floor before making them jump up without clocking an ageing punkette in the front row with a Zimmer frame. A couple of hours later she somehow managed to join a stage invasion. But these days even the 100 Club is shuttered thanks to the virus.

Life is much better up north. Much as we may kid ourselves, the clubs of Leeds do more to attract students to the university than any publications my colleagues and I churn out. In normal times, they flock to a converted church on the edge of campus and to warehouse parties on the outskirts of town. Leeds is as wet as Chicago is windy, and DJ lineups resemble the less commercial end of Ibiza, albeit without the promise of the sun. As I walk back from the university canteen—where, fifty years ago almost to the day, the Who recorded their “Live at Leeds” album—having bought a take-away baked potato with cheese for solitary consumption in my office, I long for a Zoom-free future with clubs and live music.

Published on January 8, 2021