Ottawa

Getting the party started easier said than done for Ottawa DJs

Since COVID-19 arrived on the scene, virtual has been the only venue for most of Ottawa's nightlife. But those digital dance parties aren't really cutting it for two local DJs.

Pandemic hitting local nightclubs, dancehalls where it hurts

Peter Albert, a.k.a. DJ Pithra, has tried pivoting to virtual gigs, but finds 'you can't replicate an immersive experience digitally.' (Lens Flare Smith)

Since COVID-19 arrived on the scene, virtual has been the only venue for most of Ottawa's nightlife. But those digital dance parties aren't really cutting it for two local DJs.

Before the pandemic, Christopher Adamowicz, who goes by the name DJ Balu, could be found spinning tracks at Mercury Lounge in the ByWard Market. These days, the closest he gets to a club is his living room.

"Just me and my couch and a bunch of DJ gear," Balu told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

His last live gig was back in March. A couple of times a week, Balu livestreams his music on Facebook for friends and fans.

"It's tough to not be able to express yourself in front of people," he said, though he allows it requires a lot less equipment. "I just use my cell phone and adapter and get the best sound quality I can get." 

DJ Balu believes clubs that make it through the pandemic will end up thriving. 'I have a feeling it's all going to come back tenfold, because people do need to go out.' (Submitted by Christopher Adamowicz)

While bars and restaurants have been allowed to reopen, albeit with restrictions, nightclubs remain on the province's list of high-risk venues. According to Ontario's Stage 3 reopening plan, nightclubs are "not yet safe to open, due to the likelihood of large crowds congregating, difficulties with physical distancing, or challenges maintaining the proper cleaning and sanitation required to prevent the spread of COVID-19."

In addition, as of midnight Friday, new restrictions meant to curb COVID-19 transmission will apply to bars and restaurants. Last call will be at 11 p.m. and doors must close by midnight. Strip clubs across Ontario will be forced to close indefinitely. The tighter rules are meant to quell a recent flare-up of cases, especially in people ages 20-39.

The rules have taken a heavy toll on the nightclub scene in Ottawa, forcing artists, DJs and producers such as Peter Albert, a.k.a. DJ Pithra, to pivot to online entertainment. Albert, co-founder of Music.Art.Ppl Collective, used to DJ regularly at Babylon, Mercury Lounge and Queen St. Fare.

"I miss the community. I miss being out there, dancing with others, connecting and sharing," said Albert on Ottawa Morning. "You can't replicate an immersive experience digitally."

'I miss the community. I miss being out there, dancing with others, connecting and sharing,' Albert says. (Lens Flare Smith)

Albert did produce a virtual fundraising event for the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra. "It was a good time, but … people on the other side watching through their screens? You don't really get that satisfaction of getting the reaction," he said.

And the money? Not great, neither for the DJs, nor for the venues that can't make any extra money selling food and drinks at virtual events.

"Let's be real. It's not as … lucrative," Albert said.

Albert is in touch with DJs elsewhere who are also struggling because of COVID-19.

"In the U.K., things are strict, if not stricter," he said. "If there's a renegade party, something that's not officially organized and legal, then there are fines of £10,000 (about $17,000 Cdn.)."

"There's just too much uncertainty to even book artists," said Albert. "Here in Ontario … the premier announced that regulations would change the next day. People had weddings that got cancelled."

Albert worries colder weather will reduce options even further.

"It would be great if, as a community … we can find a creative way to do things in the winter, say a massive tent where the government allows different people to host events and it's aired out with a bunch of heaters. We just have to think of ways to make it work with the winter coming," he said. 

Balu remains cautiously optimistic Ottawa's nightlife will survive. "I have a feeling it's all going to come back tenfold, because people do need to go out," he said. "I know some clubs are struggling … others are holding on tight and praying that this ends quickly."

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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