We know that one of the hardest hit industries during the global pandemic that we are all living through has been nightlife everywhere. While our favorite locales might be shuttered, it’s the employees, the cooks, the bartenders, the barbacks, and the DJ’s that work tirelessly at these spaces that are being directly affected. One of the DJ’s that has worked at a number of these spaces, in the United States and beyond, is DJ Steve Sidewalk. Whether he is at Paradise in New Jersey or Diego’s Bar & Nightclub (where Sidewalk will be spinning this Labor Day), he has been, like all of us, finding the balance between social distancing and hitting the dance floor. Sidewalk sat down to speak with me about spinning music in these uncertain times, the lessons he has learned, and why supporting these establishments right now is absolutely crucial.
Michael Cook: So we all know that nightlife has been one of the most affected industries since the pandemic hit; when did you initially realize that this was definitely going to be a long-term situation?
Steve Sidewalk: I was having a great winter, I had just spun Winter Rendezvous Gay Ski Week in Stowe and DJ’d at O Bar in Manila, Philippines in February. I was spinning my monthly residencies in Palm Springs at Chill and Piranha in Las Vegas. Then on March 16th, everything came to a halt here in New York City. The last club gig I did was March 14th at Secrets DC; unbeknownst to me at the time, I would be DJ’ing the final night of the club.
The first few weeks of the pandemic I had hope that this terrible virus would go away perhaps in the warmer months, and there was still hope for nightlife in the summer. It was hard to realize this wasn’t the case and has been a major struggle and adjustment financially.
MC: You were one of the DJ’s who continued to DJ for tips and have done a weekly Zoom party since the earlier beginnings of the pandemic. What made you decide to continue making music during this time?
SS: I really wanted to give the loyal customers who have support me throughout the years something. Our Gay College Tuesday Zoom party that started from the shut down is a collaborative effort of our dancers, drag hosts and myself. We all work for tips and the Zoom event is entirely free. We understand many people are in the same situation as us and out of work. While 2020 has been a pretty awful and challenging year, it has been a great year for music! Dua Lipa and Lady Gaga both released amazing dance albums its great to be able to enjoy these songs with our nightlife community, even if it is virtually.
MC: What has been the reaction that you have gotten since DJ’ing on a brand new platform? How has it been dealing with copyright issues, like many performers are dealing with online platforms?
SS: It’s been good for the most part, but definitely a challenge. Many social media cuts off streams randomly due to copyright issues and the other issue is finding continued interest in our events. There are only so many virtual parties you can attend before wanting to just go outside and enjoy the world like we used to. As more things opened up like outdoor dining, I noticed a decrease of interest in streaming; but we are still at it.
MC: What are you hearing from the LGBT community as DJ and how people are missing the nightclubs?
SS: Everyone tells me they can’t wait to come back to dance at the clubs when this pandemic is over. We all just hope there are still clubs left by that time as many of our beloved nightlife institutions are facing major financial losses with little to no support from the government
MC: You have gotten the opportunity to play in other states during the pandemic, like Ogunquit and Rainbow Mountain in Pennsylvania. What has been the reaction like? Is everyone respecting social distancing and masking up?
SS: The people have been great and very appreciative in those area, the rules are very similar to New York City. I spin outdoors and everyone including me must wear masks while standing up and I make several announcements on the mic as a reminder. The only real difference is that these places have more outdoor space than NYC. I also spun at Feathers in North Jersey, which has room for about fifteen to twenty socially distant tables.
MC: You are playing in Rehoboth Beach at Diego’s Bar & Nightclub on Labor Day weekend. Rehoboth has been one of the LGBT destinations that has managed to make it work this year for the community and are constantly finding new and inventive ways of doing it. You have played at Diego’s before; are you ready to return for the boys of Delaware?
SS: I am absolutely excited to return to Rehoboth, It’s a great community; the changes for me this year is that I will spinning daytime outdoors and everyone has to be remain seated unless to use the restroom. This “Table Top” tea event I’ve done before in Maine and Pennsylvania, but also on 4th of July at the Fire Island Pines pool. Despite the beaches and private houses of the Pines not following social distancing that weekend, the business did and it was very well managed. I actually learned a lot from how management ran that outdoor table top tea.
MC: So how has it been navigating during the pandemic as a DJ? Any plans going into the fall?
SS: It’s been challenging and there are many events were I just rely on tips from the customers, as i understand the venue having me spin has no money to afford a DJ and are struggling to pay their own bills. Sometimes the crowd is very generous and sometimes I make nothing. It is still nice to be able to play music and entertain people. I am willing to work just about anywhere (as long as proper social distancing protocols are followed). So feel free to hit me up if you have a gig or know of one: Djstevesidewalk@gmail.com
MC: How do you think the pandemic is going to change nightlife as a whole going forward, even after we all return to the dance floor?
SS:I think nightlife will come back in full force and people are really going to miss it. However the real question is how many clubs, bars and LGBTQ establishments are going to make it through this pandemic. I know of four bars already gone in NYC and two in West Hollywood; I really hope we don’t lose many more. I tell everyone if you have a favorite bar and they have outdoor dining/drinking, please continue to support them-they need the help.
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