Live music persists in the Borderland despite pandemic

Coronavirus

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The music industry in El Paso is undergoing a period of transition amid the pandemic.

Some in the industry are adapting to city-imposed restrictions, while others have put on controversial events that challenge efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But the shows are going on.

On Sunday, acclaimed EDM artists EC Twins will be in El Paso to perform during a seated brunch at The Green Door

“El Paso will be our first official show back since March and it’s going to be insane! It seemed like the perfect fit,” EC Twins told KTSM 9 News in an email. 

“The virus is always in our mind … but once we hit the decks, the adrenaline and nerves take over, the same as every show and so far everything has worked out,” the duo continued.

The decision to play has provoked a mixed response from fans. 

EC Twins told KTSM that one-third of their fanbase are pleased with live shows being played, one-third are angry and the other third are curious. 

“From our side, we will do everything we can. Masks with powerful filters, social distancing, obsessive hygiene,” the artists wrote. “We’ve been largely quarantined since March. Allister was born with a congenital heart defect, to which he had to undergo life-saving open-heart surgery last year. We can assure you that we don’t take our decision to go back on the road lightly.” 

“We’d love to see everyone in the city at the show, being sensible, but at the same time showing their support and pride for all the brilliant promoters, venues and artists in El Paso,” they continue.

El Paso continues to see record-shattering numbers of new COVID-19 cases per day, and a persistent culture of “pandemic raves” has drawn criticism and concern that have not faced interference from the city or local law enforcement.

On Oct. 17, video footage emerged of a recent “coronarave” that took place in El Paso when 500 to 800 new COVID-19 cases were being reported per day. 

The footage shows dozens of partygoers dancing and not social distancing, about half of whom are not wearing masks.

Other criticism used flyers of past and upcoming events that tagged the events’ promoters and DJs to hold them into account. KTSM reached out to the promoter and DJs tagged in the posts, but did not hear back by press time.

Gerardo Mendez, a DJ and promoter at Shameless Productions, has a show on Sunday and says he’s approached it with safety in mind. 

“The venues I work with all get sprayed down from disinfectant companies before and after each event,” Mendez told KTSM. “They have hand sanitation stations throughout and check everyone’s temperatures prior to entering the events.”

Mendez said that other measures include social distancing and mask wearing is strictly enforced. 

“With the ongoing pandemic, the last thing any one of us would want is to jeopardize the health or wellbeing of anyone,” he said. “I do this so people can have something positive and feel somewhat ‘normal’ while we provide entertainment in the safest ways possible.”

Many of these efforts correspond to national efforts by artists to safely revive the live music industry. 

Bands like The Flaming Lips are experimenting with a proposed tour that will encapsulate each guest in a hamster wheel-like bubble, while others advocate on the policy level.

On Sunday, a commercial aired using a song licensed by the Beastie Boys for one of the first times in the hip hop group’s history during a football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. 

“Sabotage” roared in a political ad in support of Joe Biden that focused on the detrimental effects that COVID-19 has had on the live music industry — independently owned venues, specifically. 

According to the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), 90 percent of independent venues across the U.S. say they will close permanently without governmental support. Loss of revenue from ticket sales is estimated at $9 billion if venues remain closed through the rest of the year. 

NIVA reports that while 90 percent of businesses across the U.S. have reopened in some capacity, music venues have remained shuttered. 

Many production crew members, sound engineers and more have been unemployed for most of the year and are desperate to return to work. 

The third annual Mystic Mayhem will take place next to the KLAQ Haunted House this year put on by xTrill and billed as a free Halloween rave. 

The event’s promoter, who goes by Lufa, is particularly proud of the event because it is providing an opportunity for paid work for many displaced workers in the live production and event industry.

“For my community, the EDM community in the Borderland, we’ve been waiting for a long — long — time to have something organized that feels safe, and can be assessed safely,” says Lufa. 

Guidelines for the event follow Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders, says Lufa, and includes a mask and social distancing enforcement, encouraging hand washing, and discouraging those who feel ill or have underlying health conditions from attending. 

Additionally, the event page features a COVID-19 disclaimer: “There is an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 in any public space. While we are eager to get back to the music and events that we love to bring to our community, we cannot ignore the impact COVID-19 has had on our community. To reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread we ask that all of our guests, talent, and staff adhere to all posted guidelines.”

“This event, I think is going to be the reopening of what our community is looking for: bass music, artists, having the opportunity to interact with an artist,” says Lufa. “It’s all brand new all over again.”

xTrill has plans in place in case an event attendee exhibits COVID-19 symptoms that include removing the guest from the venue via a designated exit and then transporting them to a predetermined hospital. 

“It’s mostly ensuring those attending know the issues surrounding us, as well as keeping clear communication with the authorities, and just maintaining the capacity limit that has been imposed on us by the county judge and the city mayor,” Lufa says. 

KTSM reached out to the City for comment, but did not receive a response.

Like the EC Twins, Lufa is relying on fans to attend shows responsibly.

“We’re not encouraging people to come if they’re sick, we’re discouraging people to come if they feel sick or have been in proximity to people that are sick.”

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