Halle am Berghain, the most famous nightclub in Berlin, has closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Until partygoers can return, the space has been used to present art installations.
  • As nightlife reduces to a simmer across the globe, a group of European club promoters, creatives, and technologists have banded together to create a virtual experience: "Club Quarantäne."
  • The virtual nightclub boasts a 360-degree video dance floor and sets from DJs and artists across Europe. 
  • Since its inception, the club has hosted three parties and about 700,000 visitors. And like the exclusive Berlin club scene it's based on, 40,000 people were turned away on its first night.
  • In a time when people are feeling more isolated than ever, the project says it aims to bring a sense of community — and a little bit of humour — to even the loneliest on lockdown. 
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What is it, exactly, that makes a club a club?

Is it the music? The lights? The bouncer tending the line outside? The revelers you chat with while waiting for the restroom?

Carlo Luis Ruben Schenk might know the answer. He's a promoter from the clubbing capital of the world: Berlin. And since nightlife has been reduced to a simmer across the globe, he's been part of a team creating a virtual club for hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Club Quarantäne has been that digital sanctuary for clubless bacchants. The venue, which can be attended through any desktop web browser, boasts a 360-degree-video dance floor, with the thumping bass of a techno set and visuals that range from futuristic greenhouses to industrial tunnels filled with laser lights. 

There's even a "line" outside, with a countdown clock to getting in. A virtual bouncer asks questions like, "Do you know who's playing tonight?" and "Are you already a supporter?" When asked if there were any right answers, Schenk smiled.

"It's random," he said in an interview with Business Insider, adding: "It's also a joke about security guys and the night hosts in clubs. Sometimes it really feels random why you aren't chosen to get in."

The site is full of tongue-in-cheek references to Berlin's nightlife. Schenk estimated that 40,000 people, or 30% of attendees, were rejected during the club's first night. The good news: They can always refresh their browser and try again.

There has been no shortage of digital music festivals since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Behemoths like Tomorrowland and small local concerts have all gone online. With the exception of Travis Scott's impressive Fortnite concert, the technology is pretty much the same: a livestream of a performance and the occasional link to an official Zoom party. 

But the Club Quarantäne team, which includes promoters, technologists, and creatives from across Europe, believe that clubbing is more than just watching a DJ set. Rather, the team says, it's about the unique space that's created by artists and strangers that are pulled together by music. In a time when people are feeling more isolated than ever, the project aims to bring a sense of community to even the loneliest on lockdown. 

The project has set itself apart from other online festivals by diving headfirst into the virtual experience, taking lessons from video gaming to reconstruct a club online. Since its inception in March, it's hosted three parties — which can each last up to 40 hours — and 700,000 visitors. 

"You can listen to the music, you can join a Zoom party, you can chat with people, you can watch the visuals, you can influence the visuals," Schenk said.  "There were different ways of gameplay,"

For one party, the team created a "drip button." The more the users collectively clicked, the more the visuals morphed. The team has future plans that include making visuals steam when more users enter the dance floor, and leveraging microtransactions to let users buy "trees" to fill a virtual field.

There are also "bathrooms" where users can pick a color to serve as their avatar and message with people across the world. People from Detroit to Warsaw chatted and passed out Zoom links to video-chat parties, attendees said. 

Music quality was a big part of the initiative, too. Schenk's team asked artists for clubby sets — upbeat techno, atmospheric music — the stuff you'd hear in a boiler room at 4 a.m. They said they wanted a high-quality stream that could cater to users with serious sound systems. 

Danya Adib, a 24-year-old from Redwood Shores, California, turned up her subwoofer to listen from her bedroom in the Bay Area. She said she used to frequent San Francisco's electronic music scene.

"I closed my eyes and for a second I felt like I was back," she said in an interview with Business Insider.

The virtual "bathrooms" at Club Quarantäne that function as smaller chat rooms.

The nightlife industry globally has been shut down and struggling since the pandemic began. Approximately two-thirds of Berlin's 140 clubs are now facing acute threats of closure, according to ClubCommision, a trade organisation. Some well-known institutions like Tresor, Sage Club, and The Watergate have survived through government loans, but many others, especially smaller clubs, have fallen into heavy debt or closed permanently. Gretchen, a club in Berlin, accrued more than 50,000 euros in debt, according to The Wall Street Journal. Club Quarantäne is not affiliated with any particular nightclub.

Entry to Club Quarantäne is free, but visitors can make donations at a virtual "bar" that's already raised 14,000 euros for charities like Seawatch, which rescues refugees in the Mediterranean, or racial justice organisations. 

The team says it's planning to come out with a series of Pride events that focus on queer collectives around the world. In the long term, the team hopes to move beyond their own Berlin club scene, to help brands and artists of other genres throw unique virtual events.

"We don't want to do something that just fills the gap until Covid is over. We want to create a new way of performing music in the internet," Schenk said. "It should not replace live music, but it should be a serious way of sharing your musical art."