Defected Virtual Festivals – Uniting the masses through dance culture at home

Submitted by James Kirkham, Chief Business Officer, Defected Records

The Defected Virtual Festival has captured imagination, caught public attention and struck the right note in a moment when people needed music the most. This was not a design by committee or weeks in the making. It was actually a super simple creative process, which started one Sunday night through a WhatsApp conversation between the leadership team.

Our ‘disco philosophy’ is that dance floors unite people in a way that governments and religions cannot. As social distancing measures begun in the UK and public gatherings became impossible, many of our signature festivals, events and parties got postponed or cancelled.

This was a moment in time we had to jump on. While we’re not able to bring people together physically, we want dance music lovers to feel like they’re a part of something. The idea of the virtual festival spun out quickly from there. DJs and talent all put their hands up to be a part of it as did the Ministry of Sound club in London.

Our first virtual festival was held inside a cavernous and empty club and broadcast out on social platforms to millions of people worldwide. Every DJ who played, without any of the usual interaction of hugging, spoke about how it was the most nervous they had ever been doing a performance – playing to no crowd, while (in fact) playing to a huge number of people worldwide.

The feeling of collaboration was strong, not least from global technology and social platforms who all worked to bring it to the masses. Our virtual festival went out on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter – via a broadcast to millions, wherever they might be. Defected has over 5 million fans across social platforms connected through a love of dance culture. This vociferous group is the beating heart of the brand and make our activations fly. 

Our first event was covered far and wide, in business press like Forbes, broadsheets like The Telegraph and the Financial Times, BBC Radio 2, BBC news and consumer publications including NME and Billboard. We picked up over 2.5 million total views, and a press reach of 277 million - all without a single penny spent on media.

Our followers asked that this becomes the weekly Friday release. We’ve since created two more events, with more coverage from the likes of 6Music and headline acts from Calvin Harris and Roger Sanchez. The setting is now in the lockdown vernacular, with living rooms, bedrooms and the like being the backdrops.

One key layer is the fan interaction and involvement. From a Greek man raving from his hospital bed, to frontline NHS workers using it as respite during downtime, to the main thousands of parents introducing house music to their children in their homes.

We prompted spread by supplying DJs who played with their own assets; these promoted their set time, and we provided them with the video of their set and playlists too to give to their own communities and audiences. Each social sphere of influence thus builds to a great whole, delivering a genuinely credible, authentic experience - where legitimacy is key.

Moving forward we are continuing to evolve the idea, building out even stronger programming, looking at more intimate moments with DJs and artists, creating proximity through live Q&A and perhaps even a video call after-party idea for those fans who want to talk to those involved. It is about providing the right levels and layers of interaction and fulfilment for our community.

Brand partnerships are something we’re looking at but will only bring the right brand on board for the right value exchange - ensuring we deliver for the community and the fans, not solely as a financial pay off. 

We’ve learnt a lot in this time and see this as an evolving feat, honing the best way to bring the love through house music to this huge global audience. We’re learning how we should re-order line-ups to suit different audiences worldwide, and how this differs to a typical single event in one location. Suddenly the UK vs US vs Asia reach of DJs and artists help determine their position in a virtual festival line up, due to global start times and their appropriateness to these different fan geographies.

Overall though is validation of our brand beliefs that music unites people like nothing else can.

This series of virtual festivals have given people belief, a sense of belonging, and helped them feel part of something with like-minded people in a time when they feel isolated. We’ve had comments about it easing their anxieties and restoring their sense of positivity and, above all, hope. Whilst we plan to come back in the physical ‘real’ world soon with a new series of outdoor events, it remains a goal to unite our community in this way for the time being, to ensure dance culture lives on through the lockdown.