Ethnographic Explorations of the Impacts of COVID-19 on Sociality and Spatiality in a Swiss Live Music Venue


  • Jelena Gligorijević University of Turku



COVID-19 pandemic, live music venues, socially distanced concerts, sociality and spatiality, ethnography, Switzerland


The globally experienced suspension of cultural life brought about by the COVID-19 crisis has been duly acknowledged and discussed in a growing number of publications, reports and online seminars, most often in terms of the impact of COVID-19 on the music/culture industry. Despite the worsening pandemic situation in Switzerland and elsewhere during the autumn of 2020, I happened to be conducting field research in the city of St. Gallen (in north-eastern Switzerland) where the authorities opted for a “liberal” handling of the health crisis. As a result, the city’s live music venue “Palace”, where I was doing my fieldwork observations, remained open to the public as late as mid-December 2020, albeit with shortened opening hours and with a dancing ban. This allowed me to gain first-hand fieldwork experience during the pandemic’s significant constraints on social behaviour. The present article accordingly addresses the ethical dilemmas that I encountered when operating in this “grey zone” of field research, while also documenting the challenges and adjustments that the Palace venue had to undergo during pandemic times from the perspectives of producers, musicians and audiences alike. The article specifically focuses on understanding and analysing changes in the experience of the Palace’s sociality and spatiality under social distancing rules. Ultimately, this work provides a different angle on the existing body of music-cultural research, which largely focuses on the cancellations and transformations of music events into virtual gatherings.

Author Biography

Jelena Gligorijević, University of Turku

Jelena Gligorijević is a popular music scholar currently affiliated to University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Her primary field of expertise is in issues of identity, power and politics in Balkan popular music across the former Yugoslav region, notably Serbia, demonstrated by her doctoral dissertation titled “Contemporary Music Festivals as Micronational Spaces: Articulations of National Identity in Serbia’s Exit and Guča Trumpet Festivals in the Post-Milošević Era” (2019).


Bakare, Lanre. 2020. “Lyrical Lockdown: Rappers Respond to Coronavirus”. The Guardian, 23 March. (accessed 6 January 2021).

Banks, Mark and Justin O’Connor. 2021. “‘A plague upon your howling’: Art and Culture in the Viral Emergency”. Cultural Trends 30/1: 3–18. DOI:

Barcelona and Its Celebrations. The Social Reaction of an Empty City in Full Swing [documentary]. 2021. Directed by Alba Colombo, Open University of Catalonia, Barcelona. HERA-funded project “Festspace”. Available at: (accessed 8 May 2021).

Barna, Emília and Ágnes Patakfalvi-Czirják. 2020. “‘Let’s stick together in this time of peril, and let common sense prevail’: The Mainstreaming of Populism through Government-Supported Hungarian Lockdown Music Videos”. Paper presented at the international online conference Suoni della pandemia/Sounds of the Pandemic, 16–17 December.

Bates, Jennifer. 2020. “Reimagining Fieldwork during and beyond the Pandemic”. King’s College London [blog], 3 December. (accessed 7 December 2020).

Berhalter, Roger. 2020a. “‘Die Leute wollen wieder gemeinsam Musik hören’: Das Palace St.Gallen öffnet wieder—aber nur für einen Abend” [“People want to listen to music together again”: The Palace St. Gallen reopens—but only for one evening], St. Galler Tagblatt, 18 June. (accessed 4 December 2020).

Berhalter, Roger. 2020b. “‘Wir müssen die Veranstaltungen im Palace nicht komplett neu denken’: Das St.Galler Kulturlokal öffnet nach halbjähriger Pause wieder” [“We don’t have to completely rethink the events at the Palace”: The St. Gallen cultural venue reopens after a six-month break], St. Galler Tagblatt, 3 September. (accessed 4 December 2020).

Berhalter, Roger. 2020c. “‘Wir wollen nicht, dass der gesellschaftliche Diskurs aufhört’: Das St. Galler Palace plant eine wöchentliche Fernsehsendung” [“We don’t wantthe social discourse to end”: The St. Gallen Palace is planning a weekly television broadcast], St. Galler Tagblatt, 23 October. (accessed 4 December 2020).

Berhalter, Roger. 2021. “Im St. Galler Palace spielt wieder die Musik—aber nur hinter verschlossener Tür” [The music is playing again in St. Gallen’s Palace—but only behind the closed door], St. Galler Tagblatt, 19 February. (accessed 2 September 2021).

Bottà, Giacomo. 2020. “Renegotiating the Helsinki Night through Underground Parties”. Paper presented at the international online conference Suoni della pandemia/Sounds of the Pandemic, 16–17 December.

Carr, Paul. 2020. “Presentation to Culture Welsh Language and Communications Committee: The Live Music Industry in Wales Post Pandemic”. Rock Music Research [blog], 3 December. (accessed 2 February 2021).

Cireddu, Francesca. forthcoming. “Dal vivo. La performance musicale indie-rock attraverso l’analisi dei concerti in live streaming e i concerti con distanziamento sociale (2019–2022)” [Live. Indie-Rock Music Performance through the Analysis of Live Streaming and Social Distancing Concerts (2019–2022)]. PhD thesis, “Tor Vergata” University of Rome, Department of History, Humanities, Education and Society.

City of St. Gallen. 2007. Vorlage Stadtparlament vom 23. Oktober 2007, Nr. 3630 – Palace [The submission to the city parliament on October 23, 2007, No. 3630 – Palace], 1–13.

Dee, Arne. 2020. Key Numbers—Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on 2,600 Live DMA European Music Venues and Clubs in 2020. Nantes: Live DMA.

FlourishAnyway. 2021. “Pandemic Playlist: 58 Songs for Quarantine”. Spinditty, 19 May. (accessed 4 August 2021).

Frenneaux, Richard and Andy Bennett. 2021. “A New Paradigm of Engagement for the Socially Distanced Artist”. Rock Music Studies 8/1: 65–75. DOI:

Frigato, Pietro and Vlatko Kucan. 2020. “Diaries of a Q.—Collective Online Improvisation during the SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic”. Paper presented at the international online conference Suoni della pandemia/Sounds of the Pandemic, 16–17 December.

Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books.

Gehrig, Janina. 2020. “‘Alles, was Spass macht, wird unterbunden’: Der Kanton St. Gallen verbietet das Tanzen” [“Everything that is fun is prevented”: The Canton of St. Gallen forbids dancing]. St. Galler Tagblatt, 16 October. (accessed 4 December 2020).

Gillett, Ed. 2020. “Plague Raves: Is Clubbing in a Pandemic Ever Ethical?”. DJ Mag, 9 September. (accessed 2 September 2021).

Gligorijevic, Jelena. forthcoming. “A Place Outside the Pandemic? An Ethnographic Study of Live Music Events at St. Gallen’s Cultural Venue Palace during the COVID-19 Crisis”. Popular Music.

Gray, Ann. 2003. Research Practice for Cultural Studies: Ethnographic Methods and Lived Cultures. London: SAGE.

Greppi, Alessandro and Diane Schuh. 2020. “Windows and Balconies: Documenting the Soundscapes of Social Movements in France under Lockdown”. Paper presented at the international online conference Suoni della pandemia/Sounds of the Pandemic, 16–17 December.

Guerre, Audrey and Arne Dee. 2021. 2021—Stay Alive. Evaluation of the Effects of the Pandemic by Live Music Associations in Europe as Part of Live DMA. Nantes, France: Live DMA.

Higgins, Hannah B. 2020. “Sonic Images ofthe Coronavirus”. Critical Inquiry, 17 June. (accessed 12 December 2020).

Holm, Nicholas. 2021. “No Time for Fun: The Politics of Partying during a Pandemic”. Cultural Studies [Special Issue: The Cultural Politics of COVID-19, edited by John N. Erni and Ted Striphas] 35/2–3: 452–61. DOI:

Holt, Fabian and Carsten Wergin. 2013. “Introduction: Musical Performance and the Changing City”. In Musical Performance and the Changing City: Post-Industrial Contexts in Europe and the United States, edited by Fabian Holt and Carsten Wergin, 1–24. New York: Routledge. DOI:

Karmy, Eileen and Estefanía Urqueta. 2020. “Musical Workers’ Precarity Uncovered and the Revival of Mutual Aid in Chile”. Hypotheses [blog], 6 July. (accessed 16 February 2021).

Krause, Peter, Ora Szekely, Mia Bloom, Fotini Christia, Sarah Zukerman Daly, Chappell Lawson, Zoe Marks, Aidan Milliff, Kacie Miura, Richard Nielsen, William Reno, Emil Aslan Souleimanov and Aliyu Zakayo. 2021. “COVID-19 and Fieldwork: Challenges and Solutions”. PS: Political Science & Politics 54/2: 264–69. DOI:

Kuchar, Robin. 2015. “Local Scenes, Conditions of Music Making and Neoliberal City Management—A Case Study of Hamburg, Germany”. In Keep It Simple, Make It Fast! An Approach to Underground Music Scenes, edited by Paula Guerra and Tânia Moreira, 547–58. Porto: University of Porto.

Lawton, Philip, Enda Murphy and Declan Redmond. 2014. “Neoliberalising the City ‘Creative-Class’ Style”. In Neoliberal Urban Policy and the Transformation of the City: Reshaping Dublin, edited by Andrew MacLaran and Sinéad Kelly, 189–202. London: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI:

Live DMA. 2021. Pilot Events: Proving Live Music is Safe. 19 May. (accessed 5 September 2021).

McMaster University. 2020. Guidelines for Fieldwork during the COVID-19 Pandemic, 1–6. (accessed 2 September 2020).

Meyrick, Julian and Tully Barnett. 2021. “From Public Good to Public Value: Arts and Culture in a Time of Crisis”. Cultural Trends 30/1: 75–90. DOI:

Moravcíková, Dominika. 2020. “Sounding out the Quarantine: Public and Private Sound Regimes during the Pandemic”. Paper presented at the international online conference Suoni della pandemia/Sounds of the Pandemic, 16–17 December.

Murray, Jessica and Alex Mistlin. 2021. “Police Report Rise in Large Covid Lockdown Parties in England”. The Guardian, 19 February. (accessed 3 August 2021).

O’Connor, Roisin. 2021. “From Touring to Tesco: How Live Music Crews are Coping during the Pandemic”. Independent, 5 March. (accessed 6 June 2021).

O’Sullivan, Feargus. 2020. “Europe is Canceled”. Bloomberg, 13 March. (accessed 18 November 2020).

Pacella, Jessica, Susan Luckman and Justin O’Connor. 2021. “Fire, Pestilence and the Extractive Economy: Cultural Policy after Cultural Policy”. Cultural Trends [Special Issue: Art and Culture in the Viral Emergency] 30/1: 40–51. DOI:

Payling, Dave and Graham St John, eds. 2020. Dancecult 12/1. Special Issue: “Dance Culture in the Time of Corona”. DOI:

Przybylski, Liz. 2020. Hybrid Ethnography: Online, Offline, and In Between. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Reuter, Annie. 2020. “12 Country Songs Written in Quarantine about the Coronavirus Pandemic”. Forbes, 12 June. (accessed 3 May 2021).

Reuters. 2020. “Social Dis-Dancing? Dutch Club Tries Post-Coronavirus Layout”. VoA, 6 June. (accessed 4 August 2021).

Schiller, Melanie and Mario Dunkel. 2020. “Crisis as Obstacle and Opportunity: Popular Music and Populism in Europe during the Covid-19 Pandemic”. Paper presented at the IASPM Benelux PopTalks 1 (Re-)Connecting Popular Music Studies in Times of Crises, 9 December. DOI:

Schmitz, Rob. 2020. “Clubbing in the Time of COVID-19: Berlin Clubs are Closed, So DJs are Livestreaming”. NPR, 18 April. (accessed 8 December 2020).

Stratton, Jon. 2021. “Parodies for a Pandemic: Coronavirus Songs, Creativity and Lockdown”. Cultural Studies [Special Issue: The Cultural Politics of COVID-19, edited by John N. Erni and Ted Striphas] 35/2–3: 412–31. DOI:

Teixeira, Nísio, Graziela Mello Vianna, Ricardo Lima, Carlos Jáuregui, Lucianna Furtado, Thiago Pereira Alberto and Rafael Medeiros. 2021. “Covid-19 Impact on the Music Sector in Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais, Brazil)”. Frontiers in Sociology 6: 643344. DOI:

Vasquez-Tokos, Jessica. 2017. “‘If I can offer you some advice’: Rapport and Data Collection in Interviews between Adults of Different Ages”. Symbolic Interaction 40/4: 463–82. DOI:

Walmsley, Ben, Abigail Gilmore and Dave O’Brien. 2021. “Recovery isn’t a Black and White Picture”. Arts Professional, 4 February. (accessed 4 August 2021).

Werneck, Guilherme. 2021. “The Promise of Freedom”. Norient, 11 March. (accessed 11 August 2021).

Wood, Elisabeth Jean, Douglas Rogers, K. Sivaramakrishnan and Rene Almeling. 2020. “Resuming Field Research in Pandemic Times”. Items—Social Science Research Council, 21 May. (accessed 2 September 2020).



How to Cite

Gligorijević, J. (2022). Ethnographic Explorations of the Impacts of COVID-19 on Sociality and Spatiality in a Swiss Live Music Venue. Journal of World Popular Music, 9(1-2), 217–245.