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Yes we lost dancing; and as Fred Again and The Blessed Madonna predicted, what comes next is looking pretty marvellous.

In our 2021 Industry Webinar, “Why We Gather” we predicted the return of “live” would create a window of hyper-connectedness; a golden moment in time where the power of live events would be supercharged. It seems that time has come, as the Summer of 2022 kicks off, “live” is back in full force and the world is starting to notice just how good it feels to get back together.

It seems there’s nowhere the Pandemic is fading into the distant past quicker than the live events industry. With restrictions completely relaxed, the Summer of live is just beginning, and wow is it looking good; as festivals and mass gatherings return, the world is back and ready to gather once more with abandon.

It turns out, we lost much more than we realised.

There’s no surprise we are delighted and relieved that “live” has returned full pelt. We never doubted its power, but the Pandemic fuelled a determination to fully understand the impact live experiences have on our psyches, emotions, and well-being. When “live” was taken away, it left us empty and incomplete. Now it’s returned, our happiness is restored, and we can gather again for carefree hedonism.

Professionally, as live event creators we were impacted by the Pandemic in more ways than one. Witnessing the decimation of the live sector, paralysed by restrictions, we felt the hit financially. But it was also emotional, as we watched artists & agencies pivot with haste to virtual formats for survival as live formats were quite literally abandoned.

As the lockdowns dragged on, we noticed that these new hybrid virtual formats just weren’t hitting the spot and our desperation to share live moments intensified. Virtual events weren’t leaving us satisfied; there was a void not being filled.

We became insanely curious. What was it we were so desperately missing? What is that magic of being at a live event that we craved so intensely? Why can’t these feelings be recreated virtually? Why did we desperately try to connect as a nation via our doorsteps on Thursday nights?

Humans are “wired” for live

When you start to unlock the power of live, it’s clear it’s biological, chemical and 100% human. As humans, we are simply wired for “live”. We seek and actively participate in large collective gatherings and if they feel good, we go again. They are often the unforgettable moments, the highlights of legendary summers or teenage rites of passage. Who doesn’t remember the spine tingling electricity of their first gig or “that epic Glastonbury when..”

These experience help punctuate our lives and provide milestones in time. But what makes them so powerful and utterly intense?

The answers are written deep in our ancestral past and have been a topic of interest in anthropology and sociology for over 100 years. From ancient tribal gatherings to modern day festivals or concerts; these mass experiences are ritualistic and serve to give us control over time and space, giving humanity structure and a sense of order.

Mass shared experiences are what “glue” us together socially and create a sense of unparalleled belonging. They play an essential role in how we connect with each other.

It’s in these collective experiences where the real “magic” happens; where we experience what classic sociologist Emile Durkheim termed over one hundred years ago, “Collective Effervescence”; the indescribable electric feeling, intensification of shared experience and the formation of collective consciousness that happens when we gather.

“Coming together creates self-transcendence – the individual melts away and we feel connected to the collective, this creates a feeling of ecstasy. We are united to the group and something greater than ourselves”. Jonathan Haidt, Social Psychologist

Fast forward to now, and modern scientific research is making leaps into understanding Durkheim’s beautiful description of human behaviour, and understand what really happens when we gather collectively.

Modern Neuroscience suggests that it’s during these moments of “collective effervescence” and when we dance, listen to music and syncronise our movements together in a crowd, we experience floods of feel-good neurohormones and endorphins.

“From a biological perspective, neurochemicals give us the sensation of joy; they trigger surges of positive emotion and waves of euphoria. Activities that involve lots of physical exertion and interpersonal coordination (specifically synchrony) are hitting the spot in more than one way, triggering our brains to release this deluge of happy chemicals.”
Dr Bronwyn Tarr, Research Associate, The Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford.

These neurochemicals create perceived social bonding and positive emotions and are in fact the same primal chemicals that have bonded us together for survival for centuries. The endorphins released when we listen to music and syncronise our movements together in large groups are thought to be biological social bonding mechanisms that have evolved in large-scale communities.

So there is simply something larger at play when we gather; something very profoundly human that makes us feel good when come together; perhaps explaining why we are magnetically driven to intense “live” moments, where reality is suspended, where we can surrender to the bliss of the neurochemicals and feel a powerful sense of connection.

It’s as if these experiences provide a sense of nourishment that leaves us transformed and we leave with a deep feeling of satisfaction. If we’re lucky and all the ingredients align, these moments can feel like the best on earth.

An absence of Collective Effervescence

Enlightened by the science behind the power of “live”, we can start to understand the impact on our behaviour and well-being when it was suddenly taken away during the Pandemic. Without those powerful moments of collective effervescence, where we form mass social bonds and feel intense positive neurohormones, it’s easy to see why we were left feeling unsatisfied with virtual replacements and feeling adrift from the world. The absence of collective effervescence was profoundly missing in our lives.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2022 and we are once again racing to gather collectively, to feel that electricity and transcend together at festivals, concerts and gatherings, to bathe once more in moments of golden collective effervescence, and it feels so good.

As event creators, witnessing the return of “live” and collective effervescence has given us a renewed and enlightened sense of purpose and optimism. As our Industry resurrects, we can remain satisfied that we play a truly essential role in people’s lives, delivering not just the good times, but the modern social rituals of our time. For us, yes we lost dancing, but as event professionals we gained so much more.

Author: Gemma Duffy, The Manual London

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