How COVID Has Changed Australia’s Party Scene

Warehouse Party10pm37 (edited) St Marrickville

The neon green text floated off the screen of my phone. The number from which the text was sent was filled with hashtags and @ symbols. I had just been invited to a party so clandestine it was impossible to find.

Over the past two years, the lockdown laws have hit Australia’s largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne.

Melbourne was locked for 263 days from 2020 to 2021. Clubs, pubs, bars, and festivals became a collective memory for young Australians, while isolation became a reality.

With the lockdown laws ending this year, it would be normal to assume partying would be reintroduced in these major cities. A new sense of freedom would encourage the party scene, perhaps echoing the ethos of the quintessential Australian clubbing era of the 1980s and early 1990s.

But this ostensibly celebratory period has been bolstered by a post-COVID-19 dark shift in psychology. The pandemic has left an indelible mark on the way young Australians want to socialize.

This year the underground party scene in Melbourne and Sydney is thriving. Although you probably wouldn’t know this, as this scene operates on strict secrecy and an air of exclusivity.

The scene is based on parties held in secret locations until the day of the event, where the participants will receive an ominous text. Why? To avoid the possibility of police interference.

In Sydney, parties are often held in warehouses, especially in Alexandria, Marrickville, and Petersham. In Melbourne, locations change more frequently, including under bridges, parks, deflated swimming pools, and shared housing.

How COVID Has Changed Australia's Party Scene

But it’s not just the change of location that characterizes the modern Australian party scene. It’s the change in atmosphere. It is the change in drug use.

Ketamine has become a staple in the underground scene. This is reflected in UNSW’s annual Drug Trends Report. The data was obtained by interviewing 774 participants in Australia’s largest capital cities, who identified as regular drug users.

The results showed that people taking ketamine increased from 43 percent to 52 percent in the six months between 2020 and 2021. The highest percentage of ketamine use has been reported since the study began in 2003.

Ketamine, commonly referred to by the street name Special K, is a general anesthetic classified as a hallucinogenic drug. Its recent recreational popularity stems from its dissociative qualities.

It usually comes as a white powder within the party scene, but it can also be dissolved, liquidated, and injected. Ketamine users report a wavy, dreamy, detached state when taking the drug.

The recent popularity of ketamine reflects the desire of partygoers to feel disconnected from their environment. The loss of control, self-determination, and expression that has been a byproduct of the lockdowns has taken an emotional toll on Australian youth.

Sweaty, secret warehouse parties, exacerbated by the consumption of a dissociative drug, could become the collective, if problematic, therapy for young Australians.

A misguided source of healing from a traumatic few years.

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