On March 18, 2020, a man named Derrick Jones set up some DJ equipment in his kitchen, went live on Instagram, and almost immediately began to change the world.
(That feels like a bit of an exaggeration, but I also don’t think it’s 100% false, so just put it in your back pocket and we’ll get back to it at the end.)
Jones grabbed some wine, started playing music, and, just like that, the “Homeschoolin’: Social Distancing Dance Party” was born. What followed was a nine-hour dance party virtually attended by the likes of Common, John Legend, and LL Cool J, in addition to thousands of people who prefer using their real names when they go to work.
When Jones picked back up that weekend, the party had gotten even bigger, with over 100,000 fans in attendance at any given time. This time, the list of celebrity visitors included Diddy, Steph Curry, Michelle Obama, Janet Jackson, Joe Biden, Mark Zuckerberg, and Oprah, all swinging by to check out the show (which I’ll remind you was a solitary man, standing in his kitchen, playing some songs he presumably enjoyed).
How exactly did this party get so huge? Well, first of all, Derrick Jones isn’t just a guy with a turntable and internet access, he’s D-Nice, rapper/producer turned DJ/photographer who’s been involved in the music industry for over thirty years. If you’re like me and haven’t really stayed up with the latest DJ or photographer news, you might remember him from his work alongside KRS-One in rap group Boogie Down Productions (one of the all-time great names for a business venture, by the way), his production and performance in the 1989 stop-the-violence anthem “Self Destruction,” or his 1990 solo hit “Call Me D-Nice.”
Second, you’ve got to remember that in the spring of 2020, the world reached a sort of collective cabin fever the likes of which we’d never seen before, and will hopefully never see again. People get bored all the time — in fact, you might be bored right now (sniffle), but this was “Hey everybody, why don’t you go see how long you can juggle a roll of toilet paper like a soccer ball” — level boredom. The world was, safe to say, going through it.
With the power of those two elements combined, D-Nice’s “Homeschoolin’: Social Distancing Dance Party” (soon renamed “Club Quarantine,” and very wisely so) was a massive success, and it has continued regularly, albeit to smaller numbers, ever since.
If you’re unfamiliar with Club Quarantine (aka CQ, aka CQAD — that’s Club Quarantine After Dark, if you’re nasty), here’s how it basically goes: Although he occasionally posts a heads-up days in advance (especially if there’s a special event/theme, guest of honor, etc.), but it generally appears that D-Nice just hops on IG live whenever he feels like it. He posts an image like this:
on Instagram, the “D-Nice started a live video” notification/bat signal pops up on your phone (assuming you’ve set your Instagram accordingly, that is; I don’t think he’s a hacker), and everyone figuratively sprints over like the doors just opened on a Black Friday sale. As the room begins to fill, he hops behind the turntables in a wide-brimmed hat I couldn’t pull off in a million years (and wouldn’t even try), sips a beverage, and plays songs until he no longer feels like playing songs.
Whether you’re looking for some background music or a primary source of entertainment, just stop by Club Quarantine, and the next thing you know, you’ll be up at 3 am on a weeknight, doing the running man to some Johnny Gill as quietly as possible so your downstairs neighbors don’t call the police and your significant other doesn’t walk into the room rubbing their eyes and saying “Weren’t you supposed to be working on an article? Is this what you’ve been doing with your life instead?” Just to clarify, that was a hypothetical situation (a figure of speech, really) and either way, Club Quarantine’s more than just a good time, it’s a learning experience as well, complete with four lessons that could change your life.
4. Sometimes You Just Need To Let Go.
Since it’s technically just a guy playing music over Instagram, Club Quarantine doesn’t exactly have a long list of rules. There’s no dress code, no secret password, nothing too complicated at all. I mean, I’m sure you can get booted for posting some extremely problematic comments in the chat, but since Instagram is owned by Facebook, I can’t possibly begin to imagine where the cutoff for that sort of thing could be. All I know for sure is that the following rule is always in effect: No requests.
Some people seem to have a real problem with that rule, but you’ve got to understand that Club Quarantine’s not your Bar Mitzvah, wedding or prom — it’s D-Nice playing the songs he wants to play in the order in which he wants to play them, and if you don’t like it, feel free to leave. Look, when you’re on Instagram, you’re almost definitely using your phone or your computer at the same time, so if you want to hear one particular song so bad, just go to Spotify or Youtube or Apple Music or Tidal or anywhere else you can think of, because nobody on Earth exclusively gets their music from DJ sets being broadcast over Instagram. If you hop in the comments like “Hey D! How bout some Soulja Boy?!” or whatever you’re dying to hear at the moment, someone will undoubtedly chime in to inform you that requests are not to be made, and that someone is named “At least half the crowd.” The lesson there is simple: Sometimes you just need to let go. Ceding control of a situation is easier for some of us than others in general, but the unpredictability is part of what makes this particular experience so great. Maybe he’s got some Prince on deck, maybe some Toto. Sometimes it’s Al Green, sometimes it’s Hall & Oates. You never know what’s next, and that’s the beauty of a DJ set. Watching a great DJ is like watching a great skateboarder or breakdancer at work — sometimes things look ultra sketchy and you’ll think they’ve backed themselves into a corner, but it turns out they’ve got a move you’d never even considered that perfectly strings everything together. like the time he went on a run of ‘70s soul songs that were all eventually sampled by Jay Z. If you caught the connection? Great. If you didn’t? That’s great too, because you were still listening to the Stylistics, and listening to the sweet sounds of the Stylistics is just about the silkiest, smoothest consolation prize of all time.
3. Friends Can Be Found Anywhere.
I don’t have many other Instagram dance parties to compare this to, but based on my general knowledge of the internet, you’d be hard-pressed to find an online gathering with a general vibe quite as positive as that of Club Quarantine. I’ve seen clubgoers remember someone’s birthday, (you’ll note I said remember — the birthday had been brought up in the chat earlier in the week), and a thousand strangers wishing someone good luck on a test they had the next day. They’ve carried inside jokes for days or weeks at a time, and when the famous people return to kick it with the rest of us nobodies, they don’t hesitate to join in on the general foolishness. For example, you may not know this (and he definitely doesn’t know this), but Donnie Wahlberg, yes, THE Donnie Wahlberg, has become a good friend of mine during this past year. I don’t mean to brag, but hey — it is what it is. Donnie (I call him Donnie) shows up to the club on a regular basis (he and D-Nice met a few years ago when his wife Jenny McCarthy hired him to DJ his 50th birthday party), and as soon as he drops his first comment in the chat, promptly gets the Norm from Cheers treatment from all the regulars; not so much because he’s prominent entertainer Donnie Wahlberg (although that’s obviously why it started), but because he’s pleasant Instagram conversationalist Donnie Wahlberg.
Sure, our friendship is more like the one Tom Hanks had with that volleyball in Cast Away than your traditional “both parties are at least aware of the other” friendship, but modern times call for modern definitions, and if you’re spending 98% of your day indoors and isolated, vloggers, bloggers, and IG chatters have never been more appreciated. Furthermore, I can’t begin to tell you how much more likely I am to enthusiastically support the New Kids on the Block in their next creative venture, now that I’ve spent all this time hanging out in the club with my main man Donnie (Full disclosure, and no disrespect to the talented and I’m guessing delightful NKOTB, but prior to the pandemic, the likelihood was zero. Zero point zero likelihoods). In fact, maybe I’ll swing by one of the burger joints he runs with his brothers and talk to the cashier like “You know Donnie, the owner? Yeah that’s my guy. I know him from the club” then quickly try to change the subject before they ask for any additional information. Same goes for people like actress/screenwriter Lena Waithe, who I’ll now refer to as “The Homie Lena.”
I don’t know what her next project is going to be, but I’ll be there, because I always try to support my friends’ creative endeavors (I feel like I should also mention that it’s incredibly easy to make friends when you keep the definition of “friends” super loose. That could probably be another life lesson in and of itself).
2. Pay It Forward.
When Club Quarantine’s getting ready to close for the night, D-Nice often takes some time to promote another DJ who’s about to host a set of their own. Once we hear the new location, the people in the chat make their jokes about paying tabs, splitting an uber, etc., and we all head over to the DJ-Nice sanctioned after party. It costs him nothing to send out these recommendations, and that next DJ, whomever it may be, goes from hosting 250 guests to 2,500, just like that. The clubgoers pile into the new spot and check back in, make sure everyone got there safely, and get ready to open up a tab at the bar (seriously, they are dedicated to this bit), the party picking up right where it left off. D-Nice just as easily could’ve said “Bye everybody, goodnight!” (I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say that) and gone to bed, but he instead chooses to shine some of his spotlight on others. Maybe someone did that for him back in the day, or maybe he’s just a thoughtful guy — all I know is that the listeners get more music, another performer gets a larger audience, and everyone’s a winner. Last summer, D-Nice sent the crowd over to the Instagram account of legendary Houston rapper Bun B, who played an all-Houston set from his basement at something like 2:00 in the morning, and provided you know who Bun B is, it was as incredible as you could possibly imagine (if you don’t know who Bun B is, he’s one of the other two guys on Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin.” The one who told you to read a book and step up your vocab? Did that help?) If D-Nice were a more selfish person, I would’ve had no idea that was happening. Instead I don’t know if I’ll ever forget it, because a spontaneous virtual afterparty live from Bun B’s basement is hands down one of the finest ways one can end their night.
1. Believe in Yourself.
For the most important lesson of Club Quarantine, allow me to share a deeply personal story from this past summer. I’m vibing in the club with a few thousand friends when D-Nice switches things up with a little “Fame” — the Bowie one, that is, not the “I’m gonna live forever” one. Now, I happen to know a little bit of trivia about that particular song, so I decide to drop it into the chat that’s constantly running on the screen. I start typing my comment, but all of a sudden, I freeze. You know why? Because I doubted myself, that’s why. It seems fairly ridiculous in hindsight, but I felt like I was going to bother everyone by making them read my little music nerd commentary, so I deleted everything I’d written. The Club Quarantine chat is usually an extremely lighthearted place to be — people crack jokes, send shout outs, and toss up relevant emojis if necessary. What they don’t do, however, is throw out unsolicited music trivia (unless they’re the artists/producers who actually made the songs; it’s incredible when that happens), because nobody came to the club for a history lecture. “This ain’t Pop-up Video, let the people dance and post their emojis in peace” I thought, so I kept it to myself. Fast forward to no more than a minute later, and I kid you not, Taylor Dayne, as in ‘80s dance/r&b star Taylor Dayne pops up in the comments and says exactly what I was going to say: The uncredited backing vocals on “Fame” were performed by Bowie’s friend John Lennon. Suddenly everybody in the chat is like “Oh wow, really? That’s so interesting Taylor Dayne, I had no idea,” and it just keeps going until finally D-Nice himself is like, “Hold up — wow, John Lennon did backing vocals on this? I’m blown away right now!” Would he have seen my comment? Probably not, because thousands of people are sending comments at any given minute, but I’ll never know for sure, and I’m going to have to live with that for the rest of my life. That random summer day could’ve been the day I taught hip hop legend D-Nice something he didn’t know about music, but instead, Taylor Dayne, who clearly approaches situations with far more confidence than I do, received the glory, and as a result, I’ll never be able to blast “Tell It to My Heart” while dancing in my bedroom again (I mean, I’ve never done it before, but it’s nice having options). I could’ve been somebody and I choked it all away. I’ll live the rest of my life like a schnook.
Club Quarantine celebrates its anniversary on Friday, March 19, and as I look back on my time as a regular, I feel like it probably lines up pretty closely to how the guy from The Shining would’ve described his time at the Overlook Hotel — we got stuck inside for a bit, assumed things would get better (but they ended up getting way worse), and despite our circumstances, had a great time dancing and laughing with people who were kind of there with us, but also kind of not, if that makes sense. Sure, our paths ultimately came to a bit of a fork in the road, but let’s not get bogged down in technicalities here — the point is that Club Quarantine, born from the ashes of worldwide cabin fever, carved out a tremendously impressive spot for itself over the past year.
I don’t know how much longer these CQ sessions are going to continue on a regular basis, but if we’re coming to the end of the road, I think we should take a minute to appreciate the butterfly effect contributions it made to society during this time. First of all, I’d assume that helping thousands of people party safely at home helped lower both infection and crime rates across the globe, and second, it’s just common sense that playing Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass and Jodeci throughout the course of an evening will inevitably lead to a spike in the population, so when you put those together, the notion that a guy can change the world by standing in his house and playing music to his webcam isn’t that far-fetched after all.
If you’re a regular member, or thinking about heading to Club Quarantine for the first time, maybe I’ll see you there. If you never end up stopping by, that’s okay too, but either way, be sure to remember these four important lessons: Pay it forward, appreciate friendship’s many different forms, don’t try to control every situation, and above all else, believe in yourself, because if you don’t, Taylor Dayne will pop up out of nowhere and straight up ruin your life.