Backpack zipped, headset on and laptop open — Mackenzie Fell was ready to end her school day and start mixing music. Quarantine has changed her performing schedule, but it has not stopped her from getting music to her followers.
Fell would normally spend her Spring quarter at Cal Poly, playing different gigs as a DJ, contributing to the SubSessions collective as a creative director and going to music festivals. Due to coronavirus, all shows have been cancelled, including Fell’s. Instead, she has taken to the internet to livestream performances from her home.
The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was confirmed on Jan. 21. It was not long before the rest of the country was economically impacted by the virus, including the music industry. Music festivals including Coachella and Stagecoach were postponed by the beginning of March, and artists including Billie Eilish and Post Malone postponed their worldwide tours. Many other major events across the country have been canceled or postponed due to coronavirus.
The first case of COVID-19 in San Luis Obispo County was confirmed on March 14, and spring music events were canceled or postponed. One of the largest spring festivals in town — Shabang — was postponed on March 18. SubSessions also postponed all of their events in March.
“No longer can we share a dance floor and experience the energy of the community that is built when you’re in a setting with live music,” SubSessions DJ Jovi Cala Vella said. “That is the hardest part of all, at least in my opinion.”
Like Cala Vella, Fell said she is also missing out on live, in-person music. Living in quarantine, she said she is now trying to figure out how to advance her music career from home.
She has dedicated time to listening to music, live streaming her sets and sharing music with her followers. It has been her way of staying connected to the music community she would normally be a part of at many different music festivals this spring, she said.
A Q&A with DJ Felly Fell
The responses in this interview have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What music festivals were you planning on attending during Spring quarter?
I was planning on going to Desert Hearts for my first time, which is an awesome little collective that grew to be super big in the last 10 years. They are a company that I would like to model SubSessions after. I also had plans to go to Lightning in a Bottle, which is one of my favorite festivals that I have been going to since I started at Cal Poly three years ago. I was planning on performing at Shabang in SLO as well as playing at Lucidity in Santa Barbara.
What did SubSessions have planned for the Cal Poly community?
We had planned to do a small festival in honor of our first festival “Life’s a Peach” that happened last spring. The festival we were planning would have taken place fall 2020, but all of our competition has postponed their festivals to the fall and we don’t have the capacity to plan a festival when everything is closed right now.
“I have had to learn how to interact with my audience virtually through livestreams, which is so different from interacting with an in person audience.”
What can people do to enjoy your music and SubSessions music during quarantine?
I have a bunch of original mixes that are all accessible on my SoundCloud under the name Felly Fell. We also have a SubSessions SoundCloud where we’ve been posting mixes from our resident DJs as well as sets from live events and recorded sets from livestreams during quarantine.
Why do you feel it is important for SubSessions and yourself to provide new alternatives of music entertainment to followers?
It is a great market for us right now, because people have time to listen to music while they work, study or workout. Quarantine has given us the chance to focus on the digital side of SubSessions, an area we really didn’t have time for before when we were throwing bigger events. As much as it is important to us that we feel a sense of community in music, we want to provide that through the live streams we have been doing.
How has music helped you get through this difficult time?
I have been listening to so much music to help me through this. I realized that a lot of songs I listen to end up reminding me of one moment or one feeling, and being brought back to that moment motivates me to keep mixing.
What do you miss most about the music world?
I really miss feeling that sense of community and togetherness in person. It was one of my favorite things ever to know that we could have an event, [and] our community would show up. I could walk around the event and have some sort of connection with almost everyone there.
DJ shows look different for Fell these days. While crowds used to flock to indoor venues for sets, Fell now DJs from her home while live-streaming to virtual audiences. Annie Murphy | Mustang News
How has coronavirus affected your own music career?
I don’t have time to have a full-time job as a student, so I really rely on my gigs to supplement my income. I’m very lucky to have the support from my parents right now while I’m still in school, because I know that this would be a whole different story if I was living on my own and supporting myself through music completely. I have also had to learn how to interact with my audience virtually through livestreams, which is so different from interacting with an in-person audience.
What are you most looking forward to doing musically after quarantine is over?
I’m most excited for the fact that people will hopefully be exiting quarantine with a new lease on life. In music, I think people will have a newfound excitement and passion for events, festivals and being around others. I’m really excited for those moments when we can truly be together, feel that sense of community and appreciate what we had and what we have again.
Read more about Fell and Deegan’s reporting in Behind the Story.