Dance Like No One’s Listening: The Rise of the Silent Disco
Picture this: you’re in a tent with hundreds of other partygoers, everyone bobbing their heads, waving their arms, and gyrating their bodies to the same beat. A DJ in the corner is pumping out house beats with a turntable and a laptop set up. It’s late at night, or early in the morning, but energy is high and there’s no sign of stopping.
If you’ve ever been to a club, a festival or a rave before, this probably sounds pretty familiar. But there’s a twist — there’s not a sound to be heard in the room except for the shuffling of feet. Enter the silent disco.
In fact, if you weren’t in the room watching the action, you’d have no idea that there was a raging party happening inside.
What Is SD?
So what’s going on here? It’s a unique trend on the rave/club scene: silent discos.
During a silent disco, instead of everyone listening to music coming from the PA system, each guest has his or her own pair of wireless headphones that pump the music directly into their ears.
Attending a silent disco can be a funny, surreal experience. But the concept is about more than just novelty. It’s also about letting people let loose and party hard without disturbing the neighbors.
The Start of Silent Disco
The earliest events of this type took place in the ‘90s, and early 2000s. The Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee was the first to use the term “silent disco” as part of its event lineup in 2005. Silent discos are now frequently a part of the music festival lineup, particularly for festivals that take place within city limits — it’s the only way to respect local noise curfews while still providing entertainment for attendees. It was also popular in the early ‘90s with environmental activists for reducing noise pollution and disturbances to animals.
Swapping out the big stack speakers for a headphone set is a true gamechanger, opening up a whole world of party possibilities. For instance, the idea of “mobile clubbing” — gathering a group of people to an unconventional location, and turning it into their temporary dance floor.
At mobile clubs and other types of silent discos, the music is often provided by a DJ, with everyone listening to the same songs. Sometimes there are multiple channels, giving dancers their choice of music. Other times, attendees just bring their own MP3 player or play music from their phone, so everyone’s dancing to their own beat — literally.
The concept behind silent discos has also been used to put on revolutionary live music performances. The first time this took place was in 1997, when French electronic artist Erik Minkkinen shut himself in a closet in his house and began playing music, which was streamed over the internet to three listeners in Japan — a live show that spanned the globe, yet had an audience of only three people.
The Flaming Lips Get Their SD On
The Flaming Lips, an eccentric psychedelic indie band known for their over the top live performances and innovative ideas, also took to the notion of the silent concert. For their 1999 performance at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, the band handed out headphones and mini FM radio receivers to everyone in the audience, then proceeded to play the show and broadcast it over the radio waves.
From large-scale events to small, spontaneous dance parties, the concept of the silent disco opens up new possibilities and adds a totally unique twist to every experience.