A quiet night out
Welcome to the country’s first silent disco. The organisers decided to try out the idea at Sho Cho, a stylish Japanese restaurant and lounge in Dubai’s Marine Beach Resort and Spa, last week. They did not advertise the event, preferring to see how the regulars would react. The results are encouraging. The wooden deck overlooking the sea is packed with people wearing big, black, wireless headphones and going completely crazy. No music is audible, but the venue is far from noiseless. The ambient sounds of people skipping, stamping, jumping up and down, chatting and singing drown out the waves.
The oddness of the scene highlights the strangeness of dancing itself. Dancing is a powerful impulse, a primal ritual and a refined art. But without the accompanying music, there is little to key you in as a spectator. At a silent disco, headphones are the conductors – in the scientific rather than musical sense – allowing the music to flow to the participants. Without them, you are an outsider looking in. You are not part of the party.
I head over to the desk in the corner where two women are handing out headphones in exchange for a deposit. They are very simple to use. There is a volume control and a switch with three settings: off, A and B. Channel A is a DJ playing a Balearic mix of cheesy rock, party songs and 1980s classics. Channel B is a DJ playing deep house. I flick the switch to channel B and turn up the music sound-system loud. Almost immediately, the movements of different people dotted around start to make sense. Pretty quickly I find myself starting to dance.
Silent disco first emerged in the 1990s when ecological activists started using wireless headphones to broadcast music at outdoor events. In 2002, two DJs from the Netherlands, Nico Okkerse and Michael Minton, picked up on the idea and started using wireless headphones at parties in Holland, Belgium and France. In the legend of silent disco, they are the pioneers. Their parties were successful, but remained underground, word-of-mouth, unheard of by all but the most tuned-in people.
It was not until the Glastonbury Festival in 2005 that the concept really took off. After complaints from residents of surrounding villages, the local council imposed noise restrictions which threatened to cut short the festival’s early-hours dance-music parties. When someone suggested using wireless headphones at the parties, Glastonbury’s first silent disco was born. It was a resounding success. The novelty of the set-up and the sight of dancers quietly grooving – clips of which quickly became popular on YouTube – helped restore the festival’s quirky reputation, as well as boost the international profile of the silent disco concept.
Since then, parties and festivals around the world, from the Download rock festival in the UK to the Pohoda festival in Slovakia, have put the idea into practice. On the basis of tonight’s audition it now looks set to take off in the UAE. Part of the reason that silent discos have proven so popular is that they are so easy to hold. Wireless headphones are cheap, easy to obtain and straightforward to set up. Beyond the simplicity, silent discos also have a number of other advantages over their noisier counterparts.
Headphones markedly improve how the music sounds. Anyone who has attended an outdoor music event will know that the quality of the sound can range from tolerable to muddy to unbearable. Unlike the traditional booming speaker stacks, wireless headphones provide better and more uniform sound quality. Even indoors, the shape of the room, the height of the ceiling, and the composition of the surfaces, all affect acoustics. While venues such as Fabric in London invest heavily in state-of-the-art sound systems and hi-tech dance floors in their quest for immediacy and clarity, silent discos render such financial outlay unnecessary.
Perhaps more importantly, the noiselessness of the event reduces its impact on the environment. With no repetitive beats to aggravate wildlife or residents, previously sensitive venues and traditionally antisocial hours are much less of a problem. Back on the deck at Sho Cho, people are leaping up and down to Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit playing on channel A. Far from being uncomfortable or odd, something about wearing the headphones also obliterates self-consciousness and encourages weirdness.
“Do they mess up my hair?” asks Melissa from the UK as she puts on the headphones for the first time. She quickly forgets her question when Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams comes on channel A and rushes on to the dance floor. “It’s really strange,” says Jonathan from Germany. “But it’s strangely fun. I love it.” Behind him the crowd has started bouncing up and down to La Bamba. Or at least some of them have. The rest are dancing to a different tune on channel B.
The transcendent power of headphones is well known. Every day, millions of people on the streets, on buses and on trains around the world use them to blot out the din of the city. Silent discos tap in to the habits of the iPod generation – a whole group of people who use music to create their own self-contained worlds. They also offer the choice that many young people now demand. The option of dancing to a different tune may have begun with clashes between reggae sound systems in Jamaica and filtered into the genre-segregated rooms of clubs but it has reached its logical end with silent disco, where decisions are made with the flick of a switch.
The random juxtapositions created when you switch between the headphones make for good entertainment are entertaining in and of themselves. On channel A David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and on channel B a swirling, spacey house tune. Even more fun, perhaps, is guessing who is dancing to which channel. This seems to be Jonathan’s main concern. Every few seconds he interrupts his friends to ask them what channel they are listening to – as if it is not obvious from the way they are moving.
Silent entertainment is not just confined to music, either. Silent cinema is also taking off. In the 21st century this refers not to black and white movies accompanied by a live piano, but screenings of films where viewers watch films in the normal way but wear wireless headphones to listen to the audio track. It’s an interesting idea. Watching a film is still a shared experience, but the isolation helps the viewer to become more immersed in the experience, immune to the chatter of fellow viewers, their crunching popcorn or their beeping mobile phones.
It’s not all about insulating yourself from the outside world, though. While technology is often accused of fragmenting society, dismantling the traditional bonds of family and friendship and limiting face-to-face communication, the silent disco concept and its offshoots help to bring people together in new ways. Take the group of besuited middle-aged men who I saw walking past the deck at Sho Cho, for example. At first they stopped and stared at the silent disco’s patrons like they were observing some strange, exotic species in a zoo.
For a moment I watched them looking in, then turned back to the dance floor. A few minutes later, that same group of men had donned their headphones, joined the crowds and started to shake their stuff. Maybe a quiet revolution really is under way. Few, it seems, are able to resist its muted call.
AMSTERDAM, the Netherlands (CNN) — Surprising, surreal and just a little bit silly, welcome to the weird world of Silent Disco.
Developed in the Netherlands, the concept involves a DJ, numerous sets of wireless headphones and a certain lack of shame, as clubbers dance on a quiet floor.
Instead of being played out through speakers, the music at Silent Discos is delivered to dancers’ ears via their own sets of wireless headphones.
Partygoers tune into a restricted radio frequency through which the music of the DJ is broadcast.
The people behind the project, Nico “No DJ” Okkerse and Michael “DJ Od” Minten, are veterans of the Dutch arts scene.
The DJs, whose company is known as 433fm.com, came up with the concept in 2002 and say the aim is for people “to go wild in silence.”
They told CNN they are confident that in the ever changing world of clubbing, it is better to be seen than heard.
“The music is very intense and you hear everything perfectly. People know that the party is exclusive to them, so it gives a good feeling,” Minten told CNN.
A silent disco was held in June at this year’s Glastonbury Festival, in the west of England, to enable the party to go on later into the evening without infringing the noise curfew.
Festival-goers at the dance tent were issued with free headphones, complete with bass, volume and treble controls, so they could have the music as loud as they liked.
Minten told CNN the concept has been well-received where ever they had held the events, including in Belgium, Spain, Italy and Scotland.
In a year’s time, the pair hope to master a six-channel sound system to enable entire music festivals to happen silently.
According to the website for silent disco events, what started from the idea of entertaining people preparing for an act, evolved into a plan for an illegal disco party using wireless headphones. The silent disco founders, Nico Okkerse and Michael Minten, birthed the idea and unveiled it in 2002 at the traveling music festival in the Netherlands called De Parade. This brilliant way of pleasing everyone without contributing to noise polution simply involves grabbing some wireless headphones, a dance partner and heading to the dance floor. The headphones allow for comfortable music transmission only those wearing them can hear. This is without a doubt a considerate way to party but it is kind of odd and funky.
The July/August 2008 edition of Ode magazine featured a story on the silent disco which mentions, “everyone raises their hands in the air, simultaneously shouting, Ooh ooooh!’ The odd thing is, you don’t hear any music.” The accompanying picture, though, shows extremely jubilant and excited dancers all wearing headphones. So these party goers are clearly not embarrassed to be seen dancing to what looks like silence. The founder of Camping Rotterdam, Rini Biemans, is quoted in the same issue of Ode as initially finding the notion of the silent disco as “quite funny.” Yet he too was obviously intrigued by the idea enough to incorporate the silent disco into his summer festival layout.
Festivals, concerts and various other musical venues are all promoting the silent disco as a good time for all. However, the quiet concept really exploded in popularity in 2005 when all eyes were on the extremely renowned performing arts festival of Glastonbury, England. Loud music penetrating the Glastonbury air through the wee hours of the morning could have potentially ruined the festival experience not just for festival organizers and the local Glastonbury residents who get tired of the concerts from time to time, but for the festival attendees who went to the shows to do more than just hear music. It’s hard to meet new people, converse with pals and get the latest souvenirs and memorabilia if the music all around you is drowning out your words.
With such booming success, there will be a silent disco option local to you before you know it. In fact, there won’t just be a silent disco nearby. Technology companies are supplying this same wireless technology to music companies and events across the globe so that soon quiet clubbing will be a reality. Residence of densely populated cities will hold music festivals and concerts while being able to sit back and enjoy the silence.