The silent disco, while not unheard of, is still a relatively unfamiliar concept to many – unless you happen to be an electronic music fan who goes to clubs and raves in Europe. Hundreds of people in an enclosed space, wearing headphones and silently swaying to their own private musical beat…of nothing. Or at least it seems that way to an outsider who isn’t wearing headphones. So what exactly is this soundless music phenomenon, what are its origins, and what’s the point of it all?
Silent discos have been documented as far back as the late 1960s, when it is suggested that they were created as a form of noise control and to protect local wildlife from disturbances during outdoor public performances. One of the first recorded instances of a “silent disco” was depicted in the Finnish Sci-Fi film Ruusujen Aika (A Time of Roses), which depicted people wearing headsets during a party. Then in 2000, “BBC Live Music” held a silent music event at Chapter Arts Centre, where audience members listened to a band and the lineup of DJs through individual headphone sets. Silent discos often involved two DJs competing for listeners via headphones, and these quickly became popular at music festivals because they allowed the events to go on even after the noise curfew had passed. The term “silent disco” was eventually added to the Oxford Dictionary Online in February 2011, and various event companies have created their own silent disco-type events, which take place at everything from corporate parties to weddings.
There are a couple of variations on the silent disco factor. At some venues, attendees can make individual music selections on their headphones, so the person dancing next to you could be listening to something entirely different as he gets his groove on. “Mobile clubbing” is a similar type of gathering, except it is more flash mob in nature and involves people getting together at specified locations, each bringing their own portable music devices, then dancing together. There are also events that are referred to as “headphone concerts”, which are live music performances where the audience listens to the same act/performer through headphones. The first headphone concert took place back in 1999 at SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas and involved mini FM radio receivers and headphones. To take things a step further, there are even “silent cinema” and “silent opera” events as well, often taking place on rooftops and at other unusual public locations.
Silent Frisco is a San-Francisco-based music event company that is “dedicated to turning impossible situations into musical magic.” They use state-of-the-art music technology to enable artistic, political and educational expression in places where noise was the solo factor preventing that expression from occurring. They offer multi-channel, festival-optimized wireless headphones that provide superior volume and clarity for listeners and have produced events across the country, from beaches and boats to clubs and subways. Other companies that offer similar services include Silent Disco USA, Silent Storm Soundsystem and Silent Events.
Robbie Kowal, the founder of Silent Frisco, points out the numerous advantageous benefits associated with hosting a silent disco event. For one, it puts the individual in control of their situation. From music selection to volume level, each person gets to choose their own comfort zone, as opposed to having to deal with outside distractions like people talking and loudspeakers. With the headphones on, one immediately loses themselves in the music and can actively listen and dance without any interruptions. In addition, it makes music more accessible – and allows people to enjoy themselves without inconveniencing others. An added bonus factor is that if you want to throw a party or some other special event, you can contact the company directly in regards to renting headphones for all of your guests.
In more good news, it looks like the silent disco is coming to Los Angeles with plans to stay…at least for a while. Wilshire Restaurant in Los Angeles is beginning another four-month silent disco event series (running from January through April), which will feature various DJs spinning popular favorites by Daft Punk, Radiohead, 70s disco and more, all via individual headsets. For more information or to plan your next silent disco event, check out www.silentfrisco.com.