Why you should care

Because there’s got to be some way to dance to ABBA in public without being mocked.

If in 2009 you had walked into a club called Vivid in Birmingham, England, you’d have found the dance floor littered with revelers dancing to total speaker silence.

Welcome to the wild and woolly world of silent disco.

Started as a way for dance clubs to stay open later without suffering the wrath of sleeping neighbors, silent disco is the workaround of all workarounds. It foils sound cops worried about widespread hearing impairment (decibel levels at most clubs range between 105 and 110 decibels — only 30 decibels less than a jet). Silent disco allows apartment dwellers to throw all-night house parties. And it mollifies environmentalists concerned about sound from outdoor concerts affecting local wildlife. Moreover, silent disco has been gathering steam stateside as the next thing not only for club-goers, but also for anyone who likes to dance and still wants to be able to hear.

Which is weirdly counterintuitive, since recent reports blame headphones for the near-epidemic of twentysomething hearing loss. Northwestern University audiologist Dean Garstecki told LiveScience: “We’re seeing the kind of hearing loss in younger people typically found in aging adults.” Even the Who’s Pete Townshend attributes his hearing loss to studio headphones, not live music. Silent discos, however, may be able to sidestep this issue with one crucial feature: each pair of headphones has its own volume control.

When people want to talk, they can pull off the headphones, and they don’t have to scream over a loud PA.

“The volume control knobs help,” said Party Headphones co-founder Matt Reiners from a side pavilion the company sponsored at the Bonnaroo music festival. “But the biggest benefit is that when people want to talk, they can pull off the headphones, and they don’t have to scream over a loud PA.”

Silent Disco

People dance while listening to music on wireless earphones during a silent disco in a main boulevard in Tel Aviv.

Flash forward to 2013, and from Berlin to Krakow, London to Atlanta, silent discos seem much less weird and much more happening. In San Francisco, trendsetting companies like Silent Frisco hold daytime dance parties at Ocean Beach, where amplified music isn’t necessarily allowed. Local DJ Rubia, who sunlights as an elementary teacher, even brings her headphones into the classroom so that her second-graders can rock out. “They loooovved it.”

With cooler upgrades and ever larger crowds, silent discos are only getting bigger: multiple channel frequencies, live silent disco bands and mobile clubs. At mobile clubs, dancers provide their own music at flash-mobbed venues where party people just show up, tune in and quietly dance the night away.

Indeed, silence is golden.

Comment

OZYFast Forward

New trends and breakthrough thinking in politics, science, technology, business and culture. It’s futurism at its best.