Why you should care
The word “listen” contains the same letters as “silent.”
It’s the moment that would make a crowd go ballistic. The drummer slams home the bridge. Then comes the scorching riff of the guitar — the kind of big, beautiful racket that gets under your skin, shatters your eardrums and melts your mind. Except the audience is dead silent. They’re forbidden to cheer, whoop or whisper.
Or, at least, that’s how it should be. Music is meant to be appreciated, not drowned out by selfie-snapping teenyboppers or loudmouth drunks hollering about how “sick” the drop is. That’s the usual drill for concertgoers. In the basketball arena, spectators yell at a deafening volume to make a player miss a free throw or mess up their game. Why would you do the same to your favorite band? If you’re going to shell out hundreds of dollars to be at a performance, quit making a ruckus. Instead, hush up and just listen.
I’m quietly in love with loud, aggressive beats — I run to punk rock, I write to dubstep, I twerk to techno when no one is looking — but at concerts, I’ve always done so attentively, letting the booming bass wash over me. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who’s in it for the music and none of the nonsense. A few months ago, a music series called Wavelength tested out a “Don’t Speak” concert in (where else?) well-mannered Canada. It was sold out and — aside from the freewheeling melodies of David Jones, North Atlantic Drift and Benoit Pioulard — the concert was utterly and eerily silent. Patrons were permitted only to text or pass notes to one another; not a peep was allowed. The simple act of listening “created a oneness” between the audience and the performers that is rare in other shows, says Johan Seaton, who jammed at the concert on a chilly spring evening in Toronto.
Frustrated with the terrible acoustics at many venues, some musicians take it a step further — scrapping the sound system altogether and reveling in the sound of silence. Singer-songwriter Dan Morrow hosted a series of 18 performances in Brooklyn, New York, where patrons rocked out to indie music streamed exclusively through pairs of wireless headphones — much like a silent disco, but for live concerts. He says it helped create a concertgoing experience like no other: surreal, immersive and intimate, as if you were standing onstage right next to the musicians. “It encourages the idea that you’re here to see the band as a spectacle, and they can have a bit of power in that regard,” says Morrow.
To be sure, the sound of silence has its time and place. Even Adam Bradley, who organized the Wavelength show in Toronto, points out that a concert sans noise could be “harder to wrangle” for some. Few musicians want to play to crickets. They prefer the roar of fans gone hog wild, especially if they’re true rock musicians. Why forsake the rowdy mosh pits of a death metal concert or the high energy of a hip-hop show? “It’d be silly to suggest that people should pay attention all the time and be quiet … The whole idea is to go loose and get nuts,” he says.
But if no one’s giving a rat’s ass to the music in the first place, it can be distracting for most musicians and hard to get into the groove anyway, Morrow says. Phones are the worst culprits. Sometimes, shutting up can be the best compliment you can give.
Drop the mic.