It’s Saturday night in Miami and the party is pumping at Wynwood Yard, but unlike at the booming bars and nightclubs across the city, the 100 or so revelers here tonight celebrate with no music played aloud. To the left, there’s a crowd of people with headphones beaming fluorescent green lights, twirling and bumping across a fantasy-garden dance floor filled with fairy lamps and the smell of marijuana. To the right, a pudgy bearded man wearing a bright blue Pokemon t-shirt breaks the silence by loudly singing off key to “Hey Ya!” by OutKast. All around, people dance as if they were in the season finale of “Do You Think You Can Dance?”
“This is madness!” one attendee shouts.
Actually, it’s Silent Disco. Where partygoers listen to music not over a booming sound system, but piped directly into their heads. These headphone raves started gaining popularity overseas in Europe ten years ago. But now they’ve hit America, as noise ordinances have forced event planners and DJs to think outside the box, and the proliferation of wireless, noise-cancelling headphones provide the necessary tools for modern-day partying.
These silent parties have been established in popular festivals such as Burning Man and Coachella and in big cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Now, they’re in Wynwood once a month, thanks to SoundOff Experience, a national events producer.
Upon arrival, guests receive a pair of special earphones which allow users to adjust the volume and choose between different styles of music with the flip of a switch. Each headset has a colored LED light that indicates which music genre is streaming — blue for top 40 and pop, red for house and EDM and green for hip-hop, R&B and Latin, so people can seek out and dance with others listening to the same tunes.
“Inside the headphones, each dancer is alone but also part of a tribe,” says Roman Corrales, Silent Disco manager. “You have the power of choice to listen to what you want to but at the same time share this energy with so many other people.”
At the Wynwood Yard event, three DJs spin, but without a speaker setup. The challenge for the Silent Disco DJ is to find the right sound to bind the community under the headphones.
Inside the headphones, each dancer is alone but also part of a tribe.
“It sort of becomes a competition between us to always play our best tracks,” says Chris Genesis, DJ at the Wynwood Silent Disco. “It’s vital that you can read the crowd and through the headset colors physically see which one of us they’re listening to. It’s like the music battle of the future is here.”
But for partiers without earphones on, the effect of watching so many people shake, jump and twist in silence can feel disorienting.
“It’s super freaky and weird at first,” says Bruna Carvalho, a Florida International University student. “People are jumping and dancing super awkwardly and you can’t hear anything, so you just laugh at them… but once you have your headphones on, you don’t care what anyone else thinks, it’s such a unique experience.”
Despite its inherent individualism, silent disco parties offer some unique opportunities for being social. If someone wants to chat with a friend or fellow dancer, she or he can simply lower the volume or take off the headphones. Unlike at a bar or nightclub, you don’t have to shout over loud music and your ears won’t ring when you leave.
“This is actually a live human experiment,” says Corrales. “The really cool thing about the party that most people don’t understand is that the people who aren’t listening to the music can have some great quiet time, get a drink and bond with each other.”
But with the headsets in place, guests experience crisp clear sound no matter where they are in the venue. Whether they’re dancing, sitting down or even in the bathroom, the music is played exactly how it is intended to be: in true stereo sound.
“Hearing loud music through speakers in a party is really cool but hearing loud music through headphones while still being at a party is something else,” says Andrew Mattheson, a realtor and Silent Disco attendee. “Some people say you might as well listen to music at home. But being here surrounded by so many people, sharing this amazing energy and still being able to control what and how I want to listen to my music it’s unexplainable.”
In many ways this customizable concept of partying seems perfect for a millennial generation that wants everything to be tailored to them individually and quiet clubbing’s proponents think silent discos are here to stay.
“Silent Discos are the epitome of our generation,” adds Corrales. “It gives us the freedom to choose, to control how we want to have fun. It gives us an opportunity to break our own rules and question what’s normal. These events generate a platform in which advanced technology can bond us like never before and we’re here for the full ride.”