A silent disco or silent rave is an event where people dance to music listened to on wireless headphones. Rather than using a speaker system, music is broadcast via a radio transmitter with the signal being picked up by wireless headphone receivers worn by the participants. Those without the headphones hear no music, giving the effect of a room full of people dancing to nothing.
In the earliest days of silent discos, before 2005, there would be only one channel available to listen to music through. Over time, the technology moved along to where there were two, and later technology allowed for a third channel that three separate DJs could broadcast over at the same time.
Silent discos are popular at music festivals as they allow dancing to continue past noise curfews. Similar events are "mobile clubbing" gatherings, where a group of people dance to the music on their personal music players.
An early reference in fiction is the 1969 Finnish science-fiction film Ruusujen Aika ("A Time of Roses"), where characters wear headsets during a party. The concept was also used by eco-activists in the early 1990s, utilizing headphones at outdoor parties to minimize noise pollution and disturbance to the local wildlife.
The Oxford Dictionary Online added the term "silent disco" to their website in February 2011. As interest has increased, there has been a rise in the number of companies organizing parties and providing events with wireless headphones. Some companies have offered home kits.
Another type of silent party, known as mobile clubbing, involves the gathering of a group of people in an unconventional location to dance to music which they provide themselves via a portable music device, such as an MP3 player, listened to on headphones. These flash mob gatherings may involve hundreds of people, transforming public spaces into temporary clubbing areas, in which dancers listen to their personal playlists. To an observer it would appear that the participants are dancing for no apparent reason. Mobile clubbing events are organized using mass-emails, word-of-mouth or social networking websites such as Facebook, or a combination of these methods.
The first event, organised by London-based artists Ben Cummins (also founder of Pillow Fight Club) and Emma Davis, was at London's Liverpool Street Station in September 2003. Over the next five months there were a further five events at other London train stations including Waterloo, Charing Cross and London Bridge. By the end of 2008 there had been more than twenty of these events at similar venues throughout London, mostly train station concourses or other public spaces that lend themselves to expressive dancing and rapid dispersal.
A headphone concert is a live music performance where the audience, in the same venue as the performing artist, listens to the music through headphones. The idea originated in 1997 when Erik Minkkinen, an electronic artist from Paris, streamed a live concert from his closet over the internet to three listeners in Japan. The concept led to a decentralized organization known as le placard ("the closet"), which allowed anybody to establish a streaming or listening room.
The first headphone concert taking place in front of a live audience took place March 20, 1999, at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. The American psychedelic band The Flaming Lips used an FM signal generator at the venue and handed out mini FM radio receivers and headphones to each member of the audience. A normal speaker system was also used so the sound could also be felt. This continued on their "International Music Against Brain Degeneration Revue" tour with mixed results, with technical problems including dead batteries and intoxicated audience members having trouble tuning to the correct frequency. Another headphone concert was performed in the Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff in April 2000 by Rocketgoldstar.
Later headphone concerts used specially designed wireless 3-channel headphones, better in-house custom made transmitters and no speakers or any live PA in the venue. Major events hosting headphone concerts included the 2010 Shift Festival in Switzerland, the 2011-12 Van's Warp Tours across North America, Sensoria 2012 in Sheffield, UK, the 2012 Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee and the Hoxeyville Music Fest in Michigan. In 2012, Kid Koala performed a "Space Cadet Headphone Concert tour" around the world.
A variant of the headphone concert involves live bands competing for the audience, who are able to choose which band's frequency to receive. In August 2008, the first silent Battle of the Bands was held at The Barfly music venue in Cardiff. The event featured bands going directly head-to-head, with a stage at each end of the venue, allowing gig-goers to choose which group they wished to listen to.
Theatre and performance companies are now beginning to exploit silent disco technology as well. In 2009, with the help of SilentArena Ltd, Feral Productions began using an experimental approach – a mixture of narrative-led performance, sound art and guided exhibit. Their first performance, The Gingerbread House, took the audience from The Courtyard, Hereford on a journey through a multi-storey car park in the centre of Hereford. In 2010, their second show, Locked (Rapunzel’s Lament), took place in a children’s playground, also in Hereford. Silent theatre techniques are now being used by companies in Liverpool, Birmingham and Glasgow.
In 2015 the Lincoln Center staged a production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show where an audience wearing headphones could switch between the audio for the live performance and the soundtrack of the film version being projected behind it.
Silent Disco technology has been also been used over the past few years for "Silent Cinema" events, including film launches and rooftop cinemas. It has also inspired and been used for operatic performances by Silent Opera.
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