I Went To A Headphone Dance Party

I’m not a club girl. Let’s just get that out of the way right off the bat. I don’t like clubs, and I don’t like that “clubbing” is a socially accepted verb in the English language. You might think I’m lame, but that’s okay: clubs are typically too crowded, too loud, and too hierarchical for my taste. So when my friend forwarded me an Eventbrite link for a Quiet Clubbing party this past weekend, I a) was skeptical and b) immediately renamed it “Silent Rave” in my head, for my own peace of mind. A rave is cooler than a club. I’d heard about these events before, specifically one in Union Square a few years ago—everyone brought their own music, tuned in with their own headphones, and they had a giant, silent-to-the-outside-world dance party. I could get into that, I thought. It’s like being on the subway, when you want to dance but can’t because it would look so totally weird. I always want to dance to my music on the subway. So I was game to try this out. Hey, it’s something new.

At this Quiet Clubbing party (hosted by Quiet Events), we were given wireless headphones as we walked into the venue, and there’s a choice of three different stations, each playing a different genre of music spun by one of three DJs (who are on-site). I know what you’re thinking, if you’re anything like me, and yes—it was the first thing out of my mouth once I walked in the door:

Me: I have an anal question. Do you sanitize the headphones when they’re returned, before you give them out again?

Quiet Events employee, waving a pack of wipes in my face: Yes! What do you think we are, animals? Of course we clean them; that’s why there’s a “dirty” bin…

I just had to make sure. I warned him that it was going to be an anal question. These things are going on my ears. I don’t live under a rock—I HAVE HEARD OF CAULIFLOWER EAR (don’t Google it).

After we got our headphones and made a pit-stop in the restroom because my bladder is the size of a peanut, we were free to dance to whatever music we wanted—as long as it was playing on one of the three stations. Green was Top 40 dance hits; Red was Latin, Hindi, and house music; and Blue was all 80s and 90s pop/rock/dance. The headphones have a light on the front of each earpiece, serving to signify to the rest of the clubbing world which station is playing.

The idea that you can connect to another partygoer by bonding over a shared station is a curious one, since the whole logic behind Quiet Clubbing seems to be to isolate yourself, to cut yourself off from the other clubbers by choosing your own music and dancing in your own world all night long. My friends and I stayed on separate stations, with some crossover every few songs. Then there were moments when one of us looked to be particularly grooving to a station—so the rest of us would switch to that one, too, to see what it was all about. And we’d all get really into it together. We even did a few coordinated dances (not ashamed). But we’d have to remove the headsets to talk about why we loved a song, or to tell a funny story about the weird guy lurking in the corner, or even to say we were going to the bathroom. So it was either the music or the communication; it was hard to have both—though we got creative with some miming.

And that highlights the weird factor of Quiet Clubbing: where’s the connection you feel when experiencing music with someone else, in the moment? The bond of sharing music is an incredibly strong one; it’s part of why we see live music (if you see live music; I don’t know if you do), part of why we share playlists (or burned cds or mix tapes)—to connect with other human beings based on this shared love of a medium and expression that’s so evocative and often emotional. As illustrated by my night of Quiet Clubbing, you can get on the same level as someone when you’re on the same station, but the headphones were still a bit of a barrier to truly being in sync, if you want to be. I’ll admit, I’m pretty split down the middle on that one; I love experiencing music all by myself AND sharing it with friends.

Quiet Clubbing is also plagued by the issue of the recently coined but ancient concept of (and I hate this acronym with the fire of one thousand suns so know that I am gagging as I type it) FOMO. Fear of missing out. It’s a problem I used to have with the car radio, and whenever I’d be in the car with my mother, it drove her crazy. She deemed it my “radio ADD.” Radio FOMO (ew) is at play during Quiet Clubbing; this is the peril of too many options. I’d like one station a lot—but fear struck; what if I was missing an even BETTER song on another station? So I’d have to switch to check it out. And the process just repeated itself. Then I realized that switching around is part of the point (and it’s fun). Plus, I liked that there wasn’t a totalitarian music overlord choosing only one option for the night’s entertainment.

My friends and I spoke to the man with the plan, the brains behind Quiet Clubbing, before we left at the end of the night. He’s a young guy named Will, who says that “But how will people talk?” is the number one question he gets from the venue owners and managers. I really didn’t know that was something club owners worried about. If you’ve ever been in a club and heard the deafening volume of the frenetic music, you wouldn’t think that was their top priority. Apparently it is. I feel like the whole point of the headphones is to rock out to your music of choice, though it’s possible to chat, if you’re so inclined. Just remove the headphones. I took my headphones off a few times, expecting at first to be bombarded by the sound of silence, but it wasn’t totally quiet. Think about standing next to someone whose music is blaring so loud you can hear it even though he or she has headphones on or earbuds in. It was like that—I could still hear strains of each station, which resulted in an interesting mish-mosh of noise at a medium volume.

Even better, though, I heard my fellow clubbers scream-singing along to whatever song was playing in his or her ears. It’s impossible to gauge personal sound level when the music is so loud in your ears. Tone-deaf people (myself included) shouting, with very little cognizance they were doing so? It was HILARIOUS.

So even though I’m not a clubbin’ kind of gal, Quiet Clubbing is worth checking out, at the very least as a novelty night to mix it up from whatever your usual weekend routine may be. Go with a group—you may not talk to them the whole night, but at least you’ll have some people on the same wavelength (and maybe even the same station) to bust out some coordinated choreography. TC mark

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