Now that Spring has set in the festival season has officiously begun. During its kick-off, Easter weekend, there were already over three hundred complaints about too loud sounds throughout the city of Amsterdam. Despite volume restrictions for festivals and clever directing of their stages, music managed to transgress the festival’s fences and reach the ears of those not up for a party. Further restrictions on amplitude or festival-capacity ensue, and before you know it no decent outdoor event can still take place in Amsterdam. In finding creative ways to combat these developments, one noiseless alternative has started to gain ground: the silent disco.
[ a gigantic silent disco at Lowlands Festival 2018 attracted a crowd of over 20.000 ]
For those not familiar with the concept, a silent disco is a two-(or-more-)in-one party whereby all attendees wear the same wireless headphones. A switch on the earpiece lets you alternate between the channels, each of which is hosted by a different DJ. This way you can switch between three concurring parties and synchronise with those on the same channel. From the performance-side it offers the possibility to have multiple DJs play different styles of music. Therefore there is always something in it for everyone.
Not only are silent discos fun, they are also the best solution to noise pollutive outdoor events. There is no perceivable beat that fills the air or bass that makes the earth shake. Only the muffled voices of partygoers singing along to their respective channels tends to end in a cacophony (pro-tip: take of your headphones for a second and enjoy the bleary sing-along that occurs.) Its hilarity aside, this choir of the deaf does not in the slightest produce as much nuisance as a regular festival sound system would.
[ an overly-American representation of common misconceptions about silent discos ]
As with anything in life, unfortunately, there are downsides too. For one, silent discos do not solve the many other complaint-inducing facets of a festival. They too attract large crowds that have to manoeuvre to the party, and they too spawn drunk crowds that have to find their way back home. Then there are the financial matters. Silent discos are costly as there needs to be at least one headphone per person, which is always subject to loss. But above all, hearing by ear is only a small part of any music experience, especially one whereby you dance. A bass and beat that can be felt throughout the body generates enough energy to keep you dancing. With headphone-only listening, this effect is entirely lost.
In all, silent discos offer a decent alternative for outdoor dancing events, but will never be able to replace proper sound systems. They are especially practical for late-night parties in downtown areas surrounded by folks eager to complain about the slightest sounds, or especially fragile environments. Otherwise, let’s stick to beat and bass machines that make the earth quake.