Multi-channel silent discos: The echo chambers of clubbing

Customers who have shown an interest in deep house might like to know about the DJ playing on Channel 2 in your headset.
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Tanya Dracolakis
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Customers who have shown an interest in deep house might like to know about the DJ playing on Channel 2 in your headset.

A wise man once said: Dance to the beat of your own drum.

While this may be fabulous figurative advice for living life on your own terms, it may not be the best advice for dance clubs.

Silent discos have become a staple in the dance music circuit. And, although an ingenious workaround for quiet hours and other ludicrous local laws, once we start adding multiple channels to the same dance floor, we’re presented with a problem. In an era of echo chambers across multiple media, we as a society need more than ever to dance to the same beat as everyone else. Otherwise, we risk fragmenting our culture by removing the bonds that unite us on the dance floor.

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We all remember the old days: Club life with archaic cell phone capabilities meant your friends who craved a different genre of music may disappear into the side room, not to be heard from again until 3 am. But what about the squad? How does side room friend roll with the crew? If he’s not there, the clique is not complete! Sucks, fam.

The multi-channel silent disco caters to this very club-nondrum. You may now dance to melodic tech while your friend finds the oldies remix channel more palatable, and that’s fine. However, after the first few minutes of clumsy entertainment, you notice your dancing doesn’t exactly synch up. If you are not the best dancer in the first place, there’s no harm in it. If, however, you’ve spent countless nights dancing to the vibe of your environment, this is detrimental to getting into the groove.

We spend almost the entirety of our music listening lives consuming a customized or curated set of tracks, then we purchase a ticket to a specific show that we or our friends have selected. Spending the night dancing next to those people while listening to a different track just ends up being an overly obvious metaphor for our daily lives. 

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Today, many in the community lament American house forgetting its roots, and we may soon forget our roots of all listening to the same DJ in the same space. If we go down this multi-channel silent disco track, we may soon attend EDC via VR headset from the comfort of our own home pods ... although not waiting in Porta Potty lines sounds great. However, this echo chamber segmentation may not be futuristic at all.

A recent article New York Times article "How Netflix Is Deepening Our Cultural Echo Chambers" cites streaming technologies as taking away the broad cultural reach of broadcast television. As a society, television and radio helped create a common dialogue across vast continents. What we are seeing now, is a return to pre-broadcast niche bubbles, which is a more natural way of gathering and sharing information.

As a community, we no longer tune into the only pirate radio station that plays electronic music in our city and share in that experience, but perhaps the mass-broadcast era was the real perversion. Should millions of people watch or experience the same thing at the same time? 

This is a valid question for consumption in music and television, but more than just listening happens on dance floors.

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Last year, a Frontiers in Psychology study, “Movement Synchrony Forges Social Bonds across Group Divides” found that children felt closer to people in a different group after sharing dance moves to the same tempo, while there was no increase in bonding to people moving at a different tempo. It's entirely possible that molly isn't the only reason you start feeling connected to your compatriots on the dance floor — after a couple hours moving your bodies in a dark, hot space to the same beat, a bond has been forged. 

Silent discos are a liberating way for people to party in places that have sound restrictions, but as soon as more channels are added, we miss out on part of what makes going out and dancing with our peers so important.