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Rockin’ Headphones, Droppin’ Beats

By Sarah McCartan

If you walk into Vinyl Music Hall Saturday night, you will be greeted with a sea of bodies dancing in what appears from the outside in to look at lot like silence. It’s not silence, but rather, a “silent disco,” that is, people sporting headphones and rocking all sorts of one of a kind dance moves on what one can only hope will be a packed dance floor. Hosted by Headphone Disco—a.k.a. “the silent party people”—this dance party event is anything but silent.

What music is everyone listening to? Could be anything from hip hop, to “indie” mash-ups, to house or even old time rock and roll—and this barely scrapes the surface.

How does it work? When participants arrive, they check in with a photo ID and in exchange are provided a set of wireless headphones. Then it’s time to party. Of course there is always the option to spectate—which offers a whole different level of party in itself.

Where did such a concept come from? Headphone Disco organizers consider themselves to be the pioneers who turned this European-born concept into a worldwide phenomenon.

“It was born out of necessity really, not out of any burning desire we had to put headphones on people at a dance party,” said Josh Koker, Head of Promotions at Headphone Disco.

According to Koker, the idea of using headphones in a party setting was originally developed by the Dutch. Back in 2006, in the U.K., Headphone Disco organizers were approached to meet an isolated need to find a way for a club that lost its license to be able to keep their dance tents going without the noise.

From there it caught on. It took off. And it continues to make its way around the world.

“We popularized it by using our already extensive experience as event promoters and DJs to drag it into the public consciousness and make it what it is today. We’ve taken our show and our brand all around the world whereas a lot of the U.S.-based companies have barely made it out of their own state,” said Koker.

In addition to Saturday’s club show at Vinyl Music Hall, Headphone Disco DJs will be set up at Firefly Festival in Delaware providing both day and nighttime dance sessions.

Speaking of festivals, you may have participated in, or at least witnessed the similar “silent” dance party event that has become a growing part of Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival over the last several years.

“I just found myself wanting to know what the heck those people were listening to that was making them dance and have a good time. I wanted in on the secret. I think the exclusivity of it is my favorite part of the concept,” said Chelsea Powell, previous Bonnaroo attendee and silent disco participant.

Although the silent disco has become an integral part of Bonnaroo and other events where domestic companies have certainly replicated this model on a smaller scale—organizers assured me, Europe gets not just some of the credit, but all of it.

“We’ve modeled nothing on anything that’s happened in the U.S. It’s been the other way around,” said Koker. “As with a lot of ‘scenes’ the U.S. came pretty late to the party, a good few years after ourselves and the Dutch guys had been running these shows across Europe.”

Unlike the setup at Bonnaroo, Headphone Disco distinguishes itself by offering multiple DJs, boasting distinct channels of music so that participants can switch back and forth to constantly change the pace of the evening—taking the energy up, down and all around.

“This is the whole ‘dynamic’ of Headphone Disco. Without being able to select a DJ it’s just people in a club wearing headphones. We don’t do and never have done a show with only one DJ. It’s not what the concept is all about,” said Koker.

Headphone Disco innately understands that different continents and even regions of countries favor different music trends, and faithfully adapts to meet the tastes and preferences of a wide array of audiences.

“The set our guys will play in Pensacola is going to be very different to what our residents will be playing in Moscow, Russia this coming weekend at the massive Gay Pride event out there. Our DJ pool extends far and wide and the DJs we’ll place at the Vinyl Music Hall are Florida-based, one even just outside Pensacola [DJ David Taylor]. These guys not only know Headphone Disco, they also know the local scene inside out and will be able to tell what works and what doesn’t,” said Koker.

And there you have it. If you’re eager to put some headphones on and practice your moves before Saturday, Headphone Disco released a mix-tape available for download on their website.

Still the party is so diversely based on regions it’s impossible to capture it all on one 60-minute “tape.” With that, I must add, that thanks to my inquiry about the regional mix tape, they are dabbling with the idea, so be on the lookout.

But for now, get ready to put on some headphones Saturday night, and in the words of Lady Gaga, “Just Dance!”

SILENT DISCO: THE MOST UNIQUE DANCE PARTY IN TOWN
WHEN: 9:00 p.m. Saturday, June 22
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
COST: $10; advance tickets available (18 and up)
DETAILS: vinylmusichall.com, headphonedisco.com