When I began hitting clubs back in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, the “thumpa-thumpa” (see: Queer as Folk) was a shared experience. A connection from DJ to dancer that either united or disconnected a room. A series of musical love notes transmitted through speakers which teachers would always say could damage your ears if you stood too closely (we always stood too closely). Fast forward to the year of our Beyonce 2018; we’re at a new type of club. There’s still a “thumpa-thumpa”, but something is dramatically different.
Headphones. Everyone is wearing headphones. In the club. Neon glowing headphones. But they’re dancing and moving like the hottest outdoor party is happening.
Quiet Events is company behind the event – it’s a silent disco and dozens of people came out to have an individual dance party by themselves with everyone else. Headphoneless attendees don’t hear the music, only the reactions to it. And on the outside, honestly, it’s a bit weird.
“You can’t know what it feels like until you have the headphones on,” says Quiet Events manager Rachel Moreno, who works with a team to host events across the city. “Not everybody likes to listen to the same music. So when they come here they get to express what they want to express.”
At first, I was skeptical. LIke, sitting on the sideline sipping my IPA at The Well like, “who are these crazy 90s millennials?” 35-year-old-with-student-loans-rent-and-a-car-payment me totally thinking, “Why would you pay $20 to listen to headphones, I have my phone right here.”
Fortunately, someone saw my confusion turned intrigue and talked to me and my partner about Quiet Events. I thought she was a pitch woman, but she was actually just a really excited attendee. She let us try out her headphones, and after flipping through the music (more on that later) we promptly went over to the booth to buy.
“A lot of people are very skeptical at first, and they’re just like ‘I don’t wanna do it, you know headphones,’ says Moreno. “But, then at the end everyone is just like ‘oh my god it’s the best thing I can’t wait to do it again’.”
So intrigued by this event not only did I buy, but I committed to writing about the experience. Normally, journo practices say to not insert yourself into the story. But people like me were the story. Why were random people coming out to pay to wear headphones? This act of insularity is something New Yorkers literally do all the time while we’re commuting, doing laundry, working out, not wanting to talk to people – whenever we want to have a semblance of solitude in a city of millions.
“I think it’s just like everybody’s on a whole different vibe and energy,” explained Tiara Britton, a new Bed Stuy resident who hails from Chicago. “They get to dance on their own beat and do their own thing. So they get to feel what they want to listen to.”
One of the core parts of the Quiet Event is that you’re able to listen to three different live DJs, and by flipping a switch on your headphones, you change colors and musical experiences. Tonight was the typical round up of Hip Hop (Blue), 80s/90s/2000 top 40 pop (red) and EDM genres (Green), but Moreno says that they have nights with Soca, Latin, and even kids music depending on the event and location.
“We like to have fun, that’s the whole point, says Moreno. “We have to hype up the crowd and the vibe is just right.”
The responsibility of keeping the crowds hype, no matter the color, falls to the three DJs. It’s an interesting sight to see three DJs spinning simultaneously, connecting with different people in the audience with their specific genre and musical style.
“If you’re in a regular club, you have one DJ and he’s bringing you through his journey and they is a beauty to that, says Geo Vanasco, the Green DJ spinning the electronic dance hits. “This is more about what you want to do.”
Geo, and his fellow DJs – Banks, who plays Hip-Hop, reggaeton and more urban styles,”the ratchet stuff,” he calls it, and Sam Turner who plays the 80s/90s/2000s Pop – all transmit their sounds to the listeners who have tuned into their color. They all say it brings a sense of competition to the dance floor.
“You’ll see whenever somebody plays the hot song, all of a sudden everybody goes to that color,” says Vanasco, who started spinning Quiet Events a couple of years ago. “ So it’s like a little battle between the three of us to see who can influence the dynamic of the room.”
Tonight, Hip Hop and reggaeton seems to be the most popular, but it doesn’t always stay that way.
“Sometimes when I’m playing something, if I play something they don’t like or they heard before, they’re going to change it, says Banks. “But if I play something they like they’re gonna keep going with me.”
Now I spent my night flipping, but staying mainly on the green or EDM channel. Here is where I got my entire club kid life. But no matter the color, the energetic experience remained.
The DJs feed off of the energy from the crowd not only providing a light cue to who they’re tuned into, but also by who is dancing and singing along. Keep in mind, if you don’t have the headphones on, the sound of people singing along is what you hear. (That could be enough of a motivation to buy headphones, just saying)
Jorge Gutierrez says he came too late to the party to join in, so he was on the sidelines headphoneless with his friends.
“Black Mirror,” he said when asked to describe what it felt like to not be tuned in.
“No one is talking to each other. Everybody is just dancing around each other trying to pair up the stations, I don’t know what’s going on,” explained Gutierrez.
Gutierrez did admit that he understood the appeal, and with more time he would have participated. But DJs say that individually communal experience is by design.
“We can coexist together, we can all have our own fun, said Velasco. “Our energies can be all in the same area but we don’t have to be on the same vibe.”
And for DJs, it even makes the experience a bit more intimate and inventive.
“Less Pressure,” says red DJ Sam Turner “You don’t have to bullshit with anything. If someone says ‘I want to hear this’, you say , ‘go over there’. It’s just fun. I get to play weird shit that I don’t get to play anywhere else.”
Instead of trying to please a whole room, the DJs say they’re focused in on those who are listening. And though they want to have everyone on their channel, they say it’s really about everyone having fun.
“If you don’t like it, just change the channel, says Turner, a Brooklyn-native. “That’s the whole fucking pitch.”
Quiet Events currently comes to The Well on Meserole on certain Fridays; the next night is Aug. 17th. For more information and dates across the city, check out their website.