Three DJ’s, Three Channels and a Pair of Headphones
SubSessions hosts its first Silent Disco
Two DJs on opposite ends of a Guild Hall stage spun beats with their turntables and laptops. Partygoers in bright, patterned clothing danced below as bright lights streamed from the disco ball onto hanging streamers. To an outsider, it may have looked like a typical rave. But the only sounds were shuffling feet and moving bodies.
There was no music.
Subsessions hosted its first “silent disco” at the Guild Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 23. Attendees wore light-up headphones with three different channels corresponding to three different DJs. Each channel had a different colored light that would appear on headphones, showing which DJ the wearer was listening to. In addition to volume control, the audience had complete control over which DJ they wanted to dance to.
“What having headphones on really does provide for me is my own little world to dance,” Cal Poly alumna Sonia Soklova, who attended Subsessions with a group of friends, said. “And what I’ve noticed going to other silent disco events is the fact that people dance the hardest when you’re just in your own bubble of music.”
Silent discos date back to a Finnish film called Ruusujen Aika from 1969, in which characters wear headsets and dance silently at a party. The film takes place in the year 2012, projecting a fantasy of a “utopian” time.
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The Silent Disco Company links its more modern history to festivals like Bonnaroo in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, according to Rivington Music.
More recently, concert promoters have realized that swapping their large speakers for quiet headphones helps them avoid noise complaints and allows for a whole new range of party possibilities. Now, there are dozens of companies that orchestrate silent discos for festivals or parties and supply the headphones for those events.
That’s how HUSHconcerts CEO John Miles got his start. He began throwing silent parties after an array of noise complaints about their festivals.
“My partner and I used to throw parties and festivals in San Francisco and New Orleans dating back to 1998-2000’s,” Miles said. “We started getting shut down a lot so my partner and I, kind of as a joke, purchased some wireless headphones and started to do silent discos.”
After their popularity at festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, silent discos have become a hit on their own.
“When we first started, we were doing a few shows — half a dozen, 30, 40, 50 a year,” Miles said. “Now we’re doing upwards of about 400 to 500 shows a year.”
Attendees wear wireless headphones to transform a seemingly quiet atmosphere into a lively musical performance, creating an immersive way to experience live music, Miles said. Because both the performer and the crowd are wearing the headphones, users can hear the music how it was intended to sound despite their position.
“The DJs love it because they are going directly from their decks, to your ears, to your brain. It’s a very intimate, intense experience,” Miles said. “It’s sort of weird in a way when someone takes their headphones off and they’re like 5,000 people singing in the shower at the same time. Everyone is totally tone deaf.”
Subsessions entertainment is a platform for artists and musicians, Miles said. They feature local musicians and artists by giving them a space to create.
“To me they are really in it for the right reasons,” Miles said. “I have a really strong feeling about them. I think they’re in it for the community. I think they’re really San Luis Obispo proud, San Luis Obispo strong. I think we should keep an eye on those cats. I think they’re going to be doing some really big things.”
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After Subsessions’ first parties called “iT” in 2016 and 2017, they decided they wanted something bigger, Subsessions co-founder and business administration senior Weston Berger said. With successful events like NightLife Savings and Life’s a Peach under their belt, Subsessions has established a strong sense of community.
Silent disco’s popularity at music festivals, coupled with San Luis Obispo noise ordinances, led the Subsessions founders to host their first silent disco at the Guild Hall.
“We wanted to bring a late-night show that is guaranteed not to create too much noise,” said Berger. “We’ve played with the experience at Shabang with Respect the Funk. We wanted to test out the silent disco aspect as it’s own show.”
Subsessions’ first silent disco was a success, Berger said. The tickets sold out before the event, and the organizers had to turn away people who didn’t get their tickets in time.
“SubSessions has a lot coming in the next couple months and huge goals for the future,” Berger said. “In terms of the silent disco, we definitely plan to repeat and go bigger and keep playing with new fun ways of using the headphones.”
Michael Aldon, Sawyer Milam and Summer Sinnett contributed to this story.