Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Silent Rave, New York

From New York Times, 20th April 2008:

'on Friday evening, at the south end of Union Square near East 14th Street. More than a thousand people, most of them young, gathered for a dance party without audible music, known as a silent rave. It was striking for what could not be heard.... A mass of people — a head-bobbing, arms-above-the-head, conga-line-forming, full-tilt boogie-woogie — emitted what seemed like no sound but rather music visible. Everyone danced in place, listening to an iPod and prancing to his or her own playlist. For long minutes, in the distance, only the square’s ever-present bongo players could be heard, while close up only shoes, or bare feet, could be heard padding on concrete. Video cameras and cellphones were everywhere. A man explained to his friend: “It’s a silent rave. Everyone’s dancing to whatever’s on their iPod.”

The mastermind behind the silent rave was one Jonnie Wesson, 18, a British exchange student spending a year at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn Heights. Silent raves are popular in Europe, especially London, where he grew up, Mr. Wesson said. “The basic premise is that a hundred or a thousand or a few thousand people all turn up in a public place, turn on their own headphones and dance.” He added: “It’s always fantastic and weird to see thousands of people dancing silently. It’s always in a public space, but it’s not meant to cause disruption, but only because it’s the last place you’d expect that sort of thing.”... As is the case with much of his generation, Mr. Wesson organized the silent rave through a social networking Web site, in this case Facebook. By late afternoon on Friday, nearly 7,000 people had responded.

It began at 6:17 p.m. “It’s a random time that fits in with the ethos of the flash mob,” said Mr. Wesson, standing below Union Square’s giant statue of George Washington. At the appointed hour, people rushed toward Mr. Wesson, shouting the time from the digital watch of a passer-by, counting down with him as if it were New Year’s Eve. By 11 p.m., the rave had dwindled to several hundred still-whirling people.

Lots of great photos by Ballulah here, who describes the event as follows:

"This was a flashmob style event, all these kids gathered at the south end of Union Square at 6:30...after a countdown they all put their headphones on and had their own private silent raves. Every few minutes or so "the pineapple" would appear and get passed around to the sound of lots of cheering. Beach balls were tossed. Styrofoam was beaten to confetti. Water balloons and/or bottles were tossed upwards. The skaters were very confused. And I swear I heard a kid in raver pants say to his friend, "I have a ton of glowsticks in my pants," and proceeded to pull up his enormous pantleg, and sure enough he had a WHOLE MESS of glowsticks velcroed to his calf. Another guy was singing Foreigner on top of his lungs".

See also Dancing Flashmob, London, 2007


Anonymous said...

I saw calls for this exact kind of event in New York City a number of months ago, probably years ago. I've never seen one advertised in Facebook because, curiously, I've never bothered with Facebook.

Several years ago, odd "flash mob" type parties used to get announced on listservs related to Reclaim the Streets NYC. A typical example was the spontaneous parties on the subway or the Staten Island Ferry. (I think those were happening even before most people used the term "flash mob.")

The idea did used to be disruption. There was all this protest-as-festival (or festival-as-protest) talk still floating around, even when the anti-capitalist signs disappeared and there was no real intention to block traffic or stop the flow of anything.

Now, there aren't even any pretensions. (Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, I suppose...just depends what you're looking for. But Union Square kind of gives me a headache - or maybe a stomach ache.)

Transpontine said...

Yeah it all looks like fun, but I must admit to having misgivings about the whole self-absorbed listening on headphones thing, even in the middle of a crowd. You really can't beat a proper sound system in the middle of the city, preferably in the middle of the road.