My first question was: Will I turn out to be too old for this? My retired inclination towards clubbing, which used to be a birthright, is justified by the many things I no longer like about it: tight, enclosed spaces, crowds, having to yell to be heard by people two inches from you, and socially dictated clubwear. I have been too old for anything since I could remember, anyway (McDonald’s shooed me from their ballpit when I was seven), so I figured, whatever.
The concept of the silent disco, or quiet party, was first introduced in 1969 in a Finnish sci-fi film called Ruusujen Aika, in which an actress tries reconstruct the life of a dead model for a biography. The film is set in 2012, which is pretty accurate and just around the time it started to hit the mainstream, after its first massive public outing in Glastonbury in 2005. Now in 2017, I was going to my first silent disco, a Malasimbo Festival prelude organized by VUE as part of Art Fair Philippines’ 10 Days of Art.
It was Saturday and we were having our first real heavy downpour of the year. We arrived on time, but it looked like we were early because they were only starting to set up the DJ booths and Olivia D’Aboville sculptures at Ayala Triangle Gardens, which had the thick smell of wet grass and grilled street food. We received our headsets and studied them like grandmas trying to figure out how to poke someone on Facebook — way funny and way delayed.
The headsets, provided by VUE, have three channels, one for each DJ on deck. The headset “ears” light up and the color depends on which frequency you’re on. Three DJs aired at a time; there were a total of nine DJs competing for a chance to go head to head with local and foreign DJs from Japan, Sweden and Hong Kong at Malasimbo.
We went on the green channel first, because the light made us look like aliens. It took me a while to figure out what was happening. The headphones emitted… music. Howboutdat. It was disco, and I wasn’t really feeling it. I saw that everyone else was on blue, so that got me curious and I switched. Blue DJ was playing EDM. I’ve never understood vocal-free EDM, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it. We planted ourselves close to the DJ booth and bobbed our heads while trying to figure out what was happening.
Silent disco virgins are easy to identify. It takes one to know one. Look for the person with their headphones on, just standing there, eyes darting, looking terrified, with a giant question mark on their face. As I did that myself, I spotted my former editor at Marie Claire going wild, raising the roof and such. EDM doesn’t encourage roof-raising, I know that much. So I switched to her channel.
The DJ on the red channel was playing Jump by Kriss Kross — no wonder people listening to it were occupying so much horizontal and vertical space. Nineties hip-hop demanded that, for the oversized hoodies and elephant pants alone. This was a channel I could understand, so I decided I was going to stick with it. Of course the next song was House of Pain’s Jump Around. You can’t play one without the other. Naughty by Nature came next, and then Mase with only one of the best intros in hip-hop history, Feel So Good. Or maybe that was my imagination — it’s what I would’ve played next. I blame that one plastic cup of beer for that.
Silent discos are weird. The scene that unfolds before you is literally straight out of a sci-fi film from the ’60s, once only imagined and seemingly ridiculous. I took off my headphones once and watched this picture of people dancing in silence in the most uncoordinated way, to their own beat. A surreal art in itself.