By Misty Harris
In what looked like an improbable dance scene from a zombie movie, nearly 1,000 people gathered recently in New York to gyrate en masse as part of the latest hipster diversion: the silent rave. The peculiar social trend, now making its way across Canada, involves the flash congregation of large groups of people in a public place to dance to the beat of their own MP3-players. The startling result is a sea of bodies moving in sundry rhythms to a soundtrack of silence.
"We all want to be part of something... but at the same time, we also like to differentiate ourselves," says Jonah Berger, a University of Pennsylvania Wharton School professor who has studied identity signals within social groups. "This movement appeals to both those motivations: you're in a place with other people, yet only listening to what you want to hear." Berger describes the events as a kind of "flash mob 2.0." The briefly hip cultural phenomenon earlier this decade involved organising meetings for hundreds, even thousands, of people in a public place at a specific time— say, 6:53 or 3:19—who would then perform unusual activities such as a mass chicken dance.
But unlike flash mobs, which have a set time for people to disperse, the latest guerrilla gatherings continue for as long as attendees are willing to keep their headphones on, says silent raver Jonnie Wesson. "It's such a happy experience to be free to dance together in a public place," says Wesson, the 18‑year‑old behind New York's recent event. "There have been a few negative comments but they're all from balding, middle‑aged men who are angry at the world."
Rebecca Sullivan, a professor of popular culture at the University of Calgary, traces the silent rave's origins back to the "happenings" of the 1960s—a movement rooted in the idea that art should occur spontaneously anywhere. "It's an attempt to confront the resistance and the anxiety and the panic around raves and say, 'Don't you want to dance?'" Sullivan says.
Rave culture has long been criticised for creating public disturbances with loud music and for its alleged ties to club-drugs such as ecstasy and ketamine.
Filming your participation in a silent rave is paramount, according to organizers. After all, if a tree falls in the forest and nobody puts the footage on YouTube, the media isn't going to make a sound.
"People aren't living for the moment, they're living for the recording of the moment," Sullivan,” says. "These entertainment technologies are marketed as social networking and online communities, but those are just words. You aren't really networking or building community. If you were, you might say hi to the person beside you."
“You aren't really networking or building community. If you were, you might say hi to the person beside you.”
Although silent raves (also called silent discos or mobile clubbing) have had scenesters under their spell for years in the United Kingdom—an event at London's Victoria Station last April drew about 4,000 dancers—it wasn't until recently that the trend began making a splash this side of the pond. Silent raves are currently in the works in at least two‑dozen North American cities, including Edmonton, Kelowna, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. Nearly 1,200 people have confirmed plans to attend the Calgary event, which is planned at a secret location to be revealed to the guest-list via Facebook 24 hours in advance. Another 1,900 people say they might attend.
"It's about doing something out of the ordinary that will remind people there's more to life than getting up, going to work, watching TV and going to sleep," says Caitlyn Spencer, the Mount Royal College student behind the event. The 19‑year‑old doesn't see silent raves as isolating but rather a way of uniting people from all walks of life for a single positive purpose: having fun.
—Canwest News Service