The Silent Disco

By Alessandro Raschellà
It somehow feels just the way it is supposed to, trying to come up with something that could describe to somebody the sounds of a city, when outside the rain is cracking like a scratched old vinyl and the atmosphere ‘domestika’ is empowered by the vibes of Brian Eno’s pivotal ambient record Music for Airports.
Thank whatever God –or currency- Amsterdammers worship, this town is not infested by the roaming, cacophonic and annoying sound of swells of cars and blowing horns that most citizens elsewhere experience. Taken that away, the hearing can then focus on sounds which usually are covered by the traffic or that we are feeling as painful, if added to those of cars’ engines (Harleys are exceptions, of course).
Nonetheless Amsterdam is indeed a busy city, and sure thing has some very distinctive and peculiar noises.
The most typical for newcomers is for sure the bell of the trams. This funny sound will probably save your life more than once if you’re hopping high on the tramwise narrow, busy Leisdestraat! It can vary from a single thrill, just to warn you ‘tram’s moving’ to a more severe and alerting continued and increasing shriek which will probably mean ‘if you don’t move now, tram’s rolling over you!’ Most tourists get a sudden shock while the others have a laugh because they probably already had the experience..
On more or less the same level, from trams to trains. Centraal Station is always a constant flux of coming and going of Stop, Sprinter, Snel, Intercity and Internationale trains. If you are standing on the right or left side of the station you will be overwhelmed by this super loud sound that resembles the friction of two Japanese katana swords. I always get the idea of a man vs. machine fascinating duel to try to be on time. Well at least I tend to prefer this to the other peculiar station sound of the loudspeaker announcing the delay of your train!
On another soundly level, few other places share such difficulties as Amsterdam in engineering and when it comes down to build up a house or, on a bigger scale, a new metro like the Noord-Zuid line that will cut the heart of the Centre in two, you can express concern for what your ear perceives. Dutch builders in fact have to fight constantly with such a wet soil (when there is soil at all). Before actually start to build, you have to drain the water out and then push down huge pals in the earth to stabilize the terrain and thus prevent the construction to fall down afterwards. That’s also why you can marvel at houses leaning tremendously: some underground pals did shred and the whole building is following the downgrading movement. Fine, but what this has to do with typical sounds? Well, it’s the way that this pals are pushed into the ground that will take us back to sound. Imagine a hammer and a nail, then make this image times and times bigger and you will have a rough mechanical idea; then you can dread at the idea of this provoked sound! It can be heard for afar with a constant echo.
And now let’s twist all this sound into silence.
An even more characterizing sound for Amsterdam than all the aforementioned, could be the one I experienced one night on the banks on the Amstel river, with a bunch of crazy people enjoying it deeply: the sound of silence of the Silent Disco!
Not to dimish all the great performances that last years’ De Parade gave us, I have to say this was pure, funny genius! Imagine a dancefloor packed with young more or less blonde hipsters, dancing like crazy: what’s the first sensorial suggestion that comes up in your mind? I have this infamous tunz tunz house-tech sound.. On the contrary, all you could hear there was soundless. Despite all odds, each one of them had a pair of headphones on and THEY (and only THEY) could hear the music and relate to it; absolutely prohibited was to give the headphones to outsiders: if you wanted to be part of the silence disco, you had to be in the silence disco.
How weird that the antithesis of sound can make so much of it! The idea came to a couple of Dutch djs, 433fm, about 5 years ago and since then they toured not only the Netherlands, but also the UK, Belgium, Germany, France, Spain and Italy. Nowadays more than 80.000 people have gone ‘silenced’. It all started when the pair had to find a way to entertain some many dudes in line to get into a rave party and has since then developed into a somewhat efficient alternative to complaining neighbours for clubs and events. But if you have the chance ( the Silent disco is coming back into town for the Winter Parade), you will be luckier than the first silence encounters: today the headphones are stereo digital, so you will be able to adjust yourself the bass and volume and to choose among two different FM radio stations, trying to overcome the estrangement to see other people dancing to totally different tunes.
The best thing I appreciate about the Silent Disco, though, is that on the contrary of a real disco, where it’s challenging even talking to somebody, here if you’re tired of the music and you want to have a talk, you can: simply taking the headphones off!