What is the one thing that is synonymous with clubs, apart from alcohol and skimpily dressed waitresses? Loud music, right?
Well, not exactly. Not if you are Mutuma Mwiraria Kalinga, 20, who is seeking to dispel this notion with the introduction of “silent discos” into the local entertainment scene through his company, Wireless Events.
The trend sees revellers dance in clubs, or at other social events, to music played through personal headphones rather than the conventional loud speakers. Silent discos, or silent raves, is a novel idea that is fast catching up.
Popularly known as Jason, the idea’s local pioneer got wind of it while searching for headphones online. “I stumbled upon the idea in August last year through a website called Silent Safaris. It’s an Australian-based company that does silent discos. I got
interested and decided to start the trend here in Kenya,” he says.
After contacting the company, Mutuma armed himself with about Sh1 million and ordered around 250 headphones.
“The money accounted for the items, importation and other costs,” he says.
Although a first in Kenya, silent discos were first witnessed in a 1969 Finnish science-fiction film Ruusujen Aika (A Time of Roses) where the motion picture’s characters wore headsets during a party.
Silent gigs continued to gather pace in Europe, and, later, to minimise the racket brought about by parties, curb noise pollution and reduce disturbance to wildlife. Eco-activists are said to have adopted the trend in the 1990s in several of their outdoor events.
The popularity associated with silent raves soared so much that later, lexicographers at the Oxford Online Dictionary updated their roster and added “Silent Discos” into their library of words in February 2011. According to the site, the noun means “an event
at which people dance to music that is transmitted through wireless headphones rather than over a speaker system.”
Since then, companies offering the services have been setting up shop in the developed world and all are reportedly experiencing a boom in business. In the UK, six companies have been registered since 2013, according to the Telegraph, signaling a rise in
demand for silent discos. To spruce up matters, the firms do more than hold events in clubs; they also offer the service at weddings, house parties and live concerts.
Talking about live concerts, the biggest one to date was held on July 2, 2011, in France at Parc Paul Mistral. The concert, organised by Silent Arena company, was as orthodox as they come — it had lights, DJs, screens, a raised stage, security and other
staff, but the over 8,000 attendees put on luminous headphones and danced to “nothing” in what was described as one of the most epic nights in France’s entertainment industry.
Closer home, South Africa and Uganda have had successful stabs at silent discos. But how do they work?
HEADPHONES ON YOUR WAY IN
It all starts when you walk into a club, or any other entertainment joint. The usual routine of being frisked by a bouncer is still there, but instead of being led to a table amid ear-splitting music, one is handed a pair of headphones.
“Three different songs or genres of music are transmitted at the same time to receivers in the headphones. One has the freedom to switch over to another channel and listen to a different song,” says Mutuma.
“Every channel is designated to a specific DJ who plays a specific genre of music. Once you put the headphones on, you can switch to whichever DJ you want,” he added.
According to Mutuma, having three different channels to toggle with means that you can switch off — through a control located on the headphones — a DJ whose music you do not like. One can even knob the volume up or down through a dial on the headphones to avoid the occasional headaches associated with clubbing and loud music.
“The headphones can glow red, green or blue, depending on which channel you are listening to, or have switched to. So if, say, hip hop is red, then your headphones will glow red. The headphones are also good for conversation since one does not have to shout as happens in conventional clubs; all you have to do is take them off and talk,” he says.
Whereas we are used to clubs or events having one DJ at the decks, his parties have three of them playing music at the same time to feed the three available channels afforded by the headphones. This has been the case in Mutuma’s last two successful outings at Purdy Arms in Karen, a venue he used for free, and Steve’s Stakehouse on Ngong Road where he paid Sh60,000 for the whole night. Here, he had DJs like Kace, Muroe, Fab, Soul Syndicate and Factory DJs.
“I’m currently organising another gig at the Galleria Food Court in Karen, owing to the positive reception accorded to the other events.”
Although he’s relentlessly marketing Wireless Events through avenues like social media and radio, many Kenyans are still not aware of Silent Discos. But that is not the only thing he has to deal with, he has to draw up a plan to prevent revellers leaving with his merchandise during or after a party.
“Currently, we get your ID card and put it in an envelope that has the number of the specific headphone issued to you. In case you decide to leave with the headphones, we remain with your ID and follow it up later. The other option is where people leave
cash deposits or, better still, where we hire extra security to ensure that no one leaves with headphones. So far, we’ve had no thefts,” explains Mutuma.
The former Hillcrest School student charges either Sh1,000 or Sh2,000 to anyone who wants to wear the headphones at his events. To boost his business, he also rents out the kit.
Although the international silent disco scene has evolved to include headphones with four channels and has branched out to fields in fitness like yoga, boot camps and spin classes, where headphones mean the instructor doesn’t have to shout and no one needs earplugs, and even to “silent comedies,” the market in Kenya is still young and needs time.
Will all this phase out conventional club experiences? “We do not mean to replace other clubs with silent raves. Yes, we’ve had successful gigs but what we are doing is providing an alternative; a healthier option I’d say, to what we are used to,” says 20-year-old James Mburu, alias DJ Muroe, a third-year law student at Riara University who also doubles as a producer and audio engineer.
“I’ll admit it that when organising the events, we were shaky about the new concept, but the reception was amazing. Even the skeptics are now fully into the idea,” he adds.