Two years ago, Athens musician and promoter David Chandler dreamed that he had booked a show where everyone was dancing and wearing headphones that were plugged into the ceiling. When he woke up, he decided to make the dream a reality, and silent disco in Athens was born.
After extensive internet research, Chandler purchased 50 pairs of lighted headphones and sound equipment. After first testing the headphones at house shows, he bought 100 more. Chandler worked at Trappeze Pub at the time, so its adjoining sister bar, Highwire Lounge, became Athens’ first silent-disco venue.
Silent disco, which began as a music-festival curiosity and has grown in popularity across the globe, is basically what it sounds like. Attendees are given headphones, which have three music channels. Two contain playlists curated by Chandler, and the third is a request line. Each channel correlates with a color, alternating between red, green and blue.
Before starting the Athens series, Chandler had never been to a silent disco before, but he knew he wanted to make a space that felt safe and comfortable for everyone, even those who aren’t typically party animals.
“The headphones are a safety blanket,” Chandler says. “You put them on, and bam, you’re in the party.”
The format gives those who are self-conscious about their dancing or singing a chance to feel more at ease. No one can hear anyone else’s singing with headphones on, and, unless two people are on the same channel, no one will know if someone else’s moves are off-beat.
“You’re in the same party as other people, but you’re more detached and, through that, sort of more together,” Chandler says.
After two years at Highwire, Chandler now regularly sets up shop at The Globe, the 40 Watt Club and, most recently, Little Kings Shuffle Club. (Chandler no longer runs Highwire’s silent disco, though the venue still hosts a similar event weekly.) The addition of the 40 Watt to the lineup has made it so the 20-and-under crowd can participate, leading to silent disco becoming a little less locally exclusive.
For students, specifically, this addition could not come fast enough. Third-year UGA student Charity Starkes says that, since her group of friends are not all of drinking age, it’s one of the only opportunities for them to go downtown and dance together.
“The last time I went to silent disco was on my 20th birthday, and the vibe was so fun and positive,” Starkes says.
Starkes says she likes how easy it is to customize her experience. The headphones’ different colors allow others to see what channel she is listening to and vice versa.
“It’s an individualized dance party, where you get to choose your own music and have fun the way you want to,” Starkes says. “I love it.”
As for Chandler, he has big plans, including hosting pop-up silent shows around the city, in addition to his regularly scheduled events. The first surprise party took place in the parking lot of the Prince Avenue McDonald’s in December. There were 38 people in attendance at that robot-themed dance party, which Chandler says is just the start of what is to come.
Arguably Chandler’s most interesting pop-up idea is to host a show at a local skating rink, where he plans to feature a live performer whose music will be transmitted directly into participants’ headphones. That way, they can skate and move wherever they want without having to sacrifice sound quality.
“During the pop-up shows, we don’t charge anything,” Chandler says. “The point is for people to be able to come have fun and just let go in a new way.”
Chandler has used his unique setup for other events, too, like The Globe’s hip-hop open-mic night, held the last Wednesday of each month, where performances are broadcast through silent-disco headphones. The event often goes until the early morning.
For Chandler, this is nothing new. He recently hosted a mini-festival at his home called BreakFest, where attendees wore his headphones so they could be connected no matter where they were in the house. Instead of leaving when the performances were over, partygoers stayed for a homemade breakfast made by Chandler himself.
“For me, this is a labor of love,” Chandler says. “Every time I put the headphones on, I feel carefree. I just enjoy it, 100 percent.”
To find out about Chandler’s pop-up shows and what’s next, follow @hushhushyall on Instagram.
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