Nairobi's silent discos

An era of silent discos

It is Friday night. As expected, the uptown Kiza Lounge is jammed with party lovers and in here, you can spot all the latest party life trends in town as happy people burn through their wallets; loosening up and warming up to the weekend.

However, something peculiar is going on. A group of girls next to our table sit happy, each wearing a set of headphones with blue and green flashing lights. They are jamming to the deejay’s mix.

A table away, another lot is on their feet, dancing crazy to another deejay mix, the second disco beat in the club. We notice that their headphones have red flashing lights. Ironically, anyone else who doesn’t have headphones on is having a quiet night in a club where three deejays are playing three different sets. This is the silent disco club.

A silent disco or silent rave is an event where people dance to music listened to on wireless headphones. Rather than using a speaker system, music is broadcast via a radio transmitter with the signal being picked up by wireless headphone receivers worn by the participants. Those without the headphones hear no music, giving the effect of a room full of people dancing to nothing.

In the earliest days of silent discos, before 2005, there would be only one channel available to listen to music. Over time, the technology moved along to where there were two, and later technology allowed for a third channel that three separate deejays could broadcast over at the same time.

Silent discos are popular at music festivals as they allow dancing to continue past noise curfews. Similar events are “mobile clubbing” gatherings, where a group of people dance to the music on their personal music play. It is the first time this is happening in East Africa.

 “We were approached by a group of young guys who had a very interesting idea which they referred to as “silent disco’ and we decided to give it a try in our club. It was a first in uptown circles and to our surprise, our customers embraced it fast.

We had ordered just a couple of headset and in no time the demand for more was inevitable”, says the Kiza CEO, Ali Oumarou Kiza.

And so, we join the party, each of us grabbing a set of headphones and switching it on to a colour code, each at a time. This works. It is a different world, booming music getting us dancing and away from all that is going on around us. Anyone on the side watching us dancing would think we are in a trance.

The idea about the silent disco is having different sets of music playing. You choose the kind of music you want to listen to. The first channel plays the in-house deejay playing in real time, which means you can either listen to the club disco speakers or at the comfort of your headsets, follow the deejay mix.

The second and third channels play a pre-recorded set of different genres of music such as the one you listen to while on flight.

“They are really cool because if a deejay is playing a boring set, which normally results to revellers walking out, then our customers can switch right to their favourite genre of music and dance to it. It’s basically like having three different hot deejays playing at the same time and you get to pick who entertains you,” says Ali.

According to Dottie Akumu who frequents the facility, this was a welcome partying trend. “Some deejay’s play what pleases them.

Club hopping these days is expensive and risky because of alcoblow. If a deejay plays boring music, I simply switch to a more interesting channel and let him (the deejay) entertain himself,” she tells us before getting her headphone set on and joining the party.

Doesn’t this trend though write off the deejays playing in the club, we poise?

“Not at all, in fact it makes the deejay more reason to be competitive. The set channels light up in blue, red or green.

So if the channel playing hip-hop lights red in colour then I can tell how many people in the club want to listen to hip hop. Looking at the revellers’ colour codes, I can instantly tell what genre of music the majority of them are enjoying and I can quickly turn to that and win them back. It is like seeing through your true fans,” says deejay Charlie, Kiza’s head deejay.

With many city clubs facing closure during a recent crackdown conducted by National Environment Management Authority (Nema) on notoriously noisy clubs especially those within residential areas, the silent disco is indeed a welcome solution to adopt.

“Most importantly, it helps us to keep our noise level at the recommended levels throughout the night without offending the party goer or adjacent premises. It’s a win-win situation,” Ali concludes.