ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Finally this hour, an unusual phenomenon that's beginning to catch on in the United States. Hundreds of people gather in a public place. They put on their headphones, turn on their iPods, and they dance in silence. It's called a silent rave. We hear they're big across Europe and Canada. Now, silent raves have come to the U.S. thanks to social networking sites such as Facebook. Lara Pellegrinelli recently attended a silent rave in New York City's Union Square.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: This is the sound of a raging dance party.

What? You can't hear the music? Then you must not be wearing your headphones. If you are, of course, that means you can't hear what anyone else is listening to either. But that's the point. The music isn't synchronized, just the starting time.

Unidentified Man #1: Ladies and gentlemen, Silent Rave New York will start in 15 seconds.

(Soundbite of cheering)

PELLEGRINELLI: On a beautiful summer Sunday, everyone stepped off at exactly 5:28 p.m.

(Soundbite of countdown and cheering)

PELLEGRINELLI: Teens and college kids casually loitering in various corners of the park gradually coalesced into a booty-wiggling, fist-pumping mob, albeit one that looked kind of rhythmically challenged in its attempts to dance together. More than a few toes got mashed by the spastic conga line, which wove recklessly in and out of the crowd.

(Soundbite of talking)

PELLEGRINELLI: Between the shouted apologies, the laughter, the chatter, and the cheers, the term silent rave became something of a misnomer.

(Soundbite of cheering)

PELLEGRINELLI: Alice Arnold, an independent filmmaker, emerged from her nearby studio to join dozens of curious onlookers.

Ms. ALICE ARNOLD: We were looking in our office over there, and I kept hearing the outburst of loud noises down there, so I was wondering, why are people cheering if there's no other loud sound.

PELLEGRINELLI: Back in the 1980s, cultural conservative Allan Bloom predicted in his book, "The Closing of the American Mind," that the Walkman - remember that? - would contribute to a decline in civility. Onlookers like Alice Arnold expresses similar concerns about the silent rave.

Ms. ARNOLD: I think it creates a sense of isolation which brings a new sense of alienation that I find, from a sociological point of view, sort of off-putting.

PELLEGRINELLI: Of course, many of the ravers hadn't been born when Bloom's book was published. Could it be that the club and rave culture found empowering by older generations is proving alienating to the young, who have always been their own DJs?

PELLEGRINELLI: Can I ask what you're listening to?

Unidentified Man #2: Huh?.

PELLEGRINELLI: Can I ask what you're listening to?

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.

PELLEGRINELLI: When I finally managed to get his attention, Eric Garment had been loping around the other dancers in circles for half an hour. But the breathless, sweaty 17-year-old only appeared to be self-absorbed.

Mr. ERIC GARMENT (Silent Rave Participant): How is this anti-social? We've got hundreds of people all coming together, all as one, dancing as one but individually. People meeting people, dancing, dancers meeting dancers, people who are just sitting around watching meeting people who are just sitting around watching. Everybody is meeting up with each other right here, right now.

PELLEGRINELLI: They got here through networking on the popular website Facebook. Silent Rave organizer Jonnie Wesson had danced at similar events in St. Paul's Cathedral, Paddington Station, and Trafalgar Square at home in London but hadn't heard of any in the U.S. The 18-year-old exchange student planned his first six months ago, also in Union Square.

Mr. JONNIE WESSON (Silent Rave Organizer): It was actually very, very simple. Literally, all I did was set up a Facebook group and then an event. And a month later, I had 2,000 people at Union Square.

PELLEGRINELLI: I had four requests to be my friend on Facebook by the morning after the rave. But social networking was only the tip of the media iceberg. Whereas old-school ravers would have been getting a high, this group appeared to be clean, except for an addiction to taking pictures. Silent ravers plan to post photos and videos after the fact. It's an integral part of experience for youth culture who are watching and being watched blurs the real and the virtual. Jonnie Wesson had his own reasons for organizing the event and choosing the park over a night spent clubbing.

Mr. WESSON: First, we don't have to pay. Secondly, a lot of these kids are obviously younger than that age. And it's something that you don't get to do in a public place. Clubs aren't public places. People go there to dance. People don't come to Union Square on a Sunday afternoon to silently rave with a bunch of other people. It's something that you don't see very often. It's the public taking back the parks for the uses that they want.

PELLEGRINELLI: Try telling that to the people who live in the park and its other book-reading, squirrel-feeding denizens. Besides, these days in New York City, you need a parks department permit for so much as a picnic with more than 20 people. But no one was arrested, and one thing is for sure. Silent raves aren't in violation of the city's strictly-enforced noise ordinances. For NPR News, I'm Lara Pellegrinelli in New York.

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