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In noise-averse Paris, ‘silent discos’ spread

John Laurenson Jan 13, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: Depending on where you live, the noisy weekend party is a hazard that you just get used to. But in crowded cities, blasting music gets old before you get used to it. In Paris, it’s practically impossible to play music at danceable volumes without upsetting a large number of people — which is one reason the French capital is turning into the silent disco capital of the world.

John Laurenson explains.

John Laurenson: It’s past midnight and a room full of young Parisians are jumping up and getting down to music in their headphones. If you slip off your cans, it sounds like this.

Party sounds

The party’s in an eighteenth century monument called La Rotonde. The windows are open and people are also dancing on the balcony. Among them, Justine Davaut.

Justine Davaut: I think it’s great! It brings a big atmosphere. I’ve been spending my whole summer with all these silent events around Paris, in parks. Doing a party in a park is amazing! Completely amazing, so I love it.

Or by the river or under the Eiffel Tower, even in your own home! Born in Amsterdam and developed in London, silent discos have found their natural home in what some claim is Europe’s most party-averse city: Paris. A town where police enforce a no-noise curfew after 10 p.m. A town where nightlife means walking the dog.

Bertrand Riguidel with a company called Silent Events says they’re organizing private parties every weekend for people who want to be able to party without poisoning relations with their neighbors.

Bertrand Riguidel: If you want to organize your birthday, you ask us to come in your house and you take all the headphones you need. And it costs five euros by headphones. So, very simple!

Commercially simple it is, but Parisians are giving it some surprising applications. We’re on the median of the boulevard that runs through Paris’s Pigalle red-light district. Busses disgorge crowds of tourists from Germany, Poland and China. I’m surrounded by people wearing headphones looking across the road at a paraphernalia superstore called Sexodrome. Up in the second floor shop window, the singer/songwriter Giedré is giving her second silent gig. Giedré’s first silent concert was at a restaurant and silent disco club called Les Parisiennes. And that was kind of special, too.

Giedré: Actually I played in the ladies room. Yeah, ’cause I was really sick at that moment. And I put a TV on the stage and somebody was filming in the restroom and it was like live on the TV, people were in the restaurant on headphones, so it was quite funny.

Giedre says she likes silent gigs because they mix up the live event with the private, intimate way many people listen to music now — on their mp3 players. And, she says, in an increasingly noise-intolerant world, it’s a way of fighting for the right to party, but in a non-confrontational way.

In Paris, I’m John Laurenson for Marketplace.

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