Oh no! What are they doing?
The party was going fine, wasn’t it? We were chatting, smirking, nibbling, nodding. We were sipping Prosecco, swapping bons mots, stealing glances. We were considering clothes , comparing canapés. It was all good.
But now they’re handing out the headphones. The enthusiasts are enthusing. The leaders are leading the charge to the floor.
Oh no! It’s a silent disco!
There they are with their bright smiles and nervous energy. They lock eyes and lock arms. Their floral patterned party shirts flow with the music. Fingers point, hips sway, toes curl. They mouth the lyrics of some shared iconic tune of yesteryear. But to us the songs play unheard. Just the shuffle of shoes on the parquet and the occasional whoops of euphoric joy.
I’ll stand to one side, pretend it’s not happening. I’ll remain aloof, continue the conversation. I’ll resist invitations, defy provocations. I hate the silent disco!
‘This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco.
This ain’t no fooling around.
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey.
I ain’t got time for that now.’
Talking Heads/ ‘Life During Wartime’
Now I’m feeling awkward. We’re still here in our huddle, pretending not to notice, pretending not to care. We’re resistant to movement. But we know that the party has moved on. We are the periphery of attention. There’s a tug at my sleeve, a whisper in my ear.
Maybe I’ll just check what they’re playing right now. I reach for the headphones.
‘Come into my life, I got so much love to show you.
Come into my life, boy, I adore you.’
Joyce Sims/ ‘Come into My Life’
My heart melts. The neat piano coda, the insistent guitar patterns. Joyce’s effortless top note, sustained effortlessly. And all sitting above a bed of beloved ‘80s synthetic bass. What bliss…
Now I have succumbed…I’m lost in music, caught in a trap. There’s no turning back, no stopping us now. So we jump to the beat. Because everybody wants to be bourgie bourgie… Now I love the silent disco!
Still, out of the corner of my eye, I can see the non-committed, the uninvolved, the conscientious objectors. The cynics and sceptics are talking amongst themselves, ignorant of the adjacent ecstasy. What a fool believes…
And I know that soon, very soon, I’ll be rejoining them.
So what did I learn at the silent disco?
Well first I learned that we often hold equal and opposite opinions; that we often feel equal and opposite emotions; that our loyalties are fluid, our logic inconsistent. And I learned that we relish these contradictions
I wonder do brands properly appreciate their fickle followers? Perhaps the concepts of loyalty and relationships are unhelpful in a modern consumer age. Our yearning to belong is profound, but it is not exclusive or fixed or permanent.
Secondly I learned that, whilst we want to be together, we may not want to be all together. Sometimes we like to take sides, and our sense of belonging is enhanced by opposition.
Do brands truly understand the nature of togetherness? Do they recognise that insiders need outsiders, that allies need adversaries?
I feel that modern businesses often shy away from opposition, cringe from conflict. They want too much to be liked. They’re too needy of general approval. They crave universal popularity.
This yearning for approbation can lead brands to forsake intensity of emotion. They are drawn to the amiable, the affable, the agreeable. They talk freely of passion. But passion is no ordinary word.
There is a gravitational pull towards the mellow middle ground, the middle of the road. It’s a race to the middle rather than a race to the top. A race to a sun drenched mood edit of carefree eternal youth, driving along a coastal road with the wind in their long blond hair and tanned feet on the dashboard. I’m sorry to say, we’re creating, not brands, but ‘blands’.
It’s the curse of modernity. In seeking to be liked by everyone, brands risk being loved by no one. If businesses are increasingly looking to define what they stand for, should they not also be deciding what they stand against?
‘Tang tang boogie bang,
Let’s rock the house,
Let’s shock the house.’
Hamilton Bohannon/’Let’s Start the Dance’
A final word. I have read of the silent disco that when different tracks are played at the same time, dancers are unwittingly drawn to people listening to the same tune. I like this thought. We don’t just want to dance. We don’t just want to dance together. We want to dance together to the same song, on the same wavelength, inside the same rhythm. This is true emotional intensity, true passion: the greatest highs are the highs we share.