© 2024 WYSO
Our Community. Our Nation. Our World.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

Yellow Cab Tavern's silent disco offers a dance club experience, with a twist

Peter Day
Dancers at Yellow Cab Tavern's silent disco, which takes place the last Friday of each month.

Picture this: you’re out at a party with your friends, listening to music and dancing. Every person around you on the dancefloor is wearing a pair of headphones, each tuned to a different music station. What you’re picturing is a “silent disco,” a style of party pioneered in the 1990s by British ravers seeking to dodge noise ordinances. Since then, the parties have gained popularity in American cities as well. Silent discos are a regular occurrence at Dayton’s Yellow Cab Tavern, which hosts one on the last Friday of each month.

The first thing you notice about Yellow Cab’s silent disco is that it’s not actually silent. Beyond a welcome table handing out pairs of headphones, a tent lit with disco balls bustles with dancers. Some are singing or chatting; nearly all are wearing headphones, an integral part of Silent Disco. Each set of headphones glows as people switch between three channels: green for electronic dance music, red for contemporary pop, and blue for throwback dance and hip hop. Three DJs set up on platforms around the dancefloor fill the headphones with music and hype up the crowd. It’s almost like there are three parties happening at once.

As waves of blue, green, and red rolled through the headphones glowing in the crowd, the tent filled with chants and cheers. One dancer, Jenny, explained what she called “channel FOMO”— the feeling that you’re missing out on a great song:

“The Channel FOMO is real. You’ll be dancing on the green channel, but then all of a sudden, a wave of blue just hits the crowd and you’ll see them doing the YMCA, and you’ll think, ‘well, now I have to do the YMCA.’ So you have to go to the blue channel. Channel FOMO is real, and it’s what makes this event worthwhile in my opinion. That’s the best part.”

Beyond the channel-flipping fun, silent discos have some other, unexpected advantages. For one thing, they offer a party atmosphere without the ear-bleeding volumes standard in clubs. This was a draw for Maggie, who said it was also her first time at a silent disco:

“It is a very unique experience. You can change the volume and the station. And I’m liking this vibe—it’s kind of a nice controlling of the overstimulation, and it’s fun seeing all the headphone colors change to a color, and then you know to switch to that station for a song.”

Maggie decided not to wade into the dance floor that night. “It looks very sweaty,” she said. “I like staying out here by the bar, which is kind of nice— everybody gets to have their own experience.”

The ability to control the station, and the volume of the music, means that partygoers can set their own pace. One disco devotee who has been attending Dayton’s silent disco regularly for years told me that she treats the event as a monthly exercise class. “It’s literally four hours of aerobic activity, for a really good price!” she said.

The whole night, a steady stream of people continued to flow into the disco. By midnight, the floor was packed with people, some singing, some talking and laughing. After an evening of reporting on the event, I finally switched my silent disco headphones to green and stepped into the crowd. I could see who was tuned into the same channel as I was but, surrounded by strangers, I found my concern about what others were doing slipping away as I danced and enjoyed the music.

Peter Day writes and produces stories for WYSO’s music department. His works include a feature about Dayton's premiere Silent Disco and a profile of British rapper Little Simz. He also assists with station operations and serves as fill-in host for Behind the Groove. Peter began interning at WYSO in 2019 and, in his spare time while earning his anthropology degree, he served as program director for Yale University’s student radio station, WYBC.