Sunday, June 2, 2013
I knelt down, untied my Chuck Taylor's, and let my bare feet touch the sand. It was a Sunday afternoon in the Richmond, and we were on a small stretch of Ocean Beach where Balboa meets the water. It was warm, with the Outer Richmond's natural grey punctured by an unusual (though still modest) amount of sunlight. As I was fiddling with my shoes, a half-naked man in a Lucha Libre mask ran past me, followed by two girls in bikinis covered in cupping marks. A pregnant woman with a hula hoop trailed not far behind. My headphones, rented from a booth set up on the street, began to pump out a remixed trap version of The Lumineers' "Ho Hey." This was the latest edition of Silent Frisco, a roving event that throws wireless headphone-fueled daytime raves for the Burning Man crowd.
"Oooo, it's so odd, how often do you think they do it?" I heard a gawking jogger say as she ran by with her friends. To the unsuspecting observer, the scene must have looked weird, with about 500 or so bright-yellow headphone wearing people gathered amongst a network of tents, navajo blankets, and lawn chairs infront of a school bus decked out like a prop from Mad Max. Everywhere people timed themselves to an invisible rhythm broadcast from a troupe of DJs sitting atop the vehicle (all astonishingly mixing using two pairs of headphones: one for the live sound and the other to cue). A blonde girl in daisy dukes and a Slayer T-shirt took a drag from her cigarette and opined, "I think it only happens once a a year?" A pasty guy in cuffed jeans next to her stood up and started dancing, wagging one hand in the air.
Besides the scenery of Ocean Beach, one of the more intriguing aspects of Silent Frisco is that there are actually multiple DJs playing at the same time. Last Sunday, our headphones permitted us to change between two channels at will: one with more upbeat music and the other with a mixture of mellower downtempo sounds (such as the aforementioned Lumineers song). This discrepancy of rhythms added to the surreality of the situation by allowing everyone present to dance to a beat of their own choosing.
A side effect of this is that the mind tends to try and guess which channel the other attendees are on. I watched a couple as they stood infront of the armored bus trying to figure out which DJ was playing to which channel (that was laid to rest when a girl popped onto the stage and began augmenting her channel's new age beatscape with a violin). All of a sudden I noticed some people near me were dancing a little slower than the retro-inspired piano house on my channel, so I flipped the switch and tuned in halfway through an electro remix of Harry Nilsson's "Coconut."
By 4 p.m. I'd carved out a spot on the beach to spectate while enjoying the view. People stumbled around on the sand, while a gridlocked stream of cars crept down Great Highway. I'd long since taken the headphones off: the music wasn't really doing it for me, and I found that the event was actually more enjoyable without them anyway -- like a day at the beach, but with an added dash of dream-like absurdity.
Occasionally, I'd turn the volume up for reference: a glitch remix of Bob Marley and the Wailers' "Soul Shakedown Party," the original version of Blondie's "Heart of Glass." But really, the music seemed much less the point than the hob-nobbing and people watching. And when you get right down to it, it's rather hard to appreciate electronic dance music without that physically affecting bass-body connection. Or at least, while I find that to be the case, I suspect that for a certain kind of person, Silent Frisco could be a good alternative to the usual loud fare in nightclubs and warehouses. For the rest of us, though, it's probably best regarded as something weird to do on what might otherwise be another lazy Sunday afternoon.