An assortment of oddballs gathered under the eaves outside of the Ashby BART station one rainy afternoon.
Donning matching headphones, they followed two rolling trays stacked with laptops and radio transmitters down into the station. When the Fremont bound train arrived, they transformed the car into a silent disco, shimmying around the bemused commuters.
This unique dance party was organized by ZeroDB, a Bay Area based silent disco production company run by the scruffy but adorable Russ Megowan. He started these pop-up discos in 2012 and now organizes one every couple of months.
This trip featured music by DJ Shwung and DJ Joga from Ashby to Fremont and DJ Onhell and DJ Shunicorn on the way back. Switching between different stations, the dancers chose their preferred groove.
“As a DJ, when you’re playing a normal party, everyone is there and you pretty much have their attention,” DJ Shunicorn said. “When you’re playing a Silent Disco and you know there’s another channel, you have to work harder to keep their interest.
“But once you have them engaged and locked in it’s super fun.”
Part dance party, part public art, this strange scene transforms the partygoers into performers on an uncommon stage. But the stares of the other passengers didn’t bother any of the attendees. The power of the music was enough of a distraction.
As Onhell put it, “the outside world doesn’t matter. If you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone.”
Any fears about the silent disco becoming exclusionary melted away early into the ride when older couples, curious about the music, were given headphones. They jammed out for their entire trip, and from their shared smiles I think the experience provided some magic to an otherwise normal commute.
“We always bring extra headphones so that we can let people join in and check it out while they’re on the train. I get to show it to a lot of people who might not have ever heard this kind of music otherwise,” Megowan said with a smile.
Of course, you must be wondering how the authorities respond to this disruption of the norm. A perplexed BART police officer boarded the train and watched for a few minutes trying to figure out what was going on, let alone what he should do about it. He got off at the next station.
Arriving back at Ashby, all of us strangers had become friends, basking in a warm afterglow. We’d shared laughs, dance moves and the nervousness of encountering BART police.
As ZeroDB packed up their gear, I asked Shunicorn what would stick with him from the party.
“There was this one black lady that got on that wasn’t part of the party,” he said. “When she sat down, someone gave her a pair of headphones. When I looked over, she was just blissed out. She was so happy. That’s what it’s all about, sharing music with people.”
ZeroDB will be hosting another silent disco BART party on April 17. https://www.facebook.com/events/805446819587802/
Photos by Kenny Hoff
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