Just south of 1:30 a.m., as the car crowd head back to their $500 motel rooms and the VIPs are airlifted to their alpha-resorts, the camping Coachella plebs are making the long, dusty march back to the tent city of earthly delights they’ve built to the east. I’m headed to the all-night epicenter, the Dome, for the all-night silent come-down party. Yeah, silent — a headphone rave meant to skirt the grounds’ 1:30 sound curfew.
On the way, I see two men are arguing about something serious. “The only, only explanation is that we are all fucking aliens. All of us…” Nearby, an adult man in a skintight tiger suit is guiding a pixie clad only in her underwear through the darkest vomit session of her young life. She’s heaving deeply into a barrel and he’s looking around for an easy exit, but maybe he’ll score some points when she’s cleaned up? There’s still partying to be done and he’s stuck in a real bummer.
As a festival newbie generally used to intimate punk acts and metal mayhem, I’m not a complete stranger to ragers and general bacchanal. But it’s just the scale of this that gets me. How can this many people still enjoy being around this many other people? In the thousands. At nearly 2 a.m.? No matter, festivals facilitate new experiences. And, even though I just want to take a four-hour shower and sleep until Tuesday, I’ll get out of my comfort zone.
A man hands me a pair of wireless headphones and checks the volume. Good to go. Now, a few hundred other people and I are bopping around in solo circles under an illuminated steel dome. A DJ spinning house is working a laptop and the ones and twos. All of us have blinking headbands through which music is being piped wirelessly. I’m instantly in the throes of a classic sci-fi disconnect — robot music, on ear pods. For me, it’s a brave new world. All I’m missing is some soma and a Gamma to kick around.
Looks like everyone else had the soma hookup, though. One dude uses the dome’s struts to wheel around monkey-style. Fried young women are fish-flopping in the grass on the fringes. One of those fancy mid-century cultural philosophers would be shitting himself to know that this kind of scene is now already a decade old in 2015. But it’s completely lost on me.
But it’s really, really lost on me when I unplug. There are moments when the broadcast skips and glitches you out of it like the car radio going through a tunnel. But, totally unplugging at a silent disco really exposes the true weirdness of it. No sounds. Just midriffs and shoulders, moving to nothing. And when the crowd weakly “woo-woos,” it sounds drained and cultlike. Feet shuffling and hitting floor. Arms going up in unison at odd intervals. Even stranger, I hear the inane conversations that music normally drowns out at distance: “Fucking tiiiiiiiiiight!” “Yeah, this is the raddest thing that’s happened all day.” As if we hadn’t just seen Jack White, Jehu, and/or Kanye.
But it’s when I replug and the DJ screams, “I want to hear all y’all make some motherfucking noooooooise!” I’m done. The irony. Oh, the irony.