No phones, please

Dancing in the dark: New York club turns lights out

With flashy lights and lasers increasingly the norm at concerts, a New York promoter is trying a new effect to bring the focus back to the music -- darkness.

People dance during a Lights Out concert at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn New York on May 12, 2017
People dance during a Lights Out concert at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn New York on May 12, 2017 (AFP)

With flashy lights and lasers increasingly the norm at concerts, a New York promoter is trying a new effect to bring the focus back to the music -- darkness.

In an experiment Friday night, more than 300 electronic music fans surrendered their smartphones to dance in a light-sealed room as their senses recalibrated to the audio.

After an initial hour of moderate lighting while a DJ warmed up the crowd with dance-friendly house music, the stage turned black except for a single light-bulb during the main set by Eprom, whose tracks are heavy on bass yet experimental with quirky melodic riffs.

"We want people to be less distracted by shiny objects and more focused on what the actual product is. A concert is all about the music," said Jay Rogovin, executive adviser of the Good Looks Collective entertainment agency, which put on the inaugural "LightsOut" show.

Hoping to startle the senses further, the LightsOut show -- which took place at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn -- jarringly flashed red strobe lights at several points to remind the crowd of the darkness.

DJ Tsimba plays  during a Lights Out concert at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn New York on May 12, 2017
DJ Tsimba plays during a Lights Out concert at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn New York on May 12, 2017 (AFP)

The setting appeared to loosen inhibitions, with a number of club-goers throwing their arms in the air with a joyful abandon that may have otherwise been hampered by self-consciousness.

No phones, please

A man arranges secure phone bags before a Lights Out concert at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn New York on May 12, 2017
A man arranges secure phone bags before a Lights Out concert at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn New York on May 12, 2017 (AFP)

As proof of how difficult the zero-distraction concept can be, at least one person smuggled in a phone and, as is commonplace at shows, spent the night constantly messaging friends.

Fans were asked upon arrival to deposit their phones in pouches developed by the start-up firm Yondr.

Although they were allowed to keep the phones, the devices remained locked inside until they exited, when the staff opened the bags using technology similar to the security tags at department stores.

Despite the theme, the club was hardly pitch-black and no one groped in the dark.

Besides an illuminated red emergency exit, required by law, light seeped in from the hallway as well as the bathrooms, and the bartender also kept on several desk-lamps and candles.

A member of the audience checks his phone before it is placed in a secure bag before attending a Lights Out concert at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn New York on May 12, 2017
A member of the audience checks his phone before it is placed in a secure bag before attending a Lights Out concert at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn New York on May 12, 2017 (AFP)

The minimal lighting was no oversight, Rogovin said. The promoters believed maintaining some light important for safety reasons to keep people from tripping over one another.

Reaction to effects overload

Stage theatrics have a long history in pop music, and the advent of electronica in the 1970s brought diverse ideas about visuals.

People dance during a Lights Out concert at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn New York on May 12, 2017
People dance during a Lights Out concert at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn New York on May 12, 2017 (AFP)

The French electronic music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre found a complementary form of expression through elaborate light shows that sometimes encompassed whole cities, while German innovators such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream believed a colder, robotic stage presence best encapsulated their computer-based music.

But as electronic dance music has soared in popularity in recent years, becoming a mainstay of summer festivals, visuals have become a must-have with lights that often have little to do with the sounds.

Dark concerts have also started in Britain, where the Blackout show brought experimental music with no lights last year.

"Dark dining," which took off in the late 1990s, has followed a similar philosophy at restaurants -- notably the Paris-based chain Dans Le Noir -- that serve food in darkness aimed at encouraging diners' senses to zero in on taste.

The latest New York concept came from Rogovin's associate Blake Oates, who tried the idea on a smaller scale in Atlanta.

Rogovin plans more New York editions. And although he also hopes to take the series elsewhere, he is under no illusion that he stands on the brink of an anti-MTV revolution.

People walk past a sign for a Lights Out concert at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn New York on May 12, 2017
People walk past a sign for a Lights Out concert at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn New York on May 12, 2017 (AFP)

He doubts dark concerts could accommodate more than 600 people because of logistics and safety concerns about sealing off light.

But he hopes LightsOut would be seen as "a little more mature" than kitschier parties that take place in New York, such as raves with video-game themes.

"We are really trying to make people experience and think a little bit more, versus just having a big rave-y feel."