It is not simple to "sociologize" about this type of "dancing together but individually." Actually, the element of silence is not totally new in rave culture. In the early 1990s, silent raves were reported in northern California, but with a very significant difference. The dancing crowd had Walkmans which were set on the same radio frequency, with music being broadcast by a DJ with a pirate radio transmitter by the dancefloor. They danced in silence, but in synchrony - a very important difference in terms of ritual connection and experience.
Left-leaning NPR was ready to criticize the new iPod dance phenomenon as an example of autistic alienation, of a hyper-individualism that fragments society, and which teenagers sadly exemplify. Not too differently, from a radical countercultural viewpoint, these silent dance gatherings could be dismissed as pacified pseudo-raves, events that do not transgress the logic of state control of urban spaces and moving bodies. In fact, a passerby thought that the silent rave in London was a "city-sponsored program to combat stress"!
However, iPod raves could be rather seen as an emerging and sophisticated way to reclaim public spaces by indirectly circumventing laws on noise and public space. These are teen crowds celebrating togetherness through body expression, yet within the strange realm of "non-illegality". According to videos and anecdotal reports, these are daylight, apparently drug-free crowds. Nevertheless, if such events were to become popular, perhaps it would not take long for state authorities to take some repressive action. Does the state have the right to intervene in the private space of one's own subjective interiority?...
More deeply, I'd argue that the lack of a single rhythm unifying the crowd would prevent the liberating experience of self-transcendence which is very typical in religious gatherings - whether shamanic, evangelical or clubbing. As a collective catalyst, music binds all individuals together. It engenders an organic entity, triggering states of collective effervescence that overtake the individual, and may last for many hours. Perhaps, the fact that iPod raves last no more than one hour is indicative of such a lack.
Therefore, I am inclined to believe that the ancient Walkman syncronic silent rave (California 1990s) provides a much more socially connective experience than the emerging iPod variant (London 2000s). What is the point of choosing your own music to dance, if you can't share it with the person next to you, at any deeper level?... As such, it is ironical to observe that the iPod is an involution from the Walkman!
Well, we don't need to be deep all the time. All and all, iPod silent raves should be welcomed as a soft form of daylight socialization, why not?... At least, they will probably pave the way for real, all night long syncronized silent raves, yeah...
Video: London, Victoria Station, April 2007. Author: twittervlog