Decentralized Dance Party

Decentralized Dance Party

In about five years of living in Vancouver I’ve gotten a pretty good feel for the lay of the land: its magnificent nature, hilarious improv, world-famous sushi, the futuristic yet completely down-to-earth crypto community, the great cultural treasure that is The Drive, and the wonderful location in general clearly substantiating Raincouver’s other moniker of Hollywood North. However, nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced this past Valentine’s Day: my first ever Decentralized Dance Party. I will first let the video set the mood because words are weak:

Now you might be asking yourself, “How is this different from any other college party?” Understandable. The key difference is that the party is so good — the fantastically dance-able music (and the electric atmosphere produced by it), the warm inclusion you suddenly feel with complete strangers — that you don’t need anything else to feel good. No alcohol or drugs, no judgment, no people to impress, no elements of yourself to hide or feel awkward about, no small talk, nothing! None of that stuff that makes you nervous about going out. After having gone through the whole Canadian university circuit where many pub nights inevitably become all about getting sloshed so you have excuses to be yourself and those who can’t or won’t drink are often laughed at by their more alpha peers into submission and morning-after regrets… this is indeed a breath of fresh air. We had something similar going during undergraduate days, but the DDP is something on an entirely different level. Reading from Tom and Gary’s party manifesto — the brains behind this project — gives some more insight as to what makes their parties such a transformational experience:

“People drink a lot at most parties because most parties are boring and drinking is therefore necessary to loosen up and have fun. But if the party is really good, the atmosphere alone will inspire people to lose their inhibitions and drive the energy to ridiculous heights and make it an incredible experience for everyone.”

The route we traveled, starting under the Cambie Street bridge (bottom pink dot) and ending in the love bus outside the CBC Vancouver building (top pink dot)

And there are other elements.  Their most important focus is on music, on getting “the infectious, high-energy stuff that will force everyone to sing and dance. Booty Bass, Eurodance, Party Metal, Jock Jams and Choice Hard Rock. The songs people know and love. And it must also be as loud as possible. A party is no place for conversation.” Reading that alone I felt an enormous weight fall from my shoulders as I vigorously nodded in agreement the morning after while still in a beaming, energetic state, researching as much as I could about the fantastic phenomenon I had just experienced the night before.

Their second pearl of wisdom was to dispel the Dancing Myth: “that it’s hard and requires practice. Not so. Just stop thinking, let go and allow the music to be your master. You will instantly be having fun and feeling good and others will be impressed and inspired to dance also. The one secret to dancing is just bend your knees, one leg at a time.”

They also advocate the use of darkness and outdoor spaces to further liberate party-goers into being themselves, as well as the use of intense costumes and props, breaking the ice for everyone to have fun: “Do not attempt to Party in normal clothing or look cool, because nothing is cool except having fun and feeling good and sharing that with others.” They also encourage the exploration of space and movement, one of the main reasons behind tying their parties into treks throughout predetermined routes throughout cities, pausing for song sets in select locations:

“As children, we constantly climb on, jump off, and explore everything. We want to run, scream, sing, dance, and play as hard as our bodies will allow. We are fearlessly responding to nature’s divine programming, which Western society works very hard to subvert and destroy by incessantly training us to sit still and be quiet and follow the rules and dress and act identically so that we can join the labour force and reproduce another batch who will do the same. It destroys our natural fun-seeking, creative impulses and is the reason so many are depressed and afraid to sing or dance or deviate from the norm. Overcoming this conditioning is a formidable challenge. Partying can get us there.”

Though having hosted 80 DDPs throughout Europe and North America since 2009, Tom and Gary had problems with party-goers breaking laws or otherwise getting into trouble with authorities next to never. They explain,

“This is because the prime objective at a DDP is celebrating life, enjoying music, and connecting with complete strangers on a deep and fundamental level — not getting drunk and being an idiot. Partying by elevating consciousness, rather than destroying it. Much more than a party, the DDP has also been a very interesting social experiment, clearly demonstrating that by following the above guidelines, it’s possible to unite thousands of people of all ages, cultures and social groups in order to peacefully celebrate our common humanity.”

Wrapping up, the following quote is perhaps the best way of summarizing everything the DDP stands for:

“Partying is misunderstood by 99% of the populace. Accordingly, it is rarely done properly and has never garnered the respect it deserves. Partying is ‘forgetting who you are while remembering what you are’. It is the complete loss of the social conditioning that makes adult life monotonous and depressing and has the power to be a transformational spiritual experience.”

If you want to read up on this Vancouver-based social experiment-turned-lifestyle further, there are posts on Wired, Vice, the Daily Beast, and even on this year’s Burning Man Journal where they organized Camp Decentral… but honestly, a direct skip to their homepage videos and Gary’s YouTube channel is where you can feel what it’s all really about (as well as see the massive organization behind the scenes required to equip and deploy over 100 boomboxes to strangers). But there is more: this movement is all about exploring open source approaches to life, something very key as we approach the dawn of the Internet of Things. Gary is already talking with a company about creating module-able, scalable boomboxes that form mesh networks… immediately bringing to mind projects like FreedomBox and PirateBox, or the Brair app for creating a mobile-based mesh network. These technologies can all keep parties alive infinitely, not limited by time or space… or peaceful protests, mass public addresses, municipal announcements, MOOCs, teleconferences… or any other messages in need of mass human attention.

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