Clubbed in the Holy Land

November 29th, 2009
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Some years ago something called deprivation therapy was popular. It involved getting into a pod-shaped tank where no light or sound could penetrate. Scantily clad, one would lie in a bath loaded with epsom salts to ease floatation and minimize drowning. I don’t know exactly what this therapy was for, but I gather the womb-like experience was meant to be psychologically cleansing in some way, stress relieving etc. Some descriptions suggest it even helps relieve fibromyalgia.

You can picture the experience. Now imagine a similar, yet opposite experience. A larger, dark chamber, somewhat less damp. Rather than being isolated, one is pretty much jammed limb to limb in a sea of restless humanity. Occasionally lights go on, giving you a glimpse of your surroundings.

Most noticeably, you are bathed in sound. Sound so loud you can imagine sitting between the relentlessly rhythmic turbines of the Titanic, or lying in the engine intake of a 747. It’s only after about 20 minutes, when you hear a re-mix of the Gypsy Kings at 120 decibels (a pneumatic drill is 125 decibels), that you realize this is music.

This was our experience on a warm autumn night in Tel Aviv, when were invited to an “underground” club. And underground it was, about six flights underground. Kids were lined out the door; our hosts had reserved, so we got right in. “Right” is a relative term, as it took us some time to get to our table near the front. After some not altogether unpleasant jostling with some curvaceous young people, we reached our seats.

It was there that some universal training in American sign language would have been very helpful. But if one were looking for an excuse for necessary intimacy, one could try screaming pleasantries into the ears of people nearby. We thanked our hosts for inviting us with a series of smiles, winks, nods and appreciative hand gestures.

Then the serious drinking began. Iced vodka flowed endlessly, with concentrated shots of fruit mixers to ease the passage. In case you were getting a little cloudy, despite the auditory assault, you could always have a Redbull chaser. The latter likely being of little benefit to middle-aged arteries.

We realized the smarter young folk around us had devised better comm’s methods. Around us, scores of phone and Blackberry screens lit the darkness, as texts were dispatched through the ether. I’m sure witty, electronic bon mots were flitting (tweeting?) back and forth, a little flirting or slagging of the collision dancers all around.

After about an hour of this, the excitement got to be about too much for us. With regretful shrugs and sympathetic expressions we left our hosts in the maw of the machine. After more anonymous jostling and stair climbing we emerged into the balm of the city night.

It was after midnight. The sidewalks brimmed with merry makers, and – despite the reputation of risk – we never felt threatened or uncomfortable. Street-side cafes were full, lilting, non-industrial music wafted into the air. Remarkably, young people seemed to enjoying this too. Go figure. As we found our beds in the wee hours, our friends had apparently moved on to an “after party” which, according to second-hand reports was even louder (space shuttle engines?) and more crowded. This stretches the imagination.

Entrepreneurs take note. Forget sensory deprivation. Maybe what this generation wants is an industrial noise chamber. No, please, you try it first. You can text me from inside and let me know what it’s like.

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By John Weissenberger