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DJs need to know how to mix records, sure, but even the best mixer will tank if they don’t know how to read a crowd. You have to know what kinds of songs keep your crowd dancing, and what kinds of songs send them to the bar or the bathroom. Usually this involves a combination of prior knowledge (of the venue, of who you’re opening for, the night’s theme, etc.) and actual observation of the crowd–do they look and sound like they’re into it?

Lightwave is a platform that uses WiFi enabled wristbands to track and transmit biometric data–their temperature, heartrate, and the volume of sound they hear–from individual crowdmembers to a program that analyzes and visualizes that data. Lightwave visualizes audience responses to…well, that’s one of the questions I have here: what experience is it visualizing? Is it the DJ performance? The clubbing itself? Both? It seems absolutely incorrect to say that Lightwave visualizes audience responses to music. Clubbling is a social and interactive experience, and music is just one factor in the mix, so to speak. When you’re dancing, you’re responding to other people around you, to the overall ‘vibe’ of the crowd–this is what makes it more fun than dancing to the same records alone at your house.

And the Lightwave crew seems to recognize the fundamental sociality or interactivity of clubbing. At their SXSW party this year, Lightwave used the devices to gamify the DJ set. As the video in this Fast Company article shows, the crowd was instructed that “your actions will unlock the show.” The crowd had to work to “unlock” achievements like drinks or moments of musical pleasure (i.e., drops). So, though Lightwave could theoretically be used by DJs help them do their job of reading a crowd, this sounds a lot like I, the clubgoer, now have to work for my own leisure, leisure that I’ve already paid for (in terms of cover, clothes, drinks and/or drugs). That is, Lightwave outsources the work of the DJ to the dancers.

The visualization of the data Lightwave collected at the A-Trak set is really interesting. It’s broken down by gender (pink and blue)–men and women seem to respond differently to the music–women reacted more intensely to to Tommy Trash’s Fuckwind, and men to A-trak’s remix of “Heads Will Roll.” But the crowd as a whole–represented on the grayscale bar–responded most intensely to moments of interaction, either with other clubbers or with the DJ. This begs the question: does Lightwave use biometric data to monetize interactivity in a way that parallels the way social media monetizes interaction? Does Lightwave transform the medium of music into a “social” medium (at least insofar as it brings music in line with the political economy of social media)?


Robin is on twitter as @doctaj.