Shut up and listen: the rise of listening bars

by | Jul 22, 2020 | Hearing Gains

We don’t know about you, but we’re tired of meeting friends at bars where we have to shout to make ourselves heard. And we’re tired of turning up to concerts that cause our ears to ring all night. Why can’t we enjoy sound? Like, really enjoy it? In the same way you might treat your tastebuds at a gourmet restaurant, or feast your eyes on a masterpiece at the Tate?

That’s why we’re so excited about the growing popularity of listening bars.

Huh? What are listening bars?

Picture walking into a bar on a Friday night – the lighting is low, the bar is full of friends sat in groups, holding drinks… except nobody is talking. Instead, everyone is immersed in the joy of listening.

A phenomenon that first sprung up in Japan back in the 1950s, listening bars are venues with high-end audio equipment that play carefully-chosen vinyl records. And more recently, they’ve started appearing in cities all over the world – from São Paolo to New York, London and Manchester.

A new movement in wellness

It’s no secret that listening to music is a great way to relax. But the ways in which we listen to music in public don’t always fit that mould. Think, for instance, about heading to a club on a Saturday night. Often, you’ll find yourself leaving not just with sore ears, but also a sore throat and sore feet (not to mention a sore head the next day).

Now compare that to the listening bar experience. There’s no need to shout when you order your drink or to burst your friend’s eardrums when you tell them you’re heading to the loo. But generally, people are here to listen, not to talk.

As Nosheen Iqbal reports in The Observer, the growing trend of listening bars reflects the nation’s growing concern for wellness. She quotes the DJ and producer Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy, who says, ‘I think it’s part of a larger movement, like slow food and mindfulness’.

This idea of the slowing of the senses is picked up by Aneesh Patel, who runs one of the UK’s first listening bars, Brilliant Corners. He relates: ‘I can listen to things now that I might have found boring or challenging before and can listen to them in so much detail and have more patience for it’.

The fact is, listening bars offer something most people just can’t access at home. High-end sound systems are expensive. Modern pop, designed for earbuds, can be highly compressed. So, with state-of-the-art equipment and the right atmosphere, listening bars have brought a whole new way of hearing music to the table. And, if you listen carefully, you might just hear something you’ve never heard before.

Ready to try out slow listening?

Here are some of the listening bars you can head to in the UK:

  • The BBE Store, London: What started as a pop-up store has since become a permanent fixture. Enjoy the Audio Gold sound system, food, drink and the chance to shop plenty of new and second-hand vinyl records and CDs.
  • Behind This Wall, London: Unassuming in name and appearance, this Hackney venue features record producer Martin Hannett’s old sound system, as well as a cocktail list without any artificial additives or flavouring.
  • Brilliant Corners, London: One of the originals, this destination has been going since 2014. Think Japanese food and great music – anything from soul and funk to the classics.
  • NAM, Manchester: NAM’s sound system was assembled by the Brilliant Corners team. Vietnamese street food served alongside great sound – what more could you want?
  • Nine Lives, London: A little bar with a big ethos. Hidden away in a basement on Bermondsey Street, it’s all about great playlists, killer cocktails and zero waste.
  • Spiritland, London: A series of spaces built around a love of music, from the Royal Festival Hall to a shop in Mayfair. The Kings Cross venue was their first – head here to sip cocktails to laid-back vinyl collections.
  • 33 Oldham Street, Manchester: A workspace by day and lounge space by night, 33 Oldham Street’s MB2SE sound system was built by the Grammy Award winner Steve Levine.

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