Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Louder Than Bombs

You arrange a night out for three and one is invariably gonna be left out of the chat. Music has to be played and it has to be played very loud, the imperative seems.

An ordinary Saturday night with friends. A nice conversation, plentiful of silliness and a few drinks. In most UK cities this seemingly simple course of events can bang against insormountable complications. Notably the wall of decibels that most pubs and public places offer on an evening out. No, it isn't my mum writing, or some old bachelor living in a hut in the Orkney Islands. I myself play in a band, regularly blow our PA speakers at rehearsals, and totally endorse club culture (with legitimate preferences, of course). But it's not gigs or nightclubs we're talking about. Clubs are loud, sometimes extremely so by definition but that's why they were there in the first place so if it's a chat you're looking for, then it's you who's picked the wrong setting.

I'm talking about anywhere else in England. The dominant assumption is that friends have absolutely jack to discuss and chat about therefore ultra-loud music is needed to fill the void. I can list tons of places visited in the recent past...bowling alleys where families or mates expect a "fun evening out" as they try and figure out the score by screaming at the other's ears in an attempt to elude the wall of r'n'b blasted out of loudspeakers. Or the time where we picked a pretty-looking-but-not-so-Italian restaurant on a date only to be greeted by an office party complete with DJs and karaoke thwarting any plans for a cosy evening, inflicting their insane decibles to the rest of helplessly silent diners.

Or most shops, whether high street or not, whether it's clothes, shoes or showergel you're after. You start wondering which marketing research ever suggested that a bombardment of run-of-the-mill garage music is the customer's choice of ear-torture as they push their trolley around the thumping aisles.

And then there's the pubs. That really infuriates me. Mimicked and copied in every country, you'd think of English pubs as an intimate venue for people and friends to socialise in front of a few drinks. And yes, background music is by all means welcome. No-one's saying that public places should have the atmosphere of a graveyard. But a comparative look on any bar in Ireland, Scotland or continental Europe would remind you of the contemporary plight of the English pub. The picture is all too familiar: super-mega-loud music, overenthusiastic DJs daydreaming of a slot at an Ibiza nightclub as they inflict their frustrated club-DJ ambitions on a non-existent dancefloor; decibels aplenty and the serious impossibility of a conversation that involves more than strictly two people. You arrange a night out for three and one is invariably gonna be left out of the chat. Music has to be played and it has to be played very loud, the imperative seems.

A couple of years back I seriously damaged my vocal chords because of a work night out. The tormentors were at a late night bar called "Reflex", a naff 80s themed "pub" where half the volume would have been enough to bring about permanent damage to the punters' eardrums and throats. I wish I could express in writing how loud the place was. Music was seriously blasting out, way more than any club I'd been to in my life. So any attempt to human interaction was effectively nipped in the bud, not least because of the fumes of alcohol (which was at least our informed choice), as it would result in incomprehension. Even the most innocent "WHAT-IS-THE-TIME?" would be invariably met by a puzzled face and lip-reading suggesting some kind of "S-O-R-R-Y?" as the frustrated response.
For over 9 months i had serious troubles singing with a voice that was nothing short of hoarse and husky, as the doctors repeated i had strained my vocal chords.

Some people ascribe the loud music frenzy to the imperative of selling more alcohol. The idea is that the less people talk, the more they drink and the more they spend on drinks. The cynic in me is inclined to believe that this is another reflection of the English society dumbing down as one would suggest that the public gets what the public wants. And yet it isn't easy to desert en-masse those appalling megaloud drinking dens. Quiet pubs exist, but in the era of hypercool, DJ-rama and permayoung you have to do some serious groundwork to find them. I'm in search of allies.

4 comments:

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Joe Powel said...
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liebchen said...

CHRIST, AMEN. theres nothing worse than overly loud bars and pubs. if i wanted perforated ear drums mid catch-up, id go to a CLUB!

looking forward to seeing you! xxx

Anonymous said...

lol u old doggie