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Mood music: Be proud of your coffee table tunes

Sade, anyone?

  • Words: Joe Muggs, Illustration: Alex Jenkins
  • 28 April 2017

People can get very uppity about music that feels domesticated. From the Boomkat online store using “palatable” as an insult for Jamie xx to a magazine reviewer calling a Moby record “so innocuously dull that the nation’s coffee tables will soon be dyeing their hair and piercing their noses in protest”, there’s always someone willing to make out that pleasant, home-listening music is inauthentic. The phrase “coffee table music” is even in the Collins English Dictionary, defined as “unadventurous”.

It’s easy to see how these descriptions become instruments of snobbery, especially for people in the Mixmag world, whose relationship to music is tied up with excitement, adventure and identity. We all want to feel our tastes are superior to our mums’ and dads’ and vanilla schoolfriends’, who married their childhood sweethearts and sit at home with their Coldplay and Adele and whimsical ukulele cover versions from cringey adverts. Yes, there is something special about tearing jungle tunes, or grime bangers, or 15-minute Ricardo Villalobos epics, or experimental ambient head-melts; something that’ll never be fully apparent over coffee and biscuits at 3pm. And it’s true that plenty of horrible, twee musical crimes have been committed in the name of comfort and cosiness – or ‘hygge’ as the lifestyle columns would have us call it now.

But start thinking like that too much – get stuck in the “you need to get out more” mindset – and you miss out on something very important about simple, gentle, home listening music. Because far from just being a bland background catalyst, some of the most intense emotional experiences people have with music happens in domestic surroundings. Whether it’s teenagers holed up in a bedroom, playing each other tunes, a family get-together with music that all generations accept, friends setting the world to rights over a drink or a smoke or a pot of tea, whatever: the soundtrack to your intimate conversations, to the time that you spend away from the public routines and rituals that make you who you supposedly, ‘officially’ are… it matters.

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