Mood music: Be proud of your coffee table tunes - - Mixmag
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Mood music: Be proud of your coffee table tunes

Sade, anyone?

  • Words: Joe Muggs, Illustration: Alex Jenkins
  • 28 April 2017
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I’m not writing off dancefloor magic or other vital aspects of club/rave culture here. I’ve been part of, and played records to, some truly wild and out-there crowds over the years. But I’ve also had some of my most profound, happiest, interesting experiences as a DJ and as a listener early in the evening or on a Sunday afternoon in tucked-away pubs and bars, with ‘audiences’ who have no expectations, no canon of cool, no hierarchies of music, who want nothing but a relaxed atmosphere. Because people are in that laid-back, conversational, friendly state – very different to the mania that might kick in later in the night – there’s a certain openness and willing to connect emotionally to the tracks. Like the post-club carry-on but minus the delirium, it becomes a zone where musically anything can go, a level playing field for tunes where naffness and hipness evaporate, as long as the atmosphere is sustained: soppy pop or soul ballads and acoustic indie/rock can sit alongside the coolest jazz, dub or soundtracks and form part of a greater whole. Think of it as a kind of “cold weather Balearic” aesthetic.

And I’m not alone in thinking this. Things like the Late Night Tales mix series have been dipping into this area for ages, and new bars like London’s Spiritland aim to provide more of a listening experience, with DJs like Andrew Weatherall dipping into all sorts of curios on the bar’s audiophile-quality system. But it’s been uppermost in my mind recently – partly because a Spotify addiction has got me compiling untold playlists for home listening and so consciously thinking about how mood music works, but partly too because of how comfort and intimacy are being cynically turned into something ugly and twee by hipster marketing culture in a world where friendliness, homeliness, craft, and any kind of small-scale individual emotion has been co-opted and corrupted by the dreary agency drones who survive by snorting lines of dried tears shed at John Lewis Christmas adverts.

How can we bring this stuff back across the line into the real world of human friendship and bodies together in a room, where it’s not about selling Cath Kidston pillowcases and beard wax? Whether it’s sitting up late around the kitchen table or tipsily swaying along with strangers in the pub to Sade or James Blake or Bonobo or a Blur B-side, let’s make the simplest, most domestic of musical experiences we share with one other really count for something. In hard times, soft music matters: be proud of your coffee table tunes.

Joe Mugg's is a freelance writer who owns many coffee tables. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his coffee table playlist here

Alex Jenkins is a freelance illustrator who is very good at drawing coffee tables. Follow him on Instagram