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Shush… and enjoy the music: how listening bars have hit the right note

The lights are low, the music is on, and an east London bar that is filled to capacity on a midweek evening has customers sitting in groups, but not speaking. Some have their eyes closed, others fiddle with their hair. Everyone is bathed in sound: rich, velvety jazz played out by Tokyo-based producer Chee Shimizu, on a sound system built and customised to the highest specifications.

The mantra tonight is inspired by the culture of the listening bars that proliferated in Japan after the second world war: “Talk less, listen more.”

It’s a concept now influencing nightlife everywhere from São Paulo to San Francisco, Barcelona to Berlin, where bars, cafes and restaurants are aiming to satisfy even the most ardent audiophiles. When music is both so freely available and disposable, and hi-fi equipment is increasingly expensive and esoteric, it seems a high-risk gamble. How did the listening bar catch on?

“I think it’s part of a larger movement, like slow food and mindfulness,” says Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy, a DJ, producer, founder of the Lucky Cloud party and the world’s most popular record club, Classic Album Sundays. “Younger generations especially never grew up with the experience of listening to music on high-end equipment. Now most people can’t access it because it is quite expensive, but when you offer a public venue, they can hear [music] differently than they ever have before.”

The idea with Spiritland is to ‘give respect back to the artists and their creativity’,

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