It was just a casual night at the pub with friends, but you wake up the next day with a hoarse throat and a voice that makes you sound as if you’ve got a 50-a-day habit to choke Patsy Stone herself. But there was no karaoke or chain-smoking last night, just the pub sound system pumping out dirty drum ‘n’ bass loud enough to turn even the most intimate DMC into a shouting match.
From next month, the soundtrack to our nights out may mellow as Pipedown, a UK-based campaign group fighting for a ban on piped music in public places, joins forces with deafness charity Action on Hearing Loss. In July, the two organisations will launch a drive to get pubs to lower the volume levels of the music they play and install sound-deadening soft fabrics. Restaurants will be encouraged to turn their sound systems off completely.
Speaking to The Times, Action on Hearing Loss spokesperson Gorki Duhra explained the need for quiet drinking and dining spaces: “When it leads to you getting the wrong order or not being able to have a conversation and you’re missing the main bit of the joke because you just can’t hear it, you feel left out. Background music makes it harder to pick up a particular voice.”
While Action on Hearing Loss and Pipeline are going easier on pubs and asking them to “keep it down” (cue classic Ross-from-Friends gif), rather than stop the music altogether, Pipedown national secretary Nigel Rodgers told MUNCHIES that pubs shouldn’t have to rely on tunes to create a relaxing atmosphere.
“Pubs should generate their own buzz from people talking and enjoying themselves,” he said. “Many people who have hearing problems won’t go out to these places and those establishments are losing out on their custom.”
Rodgers did however admit that he is partial to some types of background music: “I don’t mind a bit of soft jazz but it has to be something that you can get away from.”
He may have a point. Anyone who has ever worked in hospitality will know the burning need to get away from that looped playlist featuring “Happy” at least four times per shift.
But there is some research to show that what we’re listening to can actually enhance drinking and dining experiences. In 2014, following the results of an Oxford University study that showed what diners listened to could improve the flavour of their food, Heston Blumenthal created a seafood dish to be eaten to sounds of the sea, hoping to intensify its briny flavours. According to another study from the university, listening to Taylor Swift will make your Chinese takeaway taste better.
Co-founder of Berber & Q—a London Middle Eastern restaurant known for soundtracking its diners’ meals with hip-hop—Mattia Bianchi also thinks music has an important role to play in how we eat.
“We tend to start the evenings with hip-hop with some Middle Eastern tunes thrown in, and shift to more up-tempo house beats as the night goes on,” he told MUNCHIES. “For us, the restaurant is as much about having a good night out as it is about having a great dinner, and our customers really feed of the vibe that this creates. While we respect that music in the dining room isn’t for everyone, it’s an integral part of what we do here.”
Time will tell whether restaurants and pubs take note of Pipeline’s campaign but in the meantime, maybe piping 200-decibel Enya would bring some calm to the Friday-night pub throng.
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