Image credit: Big Mind Zen Center
I recently started Music Club with a few friends. Yes, it sounds nerdy, but hear me out. It’s a monthly meeting, to which each club member brings the new songs that have been dominating their airwaves in the previous few weeks. We gather around the laptop, and each club member plays their tunes, giving a short spiel on the artist and why they like the song. If there’s an interesting or unusual video clip, we play that. We listen in silence, then we offer our thoughts. Think of it as a book club where you read short stories aloud for instant feedback.
I taped my first song off the radio when I was eight years old, and since then I’ve been swapping my favourite tunes with friends: first on mixtapes, then mix CDs and now playlists. So why start a club? Perhaps it’s part of the ‘slow listening’ movement in music that Tony Naylor discussed last year in the Guardian: ‘sit there, do nothing, listen – and play things that might not strike you as brilliant, but which are clearly interesting, more than once. It’s unfashionable to say so, but sometimes good music is hard work and you have to steep yourself in it before it begins to make sense.’ I usually play music as a backdrop to other activities: reading, internet browsing, cooking, driving, shopping, commuting, sleeping. My devoting a couple of hours each month exclusively to music is a small investment in an art form that gives me so much pleasure.
Social music networks are multiplying online: from (the currently US-only) Turntable.fm, which allows you to DJ for your friends in a private virtual club, to Spotify, an on-demand streaming service that launched in Australia this month, it’s never been easier to listen to music together. But congregating with friends in the same physical space for the purpose of listening to and commenting on songs forces you to fully surrender to the music. It’s a lazy person’s version of dancing at a club, where you and your friends can take a spin on the turntables, and you don’t lose your voice from screaming over the music. Plus you can still harness the excellent audio and video streaming technology that powers online music sharing networks.
These days, I’m more likely to listen to a recommendation-style internet radio service such as Last.fm than a traditional radio station. But, while I love the concept of a radio station that analyses the music I play and hunts down similar sounds for me, it holds the obvious danger that I’ll slide into a feedback loop, where I’m exposed only to songs that reflect my narrow tastes. Music Club breaks the circuit, forcing me to listen to music that someone else has selected. Without music club, I doubt I would have heard Bobby Womack’s ‘Please Forgive My Heart’, and I’d be sorry to have missed it.
One of our club members is brilliant at devising discussion questions: do a musician’s beliefs (such as Christianity, which is evident in Sufjan Stevens’s work) affect the way you engage with their music? How much should a cover version differ from the original to be considered a success? How would you prefer to listen to Grimes’s ‘Oblivion’: as it reverberates through a dance club; on headphones while walking in the dark; or while sliding in socks along the polished floors of your house? (I’d encourage trying that last option.) What makes for a perfect pop song, and does Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’ fit the bill?
Music Club is limited to 2012 releases, to help keep my finger on the current musical pulse. But in meetings we follow tangents down rabbit holes, ending up in delightful YouTube corners. It’s not about music snobbery – while a couple of my club’s members could hold their own in conversations with the record store employees from High Fidelity, the club is about sharing songs we love and hoping to persuade others to love them too, or at least give them a go. And with 100 per cent less broken noses than Fight Club, it’s a more sustainable choice in the long term.