It’s a cold Wednesday evening and I’ve swapped a night of intense Netflixing, for a listening bar experience. To be honest, it’s the first time I’ve heard of such a thing. Will I be regaled with some mildly discomforting live music? Is it karaoke? A silent disco? On all accounts, I hope not.
I agree to the invite in haste, with some doubts - it’s hump day, after all, and my brain is whirring around with things I need to do. My appetite for being around lots of people I don’t know is pretty small at this point. Thankfully, upon entering, it’s clear the whole point is to 'speak less, hear more'. Now that, I’m down for.
Listening bars (or audiophile/ hi-fi bars as they’re sometimes referred to) have deep roots in Japan going back to the 1950s, and form a culture grounded in the joy of discovering music and listening in the best possible environment. Over the past few years, this concept has started popping up around the world and this evening I find myself in the OG of London’s listening bars, Brilliant Corners, on Kingsland Road.
The venue, named after an album by the jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, fuses together hi-fi sound, Japanese food and an extensive cocktail list. The bar’s superior sound system - four large floor-standing Klipsch speaker, valued at around £5,000 each – have been installed with a certain amount of intention, placed in each corner of the main room. “There’s a special arrangement to where each instrument is coming from with these speakers,” says co-owner and vinyl obsessive Aneesh Patel. Rather than music simply being a side-note, you are forced to confront it, as the space is built with acoustics as a first priority. Because of this, the sound defines the experience; music is just as meticulously curated as the menu.
After chowing down some (exceptionally good) sushi, and still clasping onto my beer, I’m told to switch off my phone and find a spot to sit in the low-lit, beanbag sofa-strewn room amongst other people. The music scene setter for the night is DJ, producer and owner of Tokyo record shop Physical Store, Chee Shimizu. A pioneer of authentic ‘deep listening’ sessions, he started curating a series of sessions like this called ‘Tabiji’, which means 'journey' in Japanese, over ten years ago. Journey is perhaps the perfect description of the hour that ensues.
The records chosen are described as “warm electro” – electronic music that makes you feel good and crosses into genres from techno, new wave, classical and R&B. If a jazz bar, sound bath and a sleep app came together, this would be the product.
At first, I am wide-eyed, taking in the otherworldly, obscure sounds, which later transcend into operatic, meditative soundscapes. The hour is up, it’s 9pm and I’ve been lulled into a snooze. A post-yoga sensation of sorts, my body feels relaxed, I feel more balanced and, rid of my anti-social prejudices, now want to talk to the stranger next to me to find out how she found the whole thing, too. “That felt so…healing,” she says. For East Londoners in the know, Brilliant Corners regularly hosts listening nights like this, where you can enjoy a communal, mindful and shuffle-free musical experience. To quote Arnold Schwarzenegger: I’ll be back.
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