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 Wyatting (vb): when jukeboxes go mad - The Guardian - July 10, 2006


Ned Beauman
Monday July 10, 2006
The Guardian

  Robert Wyatt: the perfect way to clear a pub
Just as the best way to judge an adult is by his or her record collection, the best way to judge a pub is by the albums on its jukebox. Or it was, until the 21st-century caught up with the noisy machine in the corner. There are now nearly 2,000 internet-connected jukeboxes in the UK, each of which can access as many as 2m tracks - and with them has come Wyatting, which is either a fearless act of situationist cultural warfare or a nauseatingly snobbish prank, depending on who you ask.

The phenomenon was first identified in the New York Times by Wendy McClure. She was in a grimy rock bar when someone pulled up Brian Eno's Thursday Afternoon, which consists of a single distant piano phrase repeated for more than an hour, and found herself too mesmerised to leave. "Imagine replacing the brass cylinder in a music box with a Möbius strip made from nerve endings," she wrote. The rest of the bar's patrons , however, were soon in revolt.

This wasn't to be an isolated incident. After music critic Simon Reynolds linked to McClure's article on his weblog, several of his readers wrote in to confess that this is a game they regularly play. Carl Neville, a 36-year-old English teacher from London, coined the term "Wyatting" because sticking on Dondestan, the 1991 avant-garde jazz-rock LP by ex-Soft Machine singer Robert Wyatt, is the perfect way to disrupt a busy Friday night in a high street pub. Other favourites are free-jazz clarinetist Evan Parker and surrealist Japanese noise producer Merzbow. In theoretical terms, Wyatting has been explained as enacting the theories of Adorno, who believed that subverting pop music would help to bring down capitalism. Alternatively, if you listen to Neville, it's simply "childish, futile, but finally hilarious".

Inevitably a backlash has arrived with other bloggers claiming Wyatting is just a way for those who feel superior, both in terms of class and musical taste, to bait those beneath them. But Inspired Broadcast Networks, which run most of the internet jukeboxes in the UK, insists it has not unleashed a monster.

"Most people won't spend money on making the pub an irritating environment," says Anne de Kerckhove, Inspired's chief operating officer. If landlords do have problems with inappropriate selections, she says, it is usually hip-hop with lots of swearing and in that case, "they can kill a track while it's playing and reimburse the customer". Has she thought of limiting the available tracks to those appropriate for drinking and socialising? "The minute we say, 'You can't play that,' then people want to play that. We're all a bit contrarian in nature."

Perhaps Wyatting will be added to flicking peanuts and talking loudly about your sex life as Adorno behaviour. But what about the man after whom this controversial sport was named? "I think it's really funny," says the 61-year-old Robert Wyatt, whose most recent album, Cuckooland, was nominated for the 2004 Mercury music prize. "I'm very honoured at the idea of becoming a verb." Would he ever try it himself? "Oh no. I don't really like disconcerting people. Although often when I try to be normal I disconcert anyway".
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