(vb): when jukeboxes go mad - The Guardian - July 10,
(VB): WHEN JUKEBOXES GO MAD
Monday July 10, 2006
|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
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".