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(Credits: Far Out / David Pupaza / Nathana Rebouças / Andrea De Santis)

Music

Has working from home changed our music tastes?

@TomTaylorFO

I remember it like it was a couple of lifetimes ago: The pensioners were given their own dawn-breaking shopping hours, which, admittedly, they were keeping to anyway, but this time it was made official. Then they closed the pubs—the last bastions of societies, the cockroach establishments of the world set to outlive human patrons, and suddenly, they were shut… I remember that bit like it was yesterday. 

Then, slowly but surely, the oddities of lockdown culture came creeping out of the woodwork like civil creatures that had been in hiding. Getting bladdered over zoom in your garage, quizzes, all those endless bloody quizzes, and then came the listening parties, the boon of BBC Radio 6Music, and every new record was plugged with the tagline: “An introspective reflection on unprecedented times.”

However, weirdly, or perhaps understandably, culture has never really tackled the pandemic in a perfunctory sense. The great lockdown novel is yet to be written, movies have seemingly skirted around the great nothingness, albums might have taken an introspective turn, but I’m yet to come across a song written as an ode to a delivery driver, or anthem depicting the sudden fascination of peeping through the blinds and studying your neighbour’s takeaway habits. 

In truth, such records might take some time to cogitate on for the creative masses, because if one lockdown platitude was worthy of becoming a cliché, it was that we really were reeling in unprecedented times. And the second is that we came out of the other side ineffably changed. Our music tastes were no different. 

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Taking the remarkably small sample size of my nevertheless ample collection of friends and associates, I know of at least six people who thought it was the right time to begin a vinyl record collection. Beyond that sample, I have the figures to prove that many others did the same, as the pandemic years saw a new 30-year peak in vinyl sales. And with vinyl comes an appreciation of the album

You can’t skip between tracks or artists the way you can with other formats as easily on a turntable. This means that emphasis is placed on perfecting the front-to-back format of a coherent LP. Tim Burgess’ Twitter Listening Parties were testimony of this too. With time on their hands, people wanted to revel in the self-contained beauty of a fully released release—a little time capsule of revelry, not dissimilar from the phone-turned-off bliss of a blackened cinema. 

These traits stretched beyond lockdown when many of us were left working from home forevermore. In offices, tastes have to be generic. You can’t be left lurching in self-pitying folk tones on a Monday morning under the florescent glare of an overhead bulb when you’re surrounded by indifferent others, the whole thing would seem too personal. A sub-surface weep to Leonard Cohen on loudspeaker with verve-brimming 18-year-old interns would be so cringe-inducing that it could snap a weak jaw, but at home, ah, at home, the world is your oyster to wallow in as you please.

Thus, softer tones may well have taken precedence for many of us. If you’re barely out of bed when you hit log-on, then driving tunes and toe-tappers make way for bedroom-bound ballads and escapist croons of comfort ala Fleet Foxes gently proclaiming, ‘I’m Not My Season’. What’s more, these softer tones are easier to leave witling away in the background as you try to focus on working too. 

However, we also had the freedom to get more experimental too. During the pandemic, the BBC reported a boom in radio listeners, this meant many were turning away from their usual shuffled list of the same old songs to hear something new. The same can be said for playlist sharing which also skyrocketed and other mediums. And, in general, we simply listened more.

Ultimately, it would seem that it has also simply renewed our appreciation for what music gives to us in a mindful capacity. It might be background music most of the time when we’re working, but it is certainly more foreground than it was back in the white noise of an office.

With worries mounting, a bombardment of bad news and sinister statistics it was easy to feel trapped in more ways than one during the lockdown, however, music offered refuge away from the gloomy insular world of our own domains and it continues to do so now that the dust has settled and we linger in our feted home offices.

With the simple tap of a play button, drop of a stylus or strum of a guitar, the suburbs and cities can rest like a sleepy ocean as guitar solos, drumbeats and soaring vocals offer a small but mighty escape in a coracle of unimpeachable hope and exultation. Paradoxically, culture seems even more important when you’re away from it in wallpapered walls.

It remains to be seen what other unfurling impacts working at home has had on our music taste, but things certainly changed. And it was a measure of the many great artists that we are currently blessed with, that despite all the challenges, some great records were produced in amongst it too.

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