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Sunday, 6 September 2009

Chill-out music - the ugly truth

I quite like the title of this post, though I have to agree with you if, when you've read what follows, you think it's a slightly melodramatic title that doesn't really sit flush with the contents of the post. But a good post title is hard to shift, so here we go...

If any of you are ever in Brighton (that's on the south coast of England, for all you international readers), then I'd recommend a visit to a restaurant called Fishy Fishy. Yes, it is a fish restaurant. The food is locally sourced and seasonal, which will please my colleagues at Global Cool), and is cooked perfectly. It's in a great location, the staff are all knowledgeable and friendly, and the atmosphere is spot on.

Now it's funny you should mention the atmosphere, because I have a particular interest in this aspect of Fishy Fishy, because yours truly is responsible for the soundtrack of this particular restaurant. One of the main people behind the venture is the Radio 2 DJ (and X-Factor host, though it won't surprise him to know that I'm personally more of a fan of his radio work, for reasons of personal taste) Dermot O'Leary, and he's a mate, so I've been working with him and come up with what I (and Fishy Fishy) think is the perfect soundtrack to a dining experience.

Fishy Fishy opened a few months ago and has been a roaring success so far, but when I first got to grips with the music side of it, there was a lot more to think about than you might at first think.

When I put music on at home specifically to be in the 'background' (i.e. more for atmosphere than to actually listen to), that might be anything from Simon & Garfunkel to Motown, Dave Brubeck to Iron & Wine, Eagles to Common, Fleet Foxes to Outkast....etc etc. You get the idea - it's pretty broad and doesn't have to be traditional "chillout" music.

But when you come to plan the music for other people's dining, there's more to consider than personal taste.

First of all, we all wanted to avoid the usual restaurant music that you can hear in a million places up and down the country - so no Cafe Del Mar, no Moby or Kinobe, no hours and hours of classic soul (though the odd bit is of course welcome). And we didn't want to avoid it just to be contrary - I'm always really impressed if I'm in a restaurant and they look like they've thought about the music a bit more than just buying a lazy compilation and sticking that on. It makes a good difference to my meal, I reckon.

Secondly, I was adamant that it can't, repeat CANNOT, be depressing. That might be obvious, but I did a little experiment (and if you do the same I suspect your results will agree), and I checked a lot of my personal background music, and lo and behold, it was quite depressing. Not actually depressing for me, because I know and like it, but it wasn't in any way, cheery or uplifting, or even in the middle. Listen to Iron & Wine for example and think about putting that on to a room full of happy diners who you don't know - I couldn't do it. Nobody pays good money to be brought down while they're eating. I'm not sure I've explained that very well, but hope you get what I mean.

And of course the other thing that I had to really look out for was anything offensive - and I don't just mean obvious swear words, but also any offensiveness in the music. So there are some songs that start off perfectly but then get a little too weird, or noisy, or spiky, or whatever, half way through, and that rules themselves out. One that springs to mind now is Weezer's Keep Fishin'. Again, if you have it on in the background in your own living room, you probably won't care (I know I don't), but if you put it on when there are people in their 60s or 70s eating their lovely fish dinner, then it will suddenly stick out like a sore thumb. At least it does enough for me to not want to put it on the final playlist.

So I'm now working on the first Fishy Fishy playlist refresh - something that we'll be doing quarterly so that the music is up to date and regularly appraised.

The best way to tell me if any of this makes sense to you is to pop into Fishy Fishy and let me know what you think. There are different playlists for lunch and dinner, and I sincerely hope that both work for you (and don't forget, we're trying to do that near-impossible thing of pleasing all of the people all of the time). But constructive comments will always be welcome.

If you can't make it to Brighton, to give you an idea here's my Top 10 Fishy Fishy Songs, which I hope you'll like the sound of...

1. The Jazz Crusaders - Way Back Home
2. Grizzly Bear - Two Weeks
3. Roxy Music - More Than This
4. Lily Allen - Everybody's Changing
5. Phoenix - Too Young
6. Simon & Garfunkel - Why Don't You Write Me?
7. Sufjan Stevens - All Good Naysayers, Speak Up! Or Forever Hold Your Peace!
8. Amos Milburn - One Scotch, One Borbon, One Beer
9. N*E*R*D* - Provider (Zero 7 Edit)
10. Blind Melon - No Rain

Happy dining!

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