/ ˈɔ di əˌfaɪl /
1. A person who is enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction.
Words Tim McGlone
Stop, drink and listen at your local listening bar.
They’re never afraid to do things differently in Japan.
Like, when it comes to eating (have you tried nattō?) and festivals (hello, belly-button festival). So it'd be silly to assume the Japanese aren't pushing boundaries when it comes to drinking.
But while belly-button celebrations and fermented soy beans haven’t exactly exploded in popularity in the western world, there is one thing that has been steadily gaining momentum: listening bars.
A Melbourne vinyl bar.
Listening bars, as we know them today, can be dated back to jazz kissas—a kind of Japanese cafe. Kissas first became popular in the 1920s and according to music researcher, Shuhei Hosokawa, they became somewhat synonymous with sexy acts. Apparently waitresses were hired to perform sexual services on those entering the bar. To drown out any awkward conversations that might be taking place between waitresses and customers, kissa owners began playing loud music on gramophones.
While the sexual element of the kissas changed over time, the music part stayed. Over the next few decades, they became a key place for people to go, relax, and hear pricey imported Western records (usually jazz) — “yo bro, let’s hit the kissa, the new Miles Davis just dropped and it’s fire”.
A bar with top notch acoustics.
The idea of a listening bar is less to catch up and chat, and more to sit and enjoy. Coffee, tea and alcohol is served, and patrons come individually, in pairs or small groups. Here, records are played, people sit, and they listen.
Music is more accessible now than at any other time in history, but how often do we sit and simply take in the tunes? When we’re driving the radio might be on, but we’re concentrating on the road. Same as when we’re out for a run or at a pub—our mind is always elsewhere.
Listening bars are different to normal bars in that they take the onus away from the drinking, and place it on the music. Drinking is supplementary. These bars are usually dimly lit, beautiful rooms with excellent acoustics. Like Music Room, which forms one level of HER in Melbourne’s CBD, which is a new, Australian take on a kissa.
“It's an intimate and immersive experience, designed to feel like you're inside a speaker box.”
“It's an intimate and immersive experience designed to feel like you're inside a speaker box,” explains Janette Pitruzzello, aka DJ JNETT, who is Music Director at Music Room.
“American walnut walls are perforated with small holes to mimic the appearance of a speaker box, and a dynamic lighting constellation in the ceiling is configured to the music to create a cinematic feel.
“From week to week…no one experience is like another. Sounds ebb and flow with the mood or groove of the moment. What you hear in our room can range anywhere from jazz to beats.”
Cosy factor is high.
Comfy couches for reclined listening.
These rooms are like doing auditory drugs. In a world where your ears are subjected to the same sounds every day—the whir of our laptops, the dings from our phones, the buzz of the traffic and the same mundane songs playing tiredly on the radio—devoting an hour or two to an artist in a room designed to amplify their unique sound, sounds like a good time to us.
While Japanese kissas have been on a s decline, they've definitely experienced something of a renaissance elsewhere, as more and more pop up in Western countries.
Aussie listening bars might differ slightly from the Japanese where there is a strict no speaking policy, but the focus is the same: the music.
Play to watch!
Resident Advisor is the global leader when it comes to clubs, DJs, news and rave culture. They recently teamed up with Japanese beer Asahi to showcase the best of listening bars from around the world, starting with home base: Japan.
Pick a seat and a vinyl.
Marek Polgar, co-founder of Waxflower, another listening bar in Melbourne's hipster northern suburb of Brunswick, believes that Australian listening bars differ slightly from their Japanese forefathers.
"In terms of how that concept has migrated beyond Japan, we think it’s about pushing beyond an experience where the customer is simply consuming a product. A listening bar - by its very definition - wants you to take a moment to kick back and enjoy a track," he says.
“The music should complement the overall experience. Our holy trinity: music, food, and wine.
"We love Brilliant Corners and Spiritland over in London, Public Records in New York, Frequence in Paris, and L'Altitude in Brussels. We've also spent many hours huddled away in little Japanese listening bars. We love traveling for inspiration and always get excited to see what others are doing."
SIX OF THE BEST LISTENING BARS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
A 30-year legend that just keeps on spinning. No Instagram, no website, no talking, no problem—just music. And drinks.
1-1 Yokamachi, Hachioji, Tokyo
2. Brilliant Corners
Trendy, spacious and minimalist, with a state-of-the-art sound system, playing a diverse range of music from jazz to electronic, and serving excellent food and drinks. London’s best.
Address: 470 Kingsland Rd, London
Chic, modern bar with a carefully curated vinyl collection and incredible menu, that plays indie and alternative music in Melbourne’s hipster heartland.
153 Weston Street, Brunswick, Victoria
4. Bar Shiru
A unique experience with rotating guest DJs and an intimate atmosphere. Cali’s #1 listening bar.
1631 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, California
5. Bar & Records
A special spot that combines a record store and a listening bar, featuring a large selection of vinyl records, vintage hi-fi systems, and a quiet, relaxed atmosphere.
2-1-12 Kita, Fukushima-ku, Osaka
Melbourne CBD, Australia
A stylish and intimate setting, featuring a hi-fi system, jazz, soul, and funk music, and excellent cocktails and tapas. Bit more of a party than the others on this list.
132 Bourke St, Melbourne, Victoria
SHARE THIS ARTICLE