The Age Of The Portable Playlist
The Age Of The Portable Playlist

The multiplicity of choice only means that individual listeners wallow in their respective niches


Nowadays, I’m terrified of people coming over to my place. It’s not that I mind company but I have problems with the corollary that it brings with it: music. This is the age of the portable playlist. You carry your music with you. People don’t stop there. They insist on inflicting their musical tastes on the host, which can become tedious after a point. Rewind to the 1980s and early 1990s. My best friend in school and I would go to each other’s place. Both of us were music buffs and had, what in those days, was called a ‘collection’. It could be fifty tapes but it was called a collection. When my best friend came over to mine, he’d listen to music from my collection. I would do the same when I went to his. It was an unwritten rule that you didn’t bring your own tapes unless the belt of your cassette player had broken, it was in for repairs and you were dying to listen to a track. The arrangement worked quite well. When you’d sample albums from someone else’s collection, it meant you stepped out of your comfort zone and heard new songs. This is how I came across Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, a gentle brooding album written in the wake of his father’s demise.


Things are different now. Friends have their music on a variety of devices: the iPod, the hard drive, the pen drive, the mobile phone. And when someone comes over, they’re like: ‘Man, you gotta hear this.’ Your music is paused while the person who takes over—the acting DJ— continues listening to the music he was listening to at home and in his car. And just in case he’s forgotten his devices at home, there’s always YouTube.


Hosts have already started making rules about this. Indian hypocrisy dictates that you don’t just draw the line and make sure it remains drawn. Indians are a touchy yet thickskinned lot. If you make a rule, no one is going to follow it. If you say the truth—I don’t like your music—he might take offence.


Lately, I’ve heard some great excuses that hosts make to avoid listening to the guest’s music. The speakers have conked out. The audio cable is kaput. My modem is not working.


This works only to an extent. Indians are stingy so it’s unlikely they will start pulling on their 4G data if you say your wi-fi isn’t working. But chances are they will have some music on their phone and the phone will have speakers. It’s difficult to avoid. There is a solution: the phone will run out of battery and when he asks for your charger, say you’ve misplaced it.


After a few drinks, there’s usually plenty of elbowing, shoving and pushing around the laptop or tablet. ‘Move, man, let me play my track. Stop hogging the music.’ Meanwhile, the host sinks back in his armchair and resigns himself to his fate.


What’s also happened is that now there is very little common ground that people have when it comes to music. Just electronica, for instance, is split into so many subgenres. Everyone’s into their own thing. Earlier there were four or five genres and there wasn’t that much choice. These days we have access to whatever we want—and this when Spotify hasn’t even started streaming in India; ironically, the multiplicity of choice only means that individual listeners wallow in their respective niches.


It’s not like when everyone was into Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Nirvana and Pearl Jam. These days I lose count of what I’m into myself: James Dickinson, Bel Esprit, Cabbage, Childish Gambino, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Beardyman and the Masters of Distraction.


I know human beings are social beings and they like to share. But we live in a world where everyone likes to believe that they have impeccable taste in music. You curate your playlist and this puffs you with self-satisfaction, as if you made the music yourself. It’s nice to share but please do not inflict your music on others. For that, there’s Twitter, Facebook, torrent and YouTube.


(The writer is the editor of House Spirit: Drinking in India, published by Speaking Tiger)

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