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As we move through the year, hi-fi shows will appear thick and fast in cities across the globe: Bristol, Montreal, Chicago and Munich all take place this spring. Each of them will be attended by men and women (mostly men) keen to discover the latest audio products that will look fantastic in their homes, make their friends envious and let them experience their music better than ever before.
Waiting for them at the shows will be some of the world’s finest audio company representatives dressed in their branded fine-knit polo shirts and comfortable on-my-feet-all-day hybrid shoes. They’ll be standing in front of their products, each of which will be buffed, preened, toed-in and ready to play a carefully-selected playlist at uncanny levels of detailed resolution.
At this point, as I enter a show, I am quite often excited at the prospect of hearing the latest and greatest the audio world has to offer. And then it happens, out of a demo room doorway the tentacles stretch of a song that I know*: and its very often a Pink Floyd tune – and instantly my enthusiasm ebbs away.
How can a Pink Floyd track have this effect? Why do tracks that I previously enjoyed (Crazy Diamond, Time, Wish You Were Here) make me feel claustrophobic and a little bit nauseous? Well, it’s all down to over exposure. If you regularly attend hi-fi shows you’ll hear the same music being played by different turntables, streamers and CD players. Again, and again and again.
It’s surely a little perverse that all of us hi-fi fans are music lovers and that yet a hi-fi show can drain away the love for so many tracks. I can no longer play classics by the Beatles, Stones and Eagles. And it’s not just the older stuff – Beck, *Elbow and Lana del Ray are all dead to me now.
The US and UK shows are not alone in playing the same music, the European shows have their own peculiar sins. The High-End Munich show seems to specialise in playing classic rock tracks that have been butchered into a soft jazz style by an unknown session musician, and don’t get me started on Kraftwerk! Even last November’s Paris show had a shocker: yes, we know that Daft Punk are French, but does every exhibitor have to play them, and at the same time? Walking down the show’s corridors was like being in a Tom and Jerryesque hotel nightmare with the be-helmeted Frenchmen’s electro beats blasting out of every manufacturer’s room.
Perplexingly, its not just me that feels the same way about the music being played at shows. I’ve spoken with many of the manufacturers and have learned that hi-fi shows have killed artists for them too. The following are all dead to their ears: Nils Lofgren (#1 repeat offender), Queen, Patricia Barber, Robert Plant, Peter Gabriel, Diana Krall and Hugh Masekela. However, we must remember, that whilst we can simply walk away from a show, the manufacturers representatives are stuck there for at least a couple of days and if their neighbouring exhibitor plays any of the aforementioned artists then it becomes a form of cruel torture.
On a positive note, there is the possibility of redemption for each of these artists. Loud & Clear’s John Carroll had Dire Straits on his dead list after hearing them on show repeat throughout the 90s, 00s and 10s. Last year, John then heard them at a show for the first time in a decade and… thoroughly enjoyed hearing Private Investigations once more. There is hope!
Lastly, if you do visit a hi-fi show, please do me a favour, don’t be satisfied with what the exhibitors are playing, ask them to play something that you like. Make it different, individual and personal and please, please make sure that it isn’t Pink Floyd!
Since I wrote this piece, Roger Waters’ recent comments will probably ensure that no manufacturer will play Pink Floyd for quite some time. Phew!
Matt Tasker (Ammonite Media), February 2023