30th August 2021
Well, was that the noisiest bank holiday on record? I don’t mean the aeroplanes; there were a lot fewer of them than normal. I don’t even mean the cars, though there were a lot on the roads. I mean the music. The loud music. The loud music, with the thudding base. Wherever people gathered, they seemed to want to turn up the volume.
We missed each other during lockdown. Perhaps the music was just a symbol of the release people felt. It tied in with summer shorts, shopping sprees, flirting, pubbing, clubbing. It was the sound of freedom. It was the frenetic urge to get lost in sound to celebrate the collapse of the Berlin Wall of Covid restrictions.
I, too, wanted to celebrate. That’s why I was out and about. But I spent my time dodging the incessant beat of Central London. The thudding sound of the base, the same low-frequency noise which makes aircraft, wind turbines and freight trains so disturbing to some people, seemed to be celebrated by countless others.
In their research (1) in 2008 Blesser and Salter found ‘when a culture accepts loudness as being a legitimate right in recreational sound venues, that acceptance tends to legitimise all forms of noise pollution. As a culture with advancing sonic tools and amplification, there are increasing opportunities to be immersed in destructively loud sound fields. We believe that acceptance of loudness in entertainment then carries over to a tolerance of disruptive noise from airplanes, jackhammers, powered garden equipment, and so on. Loudness becomes the cultural norm.’
Could it be that loudness has become the cultural norm in the UK?
That was certainly my experience in London over the weekend. After a late breakfast with a friend in a wonderfully quiet, muzac-free Wetherpoons (Arise Sir Tim Martin) in Farringdon, I came across the March for Animals. It’s a cause I thoroughly approve of so decided to join it as it moved off. But I only got as far Fleet Street before the noise forced me to retreat to the peace and quiet of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The drums were so loud some children had their fingers in their ears (Sign them up as the next generation of anti-noise campaigners!). And yet a tweet described the event as ‘Waiting at the start of #AnimalRebellion yesterday. Brilliant day, samba bands kept the energy high, very moving speeches, all peaceful and joyous’. Loudness has become the cultural norm.
In Central London you have to search to get away from it. Fancy a coffee? Without muzac? Your cappuccino challenge. The al fresco dining hasn’t helped matters. The streets have become noisier, with loud music from the restaurants pumped out incessantly. Go before 5pm when cars are allowed. The tables are noisier than the traffic. But many people like the loud evening ambience. Loudness has become the cultural norm.
I was relieved that I was not alone in noticing how loud this weekend became. This from twitter:
That music festival in Victoria Park is loud. I’m near Queensbridge Road and I’m hearing the music reflecting off the buildings that are facing towards Victoria Park. This is much louder than in the past.
Currently in Leigh on Sea in the harbour area and there is one bar pumping out bass heavy dance music totally killing the calm vibe of this otherwise chilled spot. Fiddles and or sea shanties would be more appropriate here.
I scurried back through Leicester Square to the Underground. It was a cacophony of noise. Music blaring out of the shops competing with buskers and their amplified sounds. I know what the Taliban would have done. I’m not suggesting that as the final solution. What I am saying is that, if loudness has become the cultural norm at least for part of the population, it makes finding solutions to the very real noise problems which do exist more complex.
(1), Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Slater, The unexamined rewards for excessive loudness (2008)