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The sounds of Bristol University? A look into Spotify's curated playlists

In an eerily dystopian twist of technology, the algorithms often serve up track recommendations better than those you might get from an old friend who knows your music taste inside-out.

By Theo Kent, Second Year English

One of Spotify’s main USPs is its ‘Discover Weekly’ feature, which provides listeners with music recommendations based on their listening behaviour. In an eerily dystopian twist of technology, the algorithms often serve up track recommendations better than those you might get from an old friend who knows your music taste inside-out.

These playlists show us that our listening behaviour is depressingly predictable - knowing that your music taste is completely un-unique could lead to an existential crisis. However, the technology behind ‘Discover Weekly’ is clearly impressive. In 2014, Spotify bought the data platform called The Echo Nest which it has since used to analyse behaviour in order to make these playlists. Unsurprisingly, The Echo Nest is the data tool responsible for compiling Every Noise at Once.

Listed on Every Noise at Once are more than 1,300 genres of music from around the world. While the more obvious genres like rock, folk, and dance all feature, the website also lists more obscure genres from the fringes of the musical universe. Every Noise at Once lists anything from Jamtronica, to Disney Dansk, to Samurai Trap and anything in-between.

Like personalised ‘Discover Weekly’ playlists, Every Noise at Once has the impressive ability to reflect the listening behaviour of certain groups. Through the subsection Every School at Once, we can see the music loved best by students from countless institutions, including one called the University of Bristol.

Now, through the power of data, we can take a look at the music culture of the people we love to study best; ourselves. For our university, UK alternative Hip-Hop takes the top-spot, so it’s no surprise names such as Loyle Carner and Joe James appear several times in the affiliated UoB Spotify playlist. Next is Indie Soul, followed by - you guessed it - Drum and Bass. The affiliated playlist therefore makes for very varied listening; alt Hip-Hop tracks such as ‘Chances’ by Subculture Sage are paired with indie staples from Swim Deep, followed by Dub-infused Jungle from SHY FX.

Because of this eclectic mix of music, Every School at Once doesn’t provide a precise musical identity; the genres and music connected to the university’s playlist don’t present a sonic portrait of a typical Bristol student, but instead show the university’s culture as a diverse and broad body of music.

Outside of the University however, the website’s aim to categorise everything on Spotify sometimes leads to musical dead-ends. Some of the more out-there genres listed on the web site aren’t so convincing. The elusively-named 432hz genre has British artist and songwriter Gary Go listed as its primary proponent. But after searching his website and Wikipedia page, no mention of the supposed genre can be found.

To reveal this mishap, searching Spotify for 432hz doesn’t lead to Gary Go, but instead to tracks like “Miracle Tone: Raise Positive Vibrations”, which is presumably for guiding meditation for someone sporting harem pants and subtle cultural appropriation. Clearly, 432hz cannot be described as a musical genre in the traditional sense, but since Every Noise at Once aims to categorise every track available on Spotify, it is unsurprising that the algorithms occasionally lead us astray.

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We can forgive Every Noise at Once for this error when we see the intriguingly accurate presentation of the sound of the University of Bristol. It’s surprising how many of the tracks on the playlist hark back to memories of people in halls sharing music that you might not have listened to before. Still, you might be disappointed that your favourite genres aren’t reflected in the top spots for UoB’s page. Maybe you’re more into UK contemporary Jazz, house, indie rock, pop, or soul. Don’t fear: A further look into UoB’s Every School at Once page reveals that all these genres are mainstays for Bristol students.

Every Sound at Once isn’t without its problems; the website is laid out in a frustratingly counterintuitive way and its attempt to define everything on Spotify is clearly flawed. But, taken with a pinch of salt, it gives a real insight into which kinds of music students love, and at the very least, might just introduce new sounds to some of us.

Featured: Every Noise At Once

Have you visited Every Noise At Once? How similar is your music taste?