In 2003, the bar HiFi in the East Village introduced a new proprietary PC-powered 26,000-song MP3-playing machine that was so ahead of its time, it made healines in several publications, from Wired to The New York Times. Now, the bar has launched the latest version of the technology … and hopes music lovers will care.
In this era of iPods and MP3s, the rock bar DJ has become nearly obsolete. The job has been taken over by the bartender or manager or whoever has a minute to press “shuffle” on the pocket-sized gadget doing all the real work. Jukeboxes are also far less significant than they used to be, an old-fashioned novelty in a time when music fans hardly have to seek out new bands in edgy bars because everything they could ever dream of hearing is easily accessible online. But just a few years ago, a bar’s soundtrack was something much more fussed over. Mysterious types with scarily exhaustive music collections were enlisted to keep patrons happy and head-bobbing. And the jukebox, now a footnote, was central to the experience of a night out.
HiFi’s new EL DJ, a redesigned version of the machine first launched in 2003, is the brainchild of the bar’s owner, Mike Stuto. The upgraded digital jukebox features a smoother trackball navigation system, a more user-friendly interface, and a leaner body. The collection now includes some 50,000 songs culled from Stuto’s own personal stash. In an email, he wrote, “While it may not be the only jukebox that had the new Arcade Fire album available on its release date, it’s certainly the only one on the planet that also houses two Nuggets Box-Sets and 21 full-length albums by The Fall.”
Impressive … if you’re a music nut. But will young cocktail-sipping patrons with packed-to-the-gills iPods/iPads be inclined to visit a bar because of its music selection? Hard to tell. Great rock bars, like great dive bars, seem to be on the decline these days. It might be time to take your favorite prodigal young hipster on your knee and give him or her a good talking to about a little something called rocking out. Sure, you can do it alone in your room or on a train full of people, but there’s nothing quite like sharing music with friends. Not “virtually” sharing by clicking a button, but sitting in a communal space with others over a drink or two, choosing a couple songs off the jukebox for a buck or two, and nodding along together to the music.