How To Soundscape A Party
Let Hollywood music supervisor Mr Randall Poster show you how to take an evening from cool cocktailing to burning down the house
We’ve all been to that holiday party where two glasses of punch transform the mild-mannered host into a one-man Sugar Hill Gang. In the best case, Bacchic dancing ensues. In the worst, he will only relinquish his iPhone (which he insists on referring to as “my wheels of steel”) after the guests have left. No one wants to be that guy. We don’t want you to be that guy.
So, we asked Mr Randall Poster – who has worked with Messrs Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Sam Mendes, Richard Linklater, Harmony Korine, Todd Haynes, Todd Phillips and more – for some tried and true techniques for creating a chill-and-chat cocktail hour that gradually builds into an Ibiza-worthy rave. Plus, a few party-enders to send the guests home (when you want) with smiles on their faces.
So without further ado, here is Mr Poster’s well-worn blueprint for a night to remember. And to listen to the full playlist head to Spotify.
“The convergence of mixology and musicology, when managed properly, can enhance the simplest of gatherings and help propel your social status to unimagined heights. While well-chilled bottles of Pol Roger can no doubt provide a sublime initiation, it is the musical element that will endow the evening with mystical foundation.”
01. Ease on down the road
At the start of a party, it’s key to let your guests settle into things. Your music selections at the start of the night will set the stage for what follows. Let them know that they are in the right place at the right time. Introductions all around. Play to personal (and the evening’s) aspirations. Acknowledge Mr Miles Davis. People will begin to lean into the evening and start to savour the surroundings. You will find yourself thinking of the word décolletage. Ms Billie Holiday fell in love with Mr Ben Webster, and when you play “La Rosita” by the jazz legend, everyone else will, too. But be careful that the music doesn’t step on the simple social conventions of introduction and basic greetings. Bossa nova is not to be underestimated.
02. Happy together
Familiarity breeds contentment, so remember to play some ready favourites. You want to hear someone say, “Oh, I love this song” within 45 minutes of commencing. Refill all flutes and glasses. Perhaps a sweet reminder of the miracle of Mr Marvin Gaye; the permanent genius of Mr Joe Strummer; that sweet soul of Ms Chaka Khan. Redbone! These songs return us to our younger selves: other parties and other moments in time. And here we are together. An anthropological dig of another sort. This is where Mr Rod Stewart meets Mr Sylvester Stewart meets Mr Jermaine Stewart.
03. Mystery train
On the flip side, drop something new and rare. Give the people something they don’t yet know they love. Find contentment knowing you’ve helped sell five or 10 SZA albums. This is where you cast your vote for the Mercury Prize. Sampha. Ms Kelly Lee Owens. Where you pay homage to Antony Gonzalez and Chilly Gonzales. Perhaps the moment to share your secret obsessions: Perfume Genius. Jarami.
04. Let’s dance
I’ve never felt that it’s truly a party unless you get some people to shimmy and shake it. Don’t be afraid to start. The secret is in the beat. Everyone can love A$AP Rocky as much as you can. Being happy is one of the great gifts you can give others. Do it (‘til you’re satisfied). Try some American hip-hop from Migos or 2 Live Crew. Electronica: Duke Dumont and Boys Noize. Or that song by Robyn (we all know which one I mean). This is the most precious part of the evening – when thought is sidelined and the kinetic reigns. Play Jeremih; YG’s “Who Do You Love?”. Think Mr Kanye West and Prince – “When You Were Mine”.
05. It’s my party
“Linus & Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi into The (English) Beat’s “Stand Down Margaret” into “Once In A Lifetime” by Talking Heads. Your party has officially peaked. This has been a magic trifecta for me over the years and inspired multiple generations of rug cutters from the basements of Providence, Rhode Island to the hallways of the Covent Garden Hotel and beyond. There is tempo and there are polyrhythmics. There is sweet spirit and there are spirits. Those not rendered speechless will thank you for this.
06. Love on a two-way street
Now it’s time to take the pulse of the party. Look around. Are people having enough of a good time in your estimation? Have I mentioned my love for Lily Allen? Have you played anything from the last Jungle record? Try Alt-J or Drake. Rihanna, “Take Care”. “Karate Chop” by Future! And finally, and only if they’ve earned it, drop “Get Me Home” by Foxy Brown. No explanation necessary.
FIVE COMMON MISTAKES
01. Surrendering the decks
Nearly everyone admires their own taste in music. They will want to share. Stand guard. Smile. Say no. Be calm and carry on.
02. “Tommy, can you hear me?”
Keep an eye and ear on the crowd. Too much volume can spoil the chance for conversational connection, but meek music mutes magic. Mine the fine line. But drop it like it’s hot.
03. Mr know it all
Let people know what they’re listening to, but don’t be a bore. You’re throwing a party, not teaching a class. Parties are for fun, not for lessons.
04. House party, not a rave
A touch of trap. A taste of trance. All fun fare, but remember your friends are drinking wine beer and spirits, and are not cradled in a cerebral vortex of ecstasy (seemingly). Thus, they will need certain dramatic musical momentum to keep things moving in the right direction. Avoid the extended dance remix.
05. Hootie & the Blowfish