The Soundtrack at Bar Shiru Celebrates The "Artistry of the Album" - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

The Soundtrack at Bar Shiru Celebrates The “Artistry of the Album”

The soundtrack at Bar Shiru in Oakland, California, pays homage to the famed record bars of Japan. And music is a cornerstone of that inspiration. Every day before service, Daniel Gahr begins by curating a nightly stack of records that will play in their entirety. These are based on the night of the week and what mood that might dictate. “I’m a DJ as well, so it’s fun to think about guiding people’s experience with the music without the ability to ‘read the room.’ Instead, I try to inform the curation with things like the weather and what’s going on in the world,” he says. “It’s a really fun challenge that feels almost entirely different from a traditional DJ set.”

Daniel adds that jazz is the jumping off point. “We like to say we celebrate jazz in its many eras, expressions, and forms. For us, that means we mainly play jazz, soul, funk, Afro-beat and hip hop—music that aligns with or was directly informed by jazz,” he says.

“I love the bebop and ‘hard bop’ eras of jazz (roughly 1950-1965) in particular. So I’m always buying records with that sound. But we take an expansive view of what jazz is, so it’s definitely not limited to that stuff either. There’s been such an exciting resurgence of jazz amongst a new generation of artists over the past seven years, from places like London, Chicago, LA. So I definitely try to stay up on what’s happening with contemporary artists too. But because we play records in their entirety, every album procured for the bar has to be selected through that very specific lens.”

To mix things up, they host a “Selector Series” on Wednesday nights. Guest artists, DJs, or “just awesome people who love music from the Oakland community” curate a stack of records. The only rule is that the guest play records in their entirety. For Daniel, that approach is not only a nod to the way things are done in Japanese listening bars; it’s also about hearkening back to a pre-streaming era he feels nostalgia for.

“… We want people to embrace the idea of letting us curate their soundtrack for the evening.”

“From the outset, we wanted to get back to this idea of ‘slow listening’ and celebrate the artistry of the album,” he says. “I mean, most of us have access to essentially every song ever recorded in our pockets. And, if you’re into it, you can create playlists for every mood or moment, which is amazing and is something we love doing. But for the bar, we want people to embrace the idea of letting us curate their soundtrack for the evening. That’s why we don’t take requests. The space between tracks and the short silences that occur when you move from side A to side B or from one album to the next actually helps create the atmosphere and remind people that we’re listening to a finite analog medium.”

Tube amps and other analog equipment help achieve that old-school feeling. “I love the way it sounds, of course, but I also love the way it feels. High-fidelity sound has a presence, a three-dimensionality … a way of enveloping you that highly compressed digital formats can’t provide. It sounds kind of corny. But it can make you feel like you’re a part of something, as opposed to just being a passive listener. And if you can experience that feeling with a nice drink in your hand, while spending quality time with friends, then we’ve done our job.”

For a sampling of the music played at Bar Shiru, Daniel assembled this list of what he calls classics. “The classics playlist is a collection of some of our favorite old-school tracks,” he says. “I update the [list] periodically, to keep it fresh, but we don’t ever play it at the bar. We made it for people that either aren’t able to join us in person, or just want to bring some Shiru vibes into their own space.”

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