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  • Wendy Brouwer

Who provides the background music in the underground metro stations of Amsterdam?

From the speakers on the metro platform, antique disco sounded.

Silently tapping my sneaker to the rhythm on the tiles, I wondered why this particular song was chosen. It wasn't really a big hit, so how did it end up at this station so many years later? Because not playing the well-known hits in public spaces either showed taste, or vision, or maybe both. Someone must have consciously chosen these songs, as an algorithm would never come up with this.

Now, I already knew that metro music was quite eclectic. You never know what genre you'll be exposed to: baroque, klezmer, reggae, country – anything goes. I had always assumed that the choice was dictated by a pursuit of diversity and inclusivity. Rightly so, because however different all those cultures and cliques are, they are all squeezed together through that one metro tube. If you want to introduce them to each other a bit, the metro is the right place and music is the right medium.

But now I thought: maybe it's completely different. Maybe each driver, conductor, and cleaner gets a turn to compile an hour. That would explain this very specific choice. Or was there a place, a site, a phone line, a form where the ordinary citizen could submit requests? Because I could certainly come up with a few, you know.

I took the next train, and bumping through the dark, I googled 'music' and 'metro', but that didn't bring me closer to the committee of musicologists that, in my imagination, was behind the turntable. So I did the only logical thing: I threw it on Twitter.

Within five minutes, I had a DM from the transport company, and a little later, I had someone on the phone who knew all about it. Yes sir, the songs are handpicked (nice that you noticed) by someone who knows everything about the kind of music that makes people feel good. Not intrusive but also not anonymous, and indeed inclusive of all cultures. They are working on developing new ideas in this area, and if I would like to stay informed. Sometimes, very occasionally, I think: what a wonderful country this is.

Thomas van Luyn (de Volkskrant)


Gallery Play Media has been providing the background music at GVB stations in Amsterdam since 2018.

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