Wrap your ears in soothing sounds from Stable Street’s Spiritland
King’s Cross’ shrine to music and the ultimate destination for those that search for quality in sound, food and drink and an atmosphere that’s as cosy as a velour tracksuit. Spiritland asks you to “Come Home to Music” and it’s a mantra that makes sense when you experience the depth, breadth and warmth of the sound system. As Paul Noble says, “It is a space for music lovers to come and explore their musical passions on one of, if not the world’s best sound systems.” In a world where music has become ubiquitous – tinkling out of white, tinny earbuds, echoing in lobbies and bleeding half-heard from passing cars – the chance to listen to music at such levels of quality should not be passed up.
Spiritland at King’s Cross is only a year old but has already built an incredible reputation, with the famous (Hot Chip, Jarvis Cocker, La Roux) and infamous (Bradley Zero, Touching Bass, Jane Fitz) queueing up to play records there. There is clearly something compelling and unique to Spiritland, with many people likening the experience to “hearing music for the first time.” If that doesn’t move you, what will?
The approach is clearly working but founders Noble, Patrick Clayton-Malone and Dominic Lake are not resting on the laurels of a great set of speakers. Spiritland is not just about pleasing our auditory sense, as Noble explains; “It’s a caf., it’s a bar, it’s a workspace during the day, it’s a radio studio, it’s a music venue, and we do a monthly series of Spiritland talks here. We sell books, magazines, synthesisers and accessories for the music lover, in particular headphones and players. If you want a really high-quality listening experience there is a whole world of beautiful headphones which we can demonstrate and sell here.”
A space for music lovers
The idea of adding retail to an already busy mix may sound ambitious, but Spiritland sees everything they do as serving their customers’ love of music. They have the chops to match their ambition, having just opened a standalone headphones store in Mayfair in addition to their King’s Cross flagship. According to Noble, there is a clear appetite for what they offer, “We wanted a place where you could demo all these headphones side by side. There’s already a home for heightened listening and headphone enthusiasts, but it’s all online. There’s nowhere to go and hear these things (headphones) and plug them in next to each other. When you hear music through these headphones, it’s a revelation. It’s so intense, immersive and involving… It’s such an incredible way to listen to music and really engage with it.”
This idea of immersion in music and music culture seems to be the real driver, and it makes sense. After all, everyone has had memorable experiences of music; from churches to muddy fields, people are drawn to music because it moves them. Music can heighten all our senses — not just about the ears — and the depths of emotion carried within music are as old as human history. As well as helping us journey within, music can take us out of ourselves, with music therapy increasingly being used to tackle a wide range of problems, from depression to memory loss and even cancer. While such things are greatly complex, it is undeniable that music can cause strong reactions, with one song leading to tears of sadness and the next forcing us to our feet.
These days, there’s no shortage of music in our lives. Once upon a time, finding music you wanted to listen to involved a pilgrimage to the right record shop, or a hastily recorded tape from a TV show. Today, music is at our fingertips and can be accessed anywhere with decent phone signal. The drawback being that quantity is no guarantee of quality, and streamed music can be compressed and shallow-sounding.
Thankfully, places like Spiritland exist to remind us that the real joy of music is the setting in which we hear it. They insist our listening pleasure should be exactly that: pleasurable. They believe the pleasure we get from listening to music is heightened by the quality and environment we do it in — not rushed, skimped on or overlooked. Detail is everything, as Noble says, “Here, everything is aligned. The sound system is remarkable, unique; one of the best in the world. Our coffee offering is fantastic. Our music programme is uniquely eclectic, credible and deep. Our vision is to have the retail side of the business working at the same level. For example, we’ve got a young, mad, music fan who’s very technical, but also able to explain and demo our products to people. If someone looks at a pair of headphones which are Åí500 or Åí1000 and wants to know why they cost that much or what the big deal is, he can talk them through the work that’s gone into making them, the thinking behind them, and then demo them with the appropriate music.”
Spiritland is here to remind us that music is everything. That music can inspire, comfort and excite us. Their wide-ranging collaborations with the likes of Radio 3, Spotify and Tate Modern show they’re not alone. Music hasn’t changed and nor have we; we still need music to enrich our lives, help us connect with others and get us moving. We just need to remember what music can do for us and pay attention to how we listen to it. If you’ve forgotten how it’s done, maybe it’s time to come home to a place where the coffee is fresh, the headphones are the best in the world, and the music is always playing.
This article first appeared in the winter 2017 edition of King’s Cross Quarterly magazine. Read more about the people and stories that make King’s Cross, or find out where you can pick up the latest copy of King’s Cross Quarterly below.