Founders Johan, Henrik, and Jesper started off on a European adventure in 1991, full of anticipation. They were unaware that their lives were about to change forever.
Music at Boulebar
Boulebar is dedicated to the art of the game pétanque, and their inspiration can be traced back to a strange man wearing green pants in Barcelona, 25 years ago.
The warm Spanish summer park was full of boules players, yet this man in the green pants stood out from the crowd. His throws were higher, sleeker, and landed with a precision to which no one else came close. And then there were the giant green pants. After seeing him, life would never be the same.
Fast forward to the present and there are now four Boulebar locations in Stockholm, as well as locales in Malmoe and Gothenburg. Their mission to spread pétanque to the world is well and truly rolling.
Retaining respect for the French roots of the game, their main and biggest venue at Surbrunnsgatan serves French food and pastis, the drink of pétanque. It also plays music that fits this atmosphere perfectly.
We joined manager Linus Mannerfors for a chat about the importance of music and how Soundtrack has helped Boulebar.
Linus, please tell us about Boulebar. What is it?
– Boulebar is a Boulodrome, the French name for a place where you play pétanque, have a drink, and eat classic French food. We try to do a lot of French-inspired things here. Our restaurant menu’s full of French classics, like moules, steak fries, and oysters.
– There are eleven lanes here, of varying levels of difficulty. We can accommodate all skill levels. We also have a great cocktail bar with a lot of French-inspired drinks, such as pastis – the classic pétanque drink. We also adhere to the French tradition that whoever wins, buys pastis for the losers, because this is a game of gentlemen.
Tempting! How long has this place been here?
– It’s been here ten years, so this is the oldest of the Boulebars. We recently opened in Gothenburg, and we set up a spot in Malmoe two years ago. We have a couple of Stockholm spots that are only outdoors and only open between April and September, including a cool, almost secret one, on the rooftop in Hötorget.
– The whole thing started with three Swedish guys traveling around Europe, who ended up in Barcelona, watching a strange-looking man playing pétanque. He was a loner wearing big green pants and had a weird, but magnificent, technique.
The Boulebar founders were transfixed and watched the man in the green pants play the whole time they were there. Upon returning to Stockholm they went straight to buy their own set of pétanque. They were hooked. They started arranging parties, then competing, and it grew from there. They couldn’t play in the winter, so they bought a little place. It got popular, and they expanded.
– I’ve been here since 2010. I started as a bar runner, then got into playing. I wanted to be an instructor, and I was hooked. After my studies, I started competing and carried on working here. I couldn’t get out of it. I’m a total boules geek now! My role here is the boss of the pétanque part of things at one of our venues, and I also make almost all the playlists for the Boulebars.
Cool! What does it sound like here?
– We mix a lot of different types of music depending on the guests. For example, right now, because we have more elderly people here, we play more blue beat, ska, and blues. In the evenings, we change the tempo. I try to include a lot of modern music, not mainstream stuff, but more interesting tunes. I like to mix the genres at night, so we play up-tempo disco boogie, old skool hip hop, electronic, and we
change it a lot depending on the mood. Daytime, we keep it more downtempo and soft and our brunch on the weekends includes more singer-songwriter music or easier stuff.
– I’d say my primary thought process with the music is that it should be playful because everyone’s here to have fun, so the music needs to
”Everyone's here to have fun, so the music needs to take that into account”
How does Soundtrack help with that?
– At the moment, we use it to keep things fresh. We have different playlist periods that run through a day: early morning, daytime, early evening, and late evening. We try to make sure we change that weekly, or at least every fortnight. It’s tough to make sure that the customers and the staff are happy with the music. That's why we try to change it often. I have different playlists that might reappear after a few weeks, but I work hard to make sure it’s not too repetitive.
That’s a tough balance to get right!
– It’s super hard! I feel the customers are mostly happy as we have some regulars, but most of them come, say, once a year, so for them the music is always new. It’s the people who work here that are the toughest to please. I mean everyone likes their own tunes, but I feel that they mostly understand the need for us to have a unified sound.
Presumably, there’s a lot of French music?
– Yeah, and it’s mostly pretty soft French music, but it sets the scene well, and I like it. As soon as people hear music like that, they get in the mood, and I think it helps us get in the right mood, too, even if we don’t understand what they’re singing.
What tools within Spotify do you put to use?
– I use the discovery thing and top lists to try and find new music. I like that Spotify has categorized the genres because when I’m putting together a playlist, I don’t want to mix things up too much. I follow artists to see what they’re listening to, but also friends, people I know that have good taste who find new music that I’ve missed. In that respect, Spotify’s an excellent way to find new music.
Do you hear a tune in your everyday life and think “this would be perfect for Boulebar”?
– Definitely! I could be shopping and hear something that sounds great, and I'll instantly put it on my new music list to check out later. I’ve been picking the music here for two years and so we already “have our thing.” So it’s instantly noticeable if an individual track is for us or not.
So you might be more aware than most of how music can work in a place or totally not?
– Yeah, it’s mostly negative reactions. If you hear a song that doesn’t fit, you can really hear that. But if the music works then you mostly won’t even notice. I was at a fine dining restaurant recently, and they were playing this really rough hip hop. It totally didn’t fit. We were eating, you know? It was almost cool because it was so wrong. But not quite enough.
Almost like the wrong waiter got hold of the playlist and made it his party. How do you keep a distance from your personal taste here?
– I always think about our customers first. That can be hard to figure out on a day like today, on which we have guests aged 3 to 90. But I try to see past my preferences. My tastes range from Berlin techno to jazz so it’s pretty broad. The only thing I try to avoid is mainstream music, because everyone hears that all day on the radio. I like people to have new experiences here. I like the thought of them asking what we’re playing if they like it, and people do that often. Spotify Business makes that part much easier too.