Music sets scenes. It helps us focus, and sometimes to zone out and get lost in the beats. It’s rare to see a jogger without a pair of earbuds in, and EDM plays a big part of that – the heart rate while jogging is around 120-140bpm, which fits in perfectly with most trance, techno and all but the chillest of house. There’s EDM workout playlists all over Spotify and Peloton classes based specifically around dance soundtracks at gyms worldwide.
Likewise, music adds a new dimension to poker. Using upbeat tunes as the background to a friendly kitchen game helps get everyone in the mood. Many pro players like Phil Hellmuth (pictured above) frequently have cans on at the tournament table to drown out background noise and help them stay in the zone. Every player hopes to find the right formula to help them win at poker, whether that’s their strategy, soundtrack or preparation. In terms of music, that might be zooming in and focusing on the cards rather than letting their mind drift. It’s a fine line between zoning out in too much ambience or getting so into a banger that you lose track of the game. Can cards and cuts be a winning pair? Let’s have a listen to four aces.
Plastikman – Are Friends Electrik?
Not one for a friendly game with mates, this track from Richie Hawtin as his music- making (as opposed to DJ’ing) alter ego might be best enjoyed in the context of the Artifakts [bc] LP. If the album is minimal and ambient for the most part, Are Friends Electrik? is a classic acid techno track that snaps the listener back into the room like a hypnotist’s finger click. Spacey and claustrophobic are the same time – and perhaps best enjoyed with headphones – the Roland TB-303 has rarely squelched in a more sharpening manner.
Mr Scruff – Get A Move On
When we think of poker in the movies, we think of glamour; sharp suits, ballroom dresses and elegance; Daniel Craig as Bond in Casino Royale or George Clooney as Danny Ocean in Ocean’s 11. Get A Move On is a jazzy big beat track that gets the party mood going instantly for a kitchen game, with it’s swingy Charleston-esque riff. Put some cans on and you’ll be transported to Josephine Baker’s Roaring Twenties Paris, even if you’re just playing online poker with a cup of tea. Scruff knows a bit about tea too; he used to own the Teacup Kitchen cafe in Manchester, and he’ll still sell you mugs on his webshop. While the cafe didn’t survive lockdown, Scruff did, and we enjoyed his closing set at Red Bull Unlocked this March very much.
Burial – Rival Dealer
A poker hand can last anywhere from 30 seconds to upwards of three minutes, depending on the action, and Will Bevan’s awesome Rival Dealer should get you through three big ones at a shade over ten. The track is ideally suited as it comes in three distinct movements. The first is police sirens and noise over a speeded-up Kurtis Mantronix beat and a soulful, mournful (sampled) vocal line akin to the ones he’s been fond of on classics like Archangel. Five minutes in, that collapses into a buzzsaw of a bassline and a straight four to the floor rave beat before the percussion is cut, and we’re played out with atmospheric synths. Tension gives way to relief, which, in an ideal world, is how your poker hand should go.
Rustie – Ultra Thizz
You can get bangers in all genres and then bangers that don’t have genres. Rustie emerged from Glasgow’s Numbers crew (see also Hudson Mohawke) in the early 2010’s and Ultra Thizz is the standout from an outstanding album in Glass Swords. Owing bits to dubstep, trance, prog rock, video game music, and with a drop like the north face of the Eiger, Pitchfork managed to define it as ‘Wonky’, which explains nothing but also everything at the same time. For a home poker game this is the one for the last hand of the evening when someone’s going to get up from the table with a triumphant roar. On your own, this is the sort of heroic track to skip to when you hit two aces as your hole cards and then another two on the flop. It’s very far from subtle, but it’s really really fun.