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At Kerckhoff Coffee House, varied playlists show student baristas’ personalities

Three senior student supervisors who work at the Kerckhoff Coffeehouse are pictured. (Jenny Xu/Daily Bruin)

By Mallory Cooper

April 20, 2023 11:55 p.m.

From Phoebe Bridgers to Bad Bunny, Kerckhoff Coffeehouse is an ever-changing kaleidoscope of musical tastes. Behind the counter, student baristas have been shaping Kerckhoff’s atmosphere with each song selection.

Depending on whose shift it is, guests of the famous coffee house – which was established in 1976 – can hear any number of musical genres. That’s the result of a long-standing tradition between baristas: Control of music depends on aux privileges, which are shared between seven senior student supervisors, though they may temporarily designate another barista to also have permission. Only a few members of the senior student supervisors are typically assigned per shift, meaning each plays a role in deciding who controls the playlist.

Working up to 25 hours each week, Jessica Sumuano is one senior student supervisor who frequently chooses the music. Sumuano, a third-year history and political science student, said her music taste has changed substantially over the course of the pandemic. Although she once considered herself a big pop music fan, she said she has since gravitated toward alternative artists such as Mitski, Faye Webster and boygenius because she finds their music calming.

Sumuano has a playlist for use at work titled “kerckhoff coffee shop,” which not only reflects her preference for the indie genre, but conveys her intention of facilitating a laid-back study ambiance as well, she said. Sumuano added she has enjoyed the conversations her playlist has sparked because she can connect with both co-workers and customers about shared music tastes.

“We’re not just people serving them their coffee,” Sumuano said. “We’re also college students that have likes and dislikes. And this is what we’re bonding about, which is music.”

(Jenny Xu/Daily Bruin)
The supervisors help shape the environment and ambiance of the coffeehouse through each song selection. (Jenny Xu/Daily Bruin)

Other senior student supervisors have taken a different approach to choosing their coffeehouse playlist.

Senior student supervisor David Facio said he uses music to heighten the energy in Kerckhoff and highlight music from underrepresented communities. In high school, he loved participating in a Latin dance troupe, soon finding interest in the Latin dance music genre, he said, with artists such as Celia Cruz, Romeo Santos, Shakira, and Daddy Yankee among his favorites.

The fourth-year environmental science student incorporated these singers into his coffee shop playlist, titled “Pumped Up! Feeling Myself!,” which also includes songs from pop artists like Rihanna and drag queens such as RuPaul. Facio said these varied song selections express his goal of making Kerckhoff a comfortable and inclusive space for customers of all backgrounds.

After working at other coffee shops in the past, Facio said communicating with customers through music has made Kerckhoff an engaging work atmosphere. Although he has received some negative feedback on his music choices, Facio said his positive interactions with customers have outweighed the complaints.

“I started noticing there are people who hear a certain song, and they’ll immediately just start moving around in their seat,” Facio said. “That’s something that immediately made me happy.”

Quintin Arretche, another senior student supervisor, has worked to balance his playlist according to various customer preferences he has picked up on. Arretche said he avoids especially loud or distracting songs out of consideration for customers’ study habits.

However, the fourth-year political science student said he still favors a more upbeat array of pop and R&B songs.

Whereas his co-workers may queue songs based on their beat or overall mood, Arretche said he favors songs with lyrics that resonate with him on an emotional level. In particular, he frequently plays SZA because she promotes themes of self-growth and forgiveness, he said.

Arretche’s Kerckhoff-specific playlist is titled “Head Explosion,” and was inspired by his own experience using music to relieve stress, he added. While in charge of Kerckhoff’s music, Arretche said he hopes to help customers clear any negative thoughts from their minds.

By choosing the music at Kerckhoff, Arretche said he has enjoyed making Kerckhoff a place where baristas and customers alike can have the freedom to portray themselves authentically.

“Playing music is just liberating,” Arretche said. “If you feel like you’re in an atmosphere where you can be yourself and express yourself the way you want, that makes the atmosphere itself more gravitating to not only yourself and your coworkers, but also the customers as well.”

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