Me and my camera on tour with Soulwax
Despacio is a custom built sound system devised by James Murphy (lcd soundsystem) which he, David and Stephen Dewaele (2manydjs) dj’ed from over the course of three nights in July in the New Century Hall as part of the Manchester International Festival.
What was it like?
It was fucking incredible is what it was. Off the friggin chart. Not like anything I have ever experienced before. In a world of repetition this was categorically something different. I have been to a million clubs and gigs and soundsystems before and nothing even comes close. It is a true evolution of sound. Sound guys are always banging on about perfect sound and what it would take to do it but rather than just being pub chat, someone actually went and did it. Optimum sound. In the flesh. And it was a truly beautiful thing. And it was a thing. For the first time ever I realised that sound was indeed a physical entity. It was like meeting an alien from another planet. I’m an atheist but its the closest thing I have ever had to a religious experience.
First time I walked out onto the floor, before I’d even been able to register the magnitude of what I was hearing, I saw the smiles on people’s faces. They were in awe, raptured, they just looked deliriously happy. I always had this notion that I had only ever heard bad sound but couldn’t prove it. Until now. When I heard the Despacio sound system I knew I’d been right all along.
Weirdly the first thing I noticed was the air around me, it just felt different. It felt clean. Empty. It was because the sound waves were all in sync. Everything flowed in perfect harmony. Normally in clubs you feel like you’re literally being hit by the sound, bombarded from all sides. And no matter how big or powerful the system is there is always distortion. There was none. At all. Total clarity. It was jawdropping. Immense power. Total clarity. It was out of this world. The nuts thing was that you could talk normally without raising your voice. It was seriously loud but at a perfect level. I still don’t know how that works. Even when you walked right up to a speaker it was still the same. I was spinning out.
I am a lower rung dj and live in a world of bad sound and to hear this optimum experience made me overwhelmed with emotion and even a little teary. It was like meeting sound for the first time. And thanks to the selections and exquisite mixing from James Murphy and 2manydjs I had the most luscious music wrapping around me like a duvet, enveloping me, making me feel warm and gooey all over. I have always been a massive fan of the glory days of disco from the likes of Larry Levan and the Paradise Garage and had read how he used to spend hours perfecting the sound before he would let anyone in and then finally he would treat the crowd to hours of seamless dance grooves. I always lamented the fact that I would never live to see something like that. But I was wrong. Here I was in that experience but it was so much better. Levan never had tech like this. He’d have killed his gran for this shit.
Despacio means slow…gradual…and as I looked around the crowd were lovin these laid back tunes. Shuffling around in a chilled back bliss. It felt right for these times. Everyone’s a little bit over the doof doof of hard hittin bpm blitzes. This was something way cooler. 2manydjs and James Murphy played spectacular music over the course of the two nights I was there. The friday was a bit more laid back with just a glorious groove throughout the night. On the Saturday, the last night of the festival, they cranked it up some more and started to push this state-of-the-art system, although not to its full capabilities. This baby was capable of a whole lot more but they were restricted to a db of 100. This is possibly because heads would have imploded if it had gone full welly. Most systems are maxed out on the night, pushed to the limit. This monster was in 2nd gear and had a bigger punch than anything I had ever heard. But never even a smidgen of distortion. Total clarity all the way.
There were many people involved in the construction of the Despacio sound system and they were the sound equivalent of a Formula 1 team, working together to create the ultimate fusion of technology and performance with the best drivers in the business. And on the Saturday, having got used to their “drive”, James, David and Stephen put their foot on the floor and delivered a powerhouse set of the highest magnitude.
If you stood dead centre of the floor you felt the bass as if it had got inside you and taken over your central nervous system, filling your veins and arteries where organic tissue once was. You might have felt bass at other clubs but that would be the equivalent of an arse pinch compared to this all-consuming possession. It was insanely intense and completely overpowering. And I didn’t want to leave.
I actually found it very difficult to leave the floor. Why would I? This would be over soon and I would have to return to dull normality. I literally had to be dragged away. The only way I was enticed was by the prospect of meeting the men behind the machine.
I got taken backstage and first met John Klett, the designer that had taken James Murphy’s concepts and transformed them into the reality I had just experienced. It was very clear within moments that this wasn’t just some sound guy. He was clearly a mad brilliant scientist who had taken the idea of optimum sound to its ultimate conclusion.
He explained to me that there were different sound experiences depending on where you were standing on the floor. Go to the centre, walk four tiles and a third forward and you will hit the “front egg”. At that point certain speaker pathways converge creating something unique. I didn’t need encouraging to go back on the floor. I was there in a second. It truly felt different to what I had experienced elsewhere. My body and brain responded with sensory ecstasy.
There was also a “back egg” which I also checked out. It had less of a punch but even more clarity. John Klett then told me there were even “easter egg” sound spots that were hidden around the floor that produced something else entirely but wouldn’t tell me where they were. I mean, who does this shit? It was insane. I mentioned to him about the air feeling different around me and he said I was basically “a bag of water” and went on to explain how the molecular structure of the human anatomy had been taken into account in the design. In a normal club, they just crank it up and make your ears bleed. And now I know why. They had failed to take into account I was a bag of water. Thank God someone had…the results were awesome!
I then was introduced to the guys at Mcintosh who had supplied the stunningly beautiful, phenomenally powerful and mindbendingly expensive amps that were the engine of the beasts. They had had the clarity and foresight to understand the potential of Despacio when most other companies had passed on it and they were all the happier for it. They had got on board the project with a giant leap of faith fuelled by a total belief in their gear, the concept and the execution. As I chatted to them they were feeling pretty smug about it as they had been proved correct. And some. To say that it exceeded everyone’s expectations was a massive understatement. They were overjoyed that their amps were getting an opportunity to unleash their true potential and deliver the power and perfection they were capable of.
The Mcintosh amps are a thing of beauty to look at as well as to hear, as are the speaker stacks themselves. The entire room was in fact a masterclass in purity and aesthetics. If Kubrick had built a niteclub it might have looked something like this. Just one massive black and white tiled floor surrounded by the Stone Henge of sound systems. And that was it. There was nothing else in the room. No bar, no bullshit. Just a dancefloor and some glorious speaker stacks.
Throughout the night you would often find people just staring at the stacks, marvelling at their structure and components. PBS Audio were the company responsible for building the actual casings for the system and had worked tirelessly over many weeks doing insane hours to get them complete in time. They were a team of young lads who had never done anything like this before but they had seriously stepped up to the challenge. I met them on the dancefloor and they were all stood their with massive grins that only come from people with a true sense of accomplishment and a marvel at what they had been a part of. Chris Walker who had been a driving force in the orchestration of the entire event glided around the floor all night, beaming from ear to ear, knowing that his work had all been worthwhile.
I don’t think there was anyone there, whether they were a part in the construction or a part of the crowd that did not feel touched by the experience. I certainly had and everyone I spoke to had. On many occasions throughout the two nights I was there I had caught the eye of those around me and just gone..what is this thing like? its out of control. Everyone just shook their head in agreement, slightly slack jawed by the enormity of what they were feeling.
The overall vibe of the place was just amazing. Such an incredible positive mood throughout each night. Mancunians are a lovely friendly bunch anyway but the joyous experience had made everyone warm and mushy. This was mostly thanks largely to the incredible array of uplifting soul soaring tunes that James murphy & 2manydjs played over the course of their 3 night run, all on vinyl. As it should be. It was old skool attitude delivered with hi-end tech – a killer combination.
Even though they were the stars of the show they had made a point of stating that it was not about them, it was all about the music and James Murphy on each night actually made an announcement over the mic asking people to stay away from the booth and not take photos. And just to get out into the middle of the floor, enjoy the music and live in the moment. This was the declaration of the anti-ego djs. Stop staring, start dancing.
And people did exactly that. For one night they forgot about their facebook pages and their youtube uploads and revelled in this glorious moment. They played Talking Head’s Naive Melody as the last track on the last night and as I gazed at the joy around me I couldn’t remember a moment on earth when I had felt happier.
Thank you to the Manchester International Festival for commissioning this extraordinary event and to everyone involved for giving me and all present an experience they will never forget. And I will implore anyone who is reading this…do whatever you can to get to a Despacio event. Maime and murder if you have to. It will be worth it. You have my word.
I would like to say a special thank you to karey fisher who not only organised the whole thing but is the reason I was there. I am her plus one and it gets me to the coolest things on the planet.