The Despacio soundsystem has been a labour of love for James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) and the Dewaeles brothers (2 Many DJs) and had it's debut in Manchester as part of their International Festival last year. Moving away from the "preach to the DJ" format of show that is slowly killing the dance scene these guys had decided to take clubbing back to its roots where the music was more important than the people playing it, and to help land that they worked with McIntosh sound systems to produce Despacio, an array of 7 top of the range speakers that circled the audience, whilst they dug through their collections of vinyl and worked the crowd.
My introduction to the Despacio magic was as part of their 3-night run in Hammersmith town hall last year and being part of the Friday night I can simply describe the night as magical. The soundsystem worked perfectly and enveloped the room, I was one of those people who's ears were woken up to what a soundsystem can do and if done right can be truly pleasureable...something that I can't say about Dillinja and Leftfield, which just hurt. This was soft, smooth and loud enough to rock you but pleasant enough that you could still talk to your mates without having to lean your ear in and go "huh, what" etc. The music selection was top notch with some classics and a lot of obscure tracks, which just worked. The crowd were superb, and really added to the event. The venue at first felt a little strange, more like a school hall than a club, but it all worked, everything just felt right and I had one of those seminal moments that'll stay with me until Alsheimers kicks in when Oizo's "Flat Beat" was played and the bass only hit me from the chest down...totally surreal but amazing.
So 4 months later and a return to London for Despacio is announced and I bought tickets for both nights. Yes, I'm a fan, and I was interested to see how this would work in a much larger space. Obviously the circular venue fits the surrounding nature of the speakers but it's a much bigger space and I've no doubt the sound would fill the venue, but would it work? The Roundhouse also has a much larger capacity, would adding more people to the mix dilute the experience? At the Roundhouse the towers had been supplemented with generic large speakers which I don't recall having at Hammersmith...why?
Well after a slow start where the first 2 hours are filled with people taking photos of the stacks and finding the sweet spot, nicely marked with an X on the floor, the event gradually grew and grew as the night went on. It felt like each 2-hour set brought more and more people to the floor and with that a gradual increase in the volume as the night went on. The sound whilst still way better than most live events didn't have the same warmth to it that I experienced in Hammersmith. This was confirmed on the second night where Oizo got played again and this time the sound was felt at all heights, it wasn't targeted here at all. Whilst they did share the mirror ball that Hammersmith had (and which I think is included at every event), this venue did more with the lighting with a superb lighting of the room to George Harrison's "Here Comes The Sun" and on the Saturday night a UV section that made the speaker stacks look like something out of Tron.
The other noticeable difference was with the crowd who weren't as discerning a crowd as at Hammersmith. Things that annoy me about clubbing seemed to happen here; the constant pushing past, the dealer passing by every 10 minutes, drinks being spilt (and boy did that make the floor a sticky mess) and too many posers for my liking. The Hammersmith night was about people who were there to experience the Despacio experience. It felt like the Roundhouse had attracted an element who just wanted a night out in Camden...and I realise that sounds so snobby, that's not how it was intended.
So overall still an amazing event and the music choice cannot be faulted, but I think Despacio, for me, worked better in the smaller, less promoted venue. Something has to be right to get me out for 2 nights in a row and if it comes back to London again I will still be there. The next plan for the system is to take it to a festival in Spain. I wonder how that'll sound and I look forward to the reviews already.
Since the event I've been compiling a list of tunes played at the events and whilst some of them get the remix experience on the night you get an idea of what gets played. The link is here