Inside the insane 50,000-watt Ibiza speaker stack built by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy: Despacio

One of the most impressive sound systems on the planet

The sound system is the foundation on which entire genres of music have been built. A hulking, pulsating, blinking mass of wood, metal and plastic that delivers one crucial thing to any party — volume. Without the sound system, we wouldn't have reggae, ska, dub, disco, or funk. We wouldn't have house, techno, synthpop, trance, hip-hop or dubstep. Without the sound system, we'd still be dancing the fox-trot.
No one knows that better than James Murphy, the frontman of sadly defunct LCD Soundsystem, who spent his 20s working as an audio engineer before getting distracted by becoming a rockstar. But Murphy's going back to his roots, working with mashup pioneers David and Stephen Dewaele — better known as Soulwax and 2manyDJs — to put together his dream sound-system for a three-night residency in Manchester named Despacio.
 
Despacio is Spanish for "slow," which the Dewaele brothers originally intended to use for a night in Ibiza playing records between 95 and 115 bpm. "We've really been into the concept of taking records and slowing them down on the turntables to produce this swampy, sexier effect," explains David. "When we moved it to Manchester we just stuck with it."
A huge 50,000-watt rig has been designed by the trio down to the very last detail, consisting of eight enormous 11-foot speaker stacks, positioned in a circle pointing at the audience in the center. It's been tuned for optimum sound quality, not maximum loudness. "The system is like a dinosaur, if dinosaurs had survived and evolved along with modern creatures," James says.
Despacio-003-560Image credit: Ellis Reid
He explains: "The old disco systems were just sound systems, really. Big hi-fis, and similar in design to sound reinforcement systems, live systems, public address systems, and jamaican dub systems. Dub systems were the first to get really specific about large masses of people moving around to pre-recorded music. And then disco systems like the Paradise Garage system started using some of the hi-fi and dub techniques to make big noises."
"As time went on, smaller, more efficient boxes and drivers were built with minor compromises to the quality but massive advantages in size, power requirements, et cetera. Each time one of these small evolutions happened, there was another small compromise (in my mind) and eventually we wound up with the modern club system. That can range anywhere from a bunch of shit piled up and run in the red to make drunk people not hear other drunk people very clearly, all the way to the modern awesome-sounding club / dance PA rigs, which, to my old-dude ears sound totally sweet if you play modern dance music, but don't tend to reproduce ‘Hells Bells’ particularly satisfyingly."
Despacio, on the other hand, has been designed specifically to reproduce both modern dance music and "Hells Bells" as accurately as possible. To that end, the trio will only be playing vinyl through the system. "Vinyl sounds better," James says, simply, when quizzed why he's rejecting digital music. "Why do things the easy way?" asks Stephen.
 
By Duncan Geere
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