On the art of listening...

Clubbing is about dancing. It’s about meeting people, and experiencing something new. But in essence, above all else, clubbing is about listening.

With their new project, 2ManyDJs – Belgian brothers David and Stephen Dewaele – and James Murphy aim to take the club experience back to its roots. Looking back to venues such as The Loft and DJs such as Larry Heard, the trio place renewed emphasise on the manipulation of sound, the craft of the soundsystem, the art of listening.

Despacio was born from the demise of LCD Soundsystem, when Murphy was finally afforded the time to focus on other projects.

“One of these things was that he wanted to make music with us, and he wanted to DJ with us, to do nights together where we played vinyl only,” explains David Dewaele. “We’ve been doing this thing for a few years where we would go and put up a studio in Ibiza and work there out in the sun, then he’d come round and we would make some music together. He was really into it, so we said, ‘Well we should really do a proper Balaeric night in Ibiza,’ because there’s nothing like that in Ibiza. It’s all kind of horrible EDM, for lack of a better word. We set about trying to get that set up, and we were 90% done with it and then it fell through. It didn’t happen, but we kept the name Despacio”.

It’s an apt name. Spanish for ‘slowly’, it refers both to manner in which the music should be absorbed – patiently, diligently – and the fastidious nature of the project itself.

“When it comes to these [events], what we wanted to do is to control everything,” Dewaele continues. “Put it this way: I think James has a tendency to be incredibly anal about details, and so do we. So that means we’ve carefully selected the venue, the soundsystem to the tee will be exactly how we like it. Same with the records, the bar – the people that we have working at the bar will be specifically chosen by us to do some specific drinks that we’ve chosen.”

Pausing, Dewaele remarks that the project reflects the values of the people involved, bringing them back to basics.

“Ultimately, what DJing is, is sharing something that you’re excited about. Instead of making it look that we’re some kind of fascists, it’s more like: look, we have these amazing things and we want to share it with people. So why not make the best of it? As 2ManyDJs or Soulwax, we go and play in enough clubs where we do things to a certain standard and we always feels compromised. So what’s special about the Despacio nights? For us, it’s that we can do it the way we’ve always wanted. That comes down to the sound, the lights, the decorations, the flyers, the people who work there. Even down to the security, we’ll make sure that everyone is 100% on the same wavelength.”

Debuting at Manchester International Festival this summer, Despacio is now set to return to the UK for a pair of London shows. Taking place at a carefully selected venue, work is already underway to ensure that everything about these nights is perfect – right down to the vinyl-only sets themselves.

“You have to bear in mind that James has a massive collection, and my brother and I have got an embarrassing amount. It’s nuts! We’ve got this incredible collection, and we’ve got all these little gems which we don’t really get to play most times. Again, you want people to dance so it’s not a trainspotter’s convention where people stand around scratching their chins. We want people to dance, so it’s a really nice blend, I think. The sound of the system – I know it sounds like a cliché – but you don’t necessarily hear it, you feel it. That’s one of the things we focus on.”

Blessed with an absurdly powerful system – “We basically have the power of Glastonbury main stage, but we use it at only 10 or 15% for 900 people” – Despacio focuses on the quality of sound to present an intimate listening experience.

“What that gives you is this headroom, and this headroom is the thing you can’t really describe,” Dewaele explains. “What it means is that this record can exist with space between the bass guitar and the kick drum. When you have a lot of headroom you really feel that space, whereas if you drive a system to the max, if you just really cane it then all that stuff kind of gets compressed, limited to the max. It can have a good effect as well, it can be really exciting. But for the best kind of audiophile effect, what we’re doing is making the headroom almost comically large to give people the biggest scope possible of dynamics.”

As much a gesture as a project in itself, Despacio seems to buck against each and every prevailing trend in club culture. With strings being tightened, fewer and fewer clubs are investing in sound quality – although Dewaele does hold out some hope.

“It’s undeniable that something like Fabric has an amazing soundsystem, which can sound incredible,” he says. ”There’s a club in Tokyo called Womb, which is quite special. They have their own bespoke system, which is incredible. These days... it’s a shame because I remember 10 years ago, coming to London, and it was like The End or Fabric, and they had these amazing soundsystems. Nowadays it’s a shame that so many new clubs have opened. And the last thing they’ve spent money on is the soundsystem.”

A hugely expensive and time-consuming project, Despacio is very much a labour of love. Inspired by the primordial days of clubbing when it was very much a life-consuming experience, the aim is simply to create something special, something lasting.

“I guess what we’re saying is that if it only happens six times we’ll have made it happen six times and it will stay with people in their memories because it’s such a special thing. At least we can make it happen. That’s maybe what we took from (seminal New York club) The Loft, as in we’ll try and look at every detail, make it as good as possible and make it as good an experience for other people to invite to. But it’s not something that we are doing as a career choice. This is something that we’re doing it on the side, because we can.”

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Despacio - a short film

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Words: Robin Murray
Photo: Ellis Reid

Despacio is set to come to London's Hammersmith Town Hall on December 19th and 20th. 

Find more information on the Despacio project on Facebook.

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