31st July 2021
Chief amongst these highlights must surely be our partner McIntosh’s Despacio project, a collaboration with James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem, the Dewaele brothers from Soulwax /2ManyDJs and legendary sound engineer John Klett. DESPACIO, a once in a generation sound system and immersive audio experience, is one of the most significant dance music and high quality sound events of the 21st century. As the frost finally thaws on the music and events industries globally, the long awaited revival of the Despacio system is in the works, and the possibility of a Despacio tour is on the horizon once again.
McIntosh have a great many milestones in their illustrious history at the vanguard of high quality sound. Perhaps their most famous of these is The Grateful Dead’s ‘Wall of Sound’ way back in 1974. At 30k Watts, it was the largest concert audio system that had ever been built. The Despacio system dwarfed the Wall of Sound, boasting a colossal 50k Watts of superb quality sound. And that’s if you don’t include the sixteen 21 inch active subwoofers. The unparalleled Despacio project is firmly finding a similar footing in the mythology of dance music as the wall of sound holds in the history of rock and roll.
Eight stacks of McIntosh speakers, each towering 11 feet, encircle a black and white checkered dance floor drenched in blue light and mesmerising sound, while the stars spin eclectic vinyls from a booth outside the circle. At Despacio, 4.5 tonnes of McIntosh amps encased in custom woodwork generate an immersive audio experience of unbridled power and accuracy.
Producer and LCD Soundsystem star James Murphy, a key architect of Despacio, says ‘it was about making the kind of night that we’d want to go to’. Himself an ex-system designer, Murphy and his fellow high-profile analogue enthusiasts painstakingly designed the Despacio system over six months. The idea was to develop a system unlike ordinary high impact club PAs, which rely heavily on processors and circuit boards to fill spaces with sound. Rather, Despacio would project the sound organically, much like a hi-fi home system would- simply on a colossal scale. McIntosh were chosen for their heritage driven commitment to analogue techniques, dynamically infused with modern digital capabilities. Together, McIntosh, Klett, Murphy and the Dewaele brothers created a heaven for hi-fi lovers the world over.
The project ran deeper. Despacio was a statement from its creators, against what they perceived to be a prevailing trend in 21st century DJ culture towards egos and superstar exhibitionism. It was a reconfiguration of this culture back towards its roots in the early Dance scene, where the emphasis was on the music, the purity of sound and shared experience- rather than the person performing. These values underpinning the project are what inspired its name. A homage to the Balearic influence on dance music culture, despacio meaning slowly, or gradually, harks back to the days when DJs and revellers from the world over converged on Ibiza, transforming the eclectic modern movement. The sheer size of the Despacio system meant that the sound could be 105db with the system running at just 20% capacity. This kind of volume without a hint of distortion would be inconceivable from any other system. The cleanliness, headroom and power gives the sound a physical presence in the room, drawing attention away from the star; even from the self. ‘The sound’, Dewaele says, ‘is the star.’ And with the artists symbolically spinning from beyond the circle of sky-scraping stacks, there’s no interfering with its stardom.
Despacio debuted in 2013.
Originally to be launched in Ibiza, when the initial venue fell through it was relocated to Manchester, a city with a similarly outsized influence on dance music history. The revolutionary system stunned the Manchester International Festival at its launch. From there Despacio bounced between big name festivals on either side of the Atlantic.
Then, in January 2020, news of a Despacio tour with dates in New York, London, San Francisco sent rumblings among hi-fi lovers and club scenes across Europe and North America. Rumours of another Glastonbury appearance even began to surface. Dates at iconic venues like Roundhouse in Camden and the San Francisco Regency Ballroom were booked into the spring of 2020. Their announcement may even have shared newsreels with reports of a strange virus emerging in China. The next part of the story is familiar to us all.
But the future’s bright, and brightening still. At Fine Sounds we’re determined to see McIntosh launch Despacio and allow dance lovers and audiophiles alike to revel in its unique, immersive sound once again. After more than a year of solitude, with sound systems the world over falling silent, the principles of shared joy and togetherness in sound that underpin the Despacio project seem more relevant than ever. So, we hope you share our excitement for what’s to come and watch this space for more updates.