Thursday, March 20, 2014

Despacio @ The Roundhouse

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 





Thursday, March 06, 2014

Sofia

Final city of the tour was the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia.

This was probably the easiest of the 3 cities to get around. For the final leg of the trip I'd chosen to stay in the Radisson Blu which is in the centre of the city. Advantages is that its central and our of my window I could see the Parliament building, Zar Alexander II statue and the Nevskiy Cathedral. This was going to be easy.

There's Alex and my hotel. The restaurant chain "Happy" next door was great especially if you liked strawberries that featured heavily in the menu. I used these guys for all my meals.

As with Romania there were some great looking buildings here in Sofia. I've no idea what this was but I'd guess an embassy. For some reason the roads in the centre are paved with yellow bricks and why they don't lead to Oz they are likely to leading you slipping, as I did twice.

This is the the presumptuous titled "Church of St Nicholas the Miracle Maker". Whilst the name might be a bit much the building looked amazing, as most Russian Orthodox churches do. This was rebuilt in the early 1900s.

Not far from the church I spotted this bookshop with a Cyrillic Jamie Oliver. How I wish he was so popular in Siberia that he went and lived there...forever. 

This is the Ethnographic museum. It used to be a Royal residence.


Hidden within the Sheridan Hotel is the Rotunda of St George, which is believed to be the oldest building in the country and given it was built in the 4th century must be hard to beat unless they dig something up. 

That's the National Assembly building. 


This cool old church is behind the Sheriton and has been the site of a church for quite some time. This version was rebuilt in the 1930s.

This is the statue of St Sofia overlooking the city from the West.

Sofia used to be a Thracian settlement called Serdica and as they dig underground they are discovering ruins, which they're incorporating in their rather cool metro system as museum exhibits. Similar to what happened with the Athens metro in Greece. In the background is the city Synagogue.


 Serdica station is the intersection where the two lines meet. Today I was planning on riding the blue line to the southern end and the red line to near the eastern end. They're extending the red line to the airport which is great for travellers to the city, but bad for the taxis. Like Bucharest you can buy a one-day ticket but you have to have it scanned at each ticket office before it'll be accepted at the gates. So if you buy one and can't get it to work go back and get it authorised.

Their metro is great and I appreciate it's newer and less used than what we have in London but to get away from that system for something where everything is right is a joy.

My first leg took me to James Boruchier station and whilst it seemed odd to have a station named after an Irish chap a little bit of research discovered that he fought for the country in a diplomatic context and is held in high regard by the country. From the station continue south to the main intersection from where you can head east to Sofialand or continue south for Skypark


Sofialand is an abandoned amusement park that opened in 2001 as one of the largest amusements parks in SE Europe, however it closed suddenly in 2006 


Unlike Bucharest there was nobody to stop me getting close to the park and I was able to take photos through the fence. I wasn't up for jumping the fence and breaking in to get closer, especially as I could hear generators running inside. Is that a good sign for the parks future perhaps?

Having a peek inside the entranceway to the park. It all looks to be in really good condition and given the country is now part of Europe I'd like to think that it would find a new owner soon.

Heading back to the main junction and heading south the downhill walk soon brought me to the Paradise Mall and yes that is a rollercoaster on the roof. This was a park I found at the end of 2013 as part of my google earth research. 

The park is accessed via the top floor and I recommend the Happy restaurant next door, especially if you're wanting somewhere to wait whilst it stops raining. 



The ninja fly is a squat looking mini loop fighter built like Italian ride maker Technical Park. 


The coaster is called Speed Ride Cyclone and is a standard model.


From Paradise Mall I decided to head into Yuzhen Park, a huge public park that covers a large part of the southern side of the city.





and I did find a little Lunapark, but no coasters. But at least the research was paying off. 

getting out of the park proved to be a little bit harder than getting in, much like casinos in Vegas. My tip is to head NW not NE.

A nice mural in the residential area around the metro station that I was heading back to.


A couple of event posters. The rock one would be much better than the East 17 one.
Having gotten back to the station I then headed to Mladost 1 at the end of the red line and after a 10 minute walk north I made it to a shopping mall given the "The Mall". Original.

The mall is on the other side of the main motorway that joins the city centre with the airport. I found that the easiest way to reach the mall is to cross the first run-in road and then follow walk the road that comes up from underground to your right. That runs under the main road and into the customer car park beneath the mall. 



Outside the mall is a small collection of rides included a powered dragon and if you look out of your airport taxi when being driven into the city you'll pass by it. You have to buy a sheet of tickets which you then trade in with the ride operators. Due to a language barrier I ended up buying too much.

Having had my fill of coasters I headed back into the city. This is the Visil Levski stadium, the main football stadium in the city.


Statues of various sporting people can be seen outside. I like how someone had painted the footballer in team colours.

By this point in the trip I was starting to read Cyrillic quite easily. I had the same thing in Russia, once you suss how each character translates as if part of a codebreaker puzzle things just click into place. Of course you can easily guess this if you're a fan of Britain's got Talent :)



This is the Soviet Army Monument, now desecrated and turned into a skatepark. I don't know who's adding paint to the statues but it's a great touch. 


Whilst I didn't get to see this first-hand this is perhaps their best work, and it happened here in Sofia too.


This is the Nevskiy cathedral, built in 1912 it's a huge structure but like Belgrade, is empty inside. Once again I suffered the scars of having played Assassins Creed by spending too much time walking the exterior wondering how best to ascend it.


The tomb of the unknown soldier.

This lion sits in front of the tomb and is clearly popular with people who choose to sit on it given the polished section on his back.

Of the 3 cities Sofia was my favourite. Nice and compact, nice food, wonderful metro and a history that you see just walking around. I can definitely see myself coming back.