Knockdown Center, Queens
James Murphy and 2ManyDJs’ sound system Despacio packs “nearly 50,000 watts of power through seven stacks of customised McIntosh amplifiers each standing 11 feet tall.” It also weighs over two thousand tons.
Due to the crushing financial reality of transporting the sound system’s tonnage, Despacio’s touring history in the US has been strictly corporate, making appearances at 2016’s Coachella and Panorama Festivals in California and New York respectively. This month’s three day run at all-purpose Queens events space Knockdown Center marks the first non-festival North American dates for the project. This is Murphy’s home turf, with a brick oven pizza and wine from the cellar of another of Murphy’s audacious ventures, Williamsburg bar and restaurant Four Horsemen – all the provisions a boogie-prone gourmand requires to make it through three nights of “eight hour vinyl-only odysseys” on a sound system that aims to rival the Grateful Dead’s Wall of Sound.
The Despacio sound system is noticeably different, a warm, loud sound that engulfs the listener with a generous amount of clarity. Impressive to this layman but, admittedly, lacking the bite of the city’s resident mega system, the SBS Slammer at Nowadays and Analog BKNY with their Mancuso-style hanging tweeter arrays. Still, the sound of Carly Simon’s Nile Rodgers/Bernard Edwards produced Why (that 12” mix, of course) was the first of many reminders of Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage, the monstrous NYC sound system and its maestro DJ for whom Despacio is endearingly indebted to.
That being said it’s difficult to play a dance music classic released before 1985 that isn’t associated with Levan’s Garage. Despacio’s playlists are littered with classics, the kind of songs prone to eliciting the reserve amount of glee folks keep locked away until Jungle Boogie comes on.
There’s a through-line of white boy boogie – Warren Zevon’s sublime Nighttime In the Switching Yard and Lou Reed’s 80s jaunt My Love Is Chemical – as well as some rock ‘n’ roll emotion like Here Comes the Sun. The house lights came up for Dennis Parker’s Casablanca 12″ Like An Eagle, making for a standout moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did that every night.
Time spent with Despacio feels indulgent, from the sound through to the fine drinks. It’s not surprising that, in the sound system’s five year history, the Dewaele brothers and Murphy have rarely surrendered controls to a guest DJ. Still, after six hours of b2b I found myself dreaming of what Moodymann or DJ Harvey would bring to this floor. Around 2am, Murphy dialled back the energy and played Roches Hammond Song, a track that had caused him to weep “uncontrollably” the first time he heard it on a good sound system according to one Vulture interview. It rang through the packed dancefloor at a deafening volume – an absurd, beautiful and fitting peak.