Hammersmith Town Hall | 19 December
Truthfully, it’s hard to think of a single night last year where Crack had been more flush with anticipation than this one. That’s not to fire shots at competitors, mind – nightlife still more-than-ably matches the polymorphous state of the dance music it mirrors, and when you consider that this writer had seen such luminaries as DJ Harvey, Jeff Mills and Kraftwerk brought to the capital in 2013, let alone the glut of festival sightings, the quivering level of calendar-ticking excitement should speak for itself.
But Despacio existed in its own lane for sheer unmissable value. Consider the credentials: Two brothers who had both cannoned and canonised the nascent mash-up genre at the turn of the 00s, coupled with a man who could logically be titled MVP of the entire past decade, armed with crates of rare records and a specific set of honed principals, bringing a fiendishly complex custom-built system that had reduced audiophiles to near tears at its Manchester debut to play from start to finish at my local town hall. Not a bad pretext. And whether you consider Soulwax/2 Many DJs’ block rocking beats to be a touch gimmicky, or James Murphy to be a shameless pilferer, you’d trust their instinct in commanding a crowd over a five hour all-vinyl set. So, in we went with less than half an hour chalked on the clock.
Peering through the dense thicket of anticipation in the run-up were two tiny bugbears: that a Thursday night crowd of Londoners who could stretch to the lofty ticket price might not ‘get it’, and that the opening show of three might be treated as a chance to flex sonic muscles without ever going for the kill. The former was amusingly inverted, given that it felt akin to walking into an art exhibition at first. The initial batch through the doors were peering curiously at the showcased McIntosh stacks, a set of 70s wood-panelled ham radios tied up with guyropes infused with a radioactive glow, drinking the palpable weirdness in. Up on high, scruffy Mr Murphy and the besuited Brothers Dewaele were getting limber, tossing out cuts from Stereolab’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup and channel-panning spaghetti western soundtracks that sounded like jet planes swooping overhead. Oh yeah, forgot to mention: this thing is loud. Like, LOUD. Lying on the floor for effect, eyeballs rattled though the dials were barely flickering above 40% capacity. The sound was earth-shattering but of startling quality, shaping an unbelievably precise 3D mould of every single track in real-time before our eyes. Moreover, the attention to detail across the entire night was spot-on: in Hammersmith Town Hall they had scoped out a classy space, inserted a properly-stocked cocktail bar and mini-deli in the back, stuck a gigantic disco ball above the dancefloor with a dozen shuttered light bars atop the speakers projecting at it in sequence, and tailored the flow exactly as they wished. We even got a mini-McIntosh pinbadge on entry (cute, guys).
But all of that would have been for nowt if they had failed in their core MO. Thankfully the place filled up quickly, and the gang of early-bird nerds gingerly skirting around the fringes in a timid fashion had been supplanted by a varied sort: dads-of-three in greying Paradise Garage T-shirts and fedoras, outrageous scene queens draped in boas, Jarvis Cocker looking like Jarvis Cocker. There was a fair turnout of those in their waviest of garms but if anything, the kids on pills felt like outliers. By the halfway mark, the atmosphere inside Despacio was electric: if perhaps not total communality, there was a rare freedom to really shake it out, vogue as you please and simply have a great time unburdened by judgmental stares.
All fears of the first date being used to test the water were quickly allayed, too. Given their track record (45:33, As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt.2, numerous festival headline slots), the three jocks share a clearly wizened eye for sequencing, and this manifested itself in a view that the weekend run as one greater whole, instead of three individual segments. If anything, the hits came thick and fast: a heavily-pitched down Flat Beat sent up cries of joy, and from there they didn’t let up, diving headfirst into a crash-course of disco classics – Is It All Over My Face?, He’s The Greatest Dancer, Chic dubs fed into Lindstrøm & Todd Terje – with left-turns into weirder territory – early EBM, Siriusmo, Beck’s remix of Philip Glass – to keep people quite literally on their toes throughout. We even got some Guetta hands from James Murphy as the juddering bassline from Adonis’s Lack Of Love tore a fissure through everyone’s spleen.
Nothing was left to chance: a bunch of unnoticed Christmas trees illuminated after midnight, their fairy lights strobing in time to Imagination’s Music and Lights, naturally. Across the board, from the sonic capabilities to the impetus placed on openness (both spacial and emotional), it was unparalleled. There’s pretty much no criticism to offer up. The inaugural London edition of Despacio was total class from faders up to lights up, an immersive and unique experience that just so happened to double up as an insanely fun night on the side. Kudos.
– – – – – – – – – –
Words: Gabriel Szatan
Photo: Cosmo K Nash