I always felt Despacio was born to be in New York as it is a city who’s clubbing history and heritage are somehow encapsulated in the spirit of the sound system. Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage, Studio 54 and Mancuso’s Loft Party to name a few of The Big Apple’s disco royalty are all woven into the strands of the DNA of this updated augmented version. What they all have in common is a relentless dedication to analogue sound quality perfection and good time vibes. And what a good fit Despacio in New York (DNY) turned out to be. It was the perfect combo I always imagined it would be. The scariest thing to me is that I almost didn’t go and only decided I had to at the last minute simply because it was just not something I could ever live with missing. Despacio in New York? Hello? Are you crazy? How could I not be there?
The event was taking place at the Knockdown Centre in Queens which is a long way out from the centre of the city, and we drove to what seemed like the outskirts of town and then further and further still into an industrial district of NY I had never seen. The area looked liked when you’ve got totally lost in Grand Theft Auto and you have no idea where the fuck you are. The longer the journey went on the more my anticipation grew and the remote destination somehow added to the sense of occasion. It really reminded me of, driving around country lanes, back in the day, in the middle of cocking nowhere, looking for an old school rave in a field somewhere in the back of beyond.
We walked into the giant warehouse space and were lured through the venue by the ambient sounds emanating from the darkness. We turned a corner and there it was, Despacio was back in all its glory, alive again. All the hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I gazed at it. It was 8:01pm and therefore the first minute of the first of three 8 hour sets which would take place over the next 72 hours in disco heaven.
It was quiet for the first couple of hours and it was great to see these unsuspecting punters walk in without really knowing what they were walking into or what was ahead of them. A handful of people stood scattered around the checkered dancefloor, bathed in blue light, waiting for something to happen. It felt more like an art installation than a disco. Slowly but surely more arrived and the lights dimmed down further and people started to sway and shuffle to the chilled out tunes, still waiting for it to start, not quite realising that it is really them who are the event. They dictate what goes down. Despacio is very reactive and transforms according to how each crowd shapes and responds to it, and once it dawns on them that they are the party, that is when Despacio starts. And just as it has done on all previous Despacio outings I look around and everyone is grooving away, grinning from ear to ear, swaying together as one, basking in the warmth of the sound, which enveloped them in a warm glow and you could actually feel the happiness all around you – it was happening again!
As I was in New York I was half expecting the sort of wild disco dancers I had seen in Saturday Night Fever, Boogie Nights and Bill Bernstein’s “Disco” photography book but looking around at the casual fairly conservatively dressed crowd I realised that I was thinking of the inhabitants of Old New York and 70s movies and those people were in fact long gone. This was New New York and an altogether different beast from the city it once was. The crowd, although maybe not as flamboyant as their predecessors, had a very cool laid back vibe which along with the downtempo tunes created a super chilled atmosphere and a perfect reflection of why Despacio is the ultimate antidote to the hectic hit you on the head approach to modern clubbing.
Despacio means ‘slow’ and James Murphy and 2manydjs builds up the pace very very gradually which allows the crowd to ease into the night at their own pace and then everyone is also in sync with each other. When it does eventually kicks off they are totally ready rather than in a normal club where you have to play catch up on arrival to banging beats. It means it all happens naturally rather than being forced and the payoff is so much greater as a result. You all grow together along with the music and when it finally erupts you are joined as one big ball of bliss. Every sense is stimulated to levels beyond normal reach in everyday life and the sensation of this extended state of heightened sensory overload leaves you with a permanently warm glow of euphoria that does not dissipate throughout the night.
There was almost no lights for the first few hours and although I normally like to see the happy faces of the Despacio crowd the darkness somehow suited the laid back New New Yorkers. And then out of nowhere, angelic vocal harmonies of a track (who’s name I don’t know but goes Ahhhh, aaaah, aaaah, Aaaaaaaah – do you know the one I mean?) burst forth out of the speaker stacks and suddenly the entire floor was bathed in brightness as the giant disco ball spun beams of white light around the crowd for the first time. Everyone went suitably bananas and from that moment on Despacio was a runaway train of blissful barnstormin brilliance as every track built on the last, catapulting us further and further into disco dancing heaven.
James Murphy and 2manydjs have a perfect understanding on how to take a crowd on a journey, they know how when to build it up and drop it down better than anyone, teasing out tunes, creating anticipation, detonating the floor, making people go apeshit, letting the tempo subside, luring them in, building it back, knocking ’em dead, and they can do this over and over again. Gears are shifted, genres exchanged, bpms raised and lowered and all shunted into an 8 hour marathon where they never let the crowd go. And it is never the same twice. Each night is totally different, the selections shifting and morphing according to the feel of the crowd and the night. There is maybe 25% of the set which makes it into each event with what have become Despacio stand out spine tingling moments like “fly like an eagle”, “plastic dreams”, “safety dance” and “another one bites the dust” to name a few but the rest is whatever they feel like playing at any given moment. No pre-programmed set like so many big name djs sadly do these days, just the immediacy of vinyl records being selected in the now, driven by the vibe and what the previous dj played. As the Sith Lord would say, impressive, most impressive.
Everyone was now clearly over the moon they had made it and were now all deliriously happy and totally g0bsmacked by what they were experiencing. The sound quality was off the chart, so crisp and sharp yet so warm and lush it enveloped you in pure joy. This is down to the staggering output of the McIntosh amps which deliver powerhouse performance and are the driving force of the system that sets it apart from the rest. I couldn’t remember a time when it ever sounded better, even from the very first night when they often need to do a bit fine tuning and tinkering to get to optimum. The crowd looked utterly bowled over by what they were experiencing. As the night goes on you smile and connect with more and more people and as you catch each other eye’s with the same blissed out expression on your face you can’t help but want to share it. I spoke to lots of dancers on the floor as I cruised around taking photographs and they were all pretty Despacio delirious and exclaimed they had never encountered anything like it. A lot of them said that it felt like the spirit of Old New York returning which I think is the ultimate compliment and you could almost see the light of those parties that gave the city its reputation being rekindled and a new wave of old school vibes beginning.
This went on for 3 consecutive nights like this and I clocked up about 6 hours a night on the dancefloor each night and there was no drop off, no dip, just back to back dancing heaven. Thursday might have been my favourite just because there was more room to get around. Friday and saturday were completely sold out and as a result it was jam packed on the dancefloor which I have to say was the only downside as it was difficult to bust out your best moves with limited space and much harder to cruise around and interact. On the first night I was taking people on tours of the sweet spots as I showed them how there are certain points which are marked out by John Klett, the designer of Despacio, to show where the speakers converge revealing the different shades of sound that are created by the system. For example the sweet spot directly under the giant glitter ball is bass heavy, filling your body with deep vibrations whilst the one at the front and back have a cleaner sharper sound and highlight different layers of the track. I still can’t get over the fact that there are alternate sound experiences on the same dancefloor depending on where you are and I still can’t get over the fact that you can chat easily without shouting when you are directly in front of one of the speaker stacks, which miraculously almost seems a little quieter as you walk towards them, the air around them somehow creating a vacuum making the soundwaves glide over you in perfect harmony.
Despacio is still relatively under the radar and a lot of people have not heard about it and that also makes it something very special as you feel privileged to be there but the word is definitely spreading and for those in the know, for those who have felt its glory, they will do anything they can to be there. I spoke to a couple who had flown over from Mexico City, others I chatted with had come as far afield as Chicago and Atlanta. There were also West coasters there who had seen it at Coachella and I even ran into a few I had met there and it was like having a reunion with old friends. Even spotted Jennifer Lawrence in the crowd rockin out right next to us having an absolute ball. And then there was Gabriel who flew all the way from Peru to be there. I had met him in London through a friend and who I had raved to him relentlessly about how incredible Despacio was and I must have done a number on him because he had believed me and come all the way from Peru to check it out. Fortunately he was deliriously happy he had made it. He was there for two nights and exclaimed with a permanent grin on his face that it was the best decision he had ever made and the best musical experience he had ever had in his life. My Uncle who lives in NY came on the Saturday with his wife and they were beyond blown away by it all and he said it was the greatest thing he had been to in all of his 72 years on this planet and yes he is still out clubbing at 72, what a legend!
And then Despacio said, let there be light. And there was light. One of the show stopping moments is when, out of nowhere, the venue is suddenly awash with sunshine, pouring out of the disco ball above, as their own exclusive edit of the Beatles “Here comes the Sun” emanates from the speakers. They did this each night and its one of the most extraordinary and uplifting moments as you feel you are literally being bathed in sun rays. You actually feel the warmth although this must be a sensory illusion. They finished the last night with this mesmerising moment and as the crowd looked up to the heavens, basking in this solar sensation it truly summed up the positivity and joy of the entire weekend.
I have come to the conclusion that my favourite thing in the world is to dance to great music with a friendly crowd and amazing sound and Despacio is the best version of that experience. That is really all there is to say. I went non-stop for 3 consecutive nights and it never dropped off. It just keeps on delivering and as each night went on I spent more and more time on the dancefloor as I just didn’t want to waste a second of it elsewhere. As the last night headed ever closer to the 4am finish I was already getting DWS (despacio withdrawal symptoms) and thinking about when I would next be enraptured in this disco bubble universe. Its next outing is at Sonar’s 25th anniversary in Barcelona in June and I cannot friggin wait. When I am in Despacio everything makes sense. Music, people, existence. It is all exactly as it should be when I am rocking out on the floor, connecting with the tunes, the djs, the people around me and the overwhelming feeling of the event. I lose myself completely. I escape the confines of reality and I never want to come back…
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Article taken from babycakesromero.com