Head honcho at Hospital Records, London Elektricity, is joined by Reso and TC in welcoming in the new toys at Ministry of Sound this Saturday. The landmark occasion, dubbed Ultrasound, is going balls-to-the-wall beast mode with the the new in-house Dolby Atmos system. Boasting 60 speakers and 22 channels of surround sound, it is guaranteed to knock your expectations completely on their ass. You heard! The aforementioned three are currently in the midst of overhauling their sets in order to rinse out the best audio experience possible come launch night.
Magnetic got overexcited ahead of the event and geeked out on all things surround sound, tinnitus and kettles with Tony Colman a.k.a London Elektricity in the amp (geddit...anyone?) up to this world first event.
The phrase ‘360-degree aural assault’ has been tossed around ahead of Ultrasound - can you reveal anything about what’s in store on the night?
What is in store is something that hasn’t been heard before in a club. It is a world premiere of a completely new system designed by Dolby - the closest anyone would have heard is in a good cinema where the soundtrack is mixed in Atmos format. Obviously in a cinema you are focused on the film, so the sound is subliminal. What Ultrasound is going to show – and I am actually at Dolby right now preparing the final mix down – is all the tracks in my set in surround format with about two thirds mixed from scratch again in studio. It gives the producer the opportunity to choose the right sounds to literally throw around the room, or to spread the pads and strings and chords up in the ceiling behind you – have them envelope you. Like some sort of amazing… sleeping bag!
I have learned you can do so much, but you have to be aware with dance music that you can’t move the sub around for instance and you have to be selective otherwise people will find it disorienting or even start feeling sick! You have to find that sweet spot. My wife and kids came in last week while I was mixing a tune from my album called ‘Phase Us’, with lovely warm textures, and I was working with the surround version when they came in. When I flipped the switch back to stereo she said it was like going from stereo to mono! People are going to experience the drum and bass they are familiar with in a totally new and immersive way.
Your own set, along with those from Reso and TC, are being remastered to play on the Dolby Atmos sound system at the event. What's the process there? Is it a ballache or simple enough, and what main benefits can be heard in the end result?
It would be very simple if it was remastering but it’s actually remixing. Rather than taking the stereo file and EQing, this is taking all the original tracks for the project and you mix again, but this time over 22 channels… so, each channel is also animated, almost like 3D animation. Visually represented, like a room with bouncy balls, each representing a track or aspect of the tune. I wouldn’t call it a ballache, because I am geeky and nerdy and I enjoy it, but it is taking quite a long time to prepare. I'm lucky enough to be in a position where UK bass producers like Keeno and Metrik, have actually come in for a whole day to work on their tracks which I have selected for my set. I've been supervising those sessions and have taken care of those of my catalogue and those from overseas artists like Bogdan, Zeal. The guys who work with Dolby from San Francisco have prepared from their studio. So yes, this is a long process and we will be testing whether the system gets rolled out.
Am I right in thinking Ministry of Sound is new territory for Hospital Records? Any possibility Hospital could take up their next residency here now that Building Six is done and dusted?
No! We have done Hospitality before but quite a while ago at Ministry, and I have played there many times myself. It isn’t so much new territory. It has a famed sound system and it is a legendary club. We would jump at the chance if the capacity of the club was right. What we aim for… what we had at Building Six, was about 3,500; Brixton Academy was 4,500, and I think what London is really lacking is a venue between that and arenas. What I am hoping is that someone will build something like that with a decent sound system! Matter/Building Six is one of the most perfect places I have played in.
The Hospital crew look for so many things in a venue: an understanding of the people that are running it; transport links; for us to know that the venue fits in, that it's not somewhere that has never done drum and bass; and that the venue will resonate with our crowd. At Studio 338, we were pretty much the first big brand to get in there with our Summer BBQ. It was amazing, it felt perfect for our crowd. You can walk into a place and instantly know it is right. You have to dig around, you talk to the people running it, you go to other nights they have on. Brixton Academy for one is an empty box, they have no lighting rig or sound system, it's just a building. So it's quite expensive and that is why people don’t do so many events there, it is actually very difficult to break even. Thankfully – touch wood – we always have.
You champion the use of earplugs and warned against hearing loss on your podcasts - can you tell us about your position on the use of a 60-speaker, 22-channel sound system vs. our bleeding eardrums?
I am a good example of what not to do! Anyone who has been to Ministry would know that they do look after people’s ears, and their system is so high quality it’s not going to hurt your hearing unless you put your head inside one of the speaker stacks. I have been to clubs in the past, there is one quite near Leicester Square… Bar Rumba…on Thursday nights there was a night called Movement - quite a legendary drum and bass night – which was great but they had a very, very loud sound system that was ear damaging. It must have been about 2001, whilst launching the Plastic Surgery 2 compilation, when I realised the need for ear plugs. We were there all night and by the end I had quite severe tinnitus and had damaged my ears. The sound system was pumping out the wrong frequencies and it was distorting. If you go to Fabric, or Building Six, you will find that the sound really rocks you, really deep bass, but it isn’t ear piercing. It’s all down to how the system is set up and looked after.
What’s your personal opinion on ‘quality sound’? For example, ‘quality’ headphones can cost hundreds with the lure of a better quality listening experience - do you think immaculate sound quality is imperative to proper enjoyment of music?
That is a really interesting question you know, because I have done some amazing gigs on shit sound systems - as has everyone else. Usually small gigs, where it is all about the vibe. The bigger the venue the more important the sound is, partly because it’s harder to get it right. They tend to be quite echoey, and you are dealing with a space where the DJ doesn’t have such an emotional, physical connection. Then again, when Plastic People closed it was a tragedy, and that was an example of a tiny club with an amazing sound system – it held about 130 people. They had one of the best sounds of any club in the world, it was like having a party in someone’s studio. With drum and bass, yes it is very important and you do have to have full frequency range of the bass… but, if the vibe is right, you can have a great party with an average system, it all depends.
If so, are you able to pinpoint a moment where the quality of sound transformed a listening experience for you, whether at a drum and bass gig, concert or otherwise?
I can actually for me, historically. From going to Japan every year, there is a legendary club night called DBS (Drum and Bass Sessions), which was the first D&B night. They used to hold their parties in a club - more of a concert venue actually - that has closed now, called the Liquid Rooms. It was in Tokyo, on the seventh floor of a huge skyscraper - it was enormous. The sound! I only realised one of the first times I went there and I was sound checking, back in the days when everyone played vinyl dub plates. I had one with me I had only recently finished in the studio, I put it on and I walked to the middle of the empty club. Usually when they are empty, they don’t sound right. But, at the Liquid Rooms it was like being in the world's biggest studio. I could hear things in my own music which I had never heard. It was beyond studio quality, and the pressure I was feeling from the sound... I could feel my kidney stones dissolving from the sub bass! Yet, I could talk to the person next to me without shouting. That is the hallmark of great sound, it is fully working your body but you don’t have to shout to be heard.
If we can be nosy, what’s your home music system setup like? Does it do the job or do you have grand plans for an upgrade?
Both in my home and at the studio we have Focal speakers, and I am not saying that because they have sponsored us… they haven’t! The sub is built in and points at the ceiling – they really stood out against other monitors. My listening room is the top room of my house. When we moved in it was horrendous. I got so depressed that I had a sound expert in to analyse the room who I think was close to killing himself by the end of the day. I had to put so much bass trapping in that half the surface area is now this certain type of mineral wall – it has turned it into a dead space but it is sonically smooth
And finally, when it comes to audio gadgetry, what is your most treasured possession or toy?
Good question… I really like the Pioneer rebuild of the Technics, based upon the model but a lot heavier and more solid, less susceptible to bass feedback. They sound great. I also love my Audeze headphones. I wouldn’t choose any other brand, they are so far above anyone else. It is the same as having a studio on your head. My wife still complains she can hear it, they are open back not closed! Well, those and the kettle, which is very important obviously.
London Elektricity plays Hospital Records in Dolby Atmos at Ministry of Sound on Saturday 23rd January. Yeah! You can still buy tickets! G'wan, get 'em here.