What's He Building In There? David Dewaele on Despacio

David Dewaele, half of Soulwax/2ManyDJs with his brother Stephen, talks about the pair's collaboration with LCD Soundsystem and DFA leader James Murphy to produce one-off club Despacio – an attempt to create the perfect, in-the-round audio experience

Feature by John Thorp | 03 Jul 2013
  • Despacio

Capturing an accidental zeitgeist with their genre-mashing As Heard on Radio Soulwax compilations in the mid 00s, David Dewaele and Stephen Dewaele – otherwise known as 2ManyDJs – became club and festival favourites, their maximal sets clashing obscure pop finds with nosebleed electro and techno. The duo have retained popularity thanks to a live visual show in which the covers of each record being played become animated, as well as through developing an exhaustive app and visual radio channel based on the same idea.

Soulwax, their live band, are due to release new material this year, and the pair are currently collaborating with LCD Soundsystem and DFA leader James Murphy on Despacio, a special project for Manchester International Festival. An all-vinyl, three-night-only affair, it’s described as a meeting between minds, music and perfect sound. Below, David speaks to us about Murphy's mad ideas, the thrill of quality audio, and a 50,000-strong record collection.

On his friendship with James Murphy and the genesis of Despacio...

We've been friends with James for a very long time and he always has sound... issues. Nothing ever sounds like he wants it to. He's always wanted to design the perfect soundsystem for himself. I've got to tell you, he's always got ideas, and over the years I've heard many different plans for, like, a hotel, or an app, or a tour bus. Being his friend, I always think, 'Great to hear about this, not going to happen.'

Then, for the past six or seven years, my brother and I have been going to Ibiza and taking a whole studio out there, and working on the music in the sun, and James came over a couple of times.

We thought it'd be amazing if we could do a proper thing out in Ibiza because what we love about the island doesn’t exist. We're quite obsessed with that early-1980s, true Balearic spirit of Ibiza. At that time, soundsystems were different, so what we have now is the complete antithesis of the world that James and we live in on weekends. We play in big clubs, on mega soundsystems, and you show off with your USB key. I'm not necessarily dissing that; it works for many people. But we were looking for something proper.

For a long time, we were thinking of finding a real small venue, 300 or 400 people to do in Ibiza. The night was called Despacio as that means 'slow' in Spanish, and we wanted to do a night where we could play all night, like, eight-hour sets, just three of us, no guest DJs. And it just didn't happen in Ibiza; when that fell through, MIF came to us. And we thought, if it's not going to be in Ibiza, Manchester is the next best place to do it.

On making Despacio happen...

Last summer is when we decided to do it properly. We've been planning it now for less than a year. What's great about MIF is that it's art, and they're willing to invest in things that are just weird. And however many rich people there are in Ibiza, it's not something that would financially work. But bear in mind, that just this soundsystem alone, just the cost of it is gigantic. Market value, you could buy two houses for the price of this soundsystem. From last September until now it's been daily emails, about three pages each, about this. I've been so clued-up about soundsystems in the past nine months. James and his tech are such über-nerds, and I'm pretty clued-up, but most the time they even lose me.

On modern club soundsystems…

We tend to play in venues where the night before Richie Hawtin will have played, or Avicii, or whatever. And that's quite a different thing from what we're doing with Despacio. I've no idea how we pulled this off, but the amplifiers are powered by Mac. It's a cliché to say they're the Rolls-Royce. You must have met some rich dickhead who has spent 30 grand on these, but they sound incredible, and they're so powerful and expensive. The thing that we're building, everything will sound good on it. It's the cliché of people saying you'll hear and feel the music differently.

On Despacio's unique arrangement in-the-round…

It has to be in-the-round, because we don't want to use anything digital for aligning it, so you have to be in the middle of these eight gigantic stacks. We haven't touched the full system at this point, but we've heard the components. We're going to try and come up and down testing it a few times, and the techs arrives a week before to set it up. It's a weird thing to talk about beforehand because, at the end of the day, it's a DJ set. For the past three months, we've been putting records aside, and we've been re-editing our versions of certain tunes especially and then producing them on vinyl.

On the freedom to play whatever they like at Despacio…

We always like to do small things, little parties, and we try and play certain things. From us, people always seem to want it big and aggressive. We have a good sense of what people want, and something's happened in the past five years that people want these big tracks, big dynamics, and subtlety gets lost. So one of the things we want to do with Despacio is play slower. And there'll be more stuff like Despacio.

On his career ethics…

If there's any thread throughout our career, it's just that we try and do things that seem cool. I mean, to do something like our Radio Soulwax app and spend three years on that is stupid, at least finance-wise. And it wasn't part of a masterplan, we didn't sit down and say we were going to conquer the world of digital entertainment or whatever. We're lucky in that we can concentrate on something for a little while, do something else in the meantime... Right now, we're working on the Soulwax album, and I'm lucky that we can fly out, do a 2ManyDJs show, have a nice meal, make everyone happy, then come back.

On the future of Soulwax…

The music we are making with James is one thing, that's not ready. We just have fun in the studio and he's too busy working with Arcade Fire and more. As for Soulwax, the direction we're going in is much more song-based; it's electronic, not like a rock band, but more it’s listening music than ‘club’ music. A long time ago, more than ten years ago now, we noticed this mould that works for bands: of touring, producing, touring and promotion. And it works brilliantly for many people but it just doesn't work for us. And we've been fortunate that people have come along with us. 80% of our time is spent working on minutiae and details that are super important to us, and we've had to work to live with that, we can't work any other way.

On their 2ManyDJs festival performances…

We're comfortable and happy doing what we do at festivals. It's amazing to play in front of 10,000 kids, and when you play and you’re on prior to Skrillex, it's as much of a challenge to play The Clash or something weird on Cómeme that they've never heard. But there's only so much of that in a day – there's so much music we love that we want to play otherwise.

On buying records…

When we were doing Radio Soulwax, our record buying habits went up like, 150%. And now with Despacio, it's worse. Right now, we're in the middle of building our studio, with one big room with all of our records in it. And it's just going to be 50,000 records in one big room. We've hired a friend who's digitising and alphabetising them. So we're going to have two libraries – one digital, a server for ourselves, and a physical collection.

On whether or not he and his brother could be considered ‘retroists’…

In all art you have to know where you come from, and it seems that in music recently, what makes us stand out is that we have a sense of history. I'm not really into retro stuff, I'm quite against it, and if it's retro for the sake of it I don't like it. But of course, there's just so much stuff from in the past.

James Murphy, David Dewaele and Stephen Dewaele present Despacio as part of Manchester International Festival, New Century House, Manchester, 18-20 Jul, 10pm, £15

David Dewaele was in interview with John Thorp

http://www.mif.co.uk/event/despacio