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Despacio: MIF 2013 Reviewed

David Blake mostly enjoyed it… even if Cocker didn’t

Written by . Published on July 22nd 2013.

Despacio: MIF 2013 Reviewed

IT'S not every night that you’re given the opportunity to pinch a neon glow stick from the breast pocket of gangly Britpop specster Jarvis Cocker... More of that later.

It wasn’t a showy all-guns and lasers-a-flashin’ spectacle, the orchestrators of the sound wanted to remain relatively low-key. Out of the way. Because it was the sound that took centre-stage, the temple-popping sheer quality of it.

For a DJ-set with a name like a nut and held in an 1962 Co-op office building on the edge of the city centre, Despacio turned out to be a merry old hoedown – if a little limbo’ed.

James Murphy: I was sure i had two headsJames Murphy: I was sure i had two heads

Held in New Century Hall (next door to the CIS tower) and put together for Manchester International Festival (MIF) by James ‘Mr LCD Soundsystem’ Murphy and Belgian brothers David and Stephen Dewaele (Soulwax/2ManyDJs) in collaboration with American audio merchants McIntosh Labs, Despacio promised a meeting of minds, music and perfect sound.

All of which was conveyed through a monolithic ‘custom disco sound system’ – whatever one of those is, it cost in the region of £750,000 (about three Branaghs I reckon).

With such a hefty price tag, mandatory earplugs on entry and signs stating that ‘EARPHONES MUST BE WORN AT ALL TIMES’ (a warning almost nobody heeded), you could say that we were expecting something a bit special. And to bleed a little from the ears.

Special it was.

One of eight 12ft speaker stacksOne of eight 12ft speaker stacksEight towering 12ft stacks of speakers and screens surrounded a black and white chequered chessboard of a dancefloor while a giant retro disco ball glittered precariously over the revellers. The rotating twinkles of the ball added a 70s disco glam flavour.

The speaker stacks were something else. Looking like something stored in Hanger 51 of the Indiana Jones films, a piece of top-tech Alien kit that landed with that weird little Roswell fella in 1947 – people gawped in wonder.

Visually they were striking bits of gear. But that was nothing compared to when they fired them up. Strangeways blacked out, bowels involuntarily moved – the speakers were like a firing squad surrounding the 400-strong crowd huddled in the centre. We weren't sure whether to dance or run for the hills. The sound, the sound.

But where were these orchestrators that so molested our ears? There wasn’t a DJ platform in sight. Had the Soulwax bros. and James Murphy even turned up? Or was this the most extravagant and expensive Spotify playlist shuffle in history? Ah there they were, in a kind of low-level DJ pit at the far end of the room. David Guetta this was not, thankfully.

An empty DespacioAn empty Despacio

But I suppose that was the point. It wasn’t a showy all-guns and lasers-a-flashin’ spectacle, the orchestrators of the sound wanted to remain relatively low-key. Out of the way. Because it was the sound that took centre-stage, the temple-popping sheer quality of it.

But there was no real crescendo, no pinnacle to it. Flitting from funk to house to rock to goove to electro, the sounds were experimental and slow (Despacio does translate to slow in Spanish).

Fair enough, they were trying to do something different here, that’s what MIF is all about, but the crowd were waiting for something. Not knowing exactly what we were waiting for, but waiting all the same, politely bopping away in the meantime. 

But whatever it was never came. We didn’t climax. We were limbo'ed.

Jarvis: So i grabbed the guy from ManCon like thisJarvis: So I grabbed the guy from Confidential like this

Even hardcore musicophile Jarvis Cocker couldn’t get too worked up about it, idly two-stepping along beside us. Not really dancing but not really standing still either. Stancing.

I knew how to cheer him up.

I cheekily nicked the bright blue neon glow stick hanging from his tweed-jacket pocket and pretended to come at him with a tiny lightsaber like a Jedi Artful Dodger.

In my ale-addled mind that was sure to get a laugh...

Not even a simper.

Piss off then Jarvis.

Follow David Blake on twitter

Despacio was part of the Manchester International Festival 2013... which closed Sun 21 July. Weep

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