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James Murphy & Soulwax bringing custom-built ‘Despacio’ soundsystem to Panorama

Richard Johnson
photo by Richard Johnson

The premiere edition of Panorama, the new NYC festival put on by AEG (the Coachella folks), happens this weekend at Randall’s Island Park. LCD Soundsystem headline on Sunday (7/24), but frontman James Murphy is involved in the festival all weekend as he’s behind Despacio, a not-your-average dance tent featuring a “one-of-a-kind sound system designed to deliver absolutely optimum audio to the dance floor, showcasing classic records in entirely new dimensions” that “delivers nearly 50,000 watts of power through 7 stacks of customized McIntosh amplifiers each standing 11 feet tall.” Despacio, a collaboration between Murphy and David and Stephen Dewaele (Soulwax/2manydjs), with recording engineer John Klett, made its North American debut earlier this year at Coachella. The Verge reported:

“I think that in the States, even moreso than in Europe, dance music has become almost an oxymoron.” I’m talking to David Dewaele in the cramped artists’ trailer parked behind the tent, where the bass from Murphy’s set blurs with the thumping pyrotechnics coming from the nearby Sahara tent. He and his brother Stephen — of the band Soulwax, and the DJ outfit 2manyDJs — teamed up with Murphy back around 2012 with the intent of creating a kind of dance music utopia, partially as a response to the current landscape of DJ shows. “It’s not about dancing anymore,” he says. “It’s about facing a stage, it’s about looking at some kind of god-like figure. There’s no space to really dance.”

Walk into Despacio, as I did many times at many different hours of the day across the weekend, and you will see no shortage of really dancing. For a while I post up near the door, watching people enter the tent for the first time, looking up in wonder as the huge disco ball looms overhead and their fellow Coachellites cut loose to disco and soul tracks. It’s cleansing, and chill, and not just because the tent is equipped with A/C — the polar opposite of the sweaty, hyped-up sets playing out across the polo field. Murphy and the Dewaeles tag team on the decks, and the tempo stays in the mellow 100 bpm range, gradually increasing over the course of the afternoon. Security has been instructed to keep the headcount under 950 — the tent can hold more, but giving everyone ample space to express themselves across Despacio’s surreal checkered floor is paramount. There are flocks of rave bros getting their Saturday Night Fever moves on, girls in flowy sundresses finally free to twirl with impunity. There is also a fair amount of PDA.

Despacio is a true labor of love for Murphy and the Dewaeles, who make no money off doing it — it’s so cost-prohibitive, they only host it at places willing to pay the shipping for the seven speaker sets which each weigh over 30 tons. As mentioned, Despacio is A/C-equipped, which is something to think about with a NYC forecast for the high 90s all three days of Panorama. Sounds like it’s worth stopping by if you’ll be at the fest.

James Murphy is also a restauranteur these days, and while his Brooklyn wine bar Four Horseman won’t have a presence at Panorama, there is serious food, with a lineup of vendors curated by food blog Eater, including Roberta’s, Sushi Abzu, PDT, OddFellows Ice Cream, Bunk Sandwiches and more.

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