Live Focus: The Hydra, London

London’s clubbing scene has come through some challenging times lately, but the acclaimed Hydra series, held regularly in the East End, continues to grow in strength. Adam Savage met up with audio supplier Sound Services to find out why.

Being one of the world’s most desirable destinations for pretty much anything, it’s hardly surprising that London was once generally considered to be the UK’s clubbing hotspot.

Punters were spoilt for choice when it came to venues and parties, and most Londoners would never dream of going elsewhere for their night out, due to the seemingly endless amount of options available to them.

Today, though, things appear to be changing, according to some reports. The closure of major clubs like Turnmills, The End and now Plastic People, and issues such as the cancellation of Bloc Festival in 2012 have not helped, and now many people are choosing other areas of the country to see their favourite DJs.

In recent years the city has seen a rise in the number of events held in warehouses and other temporary locations, but even these are often not entirely free from controversy, as a lot of the venues are not properly tested, and are simply unsuitable for big, noisy dance gatherings.

Of course, some organisers are still getting it right, like the team behind The Hydra event series in Wapping.

Situated in a building used as a high-end photography studio during the week, and co-founded by promoter Dolan Bergin, The Hydra has been receiving rave reviews recently for a number of reasons, one of them being sound quality. So who’s responsible? Surrey Quays-based Sound Services, with its highly versatile Funktion-One sound system. 

Back at the Beginning

In fact, the project has already been running for over two years, and originally started out in various venues that were ideal in many respects, but weren’t without their complications.

“We did several one-off events, which got really strong bookings and the label showcases particularly went really well. We had some difficulties with venues but the ethos was right – great music, great sound system, in interesting spaces,” says Sound Services’ technical director Rich Cufley. “But a series of difficulties, including licensing and council issues, made it impossible for us to continue in these venues.

“At that point I expected Dolan to say ‘this is a pain, we can’t keep doing this’, but he’s as stubborn as we are and it just made him more determined to find a solution to the one thing that was stopping him putting on these amazing nights.”

And that solution turned out to be Studio Spaces E1, which, despite serving a very different purpose from Monday to Friday, has had soundproofing and air conditioning equipment worth around £300,000 installed in both its 1,000-capacity main warehouse space and smaller Black Studio room to ensure it keeps the noise police at bay, and its clubbers comfortable.

It seems Bergin and Yuval Hen – the studio’s owner – really went the extra mile when it came to keeping the sound in.

“We’ve got almost unlimited volume in there. When the work was finished and we did the first noise tests the consultant was outside with the meter and it got to the point where we couldn’t turn it up any more and there was still nothing,” reports Cufley. “You could probably get 130dB in that dance floor if you wanted to. Knowing that you have the headroom and space to do that is incredible.”

Above: The amplification arrangement

This allowed the team to work with few limitations when it came to speccing the Funktion-One loudspeaker system in the main Unit 1 Warehouse, which can be set up differently depending on the genre of music required.

It may have taken a while to get it exactly right, but Cufley and Sound Services owner Curt Gilmore are now able to cater for a wide range of styles, with a Funktion-One Infrabass 218 bass enclosure for the low end – a weapon that other clubs and venues would surely love to have in their audio arsenal.

“It meant we were allowed to use the Infrabass as we’re using it, and Curt has got a real gift for timing these things,” explains Cufley. “We’ve got the Infrabass doing 20-40Hz, then the F121s and Res 4s on top, in a four-point arrangement.

“In a concrete room it’s very difficult to get the Infrabass working exactly in time with the higher bass that’s in there. A lot of people wouldn’t be able to tune that.

“We got great results from day one and by learning and treating the room and tweaking a few bits the set-up in there is really special, and you can feel that everything is working in time and the energy from that low end is incredible. It complements a lot of what the artists are playing.

“We can do things differently for every label showcase or performer and that’s got to be a good thing. It can go from a really dark underground club with just a few red lights and a real basement feel to it, to something more showcasey for a massive label like Ninja Tune, and I think it does both of those really well.”

In the Black

The Black Studio is also fully equipped with Funktion-One gear when The Hydra comes to town. It might be a smaller space than the warehouse, but that doesn’t mean Sound Services devotes less attention to its configuration.

“There is the same sort of four-point but with fewer speakers. The enclosure that we’re using instead of an Infrabass in there is actually a prototype of the [Bass Reflex] BR221 and Curt’s tuning that to do the same job as the Infrabass.

“By deploying the BR under the DJ table, all that low-end energy is coming from the DJ in the source. Where the DJ is we also use two F1201s or F101s as a front-fill and it’s almost like being in front of a hi-fi – the clarity and detail is amazing.”

Speaking of those DJs, some huge names in the field of electronic dance music have offered glowing reports of their experiences at Studio Spaces E1, and some have even named it their venue of choice for exclusive one-off events. Positive feedback from clubbers is obviously important, but approval from those on the other side of the table is perhaps even more desirable.

“When Francois K and Kerri Chandler came over and said ‘that was amazing and on a par with Cielo [another revered Funktion-One-equipped facility in New York City]’ we were over the moon,” continues Cufley. 

The Sound Services team (L-R): Rich Cufley, Curt Gilmore, Nav Ubhi and Michael Oram

“It is consistently the only venue in London where Dixon wants to put on his own parties. He didn’t care about the money or how many people he could fit in, he wanted to do something in London and chose Dolan, The Hydra and Studio Spaces. It doesn’t really get any better than that.”

Care in the Community

Going back to the noise discussion, the people behind The Hydra have done a lot more than just spend a significant amount of cash on treatment to stay in local residents’ good books. Cufley believes the secret is to become a real part of the community, rather than sit back and hope nobody takes action.

“Studio Spaces was such a good proposition because they [the owners] knew there were issues with noisy venues being closed down, and that there were properties nearby, so they wanted to make sure that the building could not be heard by those people,” he says.

“Simply being there to address any complaints is the key to success. The people who run the clubs or events have got to be more diplomatic, transparent and open, and engage with the people who could potentially have a problem with it. Those who don’t do that not only give others a bad name; they do not help the cause when you’re trying to plan or build new places.”

And that’s not all – according to Cufley, the situation is creating a deterrent for those who otherwise would have been keen to launch new clubs and events in the city.

“We’re in a really difficult time when nothing new is opening. There used to be five or six spaces in East London where you could do one-off events and gradually one-by-one they’ve all been shut down because all it takes is one neighbour to complain,” states Cufley.

“It’s such as disadvantage to the people who want to do this that a lot of them have given up and it’s really gone downhill. One of the most vibrant things about London is its music and events – it’s what we’re really good at and we led the field with so it really saddens me.

“It won’t be until it dries up and stops that people realise what we had and what we don’t have now.”

With that in mind, Bergin, Sound Services and not forgetting the clubbers themselves can perhaps count themselves lucky to have a place like Studio Spaces E1 at their disposal.

If there were more spaces like it in London for events such as this, there would surely be less of a cause for concern.