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The fifth House Of Music magazine is due out in the following weeks, which awakens memories of some of the articles in last year’s edition. For the occasion of returning to Paris this weekend for the celebration of RH’s 20th anniversary at the beautiful Macki Music festival, we think it’s fair to share a great Parisian story online from last year.

photo: Bernie van VlijmenE&S HEADQUARTERS, PHOTO BERNIE VAN VLIJMEN

After over 40 years, the DJ industry has become worth billions – but that little lightweight known as the DJR400 is still a boutique rotary mixer, handmade for a bunch of audiophiles and purists. In the previous House Of Music, we spoke with Floating Points about his Isonoe rotary mixer. Now it’s time to properly highlight E&S, the company that re-introduced this type of mixer for the market. Their rotary box is supported by the likes of Theo Parrish, Kerri Chandler and Joe Claussell, among many others.

The Electronique Spectacle DJR series was carefully designed by DJ Deep and engineer Jerôme Barbé at the start of the century, and has been hand-produced by Barbé and his two co-workers ever since. “With E&S, I am happy to go against the flow of society, because everything is disposable. I like to build things that are designed to last”, Barbé says in his studio.

October 2015 was a warm month in Paris. We arrived at audio engineer’s Jerôme Barbé studio in our summery outfits. Excited as we were, we didn’t know what to expect at the place where the magic happens – the magic that inspired the revival of the rotary DJ-mixer over a decade ago.

“Desole, je ne parle pas anglais. Mais oui, Jerôme est ici, entrez,” we heard through the intercom. The gate opened and we entered a beautiful residence with a cute courtyard. We expected to encounter a sonically optimized work environment, possible a vast space with excellent acoustics. On the contrary: we found two men working in a small barn, stuffed with all kinds of objects. Wires, scrubs, metal, machines and more machines. Barbé co-worker, who answered the door, went back to his desk to solder components.

IMG_5436JERÔME BARBÉ IN HIS STUDIO. PHOTO: BERNIE VAN VLIJMEN

E&S is not used to receiving visitors, and their studio is situated in a quiet residential area. When E&S are in touch with their customers, it’s either via email or on the phone. As we looked around, we scrutinised every corner of the studio – a studio that totally serves and breathes analog equipment, run by a few of the best French men in electrical audio engineering. There’s only one hidden spot in the studio, and that’s where Barbé has hidden his Moog synth.

The engineer
Despite Jerôme Barbé’s full-time occupation, the audio-engineer doesn’t have much experience with clubbing. He would rather go out for a good concert. “I listen to classical music on my DJR, to all kinds of things. For me, she’s not limited to one style”, he says.

Barbé loves music, but he isn’t a musician. He’s a listener, with a disposition of character to construct and deconstruct. He started building machines at a young age, which encouraged him to learn from the best in all sorts of fields. It really started for him when he was only 10 years old, building synthesizers, trying things out. “Back then I loved bands like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk. When I got my first synthesizer – the Korg MS20 – I didn’t play it, but took it apart it to see what was in there. Then I knew I really had a thing for electrical engineering,” he recalls.

The self-taught engineer trained himself to become one of the best men in his field, after working on all sorts of projects. “Together with Jean Louis Dierstein I worked for Moog as a certified technician, fixing synthesizers and sequencers for customers”,Barbé starts. “Just the two of us, because Moog had only only two people working in the French warranty devision.” At that time, Barbé mostly repaired synths, but he also worked for hurdy-gurdy player Pierre Charial. After he got bored of repairing stuff, he started building his own machines and that’s when a French legend came into play. “In the early days of MIDI technology, I created MIDI-kits for old synthesizers. I even worked for Jean-Michel Jarre back then, that was really something special…”

photo: Bernie van VlijmenSTORAGE. PHOTO: BERNIE VAN VLIJMEN

A revival
The E&S company was founded when slider mixers were already dominating the DJ booth for years, and the classic rotaries had vanished into oblivion. Some DJs and audiophiles weren’t happy with the new DJ standard, because they came from a different background and aesthetic. One of them was French DJ and audiophile Cyril Etienne des Rosaies aka DJ Deep. He asked Jerôme Barbé to fix his classic Urei 1260 DJ mixer and was happily surprised with the result. Barbé explains: “I came with the idea to take it from the Urei technology and build a similar mixer from scratch. The first mixer we’ve built looks like the classic Urei mixer, but I changed a few things that I didn’t like. I gave it a VU-meter instead of cue, for example.”

After over more than a year of tweaking and numerous listening sessions with Des Rosaies and others, Barbé nailed the sound esthetic that was the standard for the classic mixers. The two finished their first mixer, the DJR100, which was almost a copy of the classic Urei 1620. After that, E&S continued with a model that had never been made before : a rotary for portable use. “A mixer is like a musical instrument. Some DJs are attached to theirs, like musicians to their guitar. With the DJR400 they don’t have to adapt to different set-ups each night, because they plug and play their own mixer. In short, the DJR400 arose after levelling with many heads in the field. DJ Deep initiated the conception of his prototype, Kerri Chandler came with the idea of a portable machine and the idea for intergrating isolators came from Joe Claussell.”

The DJR400 turned out to be the most popular – Kerri Chandler, Danny Krivit, Joe Claussell and Dimitri From Paris became the hand-made mixer’s ambassadors and the machine received acclaim from DJs and audiophiles alike. Thanks to the buzz that DJ Deep created, E&S had the opportunity to grow.

Jerôme Barbé gives us a little tour in his studio. It’s an exciting place, with lots of fascinating stuff kicking around in there. Barbé’s co-worker is welding pieces together behind his desk. “The handmade principle is not particularly about crafting the whole mixer ourselves. We order components too, such as the chips. It’s about the way the machine is put together – that’s pure alchemy”, Barbé emphasizes.

photo: Bernie van VlijmenTHE MACHINE. PHOTO: BERNIE VAN VLIJMEN

The machine
In conversation with the Main Man, we finally had the occasion to bust some mixer-myths. To start off with the weight… A mixer is basically an amplifier and we tend to think that the weighty amplifiers are the best. In the early days, the legendary classic Bozak rotary was a heavy, extremely powerful mixer, with discrete class-A components. Although the DJR 400 is lightweight and contains integrated circuits, it’s still sound. Barbé explains how.

Before E&S, Barbé had also worked with class-A technology. The Parisien analog gear obsessive Philippe Zdar (Cassius) asked Barbé to build a custom class-A mixer. “I made a specific design with a tone control like the classic Bozak had. There is a clear difference between the two technologies. The discrete transistors are class A components and the chips are class A/B. The class A components are more linear, they reduce sound distortion”, he explains. “I’m using class A/B components. Sound is all about distortion and bandwith. With class A components your reach is bigger, it’s possible to go from +24 to -24 volts. However, with class A/B components, they go from +19 to -19.” He continues: “My mixers are made out of lightweight aluminium and they’re thinner. And like the Urei 1260, the DJR works with chips instead of discrete circuits, which reduces weight.”

Another popular question concerning rotaries: What’s the use of an analog mixer when you play digital ? “This doesn’t really concern the mixer”, Barbé says. “The conversion takes place outside the mixer. So the mixer doesn’t interfere with the sound, it’s the CD player that does. Upstream in the production process, the sound has already been digitally inflicted. The output depends on the vinyl press or the mastering of the CD. There’s no absolute answer to this question. There are converters from 200 e to 20.000, so that the mp3 itself is also not the issue. It all depends on the different elements involved.”

Custom made
E&S’ acclaim has grown over the years. They’ve got more and more rave reviews and more and more orders, but they still produce only three machines a week. E&S is substantial in the minds of audio freaks, and the DJR400 has cemented its place in audio history. And although the company could probably have a much bigger position in the billion dollar DJ industry, it’s still housed in a barn. It was time to ask Jerôme Barbé how he keeps up with the demand – and about his infamous waiting list… “Nonsense”, Barbé replies. “I dont know who wrote on which blog that you have to wait two years to have one. It’s completely false. One year ago it would have taken six weeks. Now that I have extra work force, it can be between one or two months. But if we go faster, we have to rush and that would damage the quality of the product, and also the image of the brand.”

So Barbé sticks to his original ways, offering tailor-made machines for all kinds of artists and customers, with a great sense of detail and responsibility for what he produces. “When a machine is well-calibrated, it can be mass-produced as a model. Sure. The thing with E&S, is that I produce disparate designs, and that doesn’t allow me to produce 100 machines at once.”

The studio has a large amount of shelves with little buckets for different components – one especially for Joe Claussell. “Joe Claussell had the most challenging request for E&S. He wanted me to merge two 400’s, which I’d never done before. To be honest, I still ask myself what he wanted this for. He probably didn’t have enough isolators.”

Good ol’
Jerôme Barbé is happy with the way things are. Orders drop in through email or on the phone and everything is self-financed with the customer’s deposit. When a machine is finished, it’s boxed and shipped to the customer by the same responsible team that built it. During work, he listens to music on a low cost set up – and that’s perfectly fine for him. Every once in a while a customer pops in to pay their respects. “I prefer to produce less and to be fully engaged with my customers. When you produce more, you have less attention for each individual assignment. And then the returns come. Each machine is produced with a lot of care. I prefer to work like this, instead of having 50 percent of the machines come back for repairs. My job is not to mass produce – I don’t know how to do it”, he concludes.

Back to work
We have to go, time’s up – Jerôme Barbé is a busy man. However, he can still find a moment to talk about E&S, their service and the principle of mass-production. And then – we guess – he has found his mission statement : “With E&S, I am happy to go against the flow of society, because everything is disposable. I just like to build things that last. Modernity offers us beautiful things, but most are really ephemeral.”

Words: Souleiman Bouri & Mijke Hurkx

THE ROTARY MIXER – AN INTRODUCTION:

The first mixer to ever be made available for the DJ market was a rotary mixer – a mixer with only rotary knobs. The first models – the Bozak CMA-10-2DL and a little later the Urei 1620 – were specifically designed for big, analog sound systems. Heavy, expensive and powerful, these were made with the best components in order to generate the best sound. Hand-made and solid as a rock, the makers’ goal was to reproduce the audio as realistically as possible. The mixers were developed in an era when clubbing was still an emerging phenomenon. Only a few big clubs existed, and those clubs had excellent sound systems, thanks to the high quality club equipment available during this period. Bozak’s mixer could be found in Nicky Siano’s Gallery in Studio 54, and after that in the Paradise Garage. This type of mixer slowly disappeared in the 80s, because of the growing number of clubs around the world, and there were simply not enough hands to produce the number of mixers that were needed. As a result, new models were developed and the DJ mixer became available for a larger market. This new generation of mixers was industrially produced and instead of rotary knobs, they had sliders. Slider mixers were mass-produced, rather than hand-made and rather than designed to be the best, were built to serve the emerging DJ-market. Years later, E&S built a machine in line with the originals, inspiring the birth of a new generation of rotaries.

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