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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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After the first edition of the RH House Of Music magazine, we really liked the idea of doing a magazine, and that has lead to the second edition in the making!  The upcoming HOM features stories on Invisible City Editions, Awanto 3, Sahel Sounds’ Mamman Sani and more…

To warm up for it, we decided to put Xosar’s feature online that we published in the first edition. Enjoy!

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Very pretty, but far more bright, Sheela Rahman a.k.a. XOSAR picked up producing electronic music after studying neuropsychology. After her first release, not so long ago, she agreed with Rush Hour to put out a few beautiful records. In a short space of time, we got to know her as an interesting lady in her cockpit of electronic musical hardware.

We had a conversation about her releases on Rush Hour, about soundtracking scenes in life and how she conjures magic when she creates music.


Let’s start at the point of your first release. You hadn’t put anything out before your release on L.I.E.S., and then there was this really peculiar, dark but above all super refined EP called ‘Tropical Cruize’. To me this release sounded like you had been producing interesting stuff for a long time. Why didn’t you put out music earlier?

Releasing the tracks wasn’t a huge priority for me, I was more concerned with the feelings associated with making the music, the endorphin rush that each new melody would induce, that satisfaction synchronicity induces when the elements fall into place. I wanted other people to share these feelings, so I posted some tracks on the internet. Eventually people started contacting me saying they were interested in releasing it. They usually thought I was a guy and addressed me as “bro” or “man”, but I was ok with that. For some reason it made me feel powerful.  After flirting with the idea of becoming a faceless producer, I decided to just be myself, so here I am!

In a short time you have released quite a few records. As far as I know each one has got its own peculiar vibe, or story. Can you tell me more about how the releases came to be? Let’s talk about your output on Rush Hour, starting with ‘Ghosthaus’.

I recorded it in San Francisco, right after my room mates and I decided our house was haunted.  This excited me. I imagined that I was starring in a paranormal TV series. In each episode I’d be contacted by the central intelligence agency, they would inform me of my next mission, then I would go onto investigate whatever UFO landing site or haunted house I would need to go to and hopefully solve the mystery. After much time spent fantasizing, I decided I might as well concoct a theme song for the opening credits of this fictitious tv-series: ‘Ghosthaus’.

Haha, nice. How about ‘Nite Jam’?

When I was young, I wasn’t allowed to go out. No parties, no friends. Definitely no boyfriends. I lived in the suburbs, the closest entertainment within a 5 mile radius was a Vietnamese strip mall and a Toyota dealership. In my solitude, my only escape was music and books and I started to idealize this concept of seductive big city life in my head. The city is where all the energy is, where things happen, the jugular. In this vision, I’d descend unto the dusk, foot heavy on the pedal, wind against my cheek, deep and sensual beats blaring. I’d pull up to an underground warehouse party and immerse myself into the music and the atmosphere of the mystical gathering, sharing some sort of transendental experience with the other party goers. I would fantasize about this scenario and city life in general.  When I stayed with my parents for a week in the beginning of last year, I was remembering all these childhood fantasies of mine, trying to capture the imagined scenes, giving them justice by giving them a soundtrack. That was ‘Nite Jam’.

Last but certainly not least: ‘The Calling’.

I produced this in Los Angeles at the end of last year.  This isn’t so much soundtracking a fantasy this time, but more like soundtracking my real LA life. I was living in this wild mansion with seven people, I’d be meeting all sorts of new people every day. I went to the desert nature in palm springs on the weekends, and was working in a warehouse in downtown doing graphic design during the week. It is a colorful song to a colorful upbeat time in my life.

You have studied neuropsychology and you are a graphic designer. And, it can’t be ignored, you are a woman. What inspired you to start producing electronic music?

I started producing music on my mint green Kermit the Frog Casio EP-10 in the east side of San Jose when I was 5 years old. I took some time off to fulfill my trivial earthly requirements such as school, then I picked up where I left off about 4 or 5 years ago. I just had this unshakable desire to recreate certain vibes that I’ve either imagined or experienced but have always clung to because of the unexplainable mysterious magic they conjure.

I reckon you were the only girl around being into it?

Only girl? Hmm more like only person! After I took an interest in both electronic music and producing, it took several years for me to find like-minded people.  Where I grew up, everyone listened to hip hop and rap, and freestyle which was cool. When I finally went to audio engineering school there were only 4 people in the class. I was the only girl though, yes, along with a dubstep producer, a hardcore speedcore freak, and a 73-year-old one-armed medieval new age producer.

How did you pick up producing music? What were your first electronic musical instruments and why?

After many failed attempts at learning software myself and just not knowing where to start, I consulted with my close friend Adeptus to help me figure it out. He sat for many hours, explaining to me the intricacies of programming the Electribe using the EA-1. There’s something incredibly special about the Electribe. It enables you to glide through time and space with impeccable finesse, you never have to disrupt your creative flow with some decision about which Ableton preset patch to select. I practiced every day, recording bits and pieces into garage band.

This wasn’t good enough though. I wanted a more robust understanding of production and sound, I wanted a solid fountation based in fact and precision. After swooning over this audio engineering school for several months, I saved just enough money to afford it. I had a full time job and after work at 6 every day I would ride my bike 10 minutes to my audio engineering classes. When I was there, I finally got that foundation I was looking for, they taught me all about everything from how to program a synthesizer to music theory to breaking down the production merits of Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works 85-92’.

You moved to De Hague, how do you like it so far? From your point of view, how is San Francisco different from De Hague? 

Both are very beautiful, different places with a lot of personality. San Francisco has the big city vibes, the Netherlands has the old world energy. There isn’t a whole lot of raw nature in San Francisco as accessible as it is in the Netherlands. That’s one of the reasons I love the Netherlands for the time being, because I like to have easy access to nature, the beach, the dunes, the forest.

Xamiga and Trackman Lafonte & BonQuiQui are your collaborations with Legowelt. In what way do you find each other while making music and how do you approach the process of making music completely different?

Lately Danny (Wolfers, Legowelt) likes to sequence all his melodies in Ableton and I love to play them by hand. I like the idea of sequencing the melodies with a computer, and it’s probably more precise that way, but I feel like I can access and channel certain parts of your body and soul when I play live that you can’t attain quite as well when you are doing it through machine-like programming. Although you can achieve some pretty freaky intense results that way at least. Everyone is different and thrives under different conditions though. Danny has been producing for 10 years more than me, so he probably has advanced further into a level that I don’t yet understand fully.

You know that Kermit Casio I was talking about earlier? Well I still have it and I use it on Xamiga songs sometimes. For ‘Kermit’s day out’, I threw down some melodies onto a kick then Danny supplemented with additional percussive sounds then we kept sending the file back and forth until we got bored then we called it done.

I know Legowelt has a thing for his Amiga 1200. I was wondering… Is Xamiga a combined name, Xosar + Amiga?

It’s actually the name of a baby tiger we met in Las Vegas at Siegfried and Roy’s tiger refuge.

At this point you are working on your first album, it will be put out on Rush Hour. What can we expect? Or is it all still a big blur?

I’d prefer to let the music speak for itself, I’m more curious to see what kinds of worlds and fantasies the music conjures in the minds of the listeners!

Of course you still have dreams of things you’d like to do or that could happen. Can you give an example? 

You know what the biggest room in the world is? The room for improvement! I really hope to improve my production skillset and I guess my life skillset in general. I hope to jam with my friends more, and hopefully star in a paranormal tv series. ;)

 

Text: Mijke Hurkx
Translation and editing: Max Cole

 

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