We have decided to stop 2020Soundsystem. Firstly we would like to thank all the people that came to see our shows, as playing live was the fundamental purpose behind the project.
We set up the 2020Soundsystem to experiment with different ways a DJ could perform live with musicians. In the early noughties I was really bored with clubs and DJs, the scene seemed to be going nowhere. A 'live' show in a club environment consisted of a studio producer staring into a laptop screen on stage. I thought that surely we could make a better live presentation of our music. Of course there were notable exceptions - daft punk and The Chemical Brothers had already proved you could take electronic music on the road and make it exciting with a huge stage show, based around visuals, but there was plenty of room left for mixing electronics and instruments as both bands kept strictly to their machines. I wanted to be able to sound like daft punk but have it played by real guys. (In fact the timing of this announcement is interesting as ten years later I am announcing we are stopping just as daft punk announce a new album featuring real musicians)
So why are we stopping?
There are four original members to 2020Soundsystem and I'm sure everyone will have their own opinion but I feel the main reason is that we are now living 6000 miles apart on different continents! We've tried to work it this way for three years now and, unbelievably, have managed to keep it going over this time but it's now become unworkable. I suppose it's like those long distance love relationships, where you promise you'll write and stay in touch but as time goes by it fades away. I believe bands shouldn't go out like that,
"Burn Out Don't Fade Away"
The project started as a collaboration between myself and Danny 'Dubble D' Ward. We played together for years at back to basics where I was the resident DJ and Danny was playing percussion. I actually hated DJing with percussionists in clubs as a general rule and for a time they were everywhere, but Danny, alongside his partner Chris Cruiks, were super tight and worked with the DJ to create a great vibe.
When Fat City records asked me to record a non house DJ mix compilation in 2001 I approached Danny to work with me on it. I wanted to mix old records, which had not been made on computers, that were not possible to beat match. I also wanted to make big tempo changes between tracks so we thought up a method of mixing where Danny played drums over the records, handling the changes in tempo, and then I'd mix tracks into his live drum breaks. He was so good at riding the grooves that the idea worked and the final mix called Stars on 33 became the prototype recording for 2020Soundsystem.
That same year I was sent a demo called Silver City - 1969. I threw it on as, thanks to Iggy Pop and The Stooges, I have always loved songs about 1969, the year I was born. Not only was it a great demo but it was obviously also created using live bass and keys - exactly the instruments we were looking at introducing into 2020Soundsystem. I signed 1969 to 2020Vision and invited the Argentinian duo Fernando Pulichino and Carlos Julian Sanza to Leeds so we could make a go of the idea properly. To my surprise they agreed to try it and came to our cold northern city from Mar Del Plata, Argentina via London.
We got to work quickly on 2020Soundsystem and I started to dig out dubs and drum tracks from my records so the guys had space to play over them. It was very much a jam session at first and totally improvised but we got some good grooves going. I booked the upstairs room of BRB on Call Lane in Leeds for our first ever gig on February 26th 2003. I managed to get a crowd quickly for 2020Soundsystem as I was already well known as a DJ in Leeds and people liked the live idea immediately. So, unlike most bands, our first gig was packed to the rafters. The first thing I noticed was how people reacted to the band format. I was used to people dancing to my music as a DJ but there is a totally different energy that can be created by four people all rocking out together. The gig was a sweaty, enthusiastic success. I became confident we had a good thing going and we got our first ever band photo done -
2020Soundsystem always had a weird way of doing things as a band - we played our first gig without any songs or a singer. The songs turned out to be easier to fix than the singer! We kept meeting up at the makeshift home studio we called The Sweatshop, a named jokingly offered by James Holroyd which stuck. I kept digging out dubs and the guys would play over the top. Fernando and Julian worked as a team, when one lays down a line the other has got it down and complimented it in seconds. When we hit a jam well we'd record it. Then we would take away the records or samples and Dubble D would program new drums and we'd be left with our own original track. We got four that we were happy with and put them together for our first EP called 'All Systems Go'. The EP did quite well on the underground club circuit and as the tracks were quite diverse we managed to attract people from different scenes.
I used and abused my position as a DJ by calling all my connections and every friend I had in the industry and asked them to book us. Two of the first to go for it were Bugged Out! at Sankeys in Manchester and Fabric in London. So we went straight from a bar in Leeds to two of the most prestigious clubs in the country. Not only were they supportive but they also let us play 3 hour sets! The original way we played was that I would come on stage first and start DJing, then Dubble D would come and start adding loops and samples over the top from a separate mixer. Then Fernando and Julian would come on together while Danny moved to percussion and suddenly we were playing as a four piece band. I'd always make sure the lighting changed at the same time. I was always interested in visuals for live shows, so from early on we experimented with our own clips for different sections and tracks. The visuals were handled by Maria Jaramillo and later Kath Lacey. Over the years they developed each piece to sync with each song and created totally original visual artwork for us. The reaction at the clubs was great, we really hit a chord with people wanting something different from their night out. We started to gel as a unit and play well.
Think Big Stages
We'd also hit the timing right for festivals. There were so few live bands out there at the time performing dance music so even a band as low down the ladder as us could get a decent slot. When the festivals started calling they were horrified to hear that we wanted to play for 3 hours, of course, so we had to strip it down to 75 or 60 minutes. To do so we had to change the way we had been playing, which looking back on it was a shame as I loved that original format. We kept working on our own material and put another EP out called Experience but at festivals we realised that we needed bigger songs to rock a crowd so we started work on a couple of covers.
We had been messing around with 'Chase' by Giorgio Moroder and 'Your Love' by Jamie Principle in sessions so we developed those first. As we had very talented musicians on board we decided to ditch all samples and totally re-created a new version of each record. Julian Sanza excelled himself on 'Chase' and spent days and days on the keyboards. We got our version mixed properly by one of Manchester's foremost sound technicians Danny Evans (who is now Elbow's soundman) and I still think it sounds great today. 'Your Love' was harder due to the vocals but Danny had a connection to Diane Charlemagne who sung 'Inner City Life' for Goldie and she was happy to work with us. The verses were not in her range so we found a lovable hairy rocker from Bradford called Pat Fulgoni to sing them - you'd never believe it was his voice if you met him! Maria finished off the project by actually making the heart you see on the front cover above out of sequins.
It's a tried and tested route to work a few covers as a band and I totally recommend it - great songs are there for a reason and nothing should be so sacred you can't offer your interpretation of it. Playing the right cover gets a crowd on your side at a gig - so you can then shove your own paltry material down their throats!
in 2005 things took off for us. We still didn't have an album out but our name had grown, through word of mouth, from the clubs and reached the ears of Sonar Festival in Barcelona. Not only did they book us but they also offered us the closing set on their outside stage, that they have always bizarrely called Sonar Pub (The only similarity to a pub is that you can get alcohol - it is an outdoor arena in Spain that can hold up to 10,000 people.) We were so nervous going into that show but we were ready. I remember being at the back of the stage waiting to go on; Danny was banging out rhythms like Test Department on the scaffolding, Fernando was plucking away at his bass warming up and myself and Julian were deep in thought and pacing up and down. By now we had stripped the live show to 60 minutes and even had a proper set list, which was unheard of for us. The sound was good on stage and we absolutely nailed it. The sun came up for our last half hour and by now, with thanks to Silver City and Ewan Pearson we had our own bona fide big record to play called 'Shiver' which left the crowd in tatters chanting the chorus.
At the end of the show Gracie Rogers, who was taking photos for us, managed to side step security and climb up the scaffolding behind us. She took this iconic image from behind the band capturing the vast crowd at the end of the show, which is the single most important photo ever taken of 2020Soundsystem as we used it for years as a calling card to get gigs. It is also something we can all have as a memory forever.
Work started in earnest to finally make an album after Sonar but we still had the same underlying issue - we had no vocalist. I think the original format without vocals was good but we all appreciated the power of a song and looked into a solution. We had hooked up with New York band The Glass on a remix of their track 'Won't Bother Me' and the mix had been really well received. The Glass turned out to be two top Irish lads living in NYC called Glen Brady and Dominique Keegan. To say we hit it off instantly is an understatement, they are two larger than life, absolute diamond geezers and a whole heap of fun to hang out with. They were also doing well with The Glass and came over for their own European tour in late 2005. We got them a gig at Basics and then booked some studio time together. Dom worked great on vocals on our tracks and we recorded a new version of 'Won't Bother Me' and made a new track called 'No Order' which became the title track of our first album.
Sonar then massively supported our project again, when it's co-founder and musical director Enric Palau allowed us to record the show and use the recording with his festivals name on as a bonus disc on the album. The other disc was studio recordings from The Sweatshop. I still love the first track 'Hit The Fan' and was honoured when Greg Wilson chose it to re-edit for his 2020Vision mix, adding vocals and FX. 'Like Nobody' and 'Can't Stop The Crew' are also cool P-Funk influenced grooves but my personal favourite will always be 'Tape'.
The album came out in 2006 and we became massive stars; toured the world, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show, went out with super models and developed massive drug problems. Actually none of that happened at all. But we did become kinda cool and got booked in clubs like; Watergate in Berlin, The Subclub in Glasgow, back to basics in Leeds, Cabaret Voltaire in Edinburgh, Nouveau Casino in Paris, Deep in Madrid, The Loft in Barcelona and a superb run of festivals including Glastonbury, Bestival, Homelands, Rockness, 10 days off in Ghent, The Glade, Creamfields UK, Skolbeats Brazil, Pitch Electronic, Global Gathering, Playground Festival in Australia, Exit and Creamfields Argentina.
The last two - Exit and Creamfields Argentina have to rank as our best big stage moments alongside Sonar. Of course, it was special for the guys to come back to Argentina and play in front of a huge home crowd before Underworld. I felt, at that point, that the time they had sacrificed in the UK had been worthwhile. At Exit 2007 we had 20,000 people before us in the amphitheatre of the Novi Sad fortress. By that point we had invited Maria to join us on stage to VJ as she looked far cooler than any of us! I think the show looked and sounded amazing.
You have to keep the momentum going
We were too slow following up on the buzz created in 2005-7. It's not just a case of hindsight as I was very aware of it at the time. What we desperately needed was a good manager and good A/R. They are incredibly hard to find in dance music now let alone then. We had self managed the project up to this point and I knew that it needed a proper support team in place. If there's one thing to learn from this story, it is that bands need managers. A good manager is more than worth their 20%. With the recent explosion of EDM in The States I am sure they are all back sniffing around dance acts, but be warned there are many unscrupulous ones out there, but occasionally there are some that are genius. The Clash wouldn't have had the impact they had without Bernie Rhodes and punk would have been very different without Malcolm McLaren (despite what John Lydon believes).
"When you put a great manager together with a great act you can achieve greater things"
We cracked on anyway and I certainly learnt a lot about what a band needs from my own experiences, which has greatly helped understand my own artist's needs at 2020Vision.
We kept working on new material and some good tracks started to pop up. One of them Psycho is still one I love. For me this is when we got it bang on - forget vocals, forget guitars - this is live electronic music, recorded in one take, by four guys all playing together well as a unit. It also destroyed places live because people react to energy.
America is BIG
Then out of the blue I received a really strange message from a guy called Ben Silver. He told me that we were big in the states and that our 'Live at Sonar' mix was regarded as pioneering work for an emerging live electronics scene over there. Apparently this scene had huge numbers of people going out to gigs and festivals. Ben helped with the bookings for a festival called Camp Bisco which was set up by the long running merry pranksters The Disco Biscuits and they wanted us to headline the dance tent, closing the whole festival on July 19th 2008. It is really hard to get a band into the states, with a very tough visa process but we sorted it all out and off we went.
I was really shocked by the support and love we had out there. People knew us and were massively excited to see us. It was just the enthusiasm injection we needed. The show at Bisco was huge for us, the production was incredible and we played to perhaps 5,000 people. We totally destroyed the place and as we walked off stage we got approached by one of the biggest agencies in The States AM Only. We signed up on the spot and toured for two years over there. Legendary New York journalist Bruce Tantum wrote a full page piece on us for Time Out New York which totally filled our first headline gig in the city at Studio B in Brooklyn with an after show at Cielo. We went on to have great times there at Le Poisson Rouge, Santos and elsewhere at Karma for SXSW in Austin Texas, Rothbury and the recently deceased Starscape Festival in Baltimore. We also hit Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Denver, Philadephia, Dallas, Richmond and then even Ozark, Asheville, Charlottesville and more! We were lucky enough to be touring just after Obama became president, the energy levels were so high during those shows, I called it 'The Thank Fuck For That Tour'. I made a series of tour tales films which hopefully give a feel of things on the road there.
There's a series of these on youtube if you can be bothered watching anymore.
America is a big nut to crack though and just because you have a good run doesn't mean you can sustain it. It will strain the bonds of even the best of friends. Danny, particularly, found touring in The States tough and threatened to quit the band on a few occasions. Miami was the final straw on one trip for him. There had been loads of problems with hotels and travel and then the gig itself was a totally embarrassment. We were booked at Liv, which is the same club the Swedish House Mafia's Steve Angello got into a fight with Paris Hilton's bodyguards. I don't know what happened but the promoter had no idea we were a live band and when they found out they tried their hardest to cancel the show. AM Only had enough clout to keep the show on but the club were not on our side to say the least. We had to play to a really commercial hip hop crowd standing on the top of the DJ booth with Danny on his drums so far below us we couldn't even see him. Fernando had the balls to pull it off, rocking out on his bass above the heads of 1500 very disinterested people. We were lucky to escape the club with our lives. When we got home Danny had had enough. We shouted and screamed at each other for a few days and he let me know, in no uncertain terms, that he wasn't going back to The States again.
Great pic of us taken in Dallas in 40 degree heat -
In 2009 we had a hit record. No, not one that goes anywhere near the real charts, I mean an underground club hit. It sat at the top of our world's charts on Resident Advisor for ages and stayed at the Number 1 spot on their most charted songs of all time for over a year. Fernando had written an awesome song called 'Sliding Away' which had been inspired by feeling lonely in Leeds and missing his girlfriend. It really was tough sometimes what the Argentinians went through for the sake of the band. The songs lyrics summed it all up perfectly when I heard him put them down in his bedroom on a cold day in Leeds.
"From this room I get the blinding winter view, can't lose track or be right there near you,
but I can't decide - I go,
I had clicked with a young producer residing in Mannheim Germany called Johnny D. One thing that was useful for the band was my continuing role at 2020Vision records where I find new artists to produce for the record label. It means I am normally pretty quick onto new talent and I spoke to Johnny early on, as soon as I heard his track 'Walkman'. He was happy to produce for us and we gave him the 'Sliding Away' vocal which he turned into an epic 10 minute workout with jazzy keys, strong house beats and Fernando's vocal sitting beautifully on top like a Stone Roses song.
We kept working on songs and overcoming that 'tricky second album' syndrome. We actually totally finished an entire album but it didn't go down well with our A/R at the time so we ditched the whole thing and tried again. It was also a very hard time personally for all of us. The guys were torn between living in the UK and Argentina and it was really taking a strain on them. I also had a really hard year being caught in the middle of a big fall out between good friends in Leeds. Hard times can also be inspirational times though and I wrote my feelings down as lyrics and even ventured into the studio to sing them myself. The track became 'Falling' and it was really how I felt in 2008. We started to find a good path finally with the rest of the material and ended up with an album's worth of music under the same name. I checked 'Falling' out again writing this piece after not hearing it for three years and I really enjoyed it again. There are some tracks on there that I believe will stand the test of time like 'Ocean', 'Dark Matters', 'Everytime', 'Way of Life' and 'Closure'. Fernando wrote all of those and was the driving force behind writing the album apart from 'Falling' and 'Broken'. 'Bisco' was a homage to our time at Camp Bisco mixed by Danny. It was consistently the biggest track we played live.
The album was really well recieved by the music press. We even ended up on the front cover of DJ magazine which is a cool thing to show your mum. The piece was cool but we felt were used to suit their current agenda, which was anti minimal music. I had no desire to wipe minimal music from the face of the planet. I just made one comment about there being a lot of 'boring minimal DJs', which there were but it got blown up and put on the cover. I think having 'Salvation' slapped across your image is also a tough one to live up to. We were still very grateful for the support from DJ magazine though and by and large it was good for us.
On The Road
In 2010, off the back of the album, we finally got offered Sonar again as well as The Garden Festival, The Big Chill and Space Ibiza. I had never been to The Big Chill and really wanted to make it happen, but by now Julian had decided not to return to the UK and Fernando was also living in Buenos Aires. I had always been into The Bays, who I suppose were a similar live outfit to us but more grounded in hip hop and soul. I knew Jamie Odell who played keys in the band, but had recently left and asked if he wanted to play for us. He didn't have any inclination to get back into live playing at the time but he suggested Simon Richmond aka Palmskin Productions from the Bays. Simon is one of those people I feel I shouldn't be on stage with, he is that good. What he can do with a few knobs and some black and white keys is astounding. He was shocked to learn he couldn't bring his Bays set up on our gigs as we couldn't afford the excess luggage but he never complained and he stripped his kit right down. Richmond injected badly needed fresh air into the Soundsystem and we clicked very quickly.
That year we were absolutely awesome on stage, even if I say so myself, every gig was immense, well apart from one - Sonar billed us at exactly the same time as The Chemical Brothers. I was gutted when I found out but it was too late to change the program.
"These things really matter and it is exactly what good management would have avoided"
That year it was not really The Sonar Festival but a Chemical Brothers gig and we were the poor bastards who had to watch as our arena emptied before our eyes as people flooded to see them. I bought as much time for the band as I could by leaving the stage to go and watch them for a bit. But eventually the stage manager found me and told me it was time. We started to no one and to give us credit we built up a crowd and played well but as soon as the Chems finished the arena once again packed out and I was left destroyed. It had taken 5 years to get back to Sonar and a bad programming decision had cost us dearly.
Back on the bright side; The Big Chill and The Garden Festival were absolute dreams. It was so sad to see the Big Chill go down after being such a superb weekend for people. Our gig was packed and perfect. I stayed on to camp out for the first time in years at a festival. I went to see Mad Professor, Roy Ayers, Zero 7 and raved away at The Cubes to the amazing sounds of a young DJ called Seth Troxler. The Garden festival in Pertrcane was also unreal. I was very happy with how we played - In fact I don't think we ever played better. We continued with that line up into 2011 where we destroyed The Terrace at Space for We Love and had good ones at The Warehouse Project in Manchester, Motion in Bristol, Electromar in Spain, Balaton Sound Festival in Hungary and Fabric. We also ticked off a big hometown box by performing at The O2 Academy in Leeds. We made a promo video which sums the year up well -
In 2012 I was struggling to get motivated to keep the band going. I was always the one who did most of the legwork such as booking travel, hotels, pushing for gigs etc and without the buzz of new stuff it was grinding me down. I also had become much more into pure electronic music again and the club scene was really exciting me. Danny was also losing his mojo for the show, but when it came down to a gig we were still on top of our game. People would be amazed when we told them we never rehearsed, as by now although we lived in different countries, we could turn it back on in a day to perform. We put a run of summer dates together culminating at a show for Eastern Electrics festival in London. I didn't know at the time but this was our last show. During that run we recorded a live session of the set we were touring (as I menttion in the film above.) In the end it was only given away at live gigs and will never be released so hold on tight to it if you got one!
I would like to offer my utmost thanks and gratitude to all the promoters who put their confidence in 2020Soundsytem. Especially Judy Griffith at Fabric and Mark Broadbent & Darren Hughes at We Love. I'm pretty sure we were the first full band to play on the Terrace at Space on a Sunday and fabric room one on a Saturday.
What you need to consider is that these guys risked closing off entire areas of their clubs to make space for our set up and spent a load of money on the backline gear we needed. They also put their nights reputation on the line by introducing live drums and instruments to electronic club nights. It was hilarious watching how people reacted to seeing a live kit on a dance floor.
I'd like to thank the guys for changing their lives around for the band and enduring so much work for often so little reward. I'd like to thank girlfriends and families for putting up with the hours and hours of work and travel. I'd like to thank Roberto Pieroni and Danny Evans for making us sound great and easing the stress of live shows. And I'd like to thank the one agent who had the integrity, loyalty and patience to stick with us through the slow times as well as the good times - Mikaël Benhamou at Advance Music.
So do I view the 2020Soundsystem as a success?
Well I've got to say I have struggled with this. I am a highly ambitious person who throws everything into projects and this one has taken up ten years of my life. As you can tell from this piece I feel we could have achieved more with good management at the right time. I also feel we did not manage to fully harness the production potential of such talented people - but on the times we did it was great. We were a very good live band and I am very proud of the project. I think we laid down some heavy ground work for people to follow. The gloves are off and I throw them down for someone to pick up and accept the challenge of running a live band playing electronic music.
Personally I learnt so much about music from the guys and I continue on my path as a far better DJ, where I now return. We are all friends and totally focused on working on new things. You can find us here - Ralph Lawson, Danny Ward, Fernando Pulichino, Julian Sanza, Simon Richmond.
I do feel we played a part in waking up a sleeping electronic music scene into the possibilities of live performance. We did help new software technologies such as Ableton Live make a mark and develop into the mainstream. We did make some half decent records and we did travel the world and (largely) have fun. We entertained thousands and thousands of people and spread a whole lot of love. I just hope we made a few people's nights special...