- Published on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 13:38
Flare Audio is a relatively new speaker manufacturer, but they're already making a fair amount of noise thanks to the innovative advances in audio technology they've managed to make in just two years. Not only have they picked up Plasa's 2013 Innovation Award, but they look set to give Funktion-One and the rest of the leading sound system manufacturers a run for their money. Head of the company Davies Roberts has immersed himself in the world of sound in an attempt to crack the secret of supplying pure, untainted audio to the masses and he think he's cracked it. By all accounts, Flare Audio's speakers do a very impressive job – even Andy C was blown away after a recent gig at the Brixton Academy. Here MEOKO speak with Davies about Flare, how he developed its technology and its repercussions for audio at all levels...
So how did you get involved with making speakers in the first place?
I got into it pretty late on in my life, around 2005 – I was a fireman for 13 years but had always been involved in electronics. I had a mobile disco when I was very young and was always a lover of music. My wife Naomi (who's also a director at Flare) started working for the council doing events. I went along to an event and thought, 'I can do this', so I borrowed some speakers, soldered some cables together and did this gig, for a live band. Without any prior knowledge or experience of live sound, I engineered the gig and fell in love with sound and the delivery of pro audio. Over the next few months I started Purple Audio in 2007, which was a rental company, I quickly established that company as a reputable, high quality sound provider.
Over the following nine or ten months I became aware that I wasn't happy with the sound quality that we were providing at Purple. I was noticing huge distortion and everyone was saying it was either not loud enough, or too loud, it was hurting their ears... all these different complaints about sound quality. So, in 2009, I formed Flare Audio – originally as a small manufacturer for our own equipment, again that took off quite significantly.
Nice one, and where did you go from there?
Well my first speaker designs took a different approach, we weren't tuning speakers like you would tune instruments. I wasn't getting a cabinet and I wasn't making it resonate. What I was doing was making the drivers become pistons and we started to realise, 'Hey there's still some wood in there shaking around, there's still some resonance', so we tried to really pinpoint where the problem was. Sound is very simple; if you think about your ears, they're just a flap of skin that moves backwards and forwards at different speeds to give us different frequencies. It's a compression and expansion of particles, it's that simple – so why are speakers not producing accurate sound? That was the challenge.
How did you go about tackling this challenge?
Around last June I realised how to solve the problems. There were two issues surrounding the speakers, 1) The cabinet resonating. You have a square box and a driver inside vibrating like mad inside, if the sides of it flex the internal volume changes – no matter how small the change, if the volume changes it affects the driver. Because a driver is like putting a bit of clingfilm over a box. To illustrate this, the way to understand it is: If I you compare a guitar string to the side wall of a loudspeaker, if I want to stop it resonating we don't want to put our finger on the thread because that will change the frequency, it's still going to resonate. We don't want to use a thicker string because a thicker string will lower the frequency but still resonate. If we're going to stop a guitar string moving we have to put some weight on it and stop it moving, and that's what Space Technology does. It applies compression to the speakers, to the front and back plate – you tighten up the bolts and it stops the structure from oscillating independently, it becomes one unified structure. That's the first problem solved...
And the second problem?
Once you've stopped the box resonating, the other issue is pressure. Through our research we've created what we call 'Vortex Technology': lots of lots of small vortices, which kill the sound energy but allow the pressure to evacuate the box – so it's like completely silencing the port inside a loudspeaker. Those two technologies together mean we have a structure that doesn't resonate and no pressure inside the box.
How long did it take you to get your head round all of this and put it into practice?
It's a long, hard process – from June last year up to now it's been all about getting the patterns formed. The way we've done it, as a pro audio company, is to consider the needs and wants of the artists, the engineers, the big events and taken our ideas of what a speaker needs to be and made a prototype. We've got a lab here, so we built a speaker knowing what the frequency range needed to be and so on. The interesting thing for us is, we're not just a professional audio speaker manufacturer, we're going into the studio market, domestic and home and we're going to be taking the technology right down to micro level because it can be applied to any sound producing or receiving device. It's going to take calm and control over the coming years – we've unlocked the secrets to clear sound, so we're going to now apply them to each market. Speaker boxes have been stuck in their ways for the last 40 years, and it's because they've been treated as instruments and not scientific devices.
The real turning point came when I realised that what was in ever loudspeaker was 'wadding', you know the fibreglass they put in speakers? That was the first realisation of where the key issues were coming because that adds significant amounts of friction. When the driver moves back and forth it's got to move all the air around that wadding and that's the bit we don't have in our speakers. Because we've isolated the resonance and there's nothing else inside our speakers but wood and metal, it's bare inside and that was the key.
And you've been roadtesting the speakers at events haven't you? Tell me about that... ?
We did two nights at the Brixton Academy, we did Andy C's Ram night. At that gig we had a Q18 along the frontal space, two hangs of X5A, which is a small amount for a two tier building. We had the new SB21s for surrounding and the X3C also for surrounding. That was the first time we'd used the technology at a large event and we were getting unprecendented levels inside – the clarity and volume was quite insane. The most impressive thing was, you could walk out of the main room and go by the production entrance and you couldn't hear a thing. That's one of the benefits of this technology is, if you create pure sound you can control pure sound – it's the distortion that's causing all the problems with noise control.
Earlier this year I went to IMS in Ibiza and I watched Jean Michel Jarre's interview there – he made a great point which was, as the technology to create music has evolved and improved, the means by which it's delivered has actually devolved. We now listen to low quality MP3s through laptop speakers, rather than having a plush home stereo system – I guess your technology could help in reversing this.
That hits the nail right on the head really. MP3s are a bad thing – but you can understand why they came along, at the time they were introduced, we didn't have the storage capacity on our computers. We need to wean people off them, WAVs are now completely storable, you can fit a lot of information on your computer now. The thing is, people have got to be made to hear the difference. At home, as the world kicks along things have got to be made cheaper and lighter and that has been a really bad thing for speaker technology in the home – you've got everything made in plastic, with cheap drivers, you can't even tell the difference between an MP3 and a WAV. We've got a new speaker that we're working on at the moment that's a flat panel you can put on your wall – the next step is to make a speaker that is very low profile, which we're also working on.
Do you hope that Flare will be used in not only for concerts and clubs, but in cinemas and places that need big sound?
Yeah, our idea is to have one unified platform where artists could go into the studio and make their track, come out of there into their car, or their home or even into a field at a festival and it sounds exactly the same. That's the mission of the company. Obviously the consumer market is very different from pro audio, you need to make things very cheaply and on a mass production level. We're taking one step at a time, but we're aiming to become a significant player in a short amount of time.
Tell me more about the company, as I know you work a lot with local businesses?
Yes, everything is made in Britain. We use specialist local firms to make all our parts, about a year ago I scouted the real talent in this country for making aluminium and wood and contacted them with regard to using their materials. Having something that's made really well is equally as important to us as the clarity of our sound, you don't just want to make a great speaker but it falls apart within a few months. We don't have to outsource to China or anywhere else, the speakers are simple and fast to make so they can be assembled here. We can train people up to do it here in Britain.
Since Funktion-One, Martin Audio and Void are among the most common audio manufacturers that are used in a club environment, I wanted to know how Flare differs from those and improve on the sound in a club?
We differ significantly. As I said, in the past speakers have been used like musical instruments – so they've been hand-tuned and electronically corrected. I won't mention brand names, but the designs have been used for years. Both of those approaches are what we call 'damage control', they're getting the speaker and trying to make it resonate nicely – which, to us, is fundamentally wrong. A loudspeaker should be producing sound without any resonance. It's like if you have a really sharp and defined sound, you wouldn't place it in a box, you wouldn't slap a reverb over the top of it. You've got a box with a port, the sound's bouncing around inside that box – it might come out deeper, or really rich, but you actually listen to the information in that tone it's all false enhancement, it's all tuning that really shouldn't have happened. With our speakers, because the drivers just react to what they're given it means that when you take any frequency, all the way down to 20/30hz, you're only going to get that out when it's in the track.
When you put our systems in a club environment, like the Knife Party gig at Brixton Academy last week, it goes incredibly clean. The resonance is the space then becomes beautiful. We've put it into churches, we've put into tunnels, we've put into spaces that are regarded pretty badly from an acoustic point of view (like Brixton) – because there's no resonance to start with, the room, the reverb of the room, adds to the sound. Whereas, before it was losing little bits of detail that were just about left in certain frequencies and making it hard to engineer. From a clubbing point of view, you're going to get really clean sound going into the space that has a beautiful natural resonance. That's why we want to get Flare into the Royal Albert Hall or awkward spaces, because you're going to have the acoustics coming into play in a positive way.
Tell me more about the reduction in noise pollution?
If you're producing linear tracks and frequencies, most tracks are generally flat and, of course, they have peaks where the transients come in. But if you're producing sound in a uniform, linear way and you shut a door then you can hear all the sound drop out because you're not hearing the 'thump, thump, thump' of 80hz, which is all distortion and all pressure coming out and travelling through walls. The key is, if you're prouducing everything evenly, you should hear it all drop down at the same level – the key is getting it linear.
Another aspect is the hearing. At Knife Party, where it was incredibly loud, no ear-ringing at all – myself and most of the engineers went all night without any ear plugs as well. You ears felt tired, but there was no audible damage to hearing. Distortion is one of the main factors in hearing damage, I certainly found if I'd had ringing after a gig it would be from a system that's been distorted, even at low levels.
I also wanted to highlight something else – you always know when you've got a flat linear system, or accurate system when you can play everything on it from classical to dubstep, rock to opera, and everything is a reference. That's what I always used to do when I was testing systems, if they could play one thing and not another, then they weren't that great! So that's the important thing with our technology, you don't need another system, you could play rock one night and dubstep the next. It's very versatile.
That's great! Just to finish up, where can people go over the coming months to experience the Flare system?
There's a place in London called Ace Bros, who've got the full range of professional kit and they'll be doing State London's party on January 18th. That will be one of the first outings for the X3A, which is our aluminium product – they're working with Pablo Godofredo to deliver a really unique experience in London. That will be one of the first club nights to utilise our technology. We have a full compliment of events happening at the Brighton Centre soon, too.
So there you have it, Flare Audio purports to be an innovation in sound and is set to revolutionise clubs, concerts and even cinema and home sound when it eventually starts to roll out. Check out yourself and let us know what you think of it...
By Marcus Barnes
- Published on Thursday, 31 October 2013 12:58
Ibiza 2013 might have ground to a halt near on a month ago now, but for Pacha the party never ends. On Friday, November 1st, the iconic nightspot welcomes Next Wave to the club, a partnership that many may at first consider a little incongruous. While the party's bold, minimal aesthetic struggled to fully take off at Privilege's Vista Club this summer, there can be no denying that they were responsible for some of the more intriguing, forward-thinking lineups on offer this season. Making sure they saw out the season in style, they invited the likes of Ricardo Villalobos and RPR Sound System to oversee a closing party to remember.
Occupying Pacha for the first time, Next Wave has invited Dani Casarano and Cadenza staple Valentino Kanzyani to headline, with resident Angel Linde on warm-up duty. Taking place on All Soul's Day—a bank holiday in Ibiza—and with all the other superclubs shut for winter, you can be sure the venue will be populated by an enthusiastic, local crowd. And you never know in Ibiza: should the party go down a storm, this could be the start of a very interesting relationship.
Doors open at 11.30 on Friday, 1st November, and close at 6 AM.
- Published on Thursday, 24 October 2013 14:06
It’s been some time coming – and much too many heads’ expectations, it’s certainly been worth the wait. Swiss genius Deetron – never one to fully stretch himself through a barrage of releases – returns to the album format for Music Over Matter, effortlessly blending house and techno aesthetics but at the same time voyaging towards a more populist sound. The bare bones of a typical Deetron production are there in abundance – switching tempos, driving rhythms, intricate layering – but melded with pop undertones and a rich coating of melodic, hook-laden sensibilities.
One of the most notable traits of Music Over Matter is it's punch packing, all-star cast of featured guests. Opening the album is London house producer Cooly G on hazy vocals and Ripperton on 'Thinking', a tapestry of broken beats and awkward bass before launching in to the disco-house tomes of Crave featuring NYC’s Hercules and Love Affair. Bass inflected tech roller Love Song brings 'Seth Troxler' into the mix. Ben Westbeech breaks from his Breach alias to return to his soul drenched r’n’b roots on 'Rhythm', adding extra commercial dimension without dominating the track, , whilst the irrepressible Fritz Kalkbrenner brings his soulful tones to an Orchestral moment of reflection on 'Bright City Lights'.
But feat not - when Deetron steps out solo (without the cushion of collaboration), it's head down business as usual, 'Count on Me' continues along Deetron's more familiar tech-house path before descending into an 8 bit bassline jack. 'Can't Love You More' takes the vocal element and uses it as a rhythmic instrument rather than a focal point, fusing it with thumping kicks, smooth fluid temp amd open-chord guitar strums.
If the album title leans at the promise to place substance over style and to place the focus on the music squarely back in the frame, then Deetron has delivered as promised. Cascading through a range of sounds and styles – but still containing that smooth yet rough, rolling yet introverted and dance-floor focused yet heartfelt, Deetron shows once again he's not afraid to take a risk, and to use his special, unique talent in territories beyond his comfort zone. To say this album is accomplished would be something of an understatement, and in the on going battle of Musical substance vs stylistic matter, Music most certainly prevails.
By Joe Gamp
- Published on Monday, 21 October 2013 16:24
There are some experiences in life that once experienced, we know we’ll try our hardest to recreate again and again, whenever possible......
Picture by Marc Sethi
I’m sure I speak for most who’ve been lucky enough to attend, that venturing to one of the many music festivals dotted along the Adriatic coast is definitely one of these experiences. For me, there is something justifiably addictive about the following scene (if you can picture it): a writhing, sweaty mass of beautifully tanned bodies, thousands of pairs of feet gently stomping from side to side on a grand stage of pebbles, necks and shoulders glazed by the Croatian sun, limbs pulsating to the vibrations of looming sound systems, and smiling faces as far as the eye can see. It is an image that will burn the back of my retinas throughout the winter months, basically until I’m back on that beach and can witness it once again. The beautiful thing about Croatian festivals? There’s no need for dance workshops, thousands of metres of bunting, or towering Block 9-esque installations. People survive happily on three basic things: music, sun, and some inhibition removers (if you catch my drift). It’s just perfect.
Picture by Marc Sethi
Dimensions Festival has all of these features in abundance, and for the second year in the row it is proving to be one of the most, if not THE most, perfect settings for experiencing them. I have tried with all my might to write a balanced account of the various pros and cons of my four days at Dimensions, to outline as objectively as one can, the musical highlights and the organisational successes. But, truthfully, all I want to write is just how utterly magical the whole festival was, how my expectations from its first year were not only met but exceeded, and how I will definitely be returning next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.
In my opinion, there are three key reasons behind the beauty of Dimensions Festival: the insanely picturesque Istrian location (beach front during the day and abandoned 19th century fort at night), the fun-loving, not too posey, and musically-educated crowd, and the superbly-curated lineup. It’s these elements that informed the countless moments, on all four days, where I would stand and look out in amazement and think how lucky I was to be in such a beautiful setting, listening to such mind-blowingly good music, and surrounded by such beautiful people. I remember vividly walking out on to the beach party on the very first day and leaping with excitement, seeing the sprawls of happy people dancing and swimming, hearing chilled lo-fi soundwaves travel over the water, and exclaiming to my friends “ISN’T IT JUST BEAUTIFUL?!”. We all knew from the start that we had made the right decision to return to Pula this year, but throughout the weekend it we were continuously astonished at just how much fun we were having.
Photo by Dan Medhurst Photography
Photo by Dan Medhurst Photography
Despite relatively large success after their debut event last summer, the organizers still pulled out the stops this year making clear efforts to place Dimensions as one of the best electronic events in Croatia. Noticeably more thought was put into the production on many of the stages especially the Beach Party and the addition of The Clearing stage was, I think, relatively successful in limiting some of the human traffic in the main part of the arena. Obviously, one of the biggest additions to the fesival was the Opening Ceremony party on the Wednesday night, that invited some massive headliners down to party in, undoubtedly, one of the best concert venues I’ve ever been to: The Pula Arena, a Roman amphitheatre in the centre of town. The only remaining amphitheatre of its kind with four remaining walls, this Colloseum-esque construction is naturally acoustic and was consequently an incredible arena in which to see the likes of Portico Quartet, Mount Kimbie, and, of course, Bonobo with a full live band. It was pretty cool, to say the least.
Photo by Dan Medhurst Photography
But the real musical treats came over the following four days; so many in fact, that I couldn’t even possibly outline them without going into full blown essay-mode. From the educating Giles Peterson to the sublimely soulful Eglo Records showcase, the sun-kissed beach party led by Romare to The Analogue Cops’ brain-melting techno fest in the Moat, the predictably life-affirming hours of disco and old school cuts from 3 Chairs to the out-of-nowhere set from Moxie that blasted her Deviation colleagues completely out of the water – the variation and the quality was consistently astounding (if you can imagine such an oxymoron!) Plus, we need to take a moment to give praise to the brains and brawn behind The Outside the Fort arena, whoever they may be, for providing the most intense and crisp sound on site and for basically being THE SPOT four nights in a row - never stop what you’re doing, team, you da bestest!
Photo by Marc Sethi
Photo by Marc Sethi
Interestingly, many of this year’s acts were invited to return from their performances last year, resulting in a strong sense of continuity and progression, a feeling that some labels and collectives have deservedly become part of the Dimensions fabric. Having spent almost six hours watching the Eglo family feed their delicious soup of soul, disco, and hip hop to the Outside the Fort Stage, and then again for another three hours on the Eglo Records boat party – the team headed up by Alexander Nut definitely felt like a little slice of home at the festival. There was something beautifully cyclical about returning to the same site at the same time a year later, watching some of the same artists embodying the Dimensions’ musical ethos. Certainly, it was an extraordinary moment when, once again, I was handed a glass of straight liquor by the one and only Kenny G (Moodymann) on Sunday night, just as he had handed me one in exactly the same place the year before. I was even standing in the same place with my front right speaker crew, the exact same friends who I had stood next to last year, who were photographed in the exact same place by the same photographer. It was a kind of serendipitous perfection that blew my poor little mind, as I stood lapping up the beautiful, light rain that came and blessed us on the Monday morning, and continues to do so as I sit at my laptop watching this evil, miserable rain pour down my window back home in the UK.
Photo by Dan Medhurst Photography
All I can say is that I hope with all my heart in 49 weeks I will be standing in that exact same spot, having danced for hours on end, drinking the sweet nectar given to me by Moodymann himself just as the sun starts to slowly rise on Dimensions Festival 2014...because I know that at that moment I will be blissfully happy.
By Becky Young
- Published on Friday, 27 September 2013 13:15
It takes a brave promoter to stage a festival in the middle of September, in northWales. So it was looking for Festival No.6, entering its second year, in the same place over the same weekend as its 2012 debut (which was drenched by downpours). And despite coming at the wrong end of a summer that has stretched long and hot over three months, spirits would once again take a soaking.
But before the weather proved so divisive, there was magic and there was fun, both waiting to be gorged upon by anyone game enough to buy a ticket. Staging the event in Portmeirion is, essentially, an inspired piece of casting – in fact, it's arguably the crowd-pulling headliner of the whole weekend. The fairytale Italian-inspired village, realised in vivid colour, clinging to a cliff, overlooking a beautiful estuary, ensures the whole festival drips Disney before first beat has even been amplified. Quite rightly, Portmeirion provides the backdrop for some of the weekend's most bewtiching moments: the returning Brythoniaid male voice choir, who this year took on cover versions from headliners Chic and Manic Street Preachers besides hymns and Men of Harlech (a town appropriately just the other side of the facing hill) amid the same sort of whoops and cheers usually heard down the front of the main stage; Saturday's electric-coloured carnival procession; Andrew Weatherall's sundown set, that saw a man strip to his underpants to tackle the estuary waters to retrieve a glittery ball marooned on a sandbar – much to the crowds appreciation; and of course, the hidden woodland raves where Lowlife and Audio Farm, among others, hosted tiny parties among the trees – a bit like The Hobbit, at a free party
Picture by Sandy Sharples
Picture by Sandy Sharples
Outside of the village of Portmeirion, and it was always hard to leave, the main field site was dotted with stages – when it wasn't a mud bath, highlights included My Bloody Valentine impressively showcasing MVB in a shock of lights and noise. Andy Votel, Daniel Avery and A Love From Outer Space provided serious dancefloor menace in Studio 6. Frankie Knuckles unveiled crowdpleaser after crowdpleaser while YouTube sensation Davos battled a few sound issues up in the Castle Gardens to bring back the spirit of 92 with his piano-house session. He was followed by Manchester's Justin Robertson, whose unhinged Friday-night rave attack delighted a crowd that looked like they were probably all at Most Excellent 25 years ago – and had brought along that atmosphere as reminder to anyone who wasn't.
After two wonderful days, punctuated by artist talks, impromtu mime sessions, acoustic sessions, and a fantastic neon marching band, an ominous warning greeted anyone walking back to their tent on Saturday night: campers, make sure your tent is securely pegged down. Gale force, incoming. And so it was that at 730am, 70mph winds battered the site – the main arena was shut, rumours of the festival's cancellation whipped round the site as fast as the winds that blew many a tent away. In such fierce conditions, an exodus was on the cards, with hundreds of festival goers opting, or forced, to leave. For those that stayed the sun, unpredictably, made an appearance, the winds and rain abated, and spirits took a turn for the better. Johnny Marr proved How Soon Is Now will never date; Chic, the vibesy feelgood heroes of this year's festival circuit, did the same with Le Freak; while Carl Craig proved techno can comfortably sit next to acoustic singer-songwriters and edgy bands on any line-up, to any crowd.
Picture by Sandy Sharples
Picture by Sandy Sharples
It was a triumphant return for Festival No6 – charm, inventiveness, magic and good vibes all scored high. But if it is to return successfully year upon year, a scheduling rethink might have to be on the cards, as underlined by Sunday's weather-inspired exodus. A venue and programming rethink, however, would be wholly unnecessary.
Words: Jane Fitz