Art of Dark, Cartulis, Fuse, Half Baked, Krankbrother, Percolate, Toi Toi, Undersound, Breakin Science and many more underground parties all share one common belief: Joe Haycocks is the go-to sound technician in London’s party scene. The founder of RSH Audio, this is one talented guy. Art of Dark’s Colin Chiddle refers to him as an “unsung hero”, giving “artists the perfect platform to perform”. A sound technician for over 10 years, Joe Haycocks started his own sound hire company, RSH Audio, when he was just 18 years old. The business has grown into a reputable brand having recently landed jobs with big names such as Sony, XL Recordings, The Brits, and nominated as ‘Favourite Sound Rental Company’ in the TPi Magazine & Awards.
What makes RSH Audio special in our eyes, is its specialisation in electronic music. Every weekend, RSH’s strong team of sound technicians and music lovers set up fantastic PA systems at some of the best parties, from our beloved London warehouses to grand spaces such as The Laundry and Troxy. After the success of Art of Dark’s Halloween Party at Troxy, and leading up to the party’s Easter special at the same venue, we speak to Joe who was and will be responsible again for the sound during the night, which unsurprisingly received great reviews!
Many parties in London including Art of Dark, Toi Toi and Half Baked (just to mention a few), praise you for your work and your passion. How and when did you start working with sound and electronic music, and why?
It was primarily through DJing – I got my first set of decks for my 13th birthday! Electronic music has always been a big part of my life, a constant! Also, the massive systems at the raves I used to go to left a big impression on me… and got me chasing the dream of one day owning one. That led to me spending all my money as a teenager on records and PA equipment, and it went from there really…
I studied Music Technology at university, which gave me the time to DJ, experiment with creating music, work on the sound set-up for gigs with bands, and generally not having the pressure of a ‘9 to 5’.
You are the Director of RSH Audio. What are some characteristics that set RSH apart from other audio companies?
Initially, I was frustrated by the attitude that many large PA companies have towards DJ gigs, especially the smaller gigs… they just didn’t care. It seems that a lot of companies and engineers don’t view anything without a full band as ‘real music’. I’m very passionate and positive about what I do, my clients and audio equipment in general – I go to great efforts to ensure that my staff and freelancers reflect that ethos.
How many people work in the company? Who are they?
There’s 4 of us, plus a number of freelance technicians of various different specialties – we’re always looking for new people to add to that list.
The core team are all younger than me – and are all fans of Electronic / Dance Music – although Ben likes his bands too. Our Freelance list is quite varied, from guys who are proper ‘Rock & Roll’, to guys who’ve worked at Fabric, and we like to pick people who will suit the job in hand.
The following photograph is of an RSH set up at a ZDEvent in the French Alps. Could you list each piece of equipment displayed?
Sure, that’s a selection of MC2 and FFA Amplifiers, one of our Yamaha QL Sound Desks, some NST Audio System Processors, and some of our Shure Radio Mic / IEM Systems.
How have you seen the audio industry develop in the last few years? What according to you, have been some of the most important innovations and breakthroughs?
The improvement in digital consoles has to be the biggest development – we now have an amazing arsenal of tools on even the smallest of desks. In a club environment people are probably not aware of the fact that a good engineer will constantly be tweaking things – compensating for different levels etc.
Last October you pleasantly “surprised” Toi Toi with a Rane Rotary. What was the story behind this and what makes a Rane mixer so special?
It was a brand new toy at the time. And bloody expensive! It’s definitely one of the best sounding mixers available. Unfortunately we had a few issues with it on the day and it needed rebooting; as it was so new there was a software bug – I guess that’s always a risk with digital…
On your website you have a photo of a Cadac Live 1 mixing console. You say that “the sound of their consoles are truly superior to anything else on the market”. Who do you usually offer this equipment to? Can you explain what use it has in the electronic music scene?
The Cadac Live 1 is perfect for dance music events. It sounds amazing, and it’s compact, flexible and has really nice sounding EQ’s. For what it is, it is expensive – but quality should be! We use the consoles at lots of events; especially Techno / House shows where we’re unlikely to need many of the tools on the digital desks.
With a lot of the parties that you work for, most of the artists play vinyl – have you had to adapt to this? How do you ensure that there is minimal feedback, as correct me if I’m wrong but this can sometimes be a problem with ‘temporary’ set-ups?
I’ve got a lot of tricks [smiles]… I have to give a shout out to ‘Isonoe’, whose 1210 feet are absolutely amazing! Lots of people don’t think of vinyl in the way that they should… a 1210 tonearm is a precision piece of kit, it needs setting up correctly and can easily be damaged. Remember that a stylus on a record is like a microphone, so feedback is caused by all the same things as would be caused be with a microphone.
In my DJ days I used to play only vinyl, at house parties, small club nights…on some really dodgy set-ups, so it’s not a new media to me. I have had to make sure that I train some of the guys that work for me though, as being in their 20’s, vinyl was a tad alien to them!
How do you ensure good sound at an event? Is there a step-by-step process involved in “properly” setting up a sound system?
Listen, don’t look at it as a piece of software… stay completely drug and alcohol free, and enjoy the music!
What track(s) do you usually listen to when you carry out your initial sound check?
I try and play records along the lines of what people will be playing on the night, but to be honest, I often just play music I like. I do have a couple of vinyl that I like to use, one of which is a MJ Cole remix of a Jill Scott track. On & On by Erykah Badu is another favourite of mine. I always play music with vocals, even if it’s a techno night!
You also work on large scale events. What are the main differences between working on a live music concert and a club night?
The biggest battle is usually working within the remit of the license conditions. For example, it takes a lot of confidence to turn round to a major A-List DJ and festival owner and tell them that we can’t turn the volume up despite them asking – we want to preserve their license, that’s why. It also goes against our instincts, as even though we want to make it sound amazing, at a larger event 90% of the time we want to make it sound ‘as good as possible’.
Mr G. recently voiced his opinion about his gig at Paris’ Concrete. Even though he really enjoyed the vibe of the party he questioned the sound system: “the F1 curse once again tripped me up!” Why do you think the Funktion-One didn’t work for Mr G.? To what extent can DJs blame the sound system?
I haven’t read about the gig at Concrete… but for me, when it’s setup well, Funktion-One can be a brutally honest yet involving and lovely system, but it DOES take a good engineer. It is a lot more adjustable than a number of other sound systems, so the results are variable, depending on who set it up, and who is engineering… I’ll just add that he’s been very happy when he’s played on our systems.
The Funktion-One brand is considered advantageous for promoters alike, appearing in many flyers as a major selling point. Why do you think it’s achieved such popularity? Do you think it is getting the attention that it rightly deserves?
It’s great that it has the reputation of being able to sound so good –that’s certainly one of the reasons I first bought into it. There are major drawbacks though, we’re constantly being asked to match prices that yes, are Funktion-One speakers but the amps, desks, company behind it are rubbish. It’s like comparing a battered Ford 2001 Focus vs. a Ford Focus RS.
According to Funktion-One’s Tony Andrews in an RA article about “The esoteric art of great sound“, F1 speakers could make an acoustically poor space sound good. To what extent do you agree?
Funktion-One is a ‘Point Source’ system. What this means is that it allows the system design great scope for getting the sound where you want it. We can choose from a range of different boxes, with different dispersion angles, and then array those to suit a room. What Tony Andrews is really referring to is the ability to focus the sound where it’s needed, as opposed to it bouncing off walls etc.
Which are the other best brands in the market?
I’ve heard great sounding boxes from Martin Audio, L’Acoustics, Coda and more – it’s equally about the PA company and the engineers as it is about the brand of system! But Funktion-One is quite special, and for a lot of our work at club and dance music events, it’s the best tool for the job.
Last year’s Art of Dark’s Halloween party at “Troxy”, a theatre turned concert and dance music venue, was well-received for its sound. What we’ve seen online is that the good sound is “down to the type of room, it’s not your usual concrete wall warehouse, it has soft furnishing, therefore it soaks up the sound better”. Do you think the venue’s past life as a theatre plays an important role in the delivery of sound?
Obviously the biggest factor was my ears behind the sound desk all night… Ha! [laughs]
Jokes aside, the room did sound nice for a space that size; the carpet, soft furnishings etc. all make it a lot nicer than somewhere like Brixton Academy for example. That, and thanks to Colin and Dan, who didn’t hold back with their budget. Some promoters would have used a very average in-house PA or would have asked us to cut corners.
What are some simple but effective acoustic tricks to make a venue sound better?
Draping and soft furnishings, which is why Troxy works so well! Also keeping the dance floor in a square or at least a rectangle shape.
To what extent should club owners spend as much (or more) money on acoustics than they do on the sound system?
It’s unlikely to ever be as much in terms of £ spent on the sound system, but it should certainly be a big feature in their budget.
You mentioned on RSH’s Facebook page that you love an unusual dancefloor. This was in reference to Great Suffolk Street Warehouse. What makes this venue unique and how did you set up the system there?
It’s one of the last raw ‘warehouse’ spaces left in London. We have helped preserve their licence there by being extremely diligent with our noise monitoring and control in the last few years – with more and more flats being built around it, that’s become a central issue. The atmosphere there can be great!
We agree! A great example of turning an empty warehouse space into a great sounding venue… What is the most unusual venue you have ever worked at?
We used to do a series of hard dance parties called ‘Overload the Fort’, which were literally on a small Fort about a mile out at sea in the Solent. Unloading kit via a crane from a boat that was getting buffeted about in a storm is about as unusual as it gets!!!
How closely do you work with DJs during the night? What have been some of the best sounding sets you have heard?
All my engineers will make sure the DJs are happy with the sound of the monitoring etc throughout their sets – even if it’s just a thumbs up whilst they’re playing, and also after the initial changeover from the previous DJ. Sometimes a changeover can be quite involved – especially with the choice of different mixers, digital vinyl, live setups and more these days. For the DJ that is quite nerve-wracking I’m sure – the last thing they want to do is pull out the wrong cable and completely ruin the end of someone else’s set – we’re are always super involved to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’ll often speak to DJs when they arrive to make sure they’re happy with the sound in the room, gain structure on the mixer, positioning of kit etc., so as to resolve any issues early on in the night so that they can relax.
As for the best sounding sets… that’s a tough one. Let’s go with a few recent ones: Praslesh at Troxy was great – brilliant quality of vinyl and digital music all night, including Colin’s warm-up set. Then, Krankbrother’s NYE set at the beginning of this year – the entire night sounded stonking, as did Nina Kraviz’ set at The Winter Social a few weeks back. I like that she gets some real dynamics into her mixes. Most recently, the last Art of Dark at The Laundry was 90% vinyl and sounded very good all night long…Fuse in the same venue on NYD was also great!
Thank you Joe for taking the time to answer these questions. It’s been a fantastic insight into the world behind the speakers.
We speak on behalf of London’s parties and party-goers when we say thank you for making our music sound so good!
To see or hear for yourself, Art of Dark is hosting an Easter special at the theatre-turned-venue sound haven that is Troxy, with “out-of-this-world” visuals by Coté, and music provided by some of underground’s heavyweights: Onur Ozer (an extended set), Audio Werner (live), Francesco Del Garda and Colin Chiddle, plus an after party with Vera and Laurine.
Cover image by Daddy’s Got Sweets
Edited By Kaajal Shah