Words by Rafe Arnott (Q&A contributions by Silvia Gin), all photography by Silvia Gin unless otherwise noted. Image above: Cedric Lassonde, one of the founders of Beauty and The Beat, tweaks levels through one of four phono inputs on a bespoke E&S DJR400 analogue rotary mixer while spinning vinyl at his London home.
This article is made possible through the support of Audio Note UK. Their assistance in enabling non-mainstream, high-fidelity journalism is key to Resistor Mag publishing the stories it does.
The calculus of throwing a dance party today is no more complex than it was five decades ago when David Mancuso kicked off The Loft in New York City and birthed a disco mecca still worshipped today by tens of thousands: The latest iteration of which – Beauty and The Beat – continues to be the subject of this second article and interview. People’s need to move and to be moved is just as essential now as it was 10,000 years ago, but facilitating an emotional connection between listeners and the music is perhaps more psychological alchemy in 2021 than at any time previously, thanks to the relentless overload of modern information technology.
As we touched on in previously, Beauty and The Beat, like The Loft before it, is unique in dance-music culture because the audio equipment employed for music playback is a sound system curated to not just deliver the decibel level necessary to pressurize a large space, but to also offer an unadulterated window of true high fidelity onto the original recorded event. In doing so, Cedric Lassonde, Cyril Cornet and Jeremy Gilbert offer the audiophile’s sought after vantage point for listening, albeit with a sweet spot engineered for the many, not the few – or the one.
Photo above: Cyril Cornet believes the... “Quality of the sound system opens up the possibilities of what you can play and hear (the details, the variations in textures etc.). An audiophile sound system is the starting point.”
One of the differences inherent between an audiophile and a selector, or DJ, is that the latter wants to share the music and move or connect as many people as possible with it, whereas the former finds succour in the unaccompanied act of listening. Neither are wrong in their approaches, yet one cannot help but see honour in the simple act of sharing music. Who hasn’t made a mix tape for a road trip, house party, friends or sweetheart at some point in their lives? This basic premise holds true for institutions such as Beauty and The Beat; sharing music is noble. It takes talent, experience and a finely-honed ability to fill a dance floor and ultimately, to trigger in participants a conscious connection between the music and their lives. Much like an audiophile queues albums for a critical listening experience, so too, does the selector sequence music for the most satisfying result on the dance floor.
Audiophiles and DJs – particularly those adhering to the sound system principles laid out by Mancuso – are not nearly so different as history would have one believe, in fact, their similarities far outweigh their differences. And that, ultimately is what this, and the upcoming articles in this Limited Series will endeavour to relate. Music was always created to bring us closer together, it was never meant to keep us apart. The following interview continues the discussion started in PART ONE, but here calls attention to the curation of the audiophile sound system employed by BATB to move listeners to a higher plane of sonic appreciation.
Photo above: Cedric Lassonde on BATB: “A hi-fi sound system was a sine qua non condition from the start. Once you have been introduced to a certain level of high fidelity, there is really no way back. By the time we started BATB we’d all had multiple deep musical experiences which were directly linked to the quality of the sound system..." Image courtesy Miguel Echeverria.
The following is the second part of the Q&A with Cyril Cornet, Jeremy Gilbert and Cedric Lassonde, founders of Beauty and The Beat. Thanks to BATB cohort and photographer Silvia Gin for making it happen.
Silvia Gin: What venues, parties and DJs have influenced the way you listen to and play music and host a party?
Jeremy Gilbert: “Obviously David Mancuso and the Loft, but also – for all of us – big influences were Balance (club night) at Plastic People, and for me personally, Lazy Dog (Sunday club night and compilation series) at Notting Hill Arts Club, and Dubtribe Sound System in San Francisco. In the latter two cases, it was because they were playing deep house, but they were selecting tracks and ordering them in such a way as to build up an intense party vibe, whereas most nights that played deep house in London in the nineties treated it like this very polite music for smartly-dressed people, so the vibe never got wild at all.”
Cyril Cornet: “Ade Fakile (resident DJ) from Plastic People, and his Balance nights, have been a major influence indeed. So was seeing Airto Moreira live at the Jazz Cafe on a Monday after a pretty lively weekend – very refreshing. I very much adhere to what David Mancuso once said: “If you leave a party with more energy than when you arrived, it was a good party.” Also the way David made records with lyrics being the building blocks of the story of the night – these are the foundations, but influences can be very diverse. This is to make the party meaningful and playful, to make the music fit the moment.”
Cedric Lassonde: “In terms of the actual music, the records, influences come from everywhere. Lots of friends over the years have introduced me to incredible records, and still do obviously. There is good music everywhere and though it’s always great to feel you’re the only one to play this or that record, or to have signature tunes, there’s no escaping the fact that most of it has been discovered and played by someone else before. What matters is to create your own style out of all these influences.
“When it comes to presenting the music, the first person who was very influential for me was my flatmate Nao in NYC. We lived together for a few crucial months at the turn of the century, and he was the first to really show me the art of programming music, even to an audience of one. Around the same time he introduced me to that aforementioned Loft-related party in a recording studio, and it’s through him I subsequently met Mancuso in 2002. On top of the few NYC Loft parties I’ve attended, I haven’t missed a single LCSS party from the very first one to the last one David played, plus we usually hung out before and after each party. His influence is absolutely huge, from the way he prepared for a party, his attention to every little detail, his care for the community, to the records he chose to play (each one being almost equally important in the course of a seven-hour set) and his faultless, often telepathic programming.
“Parallel to that, we used to go religiously every Saturday night to Abdul Forsyth’s (Ade's alias) Balance night at Plastic People. It was literally like going to church. Musically it was quite different from The Loft (only a few records like Life On Mars, Dancing In Outer Space or Expand Your Mind would overlap between the two parties), it was arguably much more eclectic, and especially the arc of the programming was very different. Ade didn’t follow the three bardos of an LSD trip and there was no real peak to the night, at least not the way one would think of. A track like Chris Harwood’s “Wooden Ships” could easily be played at peak time. Tempos and genres would vary all the time, often drastically, and it worked. That’s where I learned that you could play Mos Def next to Lo Borges next to Pharoah Sanders next to Herbert, Pepe Bradock, Donovan, Jay Dee, K Frimpong or Soulful Strings… the list goes on. In my shelves at home I arrange records by styles, feelings or formats, but one of those is dedicated to “records played at Plastic [People].
“Perhaps even more crucial than the music, what I learned from Ade (and David) is that what matters isn’t just WHAT you play, but also and most importantly, HOW you play and present those tunes. Ade was the master at playing the most unexpected song at exactly the right time. In a way, that’s pretty much what I’ve been striving for ever since.”
“It’s always a collective effort and we’re always trying new things and sharing ideas. There isn’t a very clear distinction between our equipment and the party’s equipment, and some of it technically belongs to Lucky Cloud. I have to say, personally, I would feel wrong about having this really expensive system at home just for my private use."
– Jeremy Gilbert
Silvia Gin: What kind of records do you pack for a party? Are there some that never leave the bag?
Jeremy Gilbert: “Not really. There’s probably a set of about 100 key classics and a dozen of those will be in the bag any given night. Other than that my main strategy is to make sure there’s a decent mix of all the genres that we normally play, so I can play whatever the mood seems right for.”
Cedric Lassonde: “Very similar to Jem really. A mix of genres, new stuff, new-old records recently found or rediscovered, and often one or two specific tunes you want to play on a particular night – to soundtrack a political or social event for instance – which you usually plan your set around.”
Cyril Cornet: “Same as Jem and Ced.”
Silvia Gin: Musically the night draws an arc, following David Mancuso’s legacy. Could you explain how that works and what it achieves?
Jeremy Gilbert: “Honestly I’m not sure that our arc is the same as David’s arc. We always play three sets, obviously. Broadly speaking, the early set tends to be quite rhythmic and funk-heavy because this is what people will dance to most easily when they’ve been drinking and haven’t gotten high yet (whether they’re getting high on drugs or just on endorphins). The middle set tends to be more of a classic peak set, but that can mean playing anything as long as it’s pretty high energy. The last set tends to be more abstract and exploratory. But really these are all only tendencies: they’re not fixed rules or stages. The more open the crowd is, the less these rules tend to apply, and the more everything becomes like the last set.”
Cedric Lassonde: “Exactly what Jem said.”
Cyril Cornet: “Yes, none of us prepares a set from A-to-B. We like to keep things spontaneous. We know in advance who will be playing when (most of the time). The last set requires the most prep, because of the extent of possibilities of what we can play, but we all very much enjoy playing first too: The playful/childlike part of the night when we’re all getting into the mood/groove.”
Photos above: Left – Cedric Lassonde and his vintage Tannoy Majestic/York corner cabinets with 15-inch Monitor Gold drivers and Klipschorn at his London flat. Right – One of Gilbert's Klipschorn in residence at his home when not helping drive Beauty and The Beat.
Silvia Gin: You talked of Kassav (the band) as a BATB classic, a song [by them] that has been played regularly and embodies the essence and spirit of the party. Are there other songs that have similar importance and are emblematic of BATB?
Cyril Cornet: “There are only a handful of records that have been played by the three of us. They might not necessarily be the most emblematic songs of BATB but constitute an interesting, restricted club: Talking Heads “This Must Be The Place” (Naive Melody), Super Mama Djombo “Dissan Na Mbera,” the Sting EP Pleasure, Fertile Ground “Yellow Daisies” (Nicola Conte Rework)."
Jeremy Gilbert: “Actually, if you wanted to pick four records that embody the essence of the party, I don’t think you could do better than those ones.”
Cedric Lassonde: “I would just add Penny Penny “Shaka Bundu.””
Resistor Mag: For The Loft, and Lucky Cloud, a big part of the vibe is predicated on the sound system. How key is it to the BATB experience?
Cyril Cornet: “Quality of the sound system opens up the possibilities of what you can play and hear (the details, the variations in textures, etc). An audiophile sound system is the starting point.”
Cedric Lassonde: “Having an optimal sound quality was a sine qua non condition from the start. Once you have been introduced to a certain level of high fidelity, there is really no way back. By the time we started BATB we’d all had multiple deep musical experiences which were directly linked to the quality of the sound system (be it at Body & Soul and The Loft in NYC, or Plastic People and our respective houses in London), and since we had the equipment already, it wasn’t too difficult to start organizing something.”
Jeremy Gilbert: “Yes, I can’t add anything to that really.”
Photo above: The Isonoe ISO420 bespoke analogue rotary mixer used by BATB is handmade in London, England by Justin Greenslade and utlizes the highest audiophile-grade componentry throughout its signal path. Cedric Lassonde on the 420: "I believe we were the first party to use one..."
Resistor Mag: Was compiling the BATB system a group effort, or did it fall to one individual? How long did it take to achieve cohesion of all the disparate pieces? Is it still a work in progress?
Cedric Lassonde: “It was really a matter of combining what we each had in our own homes. We’ve been using two pairs of Klipschorn and one pair of Tannoy from the very start. The amps have changed a bit over the years (currently we’re using a Mark Levinson Nº 334 and a Nº 27.5, plus one Sugden SPA-4). The DJR400 mixer has been upgraded to an Isonoe ISO420 (I believe we were the first party to use one). The tonearms have long been upgraded to Origin Live, then Jelco, and the carts have changed a bit over the years too (currently we’re using the Audio Technica VM740ML).
Cyril Cornet: “Always a work in progress. We’re open to testing and implementing new components. Luckily we have friends like Justin (Isonoe), Andrew (Melting Pot) or Iain Mackie to make great suggestions or to take us back to elemental physics laws.”
Jeremy Gilbert: “It’s always a collective effort and we’re always trying new things and sharing ideas. There isn’t a very clear distinction between our equipment and the party’s equipment, and some of it technically belongs to Lucky Cloud. I have to say, personally, I would feel wrong about having this really expensive system at home just for my private use. This is a big motivation for the parties for me, really. I am an audiophile and I LOVE having a fantastic system at home, but I’m also a socialist and I’d feel wrong just keeping it in my living room. If we want to get mystical about it, I feel like the system came to us, but it isn’t ours to keep, only to share.”
Cyril Cornet: “I Love and share Jem’s points here”
Cedric Lassonde: “Seconded.”
Photos above: Left – Heavily breathed-on Technics 1210 MKII at Gilbert's London home. Right – A Sugden Masterclass SPA-4 power amplifier at Cornet's flat (used alongside Mark Levinson Nº 334 and Nº 27.5 amps for party set ups).
Silvia Gin: In every functioning system, duties and roles are allocated and shared with synergy and collaboration. Do you have specific ones?
Jeremy Gilbert: “Only in pretty trivial ways. I look after the website but that isn’t a big deal. The others do the driving ‘cos I haven’t driven for 25 years, so I’m not going to start driving vans full of equipment around London in the early hours of a Sunday morning. Most of the work is shared, and all key decisions are collective. It’s honestly never been a problem.”
Cedric Lassonde: “Any one of us three usually takes care of setting up the front end, while the rest of the roles are interchangeable. Over the years the crew of helpers has evolved, but everyone always finds his/her place/role naturally very quickly. Be it setting up the lights, taping the cables, spreading the buffet, co-ordinating the speakers placement, loading/unloading of the van etc.”
Cyril Cornet: “Everything happens in quite an organic way now between the three of us, and all our friends helping on the night. Beauty And The Beat really is an extended family affair where we’re all bringing a little bit of us, where the whole becomes bigger than the sum of the parts”
Resistor Mag: Talk to me about each of your home rigs, have you influenced one another’s gear purchases, or were they curated individually?
Cedric Lassonde: “One pair of Klipschorn, one pair of Tannoy (Majestic and York corner cabinets with Monitor Gold drivers), one Mark Levinson amp Nº 27.5 plus a pair of upgraded Rogers Deluxe valve mono blocs, a DJR400 mixer, a pair of Technics SL-1210 with Jelco tonearms and VM750SH carts. Plus, some ridiculously expensive mains cables (Chord) and mains conditioners (Isol-8) which have been the source of many a joke from my partner (she doesn’t understand how I can hear the difference between two ‘kettle’ leads but I can’t hear her when she speaks to me sometimes).”
Cyril Cornet: “A pair of Klipschorn with new DeanG crossovers, a Sugden SPA-4, a pair of Technics SL-1200 MKII with Jelco tonearms + Audiotechnica VM760SLC (for the top end one) and Isonoe ISO420 mixer. Silver speaker cables, Chord mains cables and Isol 8 conditioners.”
Jeremy Gilbert: “Klipschorn with Chord silver cable replacing the copper and a Klipsch sub-woofer, Audio Note Quest Silver mono blocs, a pair of technics SL-1200 MKII with Jelco tonearms (rewired with silver by Audio Origami), Audio Note entry-level cartridge that I use most days and a Koetsu Urushi Gold that I use on special occasions, Isonoe ISO420 mixer.”
Resistor Mag: Do you consider BATB a successful social experiment?
Cedric Lassonde: “I believe we can officially claim to be the longest running monthly “audiophile” party in London and most likely the UK (16 years old this month). Many of the attendees from that initial party (in a suffocating basement art gallery) are still following us regularly. Some have dropped out for a while and reappeared a few years later, others have met on the dance floor and ended up getting married, and the party has grown organically through word-of-mouth ever since. It’s always exciting to see a mix of regulars and new faces at every party, like wine or music the party is constantly evolving, which is a good sign. The same way we took inspiration from the Loft to start BATB, other crews have formed and started parties as a result of coming to BATB (Sweet Apricots in Paris, Apricot Ballroom Sound System in Sheffield, Birthdays in Berlin), venues have opened (Brilliant Corners) and I guess that’s the best compliment. As far as social experiments go, the fact that we still have a big crew to rely on to help us load and unload equipment till the wee hours of the morning every single month says a lot I think.”
Jeremy Gilbert: “All of that applies for me too. I think BATB is in the tradition of a particular kind of party like the Loft, but also like other London parties/sound systems such as Whirl-Y-Gig and Good Times, that have all turned into kind of sui generis scenes in their own right. They have lasted for many years, often taking on a cross-generational character. But for me the biggest success for BATB was when, around 2016-2017, a big cohort of younger people – political activists who had been inspired by Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party – started coming to the party and really adopted it as a kind of cultural home. The founders of the political education organization, The World Transformed, still talk to their new organizers about BATB as a key inspiration. For me that’s huge.”
Photo above: Gilbert on audio equipment, "...I am an audiophile and I LOVE having a fantastic system at home, but I’m also a socialist and I’d feel wrong just keeping it in my living room."
Cyril Cornet: “What the boys are referring to here, is a very practical tie-in between parties and day-to-day life, with political influences, social connections, etc., all very much based on a sense of care and fairness. The fact that BATB is not only a Saturday night event represents a key success.”
Resistor Mag: What does BATB mean to each of you?
Cyril Cornet: “BATB is like a dear friend. Needs a set and setting, but once the night’s started it’s almost got an organic way of unfolding. Hard to imagine life without that dear friend.”
Cedric Lassonde: “It’s our baby really, so it means that much. It’s also what has kept me in London all these years. Over the two decades I’ve been here it’s become exponentially harder to live decently while working in the entertainment sector, and when you add Brexit on top of that… I definitely wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t for BATB.”
Silvia Gin: Ced, could you elaborate? Why does BATB happen in London? Could it happen somewhere else?
Cedric Lassonde: “BATB is definitely the most rewarding life project I’ve been involved in creating and nurturing. The community we’ve built around the party, the people telling us how we’ve changed their lives, the ones we’ve inspired to do similar things… London is an ever evolving melting pot of cultures, a capital with a constant influx of open-minded and free-spirited people, which makes it the ideal hotbed for the party. It could happen in other places of course, but the openness you find in London is hard to beat I think.”
“It’s just a completely successful project on any terms that matter to us. That’s a very rare thing in life.”