Having penned a number of show reports over the years myself , HE2006 found me in the typical position of most readers who couldn't attend. We have to rely on other people's reports to find out what went down. When the Zu folks had notified me a few weeks ago that their planned rave for the Stereophile show was a go, I'd donated a banner on our news page to help promote what sounded like a unique effort to try something fresh and unexpected for our ageing HiFi industry. We all moan and groan over the sorry state of affairs. When someone comes along with something that might have a positive impact, it's worth supporting - just to see whether it'll work and because it's the right and exciting thing to do.
As various show coverage began to appear in the ethers, I canvassed the web looking not just for the usual room coverage but also reports on the rave. Nada on Stereophile's on-line coverage. This despite being the hosting publication with a handful of writers on the beat who managed to cover Stereophile-sponsored concerts during the four days just fine. Ditto for Positive Feedback. Nada. Niente. No feedback, not even a negative one. Alas, a lone photo, no useful commentary on Audio Federation. Those folks aren't even formal press but retailers. Yet they still beat the pros. (That hurts!) The most I found was over at Sonic Flare. Young Josh's commentary accompanying his pix -- both reproduced here with his express permission -- mirrored my own worst anticipations: "Someone told me that the Zu rave would be filled with dorky audiophiles and just a handful of women. They were wrong. The dorky audiophiles went to sleep at 9pm and the women, afraid of the audiophiles, went elsewhere. Yeah, I'm incredibly disappointed with the audio community for missing out on one of the coolest shows in the history of hi-fi.
"The good news is it seems Zu got some love from the audio insiders that did show up. As they should because the presentation was killer. A phalanx of ten Druid speakers atop custom 18" subs rocked the massive space. Seriously, it is amazing how much sound those Druids can crank. The bass was incredibly hard hitting and smooth. Of course, with a space so huge, there were room issues. But if there were more people there, some organic "room treatment" would have been going on and the sound would have been tip top. Don't be surprised if you see Zu throwing more of these shows in the future. The lighting design was killer and the overall execution flawless. We need to embrace these kind of events (in a smaller venue, of course) if the average age of hi-fi consumers is to ever drop below 50."
Josh's logic completely fails me. With the kind of industry support his reported turnout suggests was sorely lacking -- and with overall press coverage that clearly didn't consider this a newsworthy event -- I seriously doubt that Zu would ever again consider hosting a rave even remotely associated with our industry. In fact, I'd call 'em bloody fools if they did. I can't believe the fog-like radio silence that surrounded this event. Was it embargoed? Ridden by the pox? With every pundit in the book in agreement that the ranks of balding 'philes aren't being restocked with fresh blood, one small loudspeaker outfit takes a risk, organizes an experiment tailored to attract young music lovers during an expensive do (expensive for exhibitors that is), custom-builds 10 giant subwoofers and 10 white speakers just for the occasion (the white to reflect the light show's colors) and then isn't deemed worthy of formal news coverage by the very publications that covered everything else, including with pix of themselves during chat breaks? Where are all the conspiracy theorists and blockade runners when you need 'em?
Since the show reports proved so utterly useless when it came to learn whether this event even took place -- it did -- and whether it was a complete bust with professional lighting and a crack disc jockey (who incidentally daylights at Rane and Pioneer as a bona fide EE), I turned to Zuster Sean Casey for some intel. Had this been a bad idea forced on the wrong crowd and venue? Or did all the fun simply fly beneath the radar of the audiophile press at large? In which case, did he feel strongly - um, happy happy to do it again next year? And for off-the-record ruminations, did he think the mainstream US HiFi scene plain sucked and he no longer wanted anything to do with it? Are we all wankers with snot up to our eyeballs, leading the audiophile industry in one endless circle jerk through the desert? Actually, I didn't ask any of that. That'd be leading the witness and the judge won't have any of that. No, I asked a perfectly neutral question which the attorney for the defense couldn't get stricken from the records: "What happened?"
"Replace 'em." Say what? No kidding, that was the subject header of Sean's return e-mail. I had to read the whole thing before that made sense. Here it is: "The show was generally good, decent attendance, Stereophile press was visible and in a positive mood. In regard to the after-show entertainment... well, that's a different story. Zu was hoping to expose a new demographic to HiFi. Many of us here at Zu are pretty familiar with throwing big club-style parties -- DJ and band styles -- and we know how big this segment of society is. Primedia's PR man Greg Nivens agreed to let Zu put on the opening night party by providing the grand ballroom, security and helping promote it through the Primedia channels. We knew the branding would be good for us in Stereophile, Shutterbug and the other Primedia publications but we didn't think this would draw any people to our rave. Dallas, our marketing guy and resident DJ, worked with a few L.A. promoters as well as Amoeba, Record Surplus and some of the clubs to get the word out. We had really hoped that the local club goers would be interested enough to hit our show. Primedia was also going to give them a half-price voucher if they came back and checked out the HiFi scene. Our main attraction was DJ Ming from New York, a very high-profile DJ who really should have packed the place with L.A. young adults.
"Production was Zu on sound, Exile Events (SLC) on lights. Yeah, it was a cool rig, more on that later. Even L.A. Sound was pretty impressed with it.
"The big event at the show -- and this is a bit strange to me -- was this movie. At the last minute, Greg Nivens put together a movie showing the Zu Rave rig on sound, Runco on video. We demonstrated the whole "Two Channels is Enough" concept, with Adam introducing the idea to the crowd. The weird thing was how well this was attended. It started at 7PM and was the best-attended do of the weekend, even better than Dr. John. Yes it was free but still - this was a scrabbed-together last-minute thing.
"At 10:15 PM we opened the doors for the party. That's always a soft start. Only about 100 people were waiting to check it out, nearly everyone of them audio industry people hanging on the sidewalls, sitting in chairs. "That's cool", I thought, "the local scene will start showing up soon". We still needed some time to dial in the sound as the movie really cut into our sound-check routine. No big deal, things were rolling and the sound was pretty sweet save for the ballroom boom.
"And can you believe it, we only had about 100 people at any given time from the moment we lit the system up until midnight - a few hundred industry types and HiFi showgoers standing and sitting, checking things out. From midnight on we got less and less people. A few HiFi folks who did get it were Jeff Capistran, Walter Swanbon, Greg Nivens, Laura LoVecchio, this other Primedia guy whose name I didn't get but he obviously got it, Josh and his crew from SonicFlare, Alberto Gonzalez from Audiolismo (a Puerto Rico-based blog), The Kimber crew and a dozen others who came up to us and said how cool it was. Greg said it was the coolest thing he'd ever seen in audio. Yep, too bad we didn't have a bunch of the L.A. young adults find us and show the HiFi world where the future is in high-fidelity playback. And really, that was our intent. We thought we would have no problem pulling 500+ locals to pack the ballroom and force HiFi to come to terms with the whole DJ culture stuff. Actually, we were hoping for more than 800, capacity on the grand ballroom.
"But in the end, it was a bust. Only about 50 locals hit the show. Did we have a riot putting it on? Yeah! At about 2:30 AM when we had nothing to lose, we really lit the sound up. Salt Lake City-based DJ Presto jumped on the tables and played a wicked set - especially considering he was using Dallas' vinyl. None of the HiFi guys were left, only locals and us. We rocked as hard as possible for the next 40 minutes, with Presto really laying out some heavy and infectious sounds. The music rushed over the fifty of us who remained, bass pounded our mind, body and kept building. There is nothing so cool as super loud, super clean awesome music that is played with an into-it crowd.
"Ming laid down a cool set too, playing from about 11:30PM to 1:00AM. The sound was good but we were still dialing in the room and thus hesitant to really let it rip. We didn't want to get shut down early. Toward the end of his set, Ming grabbed Steven Breit's 15-year old kid, put him up on stage next to him and had him duelling it out. The kid was living a dream, it was great to see. Steven is one of our original Zu customers. Ming had no idea but he could see how excited this kid was. He mentioned after the show that Steven's kid reminded him of himself when he was young and that he loves to give back to the community and mentor. Ming, in addition to his music and DJ gig, also works for Rane and Pioneer. He has a good idea of what is up in the audio business in general and thinks that what Zu is trying to do is essential for the growth of sincere high-fidelity playback.
|"We shut the rig down at about 3:15 AM, ripped everything down and packed up, getting to bed about 4:30. Not as fun as a huge party out in the Utah desert with over 2000 people but we did enjoy it. I just wish a lot more would have gotten it.
"We had also hoped to dispel some of the wive's tales about our driver, that it is only for the low-powered crowd. After the rave, there should never again be anybody questioning our SPL and dynamic range claims. We had sound enough from the five pair of Druids to put on a show for 5000. At the peak of the night about 3:00, we were running 400 watts RMS into each Druid and they were fine with it. We were running Crown I-tech amps and had the Druid's high-pass filter set at 53Hz. Our big 2 x 18" base bins/Druid risers were getting about 800 watts RMS each.
"The system: Five pair of Zu Druid Mk4 loudspeakers; five pairs of dual 18" Zu sub bins doubling as Druid risers. Turntables were two stock Technics SL-1200 Mk3 tables, two Pioneer CDJ-1000 Mk3s, Rane TTM56, all Zu cabling, Crown I-tech 4000 and 8000 controlled via LAN. Lighting design and production was by Exile Events (SLC). DJs were Mateo, Ming and Presto.
|"Zu will put on more parties in the future. We just have to change a few things like having door-ticket sales, not being at LAX, reducing the hassle factor for people to find the doors and so on. But we had fun. I think after a few more of these, it will catch on. We might have to bring along a bus load of hot ladies from Utah to jump-start the thing but I'm sure that would be okay with everyone.
"In the end, we are passionate about music. Zu will do everything it can to propel high-fidelity recording and playback forward. The market is massive - outside HiFi. Will the established audio mainstream get it before it's too late? Or will they be replaced entirely? The musical tastes of today's music lovers are much broader than ever before. They are into every kind of music, including creating and recording completely new sounds and expressions. No, HiFi at large doesn't get it. Let's replace 'em."
So that's what happened at this event that found itself boycotted as it were by age and life style differentials and perhaps even location - early retirement for yours truly. I'm a fossil headed for extinction. Can you spare some change, brother? I need to bum a one-way ride to the cemetery...