January 18, 2019

The W Series: 33 Oldham Street, The Listening Party

posted by: Sarah Walters

Audiophile: it’s this year’s veganism. The new must-have descriptive in your 120 character bio.

In truth, the return of the super sound system is a retro revolution that couldn’t have come soon enough. Most of us lazily settle for headphones stuck into a phone jack or a computer for our musical needs these days - or we’re happy with the convenience of a digital file blasted remotely by bluetooth through a single home speaker.

The return of the anti-Mac music makers - masters of the sound systems that sit you down and bid you to “shhhh…” - has happened, and now every city must have a palace of perfect phonics for them to play in. Not before time, Manchester has hers: the new 33 Oldham Street at… erm… 33 Oldham Street in the city’s Northern Quarter. Where better? A passion for music and an appreciation for the past live in harmony in the NQ everywhere you look.

It’s even here in this very building, in fact - a polite little plot sandwiched between the Victorian Afflecks emporium and Beaux-Arts columns of Planetree House, its upper floors back in public use following years boarded up behind ugly hoardings, its roof set to add a fourth level in 2019 as the biggest terrace in this corner of town. The remarkable piece of kit carrying the audiophile torch - designed by Grammy winning producer of The Beach Boys and Motorhead, Steve Levine, and built in collaboration with MasterSounds - sits in the centre of its three floors, but distributes its beautiful noise throughout.

The whole space has been created to help you hear the playlist better. In the bijou but airy little ground floor cafe bar, and in the more versatile second floor meeting space - its notably crystal clear. Even in the loos (in which audio and tiling envy may hit you at once). But nowhere is that ambition more obviously met than on the first floor, where a DJ gets to hear their carefully crate dug tunes fed through two layers of Bryston amp to a duo of dark wood PMC MB2SE speakers that look like they're carved out of the slice of the 1970s.

If you want to understand how deep this dedication to the perfect sound goes, consider this: one of a bunch of launch parties for this place was laid on in honour of a guest needle for only one of its turntables - the Koetsu cartridge, created by Yoshiaki Sugano, traditionally a sword maker. The punters got to pick the complete playlist by bringing down their prized platters for DJ and bar entrepreneur Luke Unabomber to spin; I’d like to see anyone try pulling that stunt on Clint Boon down South on a Saturday night.

It’s a set up that plays every sound it can pull off a piece of vinyl, reverbing the ribs out of all the notes, plips, breaks and beats that you’ve ever missed (as well as the crackles your ill care has caused over the years). It’s a chance for an aural reappraisal of the true majesty of the music you’ve always loved - and, frankly, thought you’d always known. Co-founded by one of the brains behind the Kendal Calling and Bluedot festivals, and the Off The Record new music showcase, it’s a space that’ll be pointing you towards the music you’ll love in the future, too.