Interview: Juan Luis Ayala
Producer, musician and writer talks to Colby Ramsey about the sad demise of Battersea Park Studios, which closed down and displaced an entire creative community last year.
Colby Ramsey talks to Juan Luis Ayala, the writer, producer, musician and maker of an upcoming documentary about Battersea Park Studios, which sadly closed down and displaced an entire creative community in September last year...
Can you give us some details about the studios and their closure?
Battersea Park Studios was originally Sphere Studios, which opened in 2000 and was commercially run until it relocated to LA in 2013. The building was then sold to private investors and renamed Battersea Park Studios. This was also the point when I arrived there, and for nearly three years I rented one of the large production studios that had previously been privately rented by Duran Duran for 13 years prior, which was perfect for me.
Home to a large, vibrant community of 24 producers, composers, songwriters, arrangers, mixing and recording engineers, a music TV show, music video makers, musicians and artists, Battersea Park had three studio rooms and seven production rooms all privately let. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of being part of a thriving creative community like the one we had. 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there were high-level projects being worked on and music created behind every door.
The new studio owner’s main interest however was to gain planning permission and then sell the building on to the local council to make a profit on the housing market. There was no desire to preserve it as a purpose-built music space, despite the fact that there are so few purpose-built music creative communities left in London, and an increasingly large number of displaced producers, composers, mixing engineers etc. like myself looking for an appropriate working space.
Over the years, under both of the studio’s names, many well-known artists and bands recorded in the building including the likes of Adele, Ed Sheeran, Mariah Carey, Simply Red, Simple Minds, Duran Duran, Queen and more. The greatest loss for me is that of the creative community, along with a loss of some work that came from that community, and the fact that I have been physically displaced. Naturally, I expect this to also have a direct negative effect on local businesses in the area.
Could you describe the overall reaction when the news was first announced?
When I first came to Battersea Park Studios, I was aware that this might happen, although the timeframe was always very uncertain. As tenants, we all hoped that the council would deny any planning permission and enforce the preservation of the studios. We thought that the lengthy application process and opposing it would at least buy us some more years in the meantime, or at least until building work was ready to be carried out. So although we were aware of what was going on, it was still a surprise when it came.
The whole community was in uproar when we received only 30 days notice on 7 August 2016. Now, six months later, the building lies empty and redundant as I imagine it will be for a long time.
It is painful to see such a great place with great facilities and expensive acoustic engineering disappear like that, especially when there is such great demand for these spaces in London.
It is sad to me that Battersea Park Studios, like many others in the capital, could not be protected despite considerable efforts from the musical and recording community as well as the local residential community to preserve the building as a studio and to raise awareness of the problem.
How will Battersea Park Studios be remembered?
Sphere was a well-known name within the London recording industry, and music recorded there will continue to be remembered for years to come. Similarly, those who visited Battersea Park Studios and experienced that buzzing creative hub are sure to have fond memories of its rooms. I was part of a team that birthed a new live music TV show promoting new music internationally called The Ayala Show, the first two series of which were shot and recorded in Battersea Park Studios.
What kind of relationship did you have personally with the studios and what kind of setup did you have?
My workspace included a control room and a small live room with all the relevant patch bays and acoustic treatment – it was my creative and professional home for nearly three years. My gear fitted perfectly, including my Calrec mixing desk, many instruments including a grand piano and drum kit in the live room, and extensive microphone collection.
During my time there I worked on many projects, including a Simply Red album through Andy Wright (one of the other producers in the building).
What are the other musicians/producers who occupied the building doing now since the studios’ closure?
I moved my desk and bulkier gear into storage and have spent the last five months renting other studios on temporary basis for recording, and then editing at home. It’s manageable short term, but when the time and place is right, I would like to move my studio to a new location.
The community however has scattered. Only three or four have found suitable alternatives, some have had to move and work from home, and some are still displaced or in temporary spaces on the wrong side of town. Overall, it will be hard to beat the facilities and lovely community we had at BPS or find anything similar.
Could you tell us a little about your documentary on the studios, which we understand is due to be launched on YouTube at the end of the month?
With the Ayala Show TV production company (Mind Motion Media) we decided that we’d like to document this moment in history from our own experience. We may have lost Battersea Park Studios now, but we haven’t given up the fight to raise awareness for the need for musical creative spaces and communities like this across London. We hope that the documentary will raise some awareness amongst local councils and the government as well as with any potential patrons of the arts.
Music is such a rich and important part of our society and culture, and yet with increasing capitalism around it can feel like all other values are being usurped by the desire for just one value: monetary. I will remember it as a great community of professionals, of different skills working in different sectors of the music industry.
It was a diverse community of nationalities and musical backgrounds, and a great representation of London, and how this city attracts people from all over the world.