Jake Young goes down to a small Soho operation that has a big history.
Tucked behind a nondescript black metal door in central London is one of the city’s most storied and celebrated recording complexes. This isn’t the illustrious Abbey Road or the grandiose AIR – this is Dean St.
In 1976, what is now known as Dean St. Studios was bought by legendary producer Tony Visconti, who recorded the likes of David Bowie, T. Rex, and The Moody Blues here before selling it to music production company Joe and Co in 1989. After fading into somewhat obscurity in the early 2000s, director/studio manager Jasmin Lee launched Dean St. in 2007.
The Studio 1 control room is the main hub and is currently manned by head engineer Austen Jux-Chandler. It has recently upgraded to a new Pro Tools HDX system running on one of the new Mac Pro towers, but sitting quietly in the corner is also a Studer A80 tape recorder. It belongs to Lee, who inherited it from her late father Alvin Lee of Ten Years After.
“It’s a shame that it doesn’t get used more often in sessions,” admits Jux-Chandler. “But when you tell people about the extra costs of lining it up, and how expensive tape is, plus the problems with syncing, most people just decide it’s easier and cheaper to stay in Pro Tools. A lot of people get nervous as well when I tell them I won’t be able to chop up their drums or comp the vocals. I think the idea that a musician would have to practice their instrument to the point where they can perform their entire part in a single take is a bit of a lost art.”
The control room houses a 48-channel SSL Duality console and loads of industry-standard outboard including pieces from Neve and Chandler. Jux-Chandler has a personal connection with Focusrite, which has given him the ISA828 mic pre and the ISA430 MkII channel strip.
ATC SCM50ASL Pros were the only monitors that Jux-Chandler found worked here.
“This room’s got character,” he says. “The layout and treatment hasn’t changed much since Tony Visconti’s days so sometimes if you’re mixing you can notice the depth of the balance changes in certain spots, but I know this room so well it’s never been a problem. We tried out so many different speakers. The SCM50ASL Pros are perfect for this room.”
While Jux-Chandler works with Tom Odell quite often and Peace were recently in Studio 1 for five weeks with producer Jim Abbiss, Dean St. Studios also supports smaller artists.
Hank Marvin was in the studio on the day of our visit. “It was funny because he did actually use the phrase ‘I’m Hank Marvin,’” laughs Jux-Chandler. “He didn’t actually give a performance but he was being interviewed and then he played a few licks.”
Old meets new
The studio owners have invested in a lot more instruments and amps for the live room in recent years. Also coming from Lee is an old Hammond C3 organ and George Harrison’s harmonium. The collection also includes a 100+-year-old Bechstein, while the newest keyboard that Dean St. has acquired is a Streetly Electronics M400. According to Jux-Chandler, the drum kit is a bit of a ‘zombie kit’. “It’s mostly a Premier with some Yamaha and Mapex pieces chucked in for good measure.”
The mic cupboard includes a couple of Royers, the R-121 mono ribbon and the SF-24 stereo ribbon; a Wunder Audio CM7 tube; Josephson C42 pencil condensers and the e22S side-address cardioid; a Crowley and Tripp El Diablo ribbon; and a home modified valve Neumann U 87 Ai condenser.
Dean St. also sublets four further studios as private production suites, one of which is rented by production company Yellow Boat Music. Company director Paul Cartledge has been here since the Visconti days. “It’s an ironic twist of fate that I’ve ended up back in the basement where I started,” he laughs.
On occasion Yellow Boat Music will hire Studio 1 when they need a larger space. “They hire session musicians who nail it on the first take, which is a bit scary for an engineer!” jokes Jux-Chandler. “But it’s always a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.”
Producer/mixer duo Charlie Russell and Brad Spence work in studios 4 and 5. They’ve most recently been working with Hero Fisher and Jake Bugg but they cut their teeth assisting different sessions and producing for Jamiroquai. Studio 4 is also on long-term shared hire to producer/mixer Alex Beitzke.
Studio 3 is a dedicated audio post-production suite in conjunction with GuiltFree, which does a lot of voiceovers for the BBC, CITV programme Horrid Henry, travel programmes, and more. The studio has a small booth, which can fit a drum kit when Dean St. runs it commercially.