Andy Kayll speaks softly and sparsely above the din in a mild Scouse accent, every so often breaking into a great wheezing laugh that makes his eyes twinkle under their bushy brows. We’re at DC-10 in Ibiza and the night has just ended. As security herd the last remnants of the crowd out the door, the club’s resident sound engineer has ushered Mixmag up to his amplifier room above the Main Room’s DJ booth. In front of us a board of lights and dials glimmers in the dark above the chaos of empty bottles and rubbish strewn across the dancefloor below. This is the nerve centre of DC-10’s soundsystem, where the music for the Terrace and Main Room is processed between the booth and the speakers on the floor. Andy is offering a window into the inner machinations of the club’s sound, proudly regarding his arrangement of equipment like a sage overseeing a particularly satisfying piece of alchemy. “There it is,” he says quietly as we pause to reflect in silence on his creation.
The wizard comparison is an obvious one. Not just because Andy’s grey beard lends him an air of magical authority but because to the DC-10 dancefloor below, he’s the mysterious figure in the hat who magically appears behind the DJ in the booth at key moments. To those in the know, he’s one of the greatest sound engineers on the planet, presiding over the system of easily the most influential club in dance music over the past 20 years: the wizard behind the curtain, responsible for the very heartbeat of the club. If a DJ is getting a bit over-excited and heading into the reds, Andy is there to ease them back into a more professional volume level. If the EQ needs adjusting to meet the needs of a different style of music, he can be seen staring into the middle distance of the room before burrowing off into the guts of the club to attenuate the controls.
He’s also rarely seen without his leather Ranger hat (he bought the first one at a Land Rover rally over 20 years ago). And like every good wizard Andy has an apprentice, in his case 37-year-old Londoner Rich Walsh. The pair have become a formidable duo, as respected for their rigorous dedication to maintaining the system during opening hours as they are for being two of the island’s favourite characters on the afterparty scene. Andy is understated, quiet and humble; Rich is animated and charismatic. Both men share a genuine love of sound.
“Music stirs emotions and when it’s delivered at the right level on the right system it can be a magical thing,” says Rich. “You don’t just hear a great soundsystem; you experience it,” Andy continues, “ It can trigger memories or create them and that’s its power.”
"Music stirs emotions and when it's delivered at the right level on the right system it can be a magical thing"
A typical Monday at the club begins with Rich arriving at around 2pm to set up and open the garden before Andy arrives at around 4pm and they start up the main room and terrace. “Andy typically looks after main room and I’m in the terrace,” says Rich, “or the ‘war zone’ as we call it [because of how difficult it is to get from one end to the other when full].” Once all the areas are open it’s down to maintaining levels in each room and setting up for each DJ. On average, Circoloco has 15 or so DJs each Monday so the pair are kept busy each week from start to finish – but working for Circoloco is never your typical engineer’s assignment. “It’s extreme and surreal at the same time,” says Rich. “There have been so many crazy moments: hanging out with Dolce & Gabbana for the night and not realising for three hours who they were, P Diddy and Naomi Campbell asking to meet me (still weird), bumping into Ronaldo (the original Brazilian one) each week – he knows my name, which still gets me! I used to watch him each World Cup, he was a god – and now I hang with him at the club. There are so many occasions like that it’s almost become the norm.”
The next time we speak, Andy Kayll is “bobbing up and down” on his houseboat in London. At 55 he’s pretty much seen and done it all in dance music. He grew up in Liverpool’s Mossley Hill and went to the same school as John Lennon. He DJed at a rock club called Night Riders at the same time that Frankie Goes to Hollywood transformed the city into one of the capitals of the new wave and synth-pop scene. As a sound engineer for the city’s Royal Court, he worked on big shows for acts like David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac. “I had all of Bowie’s records – to meet him and to not be fazed was difficult,” he laughs. But it was helping out a friend on the lights at Cream that gave him his biggest break. A qualified electrician, Andy soon graduated to a full-time job overseeing the sound. “It may seem strange, but through my college courses in electricity I learned about sine waves and how they interact – and it’s exactly the same with sound,” he says. “The science was my grounding and I had my [musical] background in what sounded right and what sounded wrong.”
When Cream flew in Steve Dash to install his Phazon system in the club, Andy was to learn from the very best in the business. Vietnam veteran Steve cut his teeth working at Paradise Garage but became a celebrity in the world of sound engineers for his no-holds-barred work on legendary 90s club Twilo. “Steve shaped my ideas of how dance music should sound in a club,” says Andy. Being mentored by the best in the game was to prove a massive break, epitomised by his work on Cream’s Millennium series of parties in London, Manchester, Newcastle and the Cream headquarters in Liverpool all on the same night.
When Cream resident Paul Oakenfold and Cream promoting partner Darren Hughes opened Home, a new superclub in London’s Leicester Square, Andy found himself looking after the club’s monthly resident, Danny Tenaglia. Danny soon hired Andy to come on board as his touring sound engineer. “With Danny it was like he was going into his living room to play a record,” says Andy. “It had to be exactly how he wanted it, down to the hook where he hung his headphones being in the right place. If everything was exact he didn’t have to think about where things were, and he could get straight into the flow of playing music.”
It was a position he would also fill for Dubfire. “I’d heard he was really gifted as an engineer, but it wasn’t until he started to work for Danny that I really took notice,” says Dubfire. “He’s so respected in the industry because he genuinely loves what he does and he’s always there tweaking and testing everything literally from the beginning to the end of a night. That amount of dedication is extremely rare among the rank and file of sound engineers.”
One night after engineering for Tenaglia at Space on Sundays, the Space promoters took him to DC-10 for the first time, at the time a small and newly opened “ramshackle” afterhours populated by the island’s workers, hippies and club freaks. It was to blow his mind. “I walked in and thought. This … is … amaaazing,” says Andy. “Like nowhere I’d ever been to before. Back then the soundsystem was non-existent – it was the people that made it stand out.”
Danny wanted to come down and play some records unannounced at Circoloco so Andy went to the club beforehand to oversee the system and install his sound processing unit. After a call from Circoloco promoter Andrea Pelino in 2002 he was working for the club full time during the summers – but new regulations demanding the club cover its famous terrace made it a difficult space sonically. “When we first put the roof on the acoustics were horrible,” says Andy. The room had a reverberation time that was so long when it was empty that you could play a tune, snap down the [volume] fader and still hear it for about two seconds.” Slowly, with each year and successive acoustic treatments and soundsystems, Andy and the Circoloco promoters restored the sound and improved it to new levels of clarity and depth. Unlike most clubs, DC-10 doesn’t use a bank of compressors to squash the life out of the music to make it appear louder. Instead, the sounds are allowed the space, in terms of volume, to do what they need. The lows go low and the louds go really loud, while Andy and Rich tend and adjust the system in real time.
Thirteen years into his stint at DC-10, Andy decided he needed to find a protegé to train up as his eventual replacement. The lucky recipient of that honour was Rich, who he’d met through an old friend. Like any good wizard, he began to set his apprentice tests to prove his worth. “Over the winter I sent him various problems to solve and each time he came back quickly with a reply – so I threw him in that summer for his first year.”
Rich jacked in a career teaching surgical methods and working with the Da Vinci machine, a robotic surgical arm, to pursue his new career. “I gave up a lot to be where I am now, but it’s fulfilled every expectation and more,” says Rich. “I almost pinch myself each week to see if it’s really happening, but working with Andy is easy for me – we just get each other without even saying anything. It’s not even work, it’s hanging out with my best mate at some of the best parties in the world.”
Reflecting on his lengthy career behind the scenes of some of dance music’s greatest moments, Andy is still mystified by the path it’s led him down. “My job has taken me to places I’d have never dreamed of visiting when I was younger,” he says. His apprentice is similarly grateful to be learning from the best. “You can learn all of the text books and read the instruction manuals… you can know all of the terminology, but actually running a superclub is a different matter. Learning how to control the artists and the levels and the whole gain structure of a venue is where the art comes alive. This is what matters and I’ve learnt from the best,” says Rich. “I have big boots – or in Andy’s case, big sandals – to fill.”