Strongroom opens new room as owner reveals AIR sale re-think12 November 2013
Strongroom studios has created a new tracking and mixing room for producer Danton Supple (Natalie Imbruglia, Ian Brown), as the famous east London complex embarks on re-establishing its role as a “music hub”. Owner of Strongroom and chairman of the AIR Entertainment Group has also revealed the realignment of his operations, while confirming that AIR Studios is “off the market”.
Located in Strongroom 4, Supple’s room (shown here) is centred on an ex-BBC Bush House Calrec Q-Series console. A range of classic outboard has been integrated with a Pro Tools HD system, while the whole studio has been rewired by Langdale Technical Consulting’s Bill Ward. Phil Selway, the Radiohead drummer, was one of the first to use the room in recent weeks for work on his second solo album.
Danton Supple – managed by 140dB, which also handles Flood and Ben Hillier – was an assistant at Strongroom in the 1980s and says: “It’s great to be back, the place has a fantastic vibe.”
The new role for Strongroom 4 is just one of several recent happenings in the AIR/Strongroom orbit.
When PSNEurope last spoke to chairman Richard Boote in May 2012, he revealed that AIR was up for sale, but not for the purpose of being “turned into flats”. Speaking with the title last week, Boote says the famous north London facility will stay in the fold.
“I’m not actively trying to sell it,” says Boote, “[But] it’s as much for sale as anything is for sale,” he says. “AIR is still a viable business and makes a profit.”
“A year and a half ago it was very near to being sold – for development,” he reveals. “But we made the decision to sell it to someone who wanted to keep it as a studio.
“I’m not fighting developers off all the time but they are always there in the background. If a buyer came a long who had the finances to secure it from [those] developers, I would sell Air because it would be better.” Ideally, an investor with sufficient cash could “swipe aside anyone who is trying to develop it”. But that buyer has failed to emerge. While there have been six or so interested parties, no single applicant has ticked all the right boxes. Hence, no sale.
But there has been activity elsewhere. In the last 18 months Boote has moved his family home to Portugal. The weekly commute is now more ‘easyJet’ than ‘Oyster card’.
His business partner of over two years, media lawyer and CEO Paul Woolf, has taken a more hands-on role in the day-to-day, allowing the group chairman to step back and see the bigger picture.
Part of that has involved a restructuring of the AIR/Strongroom portfolio in recent months, with dividing lines marking out obvious geographies. AIR Studios, AIR Mastering and AIR Management are now run under one strand from the Belsize Park campus; while Strongroom, the Strongroom Bar & Kitchen and AIR Post Production form a separate strand, (all components of the AIR Entertainment Group) in Shoreditch. “Demerging has been very healthy for both businesses,” says Boote.
While AIR continues to attract film and production companies or those seeking a bigger live recording space, Strongroom will push a profile as a music hub – the purpose for which it first gained a reputation many years ago. Danton Supple’s room is the first stage in this process. Strongroom 2 will also be vacated and the equipment relocated to AIR Post just down the road, so that “someone can move in for the longer term”. The building of two additional audio dubbing suites at the post facility is also on the schedule.
Strongroom has taken on the lease of an adjacent building so a party wall can be knocked through, extending the bar space by around a third. Access from Rivington Street is planned (“which gives us a little more presence”) in addition to the familiar Curtain Road tunnel approach.
“Strongroom will be more of a hub – and AIR is benefiting too,” affirms Boote. A chart of Oscar-winning films he saw recently revealed that AIR had been involved in the soundtracks of nine of the top 20, he notes. The SSL and Neve rooms are busy, as is AIR Mastering: “Ray Staff is remastering stuff he first mastered 30 years ago!
“AIR is a fantastic studio and a viable business; it still has a future because of the unique services it offers,” Boote concludes. “And I’m happy with the way the business is going.”