If you want to see the state of the art in studio design, there’s no better place to look than EDM star Afrojack’s Wall Recordings.
When Peter Gabriel opened his Real World Studios in 1989, it revolutionised studio design. With no separate control room, and huge windows that allowed natural light to flood in, Real World became a reference point for studio design the world over.
Nearly 35 years later, studio design has changed completely. There’s no longer a need for a desk, or tons of outboard, so studios can be much smaller, and the focus is on comfort and a creative vibe over technical requirements. Unusual, highly personalised studios, often in unusual locations, have become the norm rather than the exception.
But clearly, there’s still space for head‑turning studio design, as is illustrated by Afrojack’s new studio at his Wall Recordings headquarters in Belgium, a stone’s throw from the border with his native Netherlands. The mind‑bend in Afrojack’s case is that his studio is inspired by yacht design, and in part built by companies that are among the world’s foremost constructors of super yachts.
Afrojack’s new studio needs to be seen to be believed, and has many unusual features. They include a long, tapered shape that resembles, well, a ship, huge windows, a high ceiling, hardwood glass cabinets, dazzling ceiling lights, a spartan‑looking studio workspace, a lounge‑like sofa area, an office meeting area with table and chairs, and much more.
Afrojack, aka Nick van de Wall, is one of the world’s foremost DJs and EDM producers, has won many awards (including one Grammy Award and three Grammy nominations), and can routinely be found in the top 10 of DJ Mag’s Top 100. “I came to this place for the first time four years ago,” he says, “and after buying it, I started drawing, figuring out the best layouts. Architecture is my hobby, so I designed all my own houses, and all the offices at Wall, both layout and interior design. But I don’t do the technical stuff; that’s not the fun part of architecture.
“When it came to the studio, I started thinking about how I could do it. I have a few friends who have yachts, and everything fits perfectly on them. There are no empty shelves or loose‑standing closets and so on. I’ve always been inspired by that from a design perspective, so I approached Winch Design in London and Feadship in Holland, who both design and build super yachts.
“Jelle van der Voet of Pinna Acoustics designed all my other studios. He also designed studios for Martin Garrix, David Guetta, and others. His idea is to put acoustic panels everywhere, but then you get an old‑fashioned, boring studio. So I got him together with the people from Winch and Feadship to figure out how to make the studio look like a chill gentleman’s lounge. I didn’t want it to look like a studio, but like a comfortable room. I didn’t want a place that was uninspiring to be in.
“It was fun to try to build a next‑level example of what you can do with a studio. For example, the windows have glass plates that are 600kg each. They are the biggest ever put in a studio. My former studios did not have any daylight, and I did not want to make that mistake again. Peter Gabriel’s studio was one of my inspirations, and I was surprised they got the glass everywhere to work, acoustically. Generally, studio designers prefer studios without glass because it’s expensive and acoustically difficult. You need a great designer to get it to work. But when you get the right one, it’s worth it.
“Blue and turquoise are my favourite colours, so I wanted them in here, and I love glossy hardwood, and we used a lot of that. I wouldn’t recommend it, though, because it can scratch very easily and is expensive as f**k! I also have a world map in a large circle underneath the desk where I work, and above it a starry ceiling, again in a circle. The world map is because I’m a DJ who travels all over the world. It’s perhaps a bit cheesy, but when you walk in at night and the stars are on, it looks cool. Initially, the two circles created a flutter echo between them, so they repanelled the floor circle to treat it acoustically, and it now also works as a bass trap.”
From a pure studio perspective, Afrojack’s place is as 21st Century as it gets. During our visit the desk is cleared, and only the huge top‑of‑the‑range PMC QB1 XBD‑A monitors — around £200k per pair — and a Yamaha Motif XF keyboard to the side indicate that the room is anything other than someone’s very fancy lounge.
“For me, the new flagship large PMCs are like gigantic headphones,” explains Afrojack. “I don’t need nearfields any more. But I never pump the PMCs. I’ve been producing as a professional for 20 years, and I now produce at 70dB, and I can hear everything. Even though this room looks very comfy, I can hear a pin drop because of the acoustic treatment.
“Most of the other gear for my studio is tucked away in another, technical room. We also have outboard, but it’s in Studio 2 next door, which is more like a traditional recording studio. We thought about putting in an SSL, but I learned from American studios that you also need to hire an SSL guy to be there all the time to fix things. So we got a smaller mixer, and some 19‑inch rack outboard and Focal monitors.
“This is very anti‑gearheads, but when you’re DJ’ing in front of tons of people, they won’t be able to tell whether the music was made with analogue or digital gear. If I want an analogue sound, I can sample it. But to be honest, I’m too lazy to use the other studio. I’m not going to go through the process of recording every note by myself. I prefer to be in my own studio. I just want to sit down, make music, and then later I can do interesting stuff to treat it sonically by...