Sova Audio: Coming through loud and clear

    When it comes to music events, clarity of sound is of the utmost importance and who better to entrust the most crucial aspect of the party than Funktion One. London based company Sova Audio have an intrinsic connection to the top tier audio developers and are an official dealer and rental partner in the UK. What George and Tzveti don’t know about sound just isn’t worth knowing but what is interesting is their journey that led them to this extremely exciting point.

    Speaking with the Sova Audio founder George firstly he explains his roots in the industry, “We were both already well-acquainted with the world of live events. Tzveti had spent years on the production and promoter side, often merging music, art and fashion concepts, while I had been DJing since the late 90s and learned sound engineering working with some of the best Funktion-One crews in the UK. But we were getting restless. I was starting to grow bored of the mechanical, techy, classic sound engineering jobs and was eager to research and develop the more creative applications of sound.” Even though Tzveti was working on engaging creative productions she felt there was massive room for enhancement in terms of the audio setup, “I felt that many events were missing a trick with the quality and ambition of their audio and I was surprised to be working on productions that had huge budgets but that didn’t pay much attention to sound at all. Often the audio was only really mentioned if the speakers were bad, like if they were quiet or distorted or tinny. We wanted to turn the issue on its head: instead of seeing speakers as a means of experiencing artistic expression which should be noticed as little as possible – heard but not seen, if you like – why not view an audio setup as a creative exercise in its own right?” George echoes this sentiment with a clear mission, “we wanted to try out different things and explore the creative applications of high-quality spatialised sound, but also stay true to our origins, deeply rooted in electronic music.”

    From the very beginning, George and Tzveti were not looking to tread a well-worn path as George explains, “When we started we didn’t necessarily want to have an audio company in the classical sense of just hiring out speakers. Making sound systems bigger and better can only take you so far. To really shake things up, we felt like a shift in the dimensions of sound itself was needed, and so we decided that Sova Audio would focus on 3D (or ‘immersive’ or spatial) audio.” Tzveti recalls previous interaction with 3D sound they were looking to do something truly different with their new venture, “We had both experienced the full, captivating force of 3D setups before – at the experimental sound field rigged up by Funktion-One at Glastonbury, and at Artmospheric festival in Bulgaria, where Robert Henke performed using a multi-point system and then explained his process with a workshop after.

    George continues to explain further, “So, we felt that spatial audio was a way to achieve our vision – a technological medium teeming with possibilities through which to venture down unexplored avenues of sonic artistry. And within a couple of years, somewhat poetically, we were working among the same inspirations that had helped spark Sova Audio into existence. We set up a multi-point Funktion-One system at Glastonbury, for example, using a processor that’s usually used for opera and theatrical events called TiMax.” George adds to this point, “It was a much talked about system actually. We had the likes of Carl Cox, Seth Troxler and Fatboy Slim play on it. Then, towards the end of 2018, we provided the setup for an Astral Industries show at Cafe OTO featuring none other than Robert Henke! We also put on an experimental event at Ravensbourne University with Tom Middleton and Daedelus at around the same time. It felt like those shows gave us the recognition we needed as a new company on the oversaturated UK audio market.”

    Clearly, George and Tzveti were thinking on a wholly different plane from other audio companies by this point but it was interesting to learn their connection to the bedrock of their company, (George) “Funktion-One was the first sound system I heard that really got me excited about audio, and my excitement hasn’t dampened one bit after all these years of working with them. I bought my first Funktion-One set up in the late 2000s for personal use [when I was still living in Bulgaria], mainly to satisfy my need for quality audio at my parties. From there I was hooked and I decided to pursue a career as a sound engineer, to the extent that I packed my bags and moved to London, just to be in the middle of it all. I’d never set foot in London before that, so it isn’t an overstatement to say that Funktion-One changed my life (for the better!). There are many great sound systems out there, but I’ve definitely formed a special bond with Funktion-One. I know how to get the best out of it. When I get in the sweet spot and all the components are right – the DJ, the acoustics, the crowd – it’s like a transcendental experience. And I just don’t get that with other sound systems.”

    Tzveti shares the same passion for F1, “As a promoter and event creative, Funktion-One has always been my preferred brand to work with. I like that it needs a human touch and ear to really work its magic. They also share a very similar vision and ethos to Sova Audio. Funktion-One are still a family-run business that do not compromise whatsoever when it comes to the purity of their audio and the design of their products. They also tend to go against the grain when compared to some of the more ‘corporate’ audio manufacturers who have to satisfy the ever-increasing revenue hunger of their stakeholders. This also means that when we need advice, we just pick up the phone and speak to the very people who build the systems we use, not some middleman technical support, which makes our service even better.”        

    Now that we have established the pair’s love for Funktion One we hear more about their home scene and their connection to London’s thriving audio community, (George) “Our connections aren’t just in London, but all over the UK and Europe too. But it’s true that London is our home. Before setting up Sova Audio and moving to the UK, we used to put on parties in Bulgaria and we booked many of the first-wave tech house DJs like Asad Silverlining, Nathan Coles, Terry Francis, Evil Eddie Richards. We became very close friends with some of them and this gave us our gateway into the local London scene. Then over the years we branched out – we worked on large scale productions such as Marco Carola’s Music On, developed close relationships with music institutions like Phonica Records, and became deeply involved with a number of forward-thinking underground parties – Spaced, Night Moves, Astral industries, Experiment Intrinsic, and many others.”

    Tzveti also points out that as well as the huge promoters and venues they are a part of they also have deep connections to the up and coming outfits, “We give as much attention to the ‘small’ promoters as we do the big ones, and it often pays off – as these guys move on and get bigger, their gigs get bigger, and we all grow together. We’ve done really inspiring stuff with many underground, experimental-leaning artists over the years – Jan Jelinek, Tobias, Nicolas Lutz, Abdulla Rashim, Refracted, Deepchord, the legendary Roedelius – but we’ve also done lots of work with names that you’d see headlining the main festival stages, such as Carl Cox, Louie Vega, Bicep, Luciano, Seth Troxler – the list goes on.”

    COVID-19 was an extremely tough point in most people’s lives and while some struggled others thrived. George and Tzveti had more than their fair share of both as George tells us, “When the pandemic hit in early 2020 we had just signed a three-year lease on a warehouse in Hackney. On the surface, the timing couldn’t have been worse. But we looked at the positives: here was the perfect opportunity to expand into the uncharted creative areas we had envisaged when we first started out, and our new warehouse space was a blank canvas on which we could build. We also saw the deluge of live streaming that appeared online at that time and became frustrated at the poor quality of the sound and overall production of much of it, so we decided to turn the space into a premium live streaming centre.” Tzveti goes on to explain their thought process of setting up their studio, “we didn’t want it to be just a live stream of a DJ with a couple of decks – we wanted it to be well-curated and to have deeper creative elements. With Studio Sova, the platform that resulted, our aim was to bring together artists from various disciplines and explore the ways in which they could interact.”

    Not just focusing on club music their projects bridged a number of musical gaps, “For one event, Nathalia (the founder of Experiment Intrinsic and a close friend of ours) laid down a gorgeous ambient mix while Chihiro Kawasaki gave an interpretive dance performance and vvvlad crafted live reactive visuals, with all these elements then merged and meshed before the audience’s eyes during the stream. In another iteration, the street artist Goodchild painted a kaleidoscopic mural live over one of the walls of the warehouse while Leah Floyeurs provided a throbbing techno soundtrack. We’ve also partnered with visual artists Hanzo, Lo Ben, ixian optical, Vincent Rang and lou zon, to name a few, and to mark Sova Audio’s 4th birthday, Jane Fitz (another very close mate of ours) did a massive 8-hour set which has since become pretty legendary!”

    With many years experience between the two of them and an unquenchable thirst for delivering high grade audio conversation soon switched to what they have up their sleeves for the future, (George) “Many of our future plans involve projects we have already started but that need additional tuning and work to get to the level we want them to be at. For example, we recently launched our online speaker rental site with the aim of making hiring high-end audio equipment as straightforward as possible. Our fully online process for short-term compact sound system hires is designed to match an audio solution to our client’s specific needs. There are options at different levels, plus extras such as accessories and DJ equipment. The platform is the only one of its kind and works like a breeze but it needs constant updating and improvements to keep it as customer-centric and intuitive as possible. We’re also looking forward to a busy summer, with festivals lined up in the UK and across Europe.

    Tzveti was keen to explain that as well as their work in the pro audio sphere Sova Audio was committed to sharing their knowledge with the next generation of music lovers and sound engineers, “We also focus on a lot of education work these days and the plan is to expand our social impact projects. We had started working with Ravensbourne University just before the first lockdown, helping music students to gain knowledge of immersive sound and assisting them with their projects. So, we decided to continue that work through the pandemic and started doing lectures, online classes and participatory workshops, for both live and virtual participants.” These projects were also recognised and kindly supported by the Arts Council and as Tzveti explains as a result has grown into Sova Labs, “an educational hub aimed at community learning where we bring together industry leaders and young creatives so that they can learn from each other and gain experience participating in and developing immersive projects within the realm of sound. As the first part of this scheme, last year we worked with Waltham Council and various other institutions and hosted week-long workshops for young creatives featuring lectures by industry leaders such as Tony Andrews from Funktion One and Dave Haydon from TiMax. We’re developing a three-day immersive audio festival and workshops that will see the light of day later this year. If any of your readers are interested in the creative use of spatial audio, please give us a follow to get the update and participate in this unique event.

    The revelations don’t stop there either as they, Sova Audio, have been working behind the scenes to deliver on their promise of delivering pro audio to all not just the few, “Our online shop (currently in BETA and only available to UK customers) It has always been a big part of our mission to bring amazing sound systems to as many homes as possible. During the pandemic, we equipped quite a few private properties with Funktion-One sound systems and it made us realise that there’s a big gap in the residential audio market. At home, music lovers either go with hi-fi setups or studio monitor systems, but many have no idea that professional audio brands like Funktion-One, that are typically associated with nightclubs and music festivals, offer compact packages suitable for home entertainment and studio use, giving the home user access to the same exciting audio dynamics but in a small and easy to use format.” Tzveti wholeheartedly agrees with this point and explains the gap between club and home doesn’t need to be so vast, “Exactly – Covid was a turning point in the way people have fun, and while dark nightclubs can never be replaced as places when clubbers worship the social element of dancing together, there’s a certain magic to having a small Funktion One system ready for the afters or on a quiet Thursday night in. We bridge the gap between pro and consumer audio and have made our shop very customer-centric, with finance options and aftercare support. Our aim is as pure and simple as it was at the beginning: keep creating, keep enabling others to create, and make sure it sounds good.”

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