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Together in Electric Dreams

Ben at Soundgas

Around two years ago, a mysterious ‘S’ logo appeared on a building on Coasthill, which had formerly housed the Crich SureStart Centre.

The ‘S’ marked quite a change in direction for the building, as it went from hosting baby groups and health visiting teams to home of the Soundgas studio. The studio consists of all sorts of weird and wonderful electronic sound equipment, which is mostly accessed remotely. Customers can send in their recordings from across the globe and then listen in as they are processed, mixed and reworked using the delights contained within the studio. It’s a collection of the fascinating, rare, exotic and esoteric built up by Tony Miln over more than a quarter of a century. You could say it’s his baby.

Soundgas grew out of Tony’s love for electronic sound equipment. Tony tells me how he, like many of their customers, suffers from GAS: Gear Acquisition Syndrome. The condition, which inspired the business name, drives those afflicted to continually seek out the next absolutely essential bit of kit. Tony would buy gear for his personal studio, try it out, get it fixed and sell on any unused pieces. Initially operating from rooms in his own or his mother’s garage, the company made the step into dedicated office space in 2014. Tony recalls his reaction when his wife, Jo, came home with details of the space to let on the upper floor of the Old Vicarage: ‘That’s ridiculous, we’ll never fit it!’

Tony and Jo from Soundgas
Tony and Jo

At that time, the Soundgas team consisted of Jo, Tony, Gid (a friend who’d moved up from London for the venture), and Dec, their first apprentice, who was just 18 at the time. Fast-forward five years and a tour of the building reveals that filling the space wasn’t a problem! The door opens into a hallway which leads to an office, the engine room of the building, where equipment is listed for sale online, emails are answered and social media posted for Soundgas’ 39,000 Instagram followers. Classic equipment, such as a Binson Echorec, used by artists from Hank Marvin to Pink Floyd, and a Roland 808, which was a cornerstone in the emergence of hip-hop, electronic and dance music, lies on various surfaces. There’s also a photography and packing room and a workshop where a 1973 mini Moog is undergoing restoration.

The Soundgas team pride themselves on sourcing, servicing and supplying the very best in classic, vintage and exotic electronic instruments and recording equipment. Most of the gear they work with dates from the 1960s onwards, but some goes as far back as the 40s. Their client base is impressive: Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Jamie Cullum, Kaiser Chiefs, The Killers, Radiohead, Noel Gallagher
and Arctic Monkeys are all customers. The Who’s Pete Townshend, who told them, ‘Your list is the greatest – I want everything on it!’, is a regular. They also work with film sound engineers and composers. Matt Morton, who produced the soundtrack for Apollo 11 using one of their Echorecs, invited Tony and Jo to the UK premiere of the film in June.

As Jo shows me the packing room, she points out how Soundgas work hard to limit their environmental impact. ‘We use green energy and save and reuse our packaging wherever possible. Repairing and restoring old gear that might otherwise be thrown away, as well as reusing parts from things that can’t be repaired, is obviously better for the environment than buying and selling new. But we’re aware that we then ship it all over the world, so we do what we can to limit the impact.’ 

Will at Soundgas

Jo and Tony are also keen to ensure they share their success through giving. They are part of the Buy 1 Give 1 (B1G1) scheme, contributing to projects in the Global South every time they ship a parcel. As rural employers, they provide meaningful careers and are committed to training the next generation of technicians. Soundgas are committed to helping emerging artists, too; an example of this is  loaning their equipment to musicians ranging from up-and-coming Wirksworth band Marvin’s Revenge, to internationally acclaimed composer and turntablist Shiva Feshareki. Feshareki used one of their Space Echoes at the 2018 Proms in the premiere performance of Daphne Oram’s Still Point. The pioneering piece, dating back to 1949, was possibly the first to combine a live orchestra with live electronic manipulations. 

Crich seems an unlikely location for a company like this, so why here? Primarily, Soundgas is here because it’s where Tony and Jo are! Commuting is not for them, and most of the 13-strong team live within Crich Parish. ‘The buildings themselves are also just perfect,’ says Jo. ‘A bit vintage, like the gear.’ 

A new build just wouldn’t have the same soul as the Soundgas space. The fact that the building is owned by The Glebe Field Trust is also a draw. The rent that Soundgas pays goes to support this
community asset and the team are also keen to support other local businesses – The Old Black Swan and The Loaf being particular favourites.

Most of the gear they work with dates from the 1960s onwards, but some goes as far back as the 40s.

Their client base is impressive: Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Jamie Cullum, Kaiser Chiefs, The Killers,
Radiohead, Noel Gallagher and Arctic Monkeys are all customers.

So what’s next? Soundgas just keeps growing and their commitment to educating the next generation of technicians is a key component in their future. Allowing BBC-trained ‘Dr’ Huw Williams and  ‘legendary synth wizard’ James Walker the time and space to share their expertise by training up new techs is high on the agenda. Tony would also love to set up a record label to release music  produced by the team and others using their equipment. ‘We keep joking that there ought to be a Soundgas band. In fact, we performed at Synthfest in Sheffield last year. We’d booked to play, but on the day our stall was so busy we didn’t have time to prepare. A few of us just grabbed a bit of gear each and winged it, performing as Crichwerk. It turned out pretty well!’