Dolby Atmos clubbing is pretty awesome

Ministry of Sound becomes Ministry of Surround Sound with specially upgraded audio system

T3 is in the house. Specifically, it's on the main floor of London's Ministry of Sound, as house music legend Kerri Chandler spins the ones and twos (also known as DJing, if your last visit to a nightclub wasn't circa 1997).

It ispacked. Not only is it packed, but two people in sunglasses have just pushed past and are now standing around in front of me as I'm attempting to dance, posing like an outrageous pair of twats, and indulging in sporadic bouts of heavy petting.

Thankfully, the music is great.

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Generally, I'm a lukewarm fan of house music - it's basically too slow for me to dance to, and too subtle for someone weaned on the aggressive clatter of early 90s European techno and jungle.

I'm a lukewarm fan of the Ministry of Sound too. You have to admire its longevity and success, and it's a very professional operation. Why, you can even lock the loo doors. That certainly wasn't a given 'back in the day'.

Yes, Ministry is quite 'corporate'… But hell, that's what it takes to survive for a quarter of a century, in a dance music world that's always subject to the whims of fashion, licensing restrictions and, since its Elephant and Castle home started being gentrified, neighbours who maybe don't appreciate the sweet, synthetic sounds of house music throbbing through the floorboards at 4am in the morning.

Tonight, part of what makes the house music great and the Ministry a pleasure to be in, despite the dicks getting in my way when I'm trying to BUST some moves is the fact it's coming through a Dolby Atmos sound system.

Yep, that's right: vertical surround sound clubbing is now a thing, with Dolby sponsoring a series of gigs that is still ongoing now. As well as house there's to be dubstep from Flux Pavilion, psy-trance from Infected Mushroom - you know Infected Mushroom, right? - and a further dose of house from Balearic legend DJ Harvey.

So to the Ministry's existing sound system - which is truly excellent anyway, incidentally - have been added a dozen overhead speakers; Atmos' next-gen sonic calling card.

You can't just rock up and start using Atmos, however. All the DJs using the system have had their tracks processed especially for it. Via a laptop, it's possible to move parts of a tune around live, in real time - having a filter sweep whoosh rise from floor to ceiling, or whirling a percussion track over the crowd's heads like a runaway helicopter. Alternatively, the Atmos turntablists can just stick to pre-programmed moves.

However - and I don't want to seem ungrateful here for the VIP invite and the free Grey Goose vokda, and all that - there is a problem with the way Kerri Chandler is using the Atmos system tonight. It is FAR too subtle.

I have a rather drunken conversation with one of the Dolby team here at the club, asking how extreme you could go with it, and he hints at uses for Atmos that are almost more like enhanced interrogation techniques than playing music. Dolby has to actually artificially limit what users of the system can do, because without those limits it becomes a sonic weapon, capable of frying listeners' brains.

(With hindsight, I think that's what he was implying, anyway. It was very loud and I was a bit squiffy.)

However, Kerri Chandler is largely using Atmos to subtly fatten the sound. Make it more dynamic. It sounds absolutely grand, but there are no high-hat helicopters skittering overhead then dive-bombing the dancefloor. Bass does not wobble across the floor like a fat man making his way to the toilets. It's all a bit too tasteful. Ah well, the crowd is not noticeably downhearted about this.

I speak to the next DJ ot use the system, Flux Pavilion - that's MISTER Pavilion, to you! - later in the week, and mention this. He's understanding.

"You don't want to suddenly throw the sound to the back of the room… You'd have everyone at the front going 'where's the music gone!'"

Mister Pavilion, similarly, started out wanting to do it tastefully - "no cheesy effects". He says, "I wanted to use this cutting edge tech to make the music sound MASSIVE, rather than technical. It's not just [cerebral techno DJ] Richie Hawtin who should be using this, it's great for pure dancefloor music. I'm adding a bit of punk to it. That's what tech needs... A bit of punk."

However, "Once I started playing with it, I did go a bit mad." As a result, the Atmos versions of the likes of Bass Cannon and Stampede sound pretty much as you'd expect tracks called 'Bass Cannon' and 'Stampede' to sound: kinetic, bass-heavy assaults that use Atmos to carpet bomb the dancefloor.

I'd imagine Infected Mushroom probably do something fairly outrageous with their psychedelic trance on their night with the Atmos system, too. For now, as lights swirl across the dancefloor and the crowd goes mad for it, I'm a bit upset at the lack of tunes swirling around like an audio hurricane, but even without such party tricks, the quality of this Atmos sound system is still damn impressive.

Details of the next Atmos gigs at Ministry of Sound.

Duncan Bell

Duncan is the former lifestyle editor of T3 and has been writing about tech for almost 15 years. He has covered everything from smartphones to headphones, TV to AC and air fryers to the movies of James Bond and obscure anime. His current brief is everything to do with the home and kitchen, which is good because he is an excellent cook, if he says so himself. He also covers cycling and ebikes – like over-using italics, this is another passion of his. In his long and varied lifestyle-tech career he is one of the few people to have been a fitness editor despite being unfit and a cars editor for not one but two websites, despite being unable to drive. He also has about 400 vacuum cleaners, and is possibly the UK's leading expert on cordless vacuum cleaners, despite being decidedly messy. A cricket fan for over 30 years, he also recently become T3's cricket editor, writing about how to stream obscure T20 tournaments, and turning out some typically no-nonsense opinions on the world's top teams and players.

Before T3, Duncan was a music and film reviewer, worked for a magazine about gambling that employed a surprisingly large number of convicted criminals, and then a magazine called Bizarre that was essentially like a cross between Reddit and DeviantArt, before the invention of the internet. There was also a lengthy period where he essentially wrote all of T3 magazine every month for about 3 years. 

A broadcaster, raconteur and public speaker, Duncan used to be on telly loads, but an unfortunate incident put a stop to that, so he now largely contents himself with telling people, "I used to be on the TV, you know."