Metropolis Studios in Chiswick – one of the best recording studios in the world

Image above: Metropolis Studios, 70 Chiswick High Rd; Photograph Jennifer Griffiths

Not particularly well known locally, but on speed dial for music producers in Atlanta and LA

Amy Winehouse, Queen, The Rolling Stones, George Michael, U2, Lady Gaga, Elton John, Harry Styles, Ed Sheeran, Adele, Rihanna, and Jay-Z; this eclectic group of musical titans all have one thing in common: Metropolis Studios in Chiswick.

Europe’s largest independent recording complex, where these artists and many others have recorded, mixed or mastered their music, is discreetly located just off Chiswick High Road, tucked away behind the Villa di Geggiano restaurant, inside the Power House – a Grade II listed building which was once an electricity generating station.

Over a period of more than 30 years, since 1989, Metropolis has become a staple of London’s music scene. For the past seven years the Studios have been run by CEO Richard Connell, who has himself notched up 35 years’ experience in the industry.

Richard talked to The Chiswick Calendar about the Studios’ rich history.

Image above: Queen, photograph Kentarotakizawa; Amy Winehouse Back to Black album, Island Records

Queen and Amy Winehouse – “Two pillars that have built Metropolis”

With so many to choose from, which artists have had the most profound impact on the work of Metropolis?

Richard’s answer was quick and assured:

“It’s very hard to [overlook] Amy and Queen, who are two pillars that have built Metropolis. Queen, because they were the first, and Studio A has a big part to play in Queen’s story due to it being in the videos for the Innuendo album.”

Studio A is Metropolis’ expansive live room. Its fame spread thanks to that album, but also because it was the place where George Michael’s second solo studio album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 was recorded in 1990. Studio A is also used for concerts and album playbacks.

Image above: Metropolis Studios CEO Richard Connell; photograph Ben Dimmock

“We have a reputation for female vocalists”

Amy Winehouse’s number one album Back to Black was mixed by Tom Elmhirst at Metropolis in 2006 and mastered by Stuart Hawkes, who has said:

“I knew from the moment I heard the demos that this was going to be a very special album. One which I knew, I wanted to be involved with. Albums are so important, we get to experience tracks that wouldn’t really work as singles. The album allows for greater experimentation and opens you up to the artists’ creativity.”

Back to Black has won numerous awards and has been listed as one of the greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone magazine

Amy Winehouse’s work at the Studios has had a profound impact on their business:

“We have a reputation for female vocalists and I put that all down to Amy and what those sessions captured when she was here,” said Richard.

Among the female artists who have used the studios to create their music are London based rapper Kamille, Adele (albums 21, 25 and 30), Little Mix (Confetti), Dua Lipa (Boys Will Be Boys and Club Future Nostalgia), Rihanna (Unapologetic), Madonna and Lady Gaga.

With so many very famous people coming and going, it seems bizarre that the Studios are not better known locally.

“People don’t actually know that we’re here,” Richard told me.

Perhaps with the filming of the recording scenes for the new biopic of Amy Winehouse’s life, Back to Black taking place at the studios and all the kerfuffle that goes with filming, that will change.

“We recently just had a coach of tourists, Queen fans from Japan, come to look at the building. That’s usual for Abbey Road, it’s very unusual for us.”

Images above: The alley way leading to the Power House; The entrance to Metropolis Studios; photographs Jennifer Griffiths

West London as the home of music in London

West London is known as the home of the music industry in London. From the days when Chris Blackwell set up Island Records across the street from Metropolis on the border of Chiswick and Hammersmith, and The Who and The Rolling Stones were making their names at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, the Ealing Club and the Eel Pie Island Hotel.

“West London has always been the home of music in London, after it moved out of the centre. There were a lot of labels that moved to Kings Cross, but we’re finding a lot of artists still live here in West London.”

Apart from the early success with Queen and the impact of working with Amy Winehouse, the Studios has several other things working in its favour: the building itself, and its proximity to Heathrow airport, the quality of the work they produce and the engineers’ ability to keep up with technology.

Images above: The Engine Room of the Central Power Station as it was; Metropolitan Studios relaxation area now

Originally built as an electricity generating station for the London United Electrical Tramway Company at the end of 19th century, the Power House is massive. The architecture is inspiring, and it comfortably houses six studios as well as production rooms and a cafe.

Thanks to a campaign by the Victorian Society, it was saved from development and listed – the first 20th century building to have been considered worth preserving.

“There is something in these walls, just something in this building and there’s something in this place,” Richard told me, becoming quite emotional about it.

“She is such a wonderful old girl, and I couldn’t dream of doing this anywhere else. It’s in the walls. The atmosphere and creative tension that comes from this building is wonderful.”

Image above: Studio A; Photograph Metropolis Studios

“The US is very significant for us”

The size of the studios and the location so near to Heathrow means they can cater for touring American artists:

“The U.S. is very significant for us. We find our summers are taken up with a lot of US artists. Touring is difficult now for UK artists because of Brexit and all the faff that comes from trying to be a working musician in Europe now.

“The US clients have always had to deal with that and what we find in the summer is that US clients come in at the start of the summer to tour through festivals and come here to record.

“I would say we are the only studio in London that has got control rooms the size of Studio A and Studio B. Those are very reminiscent of L.A. and Atlanta recording studios.”

Image above: Studio A; Photograph Metropolis Studios

Keeping up with the technology

When legendary producer and engineer Gary Langan established the Studios, his vision was to create a haven where artists could fully immerse themselves in their creative process, benefiting from state-of-the-art equipment and an unparalleled sonic environment.

Renowned for his work with iconic artists such as Queen and Yes, he was the one who made the Studios’ reputation, but keeping hold of that reputation in an ever-changing technological landscape has meant employing music engineers who stay ahead of the game.

“For us in the recording side of the business, we’ve gone from analogue to digital and that was a massive change. We’re now going through the shift to Atmos recording, so 360 surround-sound recording. But Atmos recording was invented by a bloke in EMI in the 1950s. This is not new technology, it’s just new ways of listening to it. The technology has caught up with the innovation.

“We have a very simple aim here at Metropolis: to be the finest recording studio in Europe. The reason that we have that as our mantra is because the word ‘finest’ keeps changing, and the words ‘recording studio’ keep changing.

Images above: IAMDDB; Poté; photographs Metropolis Studios

“Built into our DNA is adaptation, and we are not a museum. We are only as good as the artists that we recorded and helped reach their potential today. Amy Winehouse and Queen are massively important to us, but they are not as important to us as the artists that are in this building today.

“Big, small, indifferent, it doesn’t matter. We come to work every day of the week to help an artist reach their full potential.”

Some of the artists recording today are Hip Hop and Rap artists, including Kendrick Lamar, Loyle Carner and Dave, Grammy award winning R&B artist Kamille and Afro-Fusion artist Burna Boy.

On the classical side, Bryn Terfel, Simon Keenlyside and Joseph Kalleja have recorded there. Indie bands include The Big Moon, Jelani Blackman, Easy Life and Connie Constance.

And the list goes on …

Image above: Noel Gallagher recording at Metropolis Studios; photograph Metropolis Studios

Notable work created at Metropolis Studios

Queen – Innuendo

Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson – Back to Black

George Michael – Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1

Harry Styles – Girl Crush

U2 – Every Breaking Wave

Michael Jackson – I Have This Dream

Adele – 21, 25 and 30

Ed Sheeran X and ÷ 

Little Mix – Confetti

Dua Lipa – Boys Will Be Boys and Club Future Nostalgia

Rihanna – Unapologetic

The Verve – Urban Hymns

Kendrick Lamar – Fear

Drake – More Life

Justin Bieber – Second Emotion

Lewis Capaldi – How I’m Feeling Now

The Rolling Stones – Hackney Diamonds

Arctic Monkeys – Sculptures of Anything Goes, Body Paint and The Car

And work by

Madonna

Elton John

U2

Led Zeppelin

Lady Gaga

Jay-Z

Image above: The Power House interior; photograph Metropolis Studios

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