On a Thursday night a year or two before the pandemic, Booker Mitchell was DJing at Nublu, the musician Ilhan Ersahin’s club on Avenue C in Manhattan. Another DJ, Julien Bougennec—Juju—was at Nublu catching up with some older friends. When Booker stepped outside for a cigarette, he asked Juju to cover the decks, and in the conversation that followed, the two lifelong New Yorkers found they had a lot in common: both loved collecting records and shared an appreciation for music genres from all over the world.
Booker and Juju recall this origin story on a quiet summer morning in Dumbo. The light is gentle in the loft space on Bridge Street where Booker builds custom-made hi-fi speakers, privileging vintage parts. The loft is the official home of Bridge Street Sound, the project the two 25-year-olds are launching this September. Downstairs, apart from the workshop space, a set of white speakers sits in the corner of an otherwise empty room like an altar. And upstairs, a cozy listening area is lined with records, tools, and mementos—a visual representation of the aesthetic Booker and Juju want to reproduce through Bridge Street Sound’s events, sound systems, playlists, and more. United by their eclectic musical tastes and a love of parties and footy—football, in the European sense—the two envision the project as a home for a particular sensibility: a blend of “sound, music, and culture.”
“It’s that groove that you feel in your chest,” Juju chimes in. “Wanting to make people dance, but also taking sauce and flavor from everywhere.”
“We have a sonic aesthetic,” Booker adds, that the duo wants to bring to venues of all stripes: “from nightlife to public schools, music events, programming.”
This shared dream of a unified sound began early, maybe back when Booker, inspired by high-end speakers he saw at a neighbor’s place, built his first sound system at 17. Growing up in Dumbo, with frequent trips to Brazil, where his mother is from, he was exposed to Brazilian music, cumbia, electronic music, and the extraordinary abundance of New York’s live performances. “I’d go to Summer Stage when I was two years old and see some of the greatest musicians play,” he says, “or end up at Caetano Veloso’s house and see him jam with David Byrne.”
Juju, meanwhile, was living on the Lower East Side, listening to the salsa, funk, and Prince albums his French immigrant father, a saxophonist, played in the car. He was also falling in love with the Detroit DJ scene. After a friend showed him Moodymann’s
Juju spent the next several years playing professional football in Italy, returning to New York a few years before the two met serendipitously at Nublu. Around the same time, Booker was becoming an expert at building furniture—an ongoing freelance sideline that developed his woodworking skills—and spending an eight-month stint studying sculpture in Mexico City.
Since striking up a friendship, Juju and Booker have started traveling together, digging through records in France, England, Portugal, Mexico, and Brazil.
“I don’t buy records online. There’s something very special about going to a new place and recognizing that it specializes in a type of music,” Booker says, “Or waiting months, years, to get to a place, then going to a record shop every day.” The Bridge Street Sound in-person approach to music and sound is to value close engagement over speed, or even convenience. “Record shops don’t make shit for money,” Booker says matter-of-factly, “they’re not in the touristic neighborhoods. If you go to any major city and go to ten record shops, that’s going to drag you to the extremities of the city.”
The next step is bringing music from the farther reaches into your apartment—or bar, or backyard, or custom-made listening space. Booker’s approach to building speakers begins with a discussion of the listener’s requirements. “If it’s going to somebody’s home,” Booker says, “we have a conversation. How do you listen to your music? Do you want to be closing your eyes, spinning in circles, dancing in your living room? Or sitting in one place, relaxing after a long day of work? Do you want to be listening to the radio? Do you want to be listening to Radiohead?”
For commissioned sound systems, he usually spends several days designing, then puts in long hours in the woodshop. A recent system sits at
“There’s a ton of parts and speakers that I’ve come across in research, and it’s my dream to have an arsenal of these components existing in different systems that serve different purposes. I love acoustic lenses. I love big woofers. The ElectroVoice Patrician II is a speaker that I’ve always wanted to recreate.”
The Bridge Street Sound loyalty to vintage parts is driven by Booker’s idea that earlier methods of production helped to give “color to the sound.” Companies used to have signature sounds, he says, before speaker parts began to be mass-produced in the 1980s and 1990s. But ultimately his interest is less in the sound, obsessing over which can sometimes be “gimmicky,” but in the songs themselves. “Speakers are the intermediary, the vessel through which I’m able to hear these artists’ voices, rhythms, souls.”
For Juju, music doesn’t even necessarily require an intermediary, just a particular moment. “As a [football] player, when I performed the best,” he says, “I used to hear samba in my head. I used to blank everything out and just hear flutes. I used to hear a batucada orchestra.”
The Bridge Street Sound aesthetic is shaping up to be a uniquely personal touch and a celebratory, good-time musical eclecticism, a cosmopolitanism powered by dipping into and borrowing from a thousand home-grown traditions. There are contemporaries Juju and Booker admire, though all seem to be following slightly different tracks. There’s DJ Travella, from Tanzania, whose
Bridge Street Sound will make its official debut next month. “There’s a website coming soon, there’s merchandise coming, Instagram, everything you need to function as a brand these days,” says Juju, the marketing mastermind of the two. “I see the future as going to Japan, collaborating with people there, in Brazil, maybe the Dominican Republic, Jamaica. We want to do events, playlists, bring in merchandise, collaborate with record labels, start producing.”
The first system Booker built as a teenager now presides over the room that will become Bridge Street Studio’s official home, facing a sofa and a low table strewn with Booker’s sketches for systems of the future. It’s “wildly oversized and sonically imperfect,” Booker says, but meaningful, an early memento of what looks to be a lifelong love.
“Music, sound. It hits you fast, you know,” Juju says. “Just like maybe art, oil painting or sculpture, hits other people. For me it’s music. Pure, pure, pure, pure music.”