Bump up the volume: this New York bumper car sound system is a priceless artefact of DJ culture
An iconic 1970s soundsystem lives on inside a Coney Island attraction. Vivian Host catches up with sound engineer Dan Prosseda about the magical speaker stacks of the Eldorado Auto Skooter bumper cars.
Most of New York’s revered club soundsystems of the ‘70s and ‘80s are long gone, as are many of the men who built them. Richard Long, notable for his bass innovations and the incredible physics of his handcrafted cabinets, died of AIDS in 1986; the awe-inspiring speaker cabinets and bass horns he designed for the likes of the Paradise Garage, Studio 54 and the Funhouse have been dismantled for decades. Now in his 80s, Alex Rosner — who pioneered the stereo DJ mixer and tweeter arrays at The Loft — continues to build some of the best sound arrays around, but mostly for hotels and cathedrals. Even the booming speaker stacks Steve Dash created for the Sound Factory and Twilo in the ’90s are just mythical whispers in the mouths of those old enough to remember.
And yet, there is a place you can experience what NYC’s soundsystems of yesteryear looked and sounded like — and, more importantly, what they felt like. On Surf Avenue in Coney Island, far out in Brooklyn where the F train meets the beach, next to the Coney Island Circus Sideshow and an alleyway of carnival games known as The Bowery, is one of the only remaining examples of the custom-built analog soundsystems of disco’s past, housed inside the Eldorado Auto Skooter bumper cars. Almost 40 years after it was installed, the warm thump of the Eldorado’s sound continues to rival that of New York City’s biggest clubs, thrilling obsessive audiophiles and Coney Island residents alike.
“Our sound is extremely powerful yet very easy to listen to, it doesn’t hurt the ear,” boasted Eldorado co-owner and sound system curator Scott Fitlin to the Amusing the Zillion blog, shortly before he passed away in 2010. “CRYSTAL CLEAR, lightning fast, and stunning transient response — the crack of the snare drum is scary. Our bass is tremendous and I play dance music, the sound that has energy and life and POSITIVITY!”
Sound engineer Dan Prosseda, 73, has presided over the Eldorado’s soundsystem for about eight years, since the attraction was saved from being dismantled in 2012. Prosseda began working at Coney Island in 1994, when he was asked to take care of sound at the Polar Express, an outdoor ‘Himalaya’ ride featuring cars attached to a circular track which go faster and faster, before reversing and going backwards.
“Ronnie [Guerrero, who owned the ride] had a really good soundsystem there which would attract pretty much the whole block full of people just to listen to the music,” he recalls, smiling. “I’m not sure how many sales he actually got out of the ride!”