Richard Grant, owner of New York's Sound Factory, regards a club as a jigsaw puzzle. “Unless you have all the pieces flowing together correctly, you can't put the picture together,” he says. “Sound, light, music, the decor of the club, the shows we put on — all of those things are important, because we're in the business of entertaining our customers.” He thinks club patrons should feel like participants in a theatrical event, and in fact, Sound Factory, which will celebrate its 13th anniversary April 1, goes further to create this illusion than most discos. Every Saturday night, three “cabaret” sets with costumed and choreographed dancers are staged, and theme parties are commonplace. “The club is about theatre,” Grant says.
Accordingly, Sound Factory has a theatrical lighting rig that sets the scene as definitively as does the music. Eight Elation Vision 575 fixtures and six Elation Color Spot 250s are presently at the center of the Sound Factory lighting system, which is run by lighting director/operator Steve Revlon. The LD is on the same page philosophically as Grant: “I love doing lighting with music: I think it can be raised to an art form. I know a lot of other LDs frown on discos, but I think it can be very much like theatre. Richard has a profound sense of aesthetics in general, and lighting is probably number two only to the sound at Sound Factory. I haven't gotten that anywhere else I've worked.”
The Elation purchase and installation, which was supervised by Doug Lazer of the Dougie Lazer Company, more or less corresponded with a 2001 renovation of the 30,000-sq.-ft. (2,700 sq. m), four-level club on West 45th Street. “We added a new floor, and a catwalk around the existing dance floor, which was completely redone,” says Revlon. “We have a number of columns in the club, and everything from the basement to the top floors was covered in this diamond-plate sheet metal. The club is a lot more modern-looking now; before it was basically a black box.”
Revlon had already been renting the Color Spot 250s, and then Lazer introduced him to the Vision 575, which is a high-output DMX512 scanner that boasts of superior optics, 11 dichroic color filters, the ability to overlay gobos, and a user-friendly LED display. What immediately caught the LD's eye was the scanner's speed. “I was amazed that a 575-type fixture could move that fast,” he says. “Speed in a nightclub is really important, especially with the music that's played today. They hold their position, even flying around all the time — I don't really have to go back and refocus things like I've had to do with other lights. Especially after so much pan-and-tilt movement, they hold their cue information pretty well.”
“They do quite a lot of fast and hard music,” says Lazer, who stands in for Revlon on his nights off. “To make a light look like it's moving fast, you don't always want to have to strobe it. You don't have to strobe the Elations, they're quick enough. They're almost as quick as a mirror fixture, but it's a moving head.” The other thing in their favor, and the element that convinced Revlon to buy them, is something equally important in a club setting: endurance. “In Sound Factory, they really come under the elements,” says Lazer. “There are water parties, snow parties, they have eight smoke machines, and they have a 120,000W sound system. Some of the older lights were getting rattled apart.”
“God knows how many fixtures I've gone through,” says Revlon, who has worked at Sound Factory for six years. “But the Elations have held up pretty well. Week by week, I'm waiting for something to go wrong, and it hasn't happened. That's not been the case with anything else I've had in there.”
There are two circular motorized trusses above the Sound Factory dance floor. The inner ring, which is about 6' (1.8m) in diameter, holds four of the 575s; the outer truss, which is about 15' (4.5m) across, is where the six 250s live. The other four 575s are grouped around the club's 48" (1.2m) mirror ball, which serves as a flashy projection surface for Sound Factory's lighting system, which also currently includes Clay Paky Golden Scan and Mini Scan HPEs, Martin Atomic 3000 DMX and High End Systems Dataflash® AF1000™ strobes, and a Jem smoke system.
“I've also got some [High End Systems] Intellabeams that I've cannibalized — removed the mirrors from, basically — to light the stage,” says Revlon. “I have no allegiance to one maker of lighting. I believe in variety, I believe in analog lighting, especially in a disco: You just want to be able to create a whole bunch of different effects. Having been a disco patron, I know what it's like to be blinded with intelligent light all night. I don't do MIDI — I don't believe in letting the console do its thing, or letting it run off audio, especially since we're working with a live DJ.”
Revlon runs the lighting with a Jands Hog 1000 console, which he claims to stay behind “99% of the night.” (A night that can last until 4 or 5pm Sunday.) “I'm constantly altering the lighting to accommodate the music. I try to stitch the lights together with the music, to express an emotion. Every theme party, I have no idea what Raphy Mercado, the designer, is going to come up with; lighting is usually the last step. When the DJ, Jonathan Peters, goes back to older music, I like to be able to go back to older effects to create the mood. We've also had a few big songs that he has produced which are specific to the club. He remixed ‘Let the Sunshine In,’ and when the song kicks in, the mirror ball turns and lights the whole room yellow and amber.”
Revlon says that although the Elations are a more or less permanent fixture at the club, the lighting at Sound Factory is “always a work in progress. We've got a very colorful crowd in there, and many of them are return customers every week. That's why I don't believe in keeping one rig, because you've got the same people you've got to try to impress week after week.”
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