It's not your traditional story. He's not your typical lighting guru. He's been involved in the club scene since the ripe old age of 14, when he worked summers as a barback in the Hamptons. When he wasn't clearing beer bottles, he made regular excursions to Manhattan clubs, all of which forecast his clubland future. He had plans to attend law school after he graduated from college--even took the LSAT exam and filled out several applications--but Stephen Lieberman opted for lights over lawyerdom.
Lieberman titles his present career as his graduate studies. "Instead of law school, I went to the school of hard knocks and learned a trade," he says. He got into the industry full time in March 1995. "It makes my head spin when I think about it. It feels like I've been doing it for 10 years, when it's really only been four." Some might see his young age (he's 26) as a negative, but he represents a new generation of designers who boast a broad knowledge of computer-based lighting systems and programs. "I'm proud of the fact that I've climbed this far in a short period of time," he says.
Lieberman is doing an East to West rotation of sorts. He grew up on Long Island, and attended college in Arizona. After graduating with a degree in history, he returned to New York, but this time took root in Manhattan. After 11 months of work in the industry, Lieberman left his job and joined a high school friend, Anthony Perez, with the newly formed Cybertech Lighting Corp. After completing Bourbon Street in Manhattan, Lieberman and Perez survived a dry spell by operating lights. "That's how we ate," Lieberman says. He operated at Expo for awhile, then picked up a service and operating gig for New York's Mirage (now known as Carbon) for about a year. When Perez decided to leave the Big Apple for Florida in October 1996, Lieberman dissolved Cybertech Lighting to form Cybertech Designs. Meanwhile, he continued operating at Webster Hall, Mirage, and Expo. As the house LD at Life, he covered shifts there as well. He built up extensive knowledge of the Manhattan club circuit, even pulling a shift or two and doing service work at Twilo and Roxy.
In New York, he did the lighting for Zoobar, Bourbon Street, Cream, and Venue--all owned by Rick Oscher and Shawn Kolodony. Lieberman also installed and designed Night Owls at El Morocco, the 1940s hotspot where his grandparents used to kick up their heels. He even did the lighting for Life in South Hampton, back where he started his clubgoing career.
Last July, Lieberman moved his company's headquarters west to Arizona, merging with the company's rental business, Cybertech West. Since the move, Lieberman continues to get New York business, plus he travels a bit more. "Never mind that I'm walking around in a T-shirt because it's hot in January. . . and I can play golf all year," he brags.
For now, Lieberman seems to be a magnet for clubs named after their addresses. His recent Colorado invasion includes the design and installation of Suite 152 in Fort Collins, and the installation of 426 in Aspen, designed by Robert Singer, whom Lieberman cites as a major influence. He has also worked with traditional lighting legends like Arthur Weinstein. "I have a lot of fun working with Arthur. He's got a lot of experience both owning clubs and working in them." The two make a great team, with Arthur's conventional lighting background, and Lieberman's grip on moving lights. "I'm more computer- and data-signal-oriented," Lieberman explains. (See "Night watch," page 50, for more about Weinstein.)
When it comes to the actual concept, Lieberman says his technique comes from the heart. "When I hear the music, I know what effects I want to see." So far, this sound and lighting combination has been a successful formula, from operating to design. For the most part, when Lieberman sees a design he likes, he customizes it and incorporates it into his own jobs. "I know what I like. Fortunately, so far, that's what my clients like, too."
Lieberman is working on new designs in both Arizona and New York. Tucson club owners looked to him for advice in creating a New York, Soho-style lounge/club. Future plans include a push toward architectural and residential lighting. Lieberman has also teamed up with two brothers, Cary and Kim Monaco. One has a degree in interior architecture, and the other in photography. "When we pool our resources, we can be fairly creative," Lieberman says. Together, they also own two other companies: East Coast Graphic Designs and Cool Mix Productions--a DJ company and promotions operation. Those two outfits are centered around the University of Arizona. "We'll always have clients because there will always be kids in college," he says.
Lieberman has been a full High End Systems dealer since he moved West. "They hook me up, and I've been selling their gear steadily since." As far as equipment goes, he maximizes his fixtures with a good controller. "You can have the best lights in the world, but if you don't have the right controller, it could still flop." For this, he uses Flying Pig Systems--although the Wholehog and Jands Hog can be intimidating for some, Lieberman says the software is actually simple to use. "That's what I do for fun. I sit in my living room with a couple of Trackspots(R) and a controller, set it up, and play around. I like that stuff."