To most people, the words “Orlando, Florida” call up images of family fun, but Orlando has always had a notable club scene as well. Given the large numbers of young adults who work in the theme parks and associated businesses, it also offers an enticing demographic for anyone in the business of night life. In the following pages, we look at three different clubs in Orlando, which offer rich testimony to the variety and excitement of the Orlando club scene.

SEPARATE BUT EQUAL

Matrix and Metropolis are two separate but conjoined venues located in the Orlando Pointe entertainment/retail complex on International Drive, a few hundred feet from the Orange County Convention Center. The clubs are conceived to attract two different sorts of crowds. Or, more correctly, to evoke two different moods, as patrons pay one cover charge and can move freely from one club to the other all night long. For hardcore clubbers looking to dance the night away, Matrix is the place to be, with its cool, industrial interior and massive amounts of lighting equipment. If you need time to chill out, step into Metropolis, which has warmer decor, a softer attitude, and billiard tables, along with a smaller dance floor. The interiors of both clubs were designed by the firm Fitch AAD, which has offices in Orlando and Phoenix as well as other locations around the globe. The lighting systems were designed by Dave Chesal, entertainment and leisure segment manager for Martin Professional. The product was provided and installed by Sound Stage Systems of North Haven, CT. Programmer for both clubs was Mark Pranzini.

A MATRIX OF MINIMACS

From a gear point of view, Matrix was the bigger challenge. Its most striking feature is a checkerboard grid of 64 MiniMAC Profile units — 32 in black and 32 in white. It's a startling effect, both because of the mass of units, and because of the pattern. “I created a checkerboard with black and white scrims,” says Chesal, “then reversed out the fixtures,” setting black units against white scrim and vice-versa. “It's meant to mimic the look of an Escher drawing,” he adds. (MiniMACs routinely ship in three available colors — black, white, and titanium — so the units were not specially ordered.) Chesal says that the checkerboard configuration is striking looking but, more importantly, the closely ganged units can be synched to create startling effects. “Using the LightJockey [Martin's club controller], you can create caterpillar movements, waves, and other effects. It's pretty intense,” he says.

In addition, 16 Martin Atomic 3000 strobes surround the MiniMAC checkerboard, four on each side of the grid, to add to the intensity at the center of dancing activity. However, Chesal adds, “The club has an elongated dance floor in a kind of amoeba shape. With all those units clustered in the center, I also needed to light the house left and house right areas as well. I put a MAC 2000, with a cluster of four Wizards [a Martin effects light] around it. The MAC 2000s provide frontlight for the club's stage when they use it. They also create visual effects on the white sharkstooth scrim that separates the front of the club from the dance floor.” The scrim provides a screen for effects, and then can open to create a dramatic reveal for the dance floor.

“Also, on the dance floor,” says Chesal, “there are three perforated metal platforms. I've uplit the dancers on each platform with three CX-4 color changers; above each there are three MX-4 scanners, to create a sense of movement.” In the lounge area, he adds, there are two “chill-out spaces,” each of which is lit by four MX-4s; between the two spaces the wall is washed with four more CX-4s to create scallops of light. The bar liquor shelves are each equipped with a Martin Fibersource QFX-150 fiber-optic illuminator that energizes 100' of RadiaLyte stranded sidelight fiber-optic cable, supplied by Advanced Lighting Systems. Other touches include a Jem Club Smoke system with six heads, to enhance the lighting, and a Jem StageHazer for additional effects. The LightJockey control system — the club version, with 2,048 DMX channels — is run by a touch screen, with a Martin 2518 on hand for fader controls, if necessary.

THE LIGHTS OF METROPOLIS

Next door, things are more subdued, but no less stylish, at Metropolis. The space has a smaller gear package, which is used for subtler effects. “There are two crystal chandeliers on the dance floor,” says Chesal, “along with six MAC 300s. These units render their washes on the chandeliers, which creates some very pretty effects. There are also six MAC 250+s, for hard-edged profiles. Also, every dance floor needs speed, so there are six RoboScan Pro 918s.” The latter are moving-mirror units, which provide the necessary kinetic energy for dancers.

Chesal adds that all house lighting in both venues is controlled by a Lightronics AR-1202 architectural dimming system, with that same company providing an AC-1009 remote wall station, which allows for eight separate preset looks. “We had the house lights running as a background cue on the LightJockey, but with the AC-1009 they don't have to go into the DJ booth to change the lighting; they can simply push a button on the wall.” Chesal adds that Metropolis uses the USB version of the LightJockey, with 512 DMX channels. Both club entrances are lit using a total of nine Martin Exterior 200s.

Given their variety of looks and styles, Matrix and Metropolis appear to be a formidable team of nightspots. With their prime location on International Drive, there's every reason to believe they should keep Orlando's visitors up all night for some time to come.

Contact the author at dbarbour@primediabusiness.com.

BLUE ROOM

The Blue Room is housed in a building that has been a part of Orlando's skyline since 1885. Originally the Magnolia, it was the first hotel in that town; about 1910 it was turned into a combination funeral home and furniture-making business. It then became a succession of restaurants, and around the late 1960s sat vacant for years.

Mark Merkel has been working at the Blue Room since it opened five years ago, and three owners ago, doing all of the sound and lighting. Current club owner Chris Weising decided to do a renovation unlike any other in downtown Orlando. “They literally gutted the inside,” says Merkel. “The old Blue Room was very rundown. It had a decent sound and lighting system but didn't have much to offer aesthetically. Chris said, ‘Put together a lighting system that's unique to Orlando; put elements in it that other clubs don't have.’”

One of these elements is a CO2 system, with six cannons in the ceiling over the dance floor. This fogs the room up completely and then within seconds it's gone. “They go nuts over that,” the LD notes. Merkel also installed a LeMaitre LSG low smoke generator for thick, low-lying fog (right).

The room itself has unique features such as the original ceiling detail and an unusual dance floor layout. “Because the historical society said we had to keep as much of the ceiling exposed as possible,” Merkel says, “we couldn't use any truss.” The lights and other equipment are hung on points dropped down from the ceiling. The layout of the space is not square but runs at a 30° angle, offset by the stage at one end and the bar at the other. “It's kind of weird the way it's set in there,” the designer says. “I just sat down with a pencil and started drawing things in and erasing and came up with something I liked.

“We went with Clay Paky, for the range of effects in a small package,” Merkel continues. “The Mini Scan HPE is the basic part of the light show; we have 10 of those because it has the light output of a lot of other larger fixtures, and reliability. We had a renovation three years ago; we put in six of the Mini Scan HPEs, and in the three years we never had a problem. We also went with the Astroscan, which is a new effect.”

Other lighting equipment includes Clay Paky Astroraggi Powers and Atlases, which are installed close to the ceiling and shoot out beams of light across the room above the crowd (top). “One other thing we have that's unique to Orlando, but I was used to using quite a bit up north, is Diversitronics strobes,” Merkel says (He began his career at the age of 15 in Allentown, PA). “They have different functions and even at continuous output they won't thermal out — they're fan-cooled, and they just stay running.”

Merkel chose the Pulsar Masterpiece 216 for control. “It has a lot of flexibility and features; through the years I haven't really found all of the same functions on any other board out there. It's very versatile; you can run more than one thing at a time. Everything is called an environment: It brings up a combination of chases, scenes, channel levels; you can put everything onto one keypad. It also has eight shows internally, and each show is set up with different environments for different nights.”

The club recently installed Clay Paky CP Color 150Es for exterior architectural lighting. “We also have two Clay Paky Golden Scan HPEs to project gobos in the street,” Merkel concludes. “We used them before but we haven't gotten them back up and running yet; we're looking for weatherproof enclosures. We're also looking into putting in an argon laser. We're trying to get these renovations done before LDI gets down here.”

Contact the author at aslingerland@primediabusiness.com.