“We wanted to give a world-class city a world-class club, something it hadn't had,” says LD Howard Ungerleider of Republik, which has been shaking up Toronto's club scene since opening in mid-March. He and Republik owner Louis Chu were the right men for the job: Ungerleider's firm, Production Design International Inc. (PDI), is a mainstay on the scene, while Chu's company, Vertex Sound and Lighting Co. Ltd., has been pumping up the volume in Toronto since 1994. The two firms partnered in 2003, and Republik looks set to expand their empire. The 15,000 sq. ft. space combines Ungerleider's rock and roll sensibility (honed on his lighting and laser designs for road warriors like Rush and Van Halen) with Chu's 20 years' expertise in owning and managing clubs and elevates it to a new level of style and spectacle. “It's Europe meets Vegas, taken to 10,” says Ungerleider.

What is now Republik was once the shell of an old retail space, adjacent to the Famous Players Paramount cineplex. “It had wonderful, 25'-high ceilings,” Chu says, but in its dilapidated state, it was not exactly where Toronto clubgoers might congregate. Eight months of preparation, overseen by project manager Brian Beggs, readied it for the smart set. “We had to come up with creative solutions as to how to make this thing rock,” says Ungerleider. “The overall vision was to turn a horrible cement square into something so pleasant that you would always come back. Our minds went berserk on this one.”

Republik treats 2,000 patrons a night to an audiovisual grab bag that currently runs three nights a week, from 10pm to 4am. The extravaganza begins at the outdoor entrance, where on special evenings, guests — and indeed the entire surrounding neighborhood — are treated to effects generated by an ultra high power 66W YAG laser system Ungerleider has used on Bon Jovi tours. “It's right down there on the street, and you can see it coming at you from 22 blocks away,” he says. “The system is terminated on cement buildings and away from faces and airspace, per federal variances. It's one big party when it's on.”

The party continues indoors, in a space designed by Bennett Lo and Raul Delgado. The club has two rooms, the main Republik area and a smaller, more intimate setting, called Vision, with copious bars arranged in its horseshoe shape and a glassed-in VIP lounge upstairs overlooking what Ungerleider calls the “madness down below.” Lighting innovations start first thing, in its greeting area, where RGB LED light tubes are suspended from the ceilings, right over guests' heads. “LED is unbelievable, for fixtures or for texturing,” Ungerleider enthuses. “We put them into the Plexiglas countertops of the bars and into the walls and made fixtures out of them. Louis brought 600 of them in from Hong Kong. We use tons of it. We want to be able to change the light drastically and constantly to make it rave-like or really smooth, right away.” [The LEDs even extend into Republik's “semi-unisex concept washrooms.”]

At present, “until LEDs come out with newer technology, they complement moving lights,” says Ungerleider. But look out. “LEDs will, I think, replace all wash fixtures and cyc lighting, and whichever company comes up with the most powerful units will win this market. Because of their lifespan, LEDs are changing the face of everything, from car to traffic lighting, and who knows, maybe moving lights will someday be powered by LEDs instead of bulbs.”

Not that Republik stints on moving lights. The Vision room, the first point of entry, is full of LED tubing yet makes room for a few fixtures: six High End Systems Dataflash® AF1000 xenon strobe lights and a controller, four HES Technobeams®, and eight Coemar ProSpot 250s among them. Additional lighting atmosphere is provided by a solid state air-cooled YAG laser outfitted with a PDI custom laser projector and a JEM ZR33 Hi-Mass smoke machine, and there are some toys for visiting light jockeys to play with, like a Martin Light Jockey lighting design software package and an Elation Scene Setter lighting controller. “The live rock production world is now in the club world,” Ungerleider says. “People feel like they're on the stage here, and a young lighting op who's visiting will feel like a kid in a candy store with what we've got. But the LEDs in the walls in the Vision room are soft and diffused, and the lighting can darken down to just a pulse and offer some privacy. We want to wow people but also provide something soothing, so you don't feel like you're always on display.”

By day in the Republik room, conference attendees can watch corporate presentations in relaxed, but professional, surroundings, which include an expandable modular stage. By night, Republik puts the pedal to the metal, as might be expected from a club designer whose work includes New York's Webster Hall. “It's a sound and light show unlike any other because we weren't afraid to spend the money, within reason,” Ungerleider boasts. “I put myself into the shoes of the patron who's coming into the club and what they would want to see.”

What they do see is, in some ways, a variation on a theme. There are another 200 LED light tubes, a laser (this time a Spectra Physics high-power full color unit with PDI custom multi-color effects), and a JEM ZR33 outputting smoke. But here, where there's smoke, there's also fire. For one thing, the 1,800 sq. ft. dance floor area is surrounded by seven fiber-optic curtain panels, drawn from the concert world and illuminated by 12 Martin QFX150 Fiber Source automated fixtures and with two PDI custom fiber-optic remote scanners in support.

And then there are the six moving trusses, circular sections of Litec units studded with banks of moving lights and 42" plasma displays, surprising guests who Ungerleider says, “have no idea that they move.” Everything moves: the fixtures (48 American DJ AccuSpot 250 moving heads, divided among the sci-fi styled truss sections, plus 12 Elation Protron Color Strobes), the 12 NEC display screens that rotate, and, eventually, the guests, grooving to rock, rave, R&B, or whatever vibe is happening. Control is provided by a Wholehog® 1000 provided by High End Systems.

The main attention-grabber is High End's Catalyst Pro v3.2 media server, which streams continuous visual imagery across the display screens. “The trusses moving in on you and the Catalyst supplying all those images raise the emotion level and can change the whole look of the room, from an amazing big space with a lot of lights to a small rave area or a corporate event look,” Ungerleider says. “You can put so much imagery into the Catalyst; it's endless, and I use it a lot. Louis and I designed the Catalyst into the system, and he and others programmed it. There are lots of abstract images, tiling, flames, roads, strobing, and skies and clouds. Everyone can get something to enjoy.” Catalyst, he adds, “is forcing the lighting world into the video world. They may not be broadcast quality, but they are opening new doors in lighting and video.”

Republik having opened its doors, Ungerleider is now making history, as PDI develops show control, lighting, and projection concepts for an outdoor multimedia show that will tell the story of Canada across the facades of government buildings on Ottawa's Parliament Hill. But he and Chu hope Republik sparks a revolution in club design. “Lighting is the heart of the club, and it really stretches your imagination,” he says.

Robert Cashill is a former editor of Lighting Dimensions.

Lighting & Sound Co.
Production Design International Inc.
Vertex Sound & Lighting Co. Ltd.

Lighting Designer
Louis Chu
Howard Ungerleider

Lighting Programmer
Louis Chu
Ben Leung

Lighting Techs
PDI & Vertex's Crews

Audio Designer
Bob Vonesh

Project Manager
Brian Beggs

Interior Architectural Design
Bennett Lo
Raul Delgado

Photographer
Duro Third

Republik Room Lighting

48 American DJ Accuspot 250
12 Elation Protron Color Strobe
1 HES Color Pro® HX
6 ETC Source Four® ellipsoidal
1 Spectra Physics high-power, full-color Laser with PDI custom multi-color effects
2 PDI custom fiber-optic remote scanner
7 Fiber-Optic Curtain Panels (total 1,800 sq.ft.)
12 Martin FiberSource QFX150
1 JEM ZR33 Hi-Mass smoke machine
200 Vertex custom RGB LED Light Tubes 1m
1 Wholehog®1000 console
6 Litec circular truss 6'
12 Litec box truss 8'
6 Vertex custom winch system

Video

1 HES Catalyst Pro v3.2 media server
12 NEC Professional 42" plasma display
1 Sharp 1,500 lumen video projector
6 Marshall 4" broadcast LCD monitor
6 BENQ 15" LCD monitors
6 Display devices; continuous rotating mount

Vision Room

8 Coemar Prospot 250 LX
4 HES Technobeam®
6 HES Dataflash® AF1000 strobe
1 HES Dataflash AF1000 controller
1 Solid-state air-cooled YAG with PDI custom laser projector
200 Vertex custom RGB LED light tubes 1m
1 Elation Scene Setter controller
1 Martin Light Jockey with Fingers control panel
1 JEM ZR33 Hi-Mass smoke machine
1 Litec box truss 12'

Entrance (Outdoor)

1 Ultra High Power YAG laser system PDI