A Night Club Like No Other. ~ Part V
This section was originally written by myself in 2005 and is a retrospection of the Lighting System at the Garage Based on my 30 years as a Lighting Designer and Technician
The Lighting system at the Paradise Garage was tremendous to say the least. No other club in the city had a system like this. The Dance-floor alone had over 730 lighting fixtures rigged from the ceiling. The stage and other lounges had a base set up of about 40 fixtures minimum. During special parties and events the number of lighting fixtures in the lounges would increase in size depending on the complexity of the design.
Dance-floor: The 730 fixtures were broken down into 10 effect elements which had a power consumption of 1087 amps. Now this is a basic figure of amperage use as an actual reading was impossible, but the combined wattage of the majority of fixtures on the dance-floor came close to this number. If we broke this down into a 3 phase power distribution, that would distribute the load to 362 amps per leg. Now remember that this is power consumption base on the assumption that all the lighting would be turned on full, which as we know was not the case, my point here is just to give you an idea of the potential power that was being generated on dance-floor lighting alone.
As awesome as the lighting system turned out to be, it was not so in the beginning. From what I understand the design started off very small with a dozen or so pin spots and a basic wash. This earlier system was before my time at the club, so I really couldn’t tell you who installed it or what was put in first. However I can tell you that the lighting system and its design evolved constantly right up until the time the club closed. The final look of the dance-floor lighting towards the end in 1987 was deigned by Peter Munoz and put in place by him and I.
The Lighting system on the Garage dance-floor consisted of 4 separate lighting elements: Color Washes, Streak Effects, Psych Effects, and Mood Lighting. By using 10 separate lighting methods, these 4 main effects were put together to make a very interesting lighting plot.
Ok. . .
let’s start by setting up a visual image of the dance-floor => (space.)
. . Now the first method used to light the dance-floor was called a color wash. The main purpose of this color wash was to saturate the dance floor with as much color as possible. The lighting fixtures we used to create this wash effect was the 14″ scoop. There were (32 scoops) hung from the ceiling that were separated into 4 zones per string. Each string contained 8 lamps that were further divided into 4 pairs. To give the design versatility each pair of lamps was a separate color producing a 4 color schemed wash: (2 cool colors,) and (2 warm colors.) The lighting board that ran the scoops was able to take full advantage of this crisscross pattern. The lights would either chase on the outside spurs of the star in pairs, or bounce around on these spurs in random order. Or they could take full advantage of the entire string running the length of the dance-floor, and spin pin-wheel fashion or spin in random order. The wide variety of chase programs on the board made it possible to have a multitude of patterns multiplied by 4 colors. . . This effect was massive in scale and it proved to be very dynamic visually.
The second color wash method used was the (Strip Lighting) that ran along the perimeter of the room. These lights had just a 3 color wash that did a very effective job. The concept of the strip light goes back to the earlier days of theater to their distant cousins called ‘foot lights’. This design was mainly used as front lighting for stage performances and in some extreme cases, the only lighting on the stage. Anyway what we used at the Garage was a bit more advanced than the candle powered version of days gone by. The strip lights we used were not a very elegant fixture nor did it have a gamete of running programs but it did do a quick flood of blue, red and magenta at a moments notice, and I myself got a kick out of using them in a pinch.
The next lighting technique used at the Garage was spot lighting or streak effects. This method wasn’t use to saturate the dance-floor but rather highlight the base color wash with a complimentary accent.
The streak effect was also used as an atmospheric effect which produced a shaft of light that was able to cut through the crowd at all angles, spot lighting different areas of the room. The main system we used for this effect, and one the Garage crowd will remember, is the Ring System. There were (9 Rings) on the ceiling at the Garage, 8 were set in an oval pattern, and the 9th ring was centered. The Rings were designed to cover the dance-floor area and be used as a rigging device for lighting. The most common lamp to be rigged on a Ring system was the Pin Beam. On each Ring we used a total of 64 pin beams, (512 total .) “Very nice”!
These 64 fixtures were broken up into sections of 8 with 8 lamps per section. In this 8 lamp section we used 4 different colors, so you had 2 pairs of matching lamps for every 8 lamps, for every 8 sections.
( don’t get lost . . . stick with me ).
The Board that operated this ring system was phenomenal, and the chasing sequences were unlimited. Not only were you able to chase each lamp one by one, you could chase them in pairs or in color pairs, or by fours, or by four pairs, times 64. Not only could you chase the individual lamps on each Ring, but you could chase the Rings as well. You could chase them one by one clock-wise, or clock-wise in pairs, opposing pairs or side by side pairs. You could chase the rings at random or chase them inverted. You could chase them with all 64 fixtures on or just one fixture on, or whatever color you wanted. The Ring System was the baby of the Paradise Garage, it was versatile and an awesome effect, you could go the entire night just using this system and never get board.
The second streak effect used at the Garage was the (Spinners.) The spinners were not a very intense effect like the Rings but they had a niche’ of their own. They used the same bulb as the Pin-Beam producing a shaft of light which cut through the crowd, but instead of pointing in a single direction the spinners job was to rotate on it’s axis in a 360 degree pattern. The spinners were also set in pairs of 2 that could chase in sequence, or come on all together. This really depended on the song and the type of effect you wanted to produce, but that is another discussion..
The last streak effect was a favorite of all of us, it was the (Beacons.) The beacons (police beacons) were a huge effect, when they came on, you knew about it. Their main function was to cut the room into sections in rotating angles so that no inch of the dance-floor was untouched by them. The double-beacons that were in the center of the rings were mounted on rotating motors to achieve this coverage effect. The chase program for these lamps were fairly simple, they either chased in random sequence ordered sequence or all on full blast..
This next section we will move into the Psych effects used at the Garage. First let us start with your favorite and mine, The Strobe light.. yes where would we be without the strobe effect.
The Paradise Garage probably used more strobes than any nightclub in history. . and we used them well. There were 2 basic types of strobes hung on the ceiling. The first was the (Super Strobe) which had an out put of 1 thousand watts, we put these fixtures on the ceiling in a circular pattern around the Rings.
There were 2 chase pattern for the strobes, sequential (clock-wise) or in sync. This first set was in (White.) The second set was in (Yellow) and chased in the opposite direction. All together there were 12 Super Strobes mounted on the ceiling, and when these babies started going it was totally insane. . . The second kind of strobe used was called the Egg Strobe. We had these mounted on the center Ring. The (Egg-Strobes) were a subtle strobe effect, the flashes were not as bright as it’s larger cousin. However the placement of these units on the center ring gave a nice popping effect you could see throughout the room and it was a good hazing effect for trancing.
We’ll move into the Mood lighting section now and talk about my all time favorite lighting effect at the Garage, . . . The Gobo Rotators.
The (Gobo- Rotators) were mounted on the center Ring, their main function was to sweep the room in a slow and deliberate pace gently spotlighting medium sized areas. We used a total of 12 fixtures and set them into 3 groups of 4. The Gobo Rotator was the initial idea of today’s “intelligent lighting fixtures”. The Intelli-beam, Vari-lite, Martin, Clay-Paky, all the modern moving light fixtures are derived form this basic gobo rotation idea.
This lighting effect just looked cool when they came on, very smart, very elegant. I loved to use them by themselves with a small amount of smoke on the dance-floor. The image of these lamps sweeping the room from the booth was *Awesome*. Larry enjoyed this effect also, it filled in the orchestral melodies of songs very well.
Ok, another mood effect we used at the club were (The Black lights.)
I wish I had tons to say about these fixtures, but they were black lights. You know the funny neon blue glow.. it made your teeth really bright. The only neat thing I can say about them is, we sure did use a lot of them and they burnt out often.
(just a small note here, our bulb order for the entire club was about 5,000 dollars every 5 months or so)
The last mood effect we will talk about is the (Mirror Balls.)
And boy oh boy did Larry love these things. . . big shinny Balls, . . just kidding. . . The 30 inch mirror ball was the work horse of an era gone by. Most night clubs put a single pin beam or a small spot on the ball, this would give you a nice pin shard effect you remember, but not us..
At the Paradise Garage, we used big ‘ole fixtures. We use 1000 watt wide beam par 64’s and we sure did use a lot of them. It wasn’t good enough to have just one light on the balls, we had 6 of them, which meant we had 6 different colors to choose from. (Times 4 mirror balls.)
( Trivia: Larry was the only one who could use the Mirror Balls during the evening. It was at his request that the effect was saved until he got there.) I never turned them on unless it was a night that he didn’t come in, but the balls were hands off for everyone, just Larry could touch them.. The Mirror Balls.
And so there you have it, the lighting on the Paradise Garage dance-floor. I am sure I left out an effect or two, but those are the major ones. No I won’t let you down.. Here is a (complete visual)
Lightman at the Garage
From 1983 until it closed in 1987, if we talk about who was the “Lightman” at the Garage I can say to you officially that there wasn’t one. In reality what you had was the tech crew who were in charge of the maintenance and lighting design, and then you had the man who ran the parties Larry Levan.
Larry Levan pretty much did the lighting for himself as he was a lighting guy before he started to DJ. However, he did have a few people in his entourage who would from time to time stand on the lighting pedestal and do the lighting for him during the evening. However, in the end Larry almost always did the lighting when he would play.
What happened mostly on the weekends was I did the lighting during the opening hours for David Depino and Joey Llanos as they warmed up for Larry. . . . . On the nights that Larry didn’t come in I or Peter Munoz usually stayed and played for the night.
With that being said let me segue into the next section. . . .
The Lighting Boards and Controls.
Standing at the lighting controls in the DJ booth of the Garage was like standing on the bridge of the Enterprise. For someone who didn’t understand it, it could have been a bit over-whelming.
Just imagine staring at 15 lighting control boards laid out on a console that was over 5 foot long and 4 foot wide . . Truly awesome.
This is an image of Michael DeBenedictis standing at the (Lighting Console,) this was the console layout prior to my employment in ’83. Additions were added to the dance-floor lighting which required more lighting boards to be added to the console. The LED panel you see in the bottom left of the image was for the Ring System, this was moved to the position on the wall to the left just in front of Michael’s face.
The reason for this visual complexity were the 10 effect elements on the dance-floor. So the first thing we understand is there were 10 different lighting control boards, plus 4 sub controllers That did the color switching and things like strobes and Cannons and the smoke machines. And lastly there was the Master controller called the ND5, which was the conduit for all of the lighting controls to the dance floor.
Lighting boards in those days were more user friendly than they are today. The analog boards back then were built to take a pounding, the constant toggle switching, and the brute force a light man uses when he is in the midst of doing a light show. You can’t put the newer boards of today under this sort of punishment due to the fact everything now is computer oriented, touch sensitive and digitized. I have laid many a light board to rest since leaving the Garage, so I have first hand experience. Now-a-days every lighting board has gone theater . . Bah!
Anyway, The concept behind the lighting (flow) at the Garage was this. Each controller was linked to the ND5 (main controller) which gave you a preview option on that particular lighting effect. This preview option enabled you to make speed and intensity corrections before sending the effect live to the dance-floor. To assist you in this preview, each effect controller had a system of LED’s on it’s face which made the previews easy to read. If the DJ was in the middle of his mix, you could easily match the incoming song tempo perfectly and when the DJ laid the mix in, you could fade the lighting in with the music.
That to me is the best and only way to do lighting in a nightclub, seamless. . .
The Paradise Garage was definitely ahead of it’s time in regards to the sound and lighting systems, The concepts used then are a basic footprint of how clubs are made today.
I hope I succeeded in bringing some of the Garage’s technical aspects to light. I tried not to make this section too boring.
…….. if it was entertaining and informative then I did my job.
~ Ralph ~
originally published in 2005 on my website “A Garage Tribute”