Finding enough real estate within the four walls of a club is no easy task. In fact, it's amazing how an empty room suddenly feels cramped once development gets going. Space to accommodate guests and their discretionary dollars is a premium asset, a fact that was top-of-mind for sound designer Lord Toussaint when the owners of Pacha NYC walked him through the facility for the first time in 2005.
"I thought I was going to be shown premium seating and bench areas around the dance floor," Toussaint remembers. "Instead I was shown that the very low frequency speakers were slated to occupy these areas."
To Toussaint — president of Infinite Audio Systems Inc., an audio, video and intelligent lighting systems contracting firm with offices in Miami and Las Vegas — placing speakers close to the DJ booth and around the edge of the dance floor was a waste of valuable revenue-producing space.
"With Erick Morillo playing here, those are going to be seats that are $5,000 tables every night," he told Pacha NYC president Eddie Dean and promoter Rob Fernandez when they showed him the planned placement of the subwoofers. Toussaint advised, "I don't think I'd locate very low frequency speakers here. I think I'd locate a table for 10."
After the Pacha brass had a laugh over the irreverent suggestion, they asked Toussaint where he would instead place the equipment. Looking around, an obvious solution emerged for Toussaint. "I wanted to locate all six of my very low frequency systems on one side of the dance floor, under a steel staircase," he says. "The staircase went to the mezzanine level, and there was a large, cavernous space underneath." Interesting idea, to be sure, but how would the sound travel from this obscure location? Once again, Toussaint got creative, and his solution turned out to be practically sound.
"Once I could place the speakers under there, every riser needed to be cut with a blowtorch," he explains. Welders cut the risers out, full width, and then covered the openings with diamond mesh — tack-welded to keep guests' feet from slipping through — and reinforced the staircase with bar stock. The low frequency sound information could pass through the steps.
"I look at installations more as a person involved in the nightclub business than as just as sound designer," Toussaint says of his approach to sound system design. "I like to consider how I can make them more money." Besides the real estate-eating size of the original subwoofers placement plan, their sound characteristics, Toussaint says, were not ideal. The B3 boxes provide a smoother signal.
"In the New York market, garage-made subwoofers are called 'Berthas,'" Toussaint explains. "They are throwbacks to the days of Richard Long Associates, when Richard Long produced a very large format, dual 18-inch, very low frequency, horn-loaded subwoofer. It was large and had an extended low-end response."
Problems with the Berthas, Toussaint says, include a tendency to blow fairly often and although they produced an elegant low-frequency response, the units also are prone to distort. "You had to take the bad with the good with Berthas. We believed at the time that we had a product [the B3s] that had the good without the bad. I was able to combine six B3 boxes," Toussaint says. "The output summation is untold."
Then and Now
When Pacha set up shop in New York, it had a storied reputation to uphold, one that stems from outstanding sound systems. Ricardo Urgell founded Pacha in 1967 with a single club in Sitges, Spain, and the family-run business has since evolved into a global lifestyle brand that encompasses more than 21 nightclubs, a hotel, restaurants, a record label, a radio station, a lifestyle magazine and a full-scale merchandising division.
Since opening its New York location in December 2005, the 30,000-square-foot club's awards include Best Superclub, Best Resident LJ and Best DJ Set, by Danny Tenaglia, in the Club World Awards 2008 and Best Superclub, Best New Venue and Best Sound System in the Club World Awards 2007. DJmag.com named Pacha NYC the Top U.S. Club of the World 2008. It's won Best Of Citysearch: New York Nightlife 2007 for Best Dance Club and AOL City's Best 2007 for Best Dance Club. And Maxim named it among its Top 10 Hottest Megaclubs in America.
Awards are fine, but the proof is in the profit. The practical results of Toussaint's approach have proven to be a win for Pacha NYC all the way around, Dean says, by opening up additional revenue centers. "It wasn't exactly in our budget, but Lord's idea to free up real estate by moving the speakers underneath the stairs created two premium seating areas that probably helped pay for the system over the last three years," Dean says. The fiscally sound aspect of the system comes not just from the additional revenue generated from that space but also from maintenance savings. Pacha NYC eschewed old-school components in favor of state-of-the-art equipment.
A well-oiled machine is key for a club whose hallmark is attracting stellar DJs who require top-of-the-line equipment. Pacha technical director Jarrod Khoury designed the DJ booth, which works in harmony with Toussaint's system. "The best DJs in the world play here on a regular basis, and we want to put them in a position to sound the best they can sound," Dean says. "We get comments from DJs all the time that they play other rooms where the speakers or monitors are broken. In my experience in 20 years, there are times clubs spend a lot of money fixing up their systems because they can't handle the sound being put through it.
"When you're opening a nightclub, the most important thing is your sound and lights," he continues. "Toward the end of a build-out, most clubs are running tight on money, and the propensity is to cut back at that point. That's really a major mistake. "We didn't cut back on our budget. We did it right, and now we can honestly say it was worth it."