One day in the not too distant future, even small nightclubs could have set-ups that will make Jean Michel Jarre's shows look like a mobile disco. Video walls combining live footage with lasers and moving projections might be just the beginning. Possibly in the next few years, clubs will have 3D projections above the crowd and 180º cinema screens around the walls with customers ablee to control their dance-floor environment. And what about the aural assault? Maybe entire walls and ceilings could be 'speakers'.
Despite predictions of the death of the super club a few years ago, new large-build venues are opening up in Europe at a healthy rate. Gatecrasher's £5 million, 2,400-capacity nightclub in Birmingham opened last September to rave reviews from the clubbing fraternity. At The O2 in London, matter is another major club that opened last year. As IE reported at the time, the installation at the venue includes a 75,000W BodyKinetic dance floor from Djenerate, which enables bass to be felt via a range of transducer speakers placed under the dance floor.
Confidence in 2009
If business is thriving for a few large clubs, how is the economic climate affecting manufacturers and suppliers to club land? Martin Kelly, sales and export manager at Martin Audio, explains how he sees the marketplace: "The old saying that when things are tough economically, spend goes up in the entertainment area does seem to be holding up. The question is, can this last? I would say that in general the European markets are somewhat divided due to how the credit problems are perceived. We have many ongoing projects, but some are held up awaiting finances. Many of our distributors mention the challenges of selling up to Martin Audio's price range, but do this very successfully when technology, support, and the long-term economic benefits of low maintenance costs that a more expensive but more reliable system gives you are considered. There is still a strong sense that many users aspire to the more prestigious installs."
Dave Bearman, operations director for Peavey, sees business as differing from country to country. "The UK is difficult because of changes to licensing regulations and the effects of the credit crunch, but other European markets are doing quite nicely, thank you!"
Tannoy is also remaining optimistic. Mark Flanagan, the company's PR and communications manager, reports that the club sector is faring remarkably well, thanks in part to some significant new product developments in the past 12 months. Tannoy's VQ Series speakers, for example, have proved popular in Eastern Europe. Top Romanian club Obsessions and Bulgaria's Club Deluxe have both benefited from VQ Series installs. Flanagan believes that these clubs' development is fuelled in part by the recent rapid increase in the standard of living and levels of disposable income within the young adult age group.
With regard to lighting, at Martin Professional Clive Bailey, commercial sales manager, says: "Generally, independent clubs are spending - corporates are holding back. LED strips and panels are still favoured by the clubs and bars sector." Talking about the state of the economy, Bailey points out: "In times of recession end users still want to go out and socialise to escape all the bad news." One of the company's latest installs is for a new ?2 million nightclub, called Dusk, which opened in Dublin in February. Its dance-floor dynamics are supplied exclusively by products from Martin Professional.
New trends and technologies
Eating, drinking and dancing are all experiences driven by a competing range of multimedia technology designed to stimulate the senses. For medium-sized clubs, bars and restaurants new trends and new technologies are emerging. One fashion is for micro clubs. These are spaces in an existing club, similar to VIP areas, where customers can customise their own sound and light. Helping to drive this is some interesting new technology.
A good example of this is the Vieta Pro Ti Line DIN Rail mounting, remote-controlled amplifier. The compact system is designed for low- to medium-power use in fixed installations. The Ti Line has inspired club audio specialist SSE London to come up with unique 'personalised' sound systems for one of London's newest live music bar and art galleries - proud in Camden. SSE London was asked to design and install sound systems appropriate to the markedly different areas of the venue, from the main band room and club venue, which has a live stage and capacity for 500, to the stalls, with their more intimate vibe.
With Nexo's new GEO S12 Series line array taking care of business in the live room, SSE turned to Vieta Pro for the key to the stable stalls themselves. According to SSE's Emma Barwell: "This is probably the most interesting part of the new venue, consisting of a small bar area and eight individual horse stalls, each kitted out with a plasma screen and its own PA system." SSE has created individual audio systems in each stall. Customers can either listen to the music provided by the DJ or override it by plugging in their MP3 player to create a mini PA system for their own booth.
Turning to innovation in loudspeaker design where low sound levels are required, Artcoustic loudspeaker solutions are proving popular. The SUPERSTAR iPod Music Centre is one of the latest additions to the Artcoustic range. The all-in-one high-end stereo amplified speaker system is designed to work with any audio source. Sharon Holm, marketing manager at Artcoustic, comments: "Working as a zone speaker on these systems provides access to numerous audio sources, with a quality and presence of sound not possible with in-ceiling speakers, and it complements the interior. Its flexible and intelligent design enables it to be used in any room where quality of sound can be enjoyed and beautiful design expected."
Designed and manufactured in Florence, Italy, K-Array loudspeakers and amplifiers - first shown at PLASA 2008 to great acclaim by Sennheiser UK - have been created to provide compact, light, intelligible and, where necessary, loud audio solutions. Alan March, business development specialist at Sennheiser UK, says: "Interest in the K-Array brand is high as it offers an extremely discreet yet sonically superb audio solution."
One of the first venues in the UK to feature K-Array loudspeakers is Kettner's, the famous London restaurant and bar. The venue has recently been refurbished with a cutting-edge sound system, marking the first UK installation of the Ateïs UAP G2 digital audio processor, along with K-Array KT20 two-inch point-source speakers and KKS50 subs.
For sound installations in restaurants the challenge is often how to overcome poor acoustics and high levels of ambient sound. The Fellow, a dining room and cocktail bar in the Kings Cross area of London that opened last November, has tackled its acoustics with an array of APart and D.A.S. speakers supplied by Sennheiser UK.
After spending almost a year refurbishing the building, The Fellow's owners wanted all three floors to sound as good as they look. Audio installation company Paris London's solution was nine black APart Mask 6 speakers on the ground floor dining area, four D.A.S. DR8 speakers in the corners of the cocktail lounge, and another pair of APart Mask 6 in the private dining room.
The rise in technology choices for venues has to be taken in the context of the arrival of ever-more sophisticated methods of social networking and the revolution in information and communication technology experienced by people in their own homes. Clubbers are more discerning when it comes to clarity and quality of club sound systems than they used to be. Once a standard has been set by one venue, clientele demand that level of quality from other venues, and so operators need to be proactive in upgrading the audio experience within venues. Peavey's Bearman says: "People's expectations are changing and it's up to us to stay one step ahead of the game."
As manufacturers and designers offer different ways to create installations, so installers need to overcome their resistance to considering new techniques. Further, the majority of specifiers don't push the point that 100 or even 1,000 euros is insignificant in the re-fit budget of a bar or restaurant, compared with the benefits to the business of a space-saving, user-proof, great-sounding system. "The conventional way of doing this type of install is now obsolete. We have a better way and our challenge is to get the message out there," comments Mick Brophy, sales and marketing director at Vieta Pro.
Looking to other innovations in the future of club land, how about that often-underestimated sense, smell? When Irish band U2 opened their Dublin nightclub, The Kitchen, an aromatherapist was consulted and nice smells were pumped through the ventilation system. But we'll leave that for another article!