Billy Richardson’s Stargate-inspired Ra
is as ultramodern as Egypt-themed nightclubs get.

By Cynthia Ramsaran

Duane King thinks that a lot of people just don’t get it. Ra’s resident DJ and music director asserts that most of the world has missed Las Vegas’ latest transformation. Having already gone from desert wasteland to Rat Pack hotspot to touristy gambling town, he says that Vegas is now in the process of becoming a nightclub hub.

“Everyone thinks of Vegas as a casino town, not realizing that it has transformed itself. It’s attempting to become a club mecca,” he says.

King postulates that most people conjure places like New York, San Francisco, and Miami when they think of club towns, but because of Vegas’ casino focus it gets left off the list. “Vegas does have a thriving club scene, but you wouldn’t think of it as a club town because the casinos are the primary reason that people come,” he says. “But once people see Ra they say, ‘Whoa, you guys actually have a club here, we would have never thought!’ Then they are more than happy to come back again. It’s a major outlet.”

But Ra doesn’t want to be known simply as another Vegas nightclub. King says that the Egyptian-themed, single-room club inside the Luxor Hotel’s famous pyramid stands out from others by not playing disposable pop and reflecting true club culture. Not to mention its all-Turbosound speaker system, striking light show, and cast of aerial performers. But more on that later.
“First off we’re not into playing bubblegum music,” King says. “We try to bring true clubbing to Vegas and stay true to it. I want to make sure that if someone’s coming in from London, New York, from Chicago, who knows exactly what clubbing is about, they can come to Ra and experience exactly what they experience at home and not go through the usual reaction: ‘Geez what the hell is wrong with these clubs out here?’ They’re playing stuff from 20 years ago.’”

Spoiled Techs
Owner Billy Richardson Jr. envisioned Ra’s interior as “ancient Egypt on steroids,” and with details like a huge statue of falcon god Horus that has laser beams shooting out of its eyes, that effect is achieved. The 19,000-square-foot room has a circular dancefloor with booths and tables surrounding it, and two full bars.

And adding credence to King’s discourse on “a real club experience,” Richardson also understands the value that dedicated lighting and sound techs have to a full-scale nightclub. His are BJ Stanton and August Hall, who are stationed in a gear-filled, blinking room that resembles Houston mission control, behind the dancefloor and VIP area, and in perfect stumbling distance from the bar. (Compromised patrons wander in “all the time,” says Stanton.) From here Stanton, a five-year Ra staffer, and Hall control everything, including video, lighting, and sound. Richardson ensures that their every tech whim is satisfied, which shows in the arsenal of unusual, high-end gear housed in that room – an MA Lighting grandMA console; a Videonics MXPro digital video mixer; an M-Audio Oxygen 8 keyboard for MIDI control of the lights, and that’s just the tip.
The techs know they have it good. “I’m lucky I work for Billy Richardson,” says Stanton. “That’s kind of why I stay. I’ve upgraded the system about three or four times with really expensive stuff. You can’t get old in my room, because I can get anything I want.”

The light show is central to the overall vibe of Ra, and in Stanton’s and Hall’s hands it’s always kinetic and reactive. Stanton’s latest indulgences are 40 MAC 600 color changers and 26 MAC 500 profile spots, which will be added to the circular, motorized truss by the Club Show in March. Already up there are his favorite High End Systems Cyberlights (“We like their quick mirrors – we use them for the thrash-and-trash stuff”), Studio Colors, plus strobes, smoke, and over 50 other fixtures including conventionals. Stanton plays off Ra’s many guest DJs – “I’ve been there long enough to feel what’s going to happen next,” he says – but when Duane King’s at the decks, he always makes it a point to be at the board himself. “We work together,” he says.

Tour-Sized Sound
Scott Fisher, co-owner of The Wave, a Vegas-based equipment sales, rental and design company, was asked to design the system that he calls “the one that put me on the map” by longtime friend King in May 2002. “The biggest challenge was getting everyone to believe in me,” says Fisher. “There were a lot of people at the hotel who had no idea who I was. It was one of those things where it felt like the head DJ was ramming his friend down their throat.”

Times that stress by the fact that Fisher only had a few days to get the whole thing done. That included taking out the original system, getting all the equipment onsite in time (the Turbosound speakers were flown in from the UK and Wisconsin) plus the actual installation. “The club is closed on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and it re-opens Wednesday at 10 o’clock at night, so we had to start the installation at 8am on a Sunday,” says Fisher. “So not only did I have to design it in a weekend, but I had to make sure it was feasible to get it installed in two and half days.”

One man does not a two-day install finish, so the Luxor granted Fisher the help of their daytime showroom crew. “The guys would do their normal jobs during the day, then they would come to Ra and pretty much work until they couldn’t stay awake any longer,” remembers Fisher. “These people were working double shifts, working their regular jobs at the theater and then working on the installation.”

Fisher specified an all-Turbosound speaker system for Ra, as he had at Vegas clubs Utopia (on the Strip) and Kass-Bah (at the Aladdin). He says he likes the speakers for their clarity at high volume levels and overall dependability. For Ra, he opted for Turbo’s “big boys”: Four TFL-760Hs main cabinets from the Floodlight touring series, which are three-way, medium-dispersion mid-high loudspeakers. The LF system is massive, consisting of eight TSW-718i double-18 subs, and eight TSW-124i subs, which have a single 24-inch driver. Fisher says it’s “strikingly deep and pure without being boomy.” Ten self-powered TQ-440 mid-sized cabinets from the QLight series complete the package, while five LMS-D6 digital loudspeaker management systems keep everything together. The TQ and TFL components are flown above the dancefloor, and the TSW sub cabinets are installed both on and below the stage.

The very satisfied King says the result is clear sound that’s never pushy, but could be. “There’s nothing but clarity, clear bass, clear mids, highs, everything. In the seating area [behind the dancefloor], you’re still able to have a good conversation and not yell. You want people to enjoy themselves; you don’t want to literally be obnoxious with your sound, which we could be if we chose to.”

The DJ booth has three Technics SL1200’s, two Pioneer CDJ-1000’s, and two mixers: a Rane MP2016 with the XP processor and a TASCAM X-9.

Wednesday’s Locals, Saturday’s Tourists
Having both knob and fader mixers is essential at Ra, because their party schedule is all over the musical map. Wednesday is known as Pleasuredome, a night where King brings in international prog-house types like Judge Jules, Paul van Dyk, and Paul Oakenfold. Thursday nights are hip-hop, a specification not without its controversy.

“Anything hip-hop in Vegas tends to get shut down for being too violent or what have you,” says King. “Knock on wood, we’ve had no problems.”

The last theme of the week is Friday night’s Empire, an evening of house and breakbeats. King says club-goers in Vegas are getting into electro, and the breaks scene is “huge.” King takes the decks on Saturday for a tourist-centered evening, spinning a combination of commercial house, trance, hip-hop and R&B.
According to King, the club’s entire formula works. “People are in love with it,” he says. “That’s what we were hoping for and that is the response that we’re getting.”

Visit Ra during The Club Show for Jerry Bonham on March 26 and hip-hop on March 27.

10 -Turbosound TQ-440 speakers
8 - Crest Audio 8001 amps
8 - Turbosound TSW-718 subs
8 - Turbosound TSW-124 subs
5 - Turbosound LMS-D6 digital system controllers
4 - Turbosound TFL-760 floodlight skeleton
4 - Crest Audio 9001 amps
4 - Crest Audio 7001 amps
3 - dbx 2231 equalizers
2 - Crest Audio 3301 amps
2 - ISDN lines (live radio broadcasts)
2 - Shure beta 58 wireless mics
2 - Shure SM 81 ambient mics (for “live” recording)
1 - Aphex 720II Dominator
1 - BSS FCS 960 equalizer
1 - Crest XR-20 16-channel board

Sound (in light booth)
1 - Sony MDF- B1 mini disc player
1 - TASCAM CD-RW2000 CD recorder
1 - Sony PCM-R500 DAT recorder
1 - EAW SM 500 monitor

Main DJ Booth
4 - sirens
3 - Technics SL1200M3D turntables
2 - 130 dB horns hooked up to foot switch
2 - custom 15-inch bass bins
2 - Klipsch KP-302 Professional 15-inch monitors
2 - Pioneer CDJ-1000 CD players
1 - Crest CA9 amp
1 - Pioneer EFX 500 effects generator
1 - Rane MP2016 mixer
1 - American Audio dB display meter
1 - Ashly MX508 two-channel EQ

VIP DJ Booth
4 - Turbosound TQ-440sp self-powered speakers
3 - Technics SL1200M3D turntables
2 - Pioneer CDJ-1000 CD players
2 - Turbosound TQ-425sp self-powered subs
1 - Rane MP2016 rotary mixer
1 - TASCAM X-9 digital DJ mixer
1 - Pioneer EFX 500 effects generator
1 - Denon 2600F dual CD player

48 - Par 64’s
40 - Martin MAC 600 color changers
26 - Martin Professional MAC 500 profile spots
19 - High End Systems Studio Color 575’s
18 - High End Systems Cyberlights
14 - High End Systems Dataflash AF1000 strobes
8 - ACL’s (aircraft landing lights)
6 - Martin Professional Roboscan 918 profile spots
6 - Panasonic combo WV-CS854A cameras
5 - Martin Professional MAC 2000 profile washes
4 - Panasonic WV-CM1020 preview monitors
4 - Sanyo LCD projectors (3500 lumen)
2 - 15-watt lasers (with nine outputs/multiple programs)
2 - High End Systems F-100 smoke generators
2 - High End Systems Technorays
2 - High End Systems Technobeams
1 - ETC 48-sensor dimmer rack
1 - Jands Hog 250 console
1 - M-Audio Oxygen 8 keyboard
1 - MA Lighting grandMA light console
1 - Mitsubishi HS-U430 VCR
1 - Panasonic AG-1310 VCR
1 - Panasonic WJ-FS616C six-input/output router
1 - PS-Data WV-CU360C joystick (camera operation)
1 - Videonics MXPro digital video mixer
1 - Panasonic WV-CU360C six-channel video switcher

Plus: Two Sony cameras; two DVD players; one 480 gig, 3.5 MHz custom computer with Audiology sound card, video capture card, six USB ports, and three Firewire ports.

Copyright 2003 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2003 TESTA Communications