Kids' stuff


Two very different teen clubs satisfy their patrons’ demands for safe fun and serious systems.
By Elisabeth Gibbons

Rocketown, Nashville

A not-for-profit with sound to burn.

       Who would think that a Christian music artist would be behind one of the most impressive teen clubs in the nation? In 1994, singer Michael W. Smith founded a teen club called Rocketown, in an effort to provide a safe and nurturing place for young people to gather. The original venue closed in 1997, but a new site in downtown Nashville reopened with the same name in 2003, with an impressive upgrade. We’re talking high-end professional systems at a non-profit venue, for kids who have never seen the inside of another nightclub in their lives.
       But Rocketown is more than just a teen club. They call it “an entertainment destination,” comprised of three elements: the Empyrean Coffee Bar, a 14,000-square-foot indoor skatepark, and a 10,000-square-foot nightclub. Empyrean serves light food and non-alcoholic beverages, and has an acoustic stage, a retail shop, and an isolated DJ lounge (The Deep) with 7,000 square feet on two levels. The skatepark features a retail outlet, vending, and lounge facilities, and two private party rooms. But the jewel of this venue is its 10,000 square-foot dance/performance club.

For the Kids, By the Kids
       But what’s really important to the Rocketown staff is their crowd. Manager Roger Thompson says that the goal is not just entertaining teens, but involving them and helping them develop into healthy adults. The club has a four-part mission it calls “ABCD” – being a great Attraction for youths; Building relationships with them; Connecting them to resources; and helping them Discover their dreams. This directive is what keeps the club going in more ways than one: Since it’s non-profit, Rocketown relies heavily on donations, and it’s their community service angle that keeps them afloat.
       Sound more like community outreach than entertainment? Maybe so, but the club attracts over 1,000 patrons a week. On Saturday night, the club’s most popular, all the programming is generated and performed by the kids. Though he says they’re “still learning how to promote,” Thompson attributes Rocketown’s strong draw to the fact that the kids feel more involved in the club, and bring their friends along to watch and participate as well. Plus, the cover is kept very low (around $5).

Danny’s Toys
       Non-profit considerations aside, Danny Griffin, the club’s tech guru, really wanted Rocketown to have a Funktion-One speaker system. “When it came time to put a sound system in the club, there was really no other choice for me, because I had heard it before. We’re a non-profit, and the president of our board had some questions about Funktion-One, only because he wanted to know if we could go cheaper, which is what you’re supposed to do, but I really wanted this,” he says. “I said, ‘Look, I’ll put lamps on that stage if we can’t afford lights, but the sound is just really important.’ And Carl [Taylor, from Q of Nashville] gave us such a great price.”
But it wasn’t as easy as just putting the system in there. The room had to be prepped for it. Griffin recalls the first time he walked into the space: “It’s an all brick room with a poured floor, so when we first got the building you could hear a conversation you had about a week ago in the rafters. I didn’t know how we were going to turn it down.” They ended up putting carpet on the mezzanine, spraying the ceiling with acoustical treatment, adding bass traps under the stair landings, lining the stage with insulation, and putting insulation-filled barrels on the dancefloor.
       The Funktion-One F-218 double 18-inch subs are stacked under the stage, and the cabinets are hanging from big orange beams that stretch across the ceiling. All the amplification comes from QSC. This place means business, and Griffin couldn’t be prouder. “It sounds incredible. We have an Infrabass sub, and it’s 6000 watts; it only picks up 70dB and under. People come in and their jaws drop. I get really stoked about it.”
The sound gets compliments from the kids, the DJs, and the bands. “The kids don’t know what the Funktion One is,” says Griffin. “It’s a little bit of overkill, but bands love it when they come in here.” With the teen crowd, it’s all about hip-hop, therefore bass is of the utmost importance. Danny claims that with the Funktion-One you can hear everything – “the bass, the highs, the mids…it’s just as clear as it can be. It’s like wearing headphones!”

Club Done Good
       Rocketown has been a resounding success, as a teen club and as a community center for youth. “We drew a lot of support from the community,” says Thompson. “It’s a phenomenal facilty, the best facility in Nashville. We’re leading this idea. And it’s a whole new model when you go the non-profit route.”
       And by all accounts, Rocketown can hang with the big boys, and Thompson couldn’t be happier. “I constantly read Club Systems International, and I love to keep up with what the other clubs have,” says Griffin. “I’m so proud of what we’ve got. I feel like it’s the best kept secret, and once it gets out it’ll be huge.”

401 6th Avenue South
Nashville, Tennessee

Fusion, San Diego 

A teen club older than its patrons, with similarly aged workhorse systems.
       Fusion is San Diego’s only nightclub for the under-21 crowd, and has been for 20 years. In a world where some clubs don’t last longer than a few years, owner Stojan Mitich has managed to keep Fusion open and hopping. He started the club right out of high school, and attributes its success to hard work, on everything from promotions to music programming.
       When promoting Fusion, Mitich gets ‘em where they live: the schools. He has a mobile DJ business that grew out of the nightclub, and uses it as a tool to give the kids a taste of what they might be missing if they don’t hit up Fusion. “We have a mobile system, and we do a lot of school dances. It promotes the nightclub,” he says. They also rely on the tradition flyer route, and radio spots. With teens, Mitich says, “you’ve got to hit them at every angle. You have to look all over the place. Talk to the kids at the schools, talk to them in the street. You have to be out there, all over.”
And once he gets the kids in the door, the battle to keep them continues with delivering the kind of sound and lighting they demand: simple and powerful.

Keep It Simple
       Fusion is a big place, with an oversized dancefloor, stages, and an outdoor patio for a second DJ spread over two stories. And while their gear list is rather short, it delivers a big punch.
The lighting is simple, but with teens, Fusion’s found, “the darker the better.”
       “I’ve been dealing with Mitich now for almost 20 years,” says Tony Mirador of The DJ Store, the lighting designer for Fusion. “He just let me do what I thought would be best. He wanted a bit of the old rave scene. The kids like more of the rave look, really dark colors and lasers shooting through.” Mirador’s system includes six Martin Professional Pro 218 Roboscans, four High End Systems Dataflash strobes, an LPD Q-Beam (a 300mW laser), and a fog machine. It’s all hanging on trusses, one rectangular and one square. The system’s just enough to create different scenes and moods, and is pretty self-sufficient. Mirador says his biggest challenge is keeping the laser up to code.

Old Reliable
       Mitich boasts that his sound system is “probably one of the best in San Diego,” based on the principle that “kids demand a stronger sound system than the adults.” We take that to mean loads of bass.
“There’s actually one big main super-large system that’s kind of like a concert stack, and then there are four perimeters around it that service the whole dancing area,” explains Dave Volz, owner of Sonic Systems Interface, and sound tech for Fusion. “And then there are 14 bass bins in stacks of clusters at each end.”
In Volz’s estimation, this system is “about a 5,000-watt bass system, and then another 2,000 for the mid-top. We are one of the bigger bass systems in our area.” Fortunately, Fusion is in a rural spot, so that bass doesn’t bug the neighbors over a mile and a half away. “I never thought it would be the case, but I checked it out myself and you can barely hear it,” says Volz.
What’s surprising is that this booming sound comes from pieces that are older than the patrons they service. “It’s an old system – a lot of pieces are from the ’70s – but surprisingly it almost never fails,” says Volz. “The speakers are newer, but the amplifiers, the BGWs, are from the ’70s. They are better than some of the new junk out there now. That’s the amazing thing about this system, is that it’s an older one and it keeps up with all the newer ones. It will cook along with any of the other clubs in the area, that’s for sure.”

Making the Grade
       Musically, it’s not easy to keep up with the fickle mind of a teenager. “Our DJs have to keep up with the music,” says Mitich. “They’re in record pools, and they stay on it. Right now we’re doing house and techno, but that’s going to change to underground hip-hop.” It’s a constant battle to find out what the kids are into, because it changes so frequently. But the one thing that’s consistent is their love of the dark, and their need for the bass. And that, Fusion delivers.

775 Metcalf Street,
Escondido, California

Copyright 2003 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2003 TESTA Communications