Armed And Ready
He’s got the history; they’ve
got the products. Sales manager Tony Perez helps lead independent
manufacturer Robe into the thick of the club lighting wars.
Eastern Sales Manager Tony Perez
hobnobs with the lighting world’s best.
By John Landers
At the ripe old age of 35, Tony Perez
has pretty much been there and done that (whatever it is)
in this business. As the Eastern Sales Manager of Robe America
(robeamerica.com), Perez is now using his considerable clubland
experience to expand the Czech manufacturer’s market
share. “I’ve been working in nightclubs ever since
I was 17 years old,” he explains. “I’m a
young guy, but I’ve had a long history in this industry.”
Having worked his way up doing installations with some of
the biggest names in lighting, Perez knows everyone who’s
anyone in the field, and they all seem to know his cell number.
During the course of a recent one-hour interview, he happily
fielded a number of phone calls, quoting dealer pricing, making
appointments, and even talking a frustrated technician through
a DMX fixture menu - without missing a beat. His enthusiasm
for all things Robe is obvious.
Despite the pace and pressure of this business, Perez makes
time for personal connections. He is a friend - not just friendly
- to some of the biggest names in nightclub lighting. “What
I really love about this industry is having that one-on-one
relationship with somebody who can really trust you,”
he declares. “You’re the go-to guy, but at the
same time you’ve got these customers who are out there
supporting your product, advertising your product.”
What attracted you to intelligent
lighting? I grew up in Long Island. When I moved
to Manhattan in 2000, I actually went to a rave in New York
City and saw a guy carrying an Intellabeam 700. I walked over
to him and said, what is that? Is that one of those lights
that was wiggling around in the air? And he said, “Absolutely.”
He introduced himself, and we went over to his house after
raving all night. It was about nine o’clock in the morning,
and that was my first encounter with moving lights.
How did you get started in this
business? I got a job with a company in New York
City that primarily did club installs and designs and special
events for companies like Saint At Large. I jumped straight
into the deep end. I went from doing basic install stuff at
Sound Factory with Phil Smith, who was one of my first friends
in the lighting industry, to the Peter Gatien clubs –
Limelight, the Tunnel, and everything else he did in New York
City back in those days. Those are my roots in the nightclub
industry, when it was really, really big in New York. You
couldn’t have been at a better place in the country
at that time to start in the lighting industry. I was being
taught by veterans who, to this day, I still have a lot of
The Who’s Who of club lighting.
I feel very, very lucky. When you’re that age, you don’t
know what you want to do with your life. I probably wouldn’t
change much that I’ve done. I look at some of these
kids that think that by going to [show production and touring
schools], they’re going to have these fabulous lighting
careers. If you’re lucky, yes. If you’re really
good and you meet the right people. I’m one of the fortunate
Where did you go from there?
When I left New York City, I went off and did a lot of club
designs and programming. That was my forte. I did dabble a
little in the theater market, in the corporate market –
you take the odd jobs here and there – but the club
stuff was my foundation.
I knew the music, which was very important. I worked with
some of the best DJs in the world, everyone from Carl Cox
to Little Louie Vega. Frankie Knuckles is a good friend of
me. Some of the best old-school DJs as well, like David Morales
– some of these guys that I saw growing up in New York
City. They helped me learn how to move lights and create moods
with lighting. Lighting is such a powerful tool. You can make
it flash, you can make it strobe and everything else, but
making a crowd feel a certain way with a color, and then going
to a blackout, and then to a pure white light, that takes
a little bit of talent.
And confidence. And you
have to know when you need to have the lights at 50 percent
for three hours straight. You’ve got to follow the DJ.
You can’t just go off, thinking you know what you’re
doing with lighting. You’ve got to have a lot of respect
for the DJ. You’ve got to have a lot of respect for
each room as well, and you’ve got to work with each
room’s lighting system. I’ve had the privilege
to work with many systems out there, not just systems that
I’ve put together. You’ve got to know the music,
and you’ve got to know the tools you’re working
Robe lights in Future,
part of Kenny’s Alley in Atlanta nightlife complex
After you left New York, didn’t
you do some work in South Beach? I worked with Kenny
Smith and Cal Fortis on crobar Miami (crobar.com). They brought
me in to oversee the project. It was one of the last nightclubs
that I really enjoyed building both on a professional level,
and on a friendship level with the club owners. It was a unique
time for Miami; we’re talking about six years ago. Miami
was in desperate need of a superclub, and they brought something
to the beach that hadn’t been there before. And they
did it with a family vibe. Super DJs were just blowing up
at that time, and I worked with some great DJs, everybody
from Erick Morillo to Sasha and John Digweed, you name it.
Everybody rolled through that place when I was there.
How did you get involved with Robe?
The thing that got my attention with Robe was the Lighting
Dimensions Road Test  that they did with 575-watt moving
heads from all the major manufacturers. What really blew my
mind was that Robe wasn’t even Robe at the time. They
were an OEM manufacturer for numerous years.
They had been building lights for
other companies . . . Under those companies’
names. After I read about the road test, I was intrigued.
This company had the wash light that got the best results.
That’s when I discovered Robe Show Lighting in the Czech
Republic. I found their website, and from there I learned
everything I could about the product, because I knew it was
going to be something really special.
What other products impressed you?
At that time, they had just come out with the ColorSpot 1200
AT. That was something that really interested me. They went
from building a 575-watt unit to building a 1200-watt unit
that was spot-on.
That’s a big step.
I did a lot of research on the fixture. It had every feature
that you could use in the club market, and it had the output
for stadium concert tours and theatrical productions. It’s
a very versatile fixture. That was the trigger. I really wanted
to, if not work for Robe, at least be more involved with this
company on a professional level. Then Michael Carattini [the
President of Robe America] contacted me, and he said, “Tony,
with your experience over the years, I think you’d be
a valuable asset to us, and I’d like for you to be the
Eastern Regional Sales Manager for Robe America.” I
happily accepted the offer.
I imagine it didn’t take you
long to say yes. I had done a lot of my homework
already, and I knew that it was a good career move for me
because I see the future with this company.
How so? One thing that
Robe brings to the table is a sense of security. Robe America’s
philosophy emphasizes a focus on customers, not on corporate
structure or politics.
Why is that important?
It’s very important, because when you pick up the phone
and ask for the Eastern Regional Sales Manager, you get me.
You don’t have to go through three other sales guys.
You’re dealing with one guy, one company, one philosophy.
This is our life. This is what we do. It’s our passion.
There’s no investment company pulling our strings. Our
main goal is to make everybody happy – everybody who’s
involved with Robe products – the end-users, the dealers,
Customers, not shareholders. That’s
a refreshing corporate philosophy. These guys have
been building lights for a long time, and they know how to
build a quality product. They do some serious testing. We
have an outstanding service director, Mike Andrews. He’s
been in this industry for years. He’s one of the best
technical guys I know in the United States, and he finds it
amazing how little service he has to do. Look, it’s
a light. If you don’t take care of it, it’s going
to break, but anybody who’s worked with Robe products
knows that if you take care of them, they’ll keep on
working for you as long as you love them.
Let’s face it, the lighting industry is very competitive.
I can offer my dealers products that club owners can afford,
and that have a solid two-year warranty. You know it’s
going to work, you know that you can afford it, you know that
the manufacturer is going to support it, and you know the
dealer base is going to support it as well. Anybody that comes
onboard with us becomes part of the family.
Tell me about some of the nightclub
installations that have featured Robe products. The
first one we did after I got there was Elysium (elysium-lounge.com),
up in Michigan [see page 42 for more about Elysium]. I know
the club is still going strong. They were able to put the
gear into it and just forget about it, because it’s
still working. We did one on the West Coast called The Vault
(vaultultralounge.com), which is another massive club with
a lot of gear in it.
Didn’t Space Miami enjoy a
sizeable Robe installation around the same time?
Space (clubspace.com) is probably one of the bigger name nightclubs
that we did business with. It was designed and installed by
a company called Infinite (goinfinite.com). Lord Toussaint,
Infinite’s president, is one of our best dealers and
a veteran in this industry. That was a club that had all XT
products, everything from scanners to 575-watt moving head
fixtures. To this day, Louis Puig, the owner of Space, has
only good things to say about Robe.
High-profile installations like
that must be great for business. These guys could
pick any lighting manufacturer that they want. When you have
a sophisticated nightclub owner like Louis going with your
products, it’s an eye-opener. That was a major boost
for Robe America and Robe products.
We also just did a club, Kenny’s Alley, at the Underground
complex in Atlanta. It’s a very nice install.
Perez with his wares.
That’s a big venue, isn’t
it? Yes, it’s pretty big, and it was done by
a company called Active Productions (activelighting.com).
Active had never used our gear before, and they’re just
totally happy with it. There’s another massive venue
in Atlanta called Club Vision (visonatlanta.com). Scott Waterbury
of Atlanta Sound and Lighting (atlantasoundandlight.com) went
with the DJ Scan 250 XT because it has the output, the rotating
gobos, the color wheel, and the super-fast motors, all in
a very compact fixture. And it’s so affordable, they
got 110 of them in.
You’ve mentioned the XT series
and the DJ series. How many different product lines does Robe
make for club and lounge applications? We have the
XT line and the AT line, which is our Advanced Technology
line. We also have two lines that are specifically made for
the nightclub world: the CT Line, which is the Club Technology
line, and the DJ line. It’s very easy to go to our website
and learn all about the different lines.
And what about the fixtures within
each of those series? We make everything, from 150-watt
scanners, to 575-watt color changers, to 1,200-watt moving
heads. We make a full line of smoke machines. We just introduced
a whole LED line, called Anolis (anolis.cz). This is a line
that we think is going to be very popular in nightclubs. It’s
going to be very useful for creating moods.
LED technology is becoming quite
popular, especially in lounge-y environments. Lounges
don’t necessarily need a lot of automated lighting.
You have lounges that are serving food, and the last thing
you need is a bunch of flashing lights swinging around. If
you use it in the right way, it can be tasteful, but you’ve
got to understand how to use moving lights in a lounge application.
LED lighting is just going to set a mood, from the time people
sit down until they leave. It has to be gradual, and that’s
what LEDs can do for you. You can make LEDs strobe and everything
else, but the way I see it, they give you a special look that
you can’t get with traditional lighting.
Even if you add, say, red gels to
incandescent lighting? You can have lights with red
in them, but that’s it. They’re red all night.
Or all week . . . Or all
month . . .
Depending on how motivated the light
tech is to keep everything looking fresh. So, what advice
do you have for venue owners? Nightclubs are doing
corporate shows more and more. For them to make money, to
advertise through their lights, they need the right products.
It’s really important that owners understand that they
can use automated lighting to advertise inside the nightclub.
We have lights to fit all of those applications.
Any other suggestions for people
trying to make a profit in this increasingly competitive business?
You’ve got to provide not only the best sound, but the
best lighting as well. If you want repeat business, you’ve
got to give customers more than just black paint on the walls
and candles all over the place. It’s fine, because it
works, but this is 2005. Take advantage of what great manufacturers
like Robe are putting out there for you.
Robe’s latest products offer clubs new possibilities.
Robe America unveiled almost a dozen new products at this
year’s PLASA show in London, including a surprisingly
affordable moving head video projector, a digital media
server and an entire line of architectural LED products.
Here’s your sneak peek at some of Robe’s fresh
5000 DT - This 5000 ANSI Lumen moving
head video projector offers two digital gobo layers with
a selection of up to 255 video clips or images per layer,
plus an impressive image resolution of 1024 x 768 x 3
pixels. Each gobo layer features individual X and Y positioning,
zooming, indexing and rotation for maximum visual impact.
Supported video formats include MPEG1, MPEG2, PNG, and
BMP. The fixture also boasts full CYM color mixing and
a separate iris.
2X4 DT - This is a media server located
inside the base of Robe’s ColorSpot 575AT, making
it easy to rig onto a truss or anywhere else. The unit
offers four parallel outputs to send chosen video content
to plasma screens, LCD displays and/or video projectors.
The MediaHub combines two digital layers with a selection
of up to 255 video clips or images per layer. Like the
DigitalSpot 5000DT, the media server supports MPEG1, MPEG2,
PNG, and BMP files.
10 AT - Ideal for “advertainment”
and corporate events, the StageBanner serves as rotating
electronic signage. With more and more venues hosting
special events, this unique product is ideal for operators
who want to wow business people and club kids alike.
In addition to being DMX-controllable, the StageBanner
can also be run in stand-alone mode, easily programmed
via the onboard four-digit LED display on the base.
Up to three different programs can be stored, each containing
up to 99 steps. Master/slave operation is also possible,
so several StageBanners can be connected together and
controlled from one unit for a very dramatic effect.
- This is Robe’s architectural LED line. Consisting
of ArcLine LED strips and ArcSource LED fixtures, the
Anolis series is clearly intended for the club market.
In addition to the usual benefits associated with LED
illumination, each piece is designed for easy installation,
which should make this line particularly popular with
busy lighting specialists. –JL