A/V @ Ra, Las Vegas



DVJ Roonie G. rocks Ra with sights and sounds.

Who needs a DJ when you’ve got a VJ?

By Chrissi Mark
Photos by Hew Burney

Every Friday, 19,000-square-foot Egypt-themed nightclub Ra gets packed to capacity, despite wavering talk of the venue in the press. MGM Mirage – the uber-company that also owns major Las Vegas strip hotels like Bellagio, Treasure Island, New York-New York and Mirage – recently added the Mandalay resorts to its holding list. That includes the sprawling Mandalay Bay; and Ra’s home, the pyramid-shaped, light-topped Luxor, a staple of the Vegas skyline. Ra’s entire staff was scrapped, save two men: general manager Jerome Thomas, and promotions and marketing coordinator Steven Lockwood.

Lockwood is the young brain behind the club’s revitalizing A/V party, the Friday night club-filler that bills VJ Roonie G., aka Roongsak Griffeth, as the headliner, rather than a DJ.

“It’s more hands-on,” the 24-year-old Lockwood says of the party. “Vegas has come down to people have to see it, want to touch it, and sing along to it – that started with [MGM Grand lounge] Tabu with their [touch-responsive video] tables. And so [at A/V], people can see the TVs, they’re familiar with the music. It’s kind of like watching MTV but with no commercials.”

With an opening DJ, a light jock controlling over 100 intelligent lights, and a lights-off introduction, A/V runs more like a dance concert than a weekly party. And maestro G., who flies in from his home outside of Atlanta each week, is more than happy to work the booth’s four Pioneer DVJ-X1 DVD turntables in a hybrid show that takes the notion of DJ as performer to another level.

“I do some video magic and manipulation, but I do it intertwined with the perspective that I’ve got to keep the dancefloor rocking,” G. says. “So I’m continuously mixing music as a DJ would, but on video. It makes it really [musically] mixed.” G. plays mainstream and underground hip-hop, Top 40, dance, ‘80s, a little bit of rock, mash-ups – which are “a big Vegas thing now” – and even more progressive stuff, like hard house and trance. “That’s all mixed in with a touch of today’s pop culture, the hot movies, or Dave Chappelle,” he says. “Because it’s video I can just throw it in and they can relate.”

A connoisseur of nightlife media, Lockwood was brainstorming new possibilities for Ra when the light bulb lit. He’d seen G.’s video mixes on MTV2’s Monster Mix, and watched the him demo Pioneer’s DVJ-X1 – which he does at trade shows around the world, as one of the company’s official endorsers – on a Pioneer promotional disc in “a magazine somewhere. I saw him mixing videos, actual movies, and I’m like, that’s my tech guy. How can we get this to happen?” The Ra crew made contact and snagged G. for a residency.

G.’s visuals make for an energetic crowd.

A Cockpit Equipped
A/V launched in January, and went from monthly to biweekly to weekly in a matter of six months, eclipsing a mash-up party that had generated earlier buzz. Lockwood added additional Sony plasmas, hung from the ceiling with aircraft carrier cable, to the venue’s preexisting quartet of 20’ x 30’ screens; and pimped the booth with plenty of VJ candy.

“This is like a dream,” says G. “It’s surreal, this booth. This is something you draw up in a space shuttle and you don’t expect it to really be built.”

The booth was recently redesigned with the help of sponsor Pioneer, which prompted G.’s first turn on the company’s “monster mixer,” the DJM-1000. “I’ve got a big hip-hop background, so I’m all about the static, the rawness, and improvisational stuff,” he says. “So I never expected the fidelity of that mixer to be as good as it is. It made a huge difference [with] the sound quality. It just sounded great.”

The DJM-1000 connects with an Edirol V4 video mixer, plus two DVJ-X1’s and a Pioneer DJM -909 battle mixer on the left and right sides, giving G. four video sources at his disposal at all times. There’s also a Pioneer EFX-1000 effects unit, and two M-Connection MC-100NP VJ tri-monitors, connected with Pioneer VSW-1 switchers.

G. admits it can all be too much information. “By the end of the night I’m brain-dead,” he says. “Every time I do a mix I have to think of the visuals mixing, so I have to do two switches, two faders, and then I have to figure out when I want the visuals to mix. Do I want the video to mix at the same time, or before or after? So I’ve started to build up a system where I usually do it after, because I like the mix to be a surprise. So as I’m overlaying I’ll purposely not overlay a video mix; I let the audio sneak up and then bam! Right when I blow it over I’ll let the video in, where it’s more effective.”

Even for an accomplished VJ like G., the A/V booth is unprecedented. “I’ve been spinning with the four-DVJ set-up for a couple of months, but last week was the [first time with the] full set-up with three mixers,” he says. “That was just phenomenal because it brings out the turntablist background in me. I’m really able to manipulate audio and videos at a more comfortable pace, at a pace that I can go at instead of at the whim of the set-up. A lot of times the set up would slow me down.

“I’m so excited. I’m like a kid in a candy store. I just can’t wait to get back on there.”

Scratchy Sound
With all those video decks, what about the A in A/V? G., a father of three who barely looks old enough to have accrued 22 years of DJ experience, would hardly let audio get lost in the video. He uses two separate Rane Serato Scratch Live systems “so I don’t have to lug a gazillion CDs along with my gazillion DVDs,” and is already working with Rane and Serato to smooth out glitches in the product, just as he did with Pioneer during the development of the now-standard CDJ-1000 digital turntable.

And to the analog-philes and naysayers of CDs, MP3s and anything digital, G. has a message: “Screw that. I’m playing videos, yo. You’ve got to move forward. I can’t imagine what’s coming out, but if you don’t start getting your stuff together you’re going to be stuck in the stone ages.”



G’s Thing: The A/V Booth

4 - Pioneer DVJ-X1 digital audio and video turntables
3 - Pioneer SW1 video switchers
2 - Pioneer DJM-909 battle mixers
2 - M-Connection MC-100NP VJ tri-monitors
2 - Rane Serato Scratch LIVE systems
1 - Edirol V-4 video mixer
1 - Pioneer DJM-1000 mixer
1 - Pioneer EFX-1000 effects unit
1 - Pioneer HDJ-1000 headphones


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Copyright 2005 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2005 TESTA Communications