Key Club, Morongo



View of Key Club from the stage.

Vegas meets L.A. in the Mojave.
By Mike Amon

Awash in neon, the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa rises 27-stories like a beacon from the desert, the only building visible for miles in the southern Mojave Desert. With 2,000 slot machines, 300 rooms, a manmade river and an upscale rooftop restaurant, it was made to look like Las Vegas and attract Los Angelenos 90 miles away.

“Whatever happens in Vegas … also happens at Morongo,” an Interstate 10 billboard says without apparent irony.

But getting L.A. hipsters to drive two hours to an ersatz Vegas is tough, especially with the real Sin City just four hours away. So the casino tweaked its formula: a little less Vegas, a little more Hollywood.

Enter the Key Club, arguably the hippest live music venue in Los Angeles. In December, it opened a 20,000-square foot space in the Morongo, replacing N9NE Entertainment’s dance club, Rain, the Las Vegas transplant that left the casino acrimoniously after only a few months.

With four bars, three floors, skybox seating and a custom-made audio and lighting system, Key Club brings urban sophistication and hipster credibility to an unlikely location. Cabazon, the dusty desert railroad town of 2,229 souls that Morongo calls home, was previously best known for hosting a dinosaur park and providing the backdrop for the 1985 movie, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

But Key Club partner Keith Pressman said the Morongo’s location drew him to the project. The Inland Empire – the local boosters’ euphemism for the inhabitable parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties — is the fastest-growing region in California. More than 2,700 people move there every week, according to Census Bureau estimates.

A small but growing web of bars and Indian casinos, including the Morongo, has sprung up to accommodate the influx. Nearby Palm Springs is being rediscovered as an escapist desert resort. The Coachella Valley Music Festival has put the region on the map of music snobs everywhere. And now the Morongo and Key Club are presenting big time entertainment, hosting national music acts like 311, Trent Reznor and Social Distortion.

One local reporter gushed: “Cabazon is now the Inland Empire’s center of rock performances.”

It makes sense, Pressman said. Equidistant from the Pacific Coast and the desert metropolises of Las Vegas and Phoenix to the east, the Key Club at Morongo gives traveling bands another stop on their way to Los Angeles.

“We found a niche,” he said. “There’s nothing out here that’s doing what we’re doing.”

Key Club has eclectic performers, and systems
to match.

A Space For All
Like its sister club in Hollywood, the Key Club at Morongo is a model of the hybrid venue. Fridays feature a throwback 80s heavy metal cover band, Metal Skool, while on Saturday, the place is filled with club kids dancing to hip-hop and house.

The club’s performers cross genres; Trent Reznor, B.B. King, Duran Duran, Digital Underground and Carrie Underwood have all played there. Coming up are performances by the Gin Blossoms, Styx, Toad the Wet Sprocket and Wayne Newton.

“We’ve perfected the art of being flexible,” Pressman said. “Every night is a different story.”

That makes publicist Stacy Conde’s job a little tougher. Unlike Rain, which was strictly a dance club, Key is marketed to a broad cross-section of people, from classic rock fans to clubbers to hip-hop enthusiasts.

For Metal Skool, Conde ensures that flyers are posted at local tattoo parlors. For B.B. King’s show, she’ll press for play in the local newspapers. And for Saturday night’s “Club Sunset” dance party, Key Club turns to local dance music radio stations.

“I haven’t found that magic thing, the fairy dust that makes it all work,” said Conde, a former record label promoter. “Part of it is that we’re still learning this area. It’s the desert. There are different promotional channels than in New York or L.A. where most of us are from.”

Brad Kemp, the Key Club’s production manager, said the Morongo space was set up so it could be modified at a moment’s notice. On any given night, its tech staff may have to prep the stage for a rock show at 8 pm, then strike it for a DJ dance party at midnight. The next day, the space may have to be reconfigured for a movie shoot.

“It’s complete anarchy,” Kemp said.

Gotta Be Flexible
Kemp, a former drummer for an industrial rock band in the early 90s, speaks quickly and multitasks — the hallmarks of a man comfortable with being busy. During a recent phone interview, he had the phone wedged between shoulder and chin, his eyes were on the computer to answer an e-mail and his mind was on the next stage set up.

Kemp said he’s obsessed with keeping his set up simple and flexible, a philosophy bred and nurtured by the hybrid nature of Key Club. To complicate matters, however, he had one month to complete the audio and light installation. And though a club had been in the space before, it had been a dance club and was not set up for live shows.

Kemp needed help and called L.A.-based Rat Sound, with whom he had worked several times before.

“They really stepped up to the plate and saved my ass,” Kemp said.

The front-of-house setup features L-Acoustics cabinet speakers and amplifiers, including the Kudo Line Array modules, SB218 subwoofers and La48a amplifiers; a Yamaha PM5D-RH desk console, and a rack of sundry equalizers and effects. The monitor setup also includes L-Acoustic amp wedges and drumfills, as well as another PM5D-RH console and Radian microwedges.

Kemp keeps it as condensed and clutter-free as possible, and speakers and amps are put on casters for easy movement. All snakes and drivelines are recessed, and the desks are digital, which makes them smaller and easier to haul off stage.

“I needed front of house and monitor world to be set up or struck within 10 minutes ideally,” Kemp said. “Simplicity and versatility will really save your butt. Keep it simple, keep it portable and life will be good to you.”

Kemp admits he took a chance by opting for a digital mixer and agonized over the decision. Many engineers and DJs still prefer the warmth of analog and haven’t made the switch. But no one has objected to the PM5D-RH.

“The really big acts bring their own desk anyway,” Kemp said.

The lighting system is also simple, partly because “it was a bit secondary” to the audio, Kemp said. It features 50 American DJ Par 64s, 12 Martin MAC 250s and four MAC 550s, all controlled by a Grand MA, allowing for standard gobos and dance party lighting programs.

“I really needed to go halfway old-school, halfway new generation,” Kemp said of the lights. “We have bands that are never going to like intelligent lighting. They do not want to see movers, they do not want to see gobos.”

But the system has enough “razz-ma-tazz” for dance music DJs, Kemp said.

Before installing the intelligent lighting, however, Kemp had to design a custom truss over the awkward, trapezoidal shaped stage. The previous club had a truss designed for a dance club, not a live show. “We couldn’t hang our motors in the right places,” Kemp said.

On the Rise
Key Club’s audio and lighting system got its first test this past January, with Duran Duran selling out the house – and blowing out a microwedge. Key Club’s success at Morongo, though, will depend on more than its sleek lighting and pounding audio. It could hinge on whether crowds from L.A., San Diego and Orange County will suffer in I-10 traffic for a night out in the desert.

It didn’t work for Rain. And the Key Club’s other extension of their brand, Plush at the JW Marriott in Las Vegas, recently closed its doors.

But Pressman is betting that the Morongo and Key Club are the right partners coming together at the right time.

“If someone wants to come for Kid Rock, they can stay and gamble, they can get a room, they can sit by the pool,” Pressman said. Citing the area’s phenomenal population growth, he said: “As it stands now, it’s a great location. And it’s only going to get better.”


Main PA
12 - L-Acoustics LA 48a amplifiers
10 - L-Acoustics KUDO line arrays
8 - L-Acoustics SB218 subwoofers
4 - L-Acoustics MTD 112b passive two-ways
2 - L-Acoustics LA 17a amplifiers

Front Of House
4 - dbx 160A compressor/limiters
2 - Yamaha PW800 power supply units
2 - XTA DP428 audio management systems
1 - BSS FCS-960 30-band graphic equalizer
1 - Drawmer 1960 mic pre-amp/vacuum tube compressor
1 - Klark Teknik DN6000 RTA real time analyser
1 - Klark Teknik DN6000-10 measurement mic
1 - Lexicon PCM 91 digital reverberator
1 - Midas XL88 line level 8 x 8 matrix mixer
1 - TASCAM CD-160 CD player
1 - TASCAM CD-RW750 CD recorder
1 - TC Electronics D-Two multi-tap rhythm delay
1 - Yamaha PM5D-RH digital mixing console
1 - Yamaha SPX2000 multi-effects processor

Monitor System
14 - Radian RMW-1122 micro wedges
8 - L-Acoustics LA 48a amplifiers
4 - BSS FDS-334 wedge crossovers
3 - L-Acoustics LA 15a amplifiers
2 - BSS FDS-336 sidefill/drumfill crossovers
2 - Yamaha PW800 power supply units
1 - Yamaha PM5D digital mixing console
1 - Yamaha PM5D-RH digital mixing console

6 - L-Acoustics SB118 subwoofers
4 - L-Acoustics ARCS loudspeakers
2 - L-Acoustics 115XT subwoofers

10 - Shure SM57 instrument mics
10 - Shure SM58 vocal mics
8 - Shure Beta drum mics
6 - Shure Beta 58a vocal mics
6 - Shure Beta 98DS miniature drum mics
6 - Whirlwind IMPII direct boxes
5 - Sennheiser e904 cardioid drum mics
4 - AKG 451 small-diaphragm mics
4 - Sennheiser e906 instrument mics
4 - Sennheiser MD421 II dynamic mics
4 - Shure KSM32/CG studio condenser mics
4 - Shure SM81 instrument mics
2 - AKG C 414 condenser mics
1 - AKG D112 kick drum mic
1 - Klark Teknik DN100 active DI box
1 - Shure U124D/58 wireless set with SM58 mics

50 - PAR cans 64 w/1000-watt lamp and clamp
12 - Martin Professional MAC 250 Krypton fixtures
10 - Liko focus lights
4 - Martin Professional MAC 550 moving heads
3 - ETC 12 x2k dimmer racks
2 - Follow spots
1 - DIFFUSION DF-50 hazer
1 - MA Lighting grandMA console



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Copyright 2006 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2006 TESTA Communications