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Booth Camp: LD Jason Blends on Lighting DJ Booths

Posted on August 31, 2015

The DJ booth leads a schizophrenic existence, at least when it comes to lighting. When it’s “home” at an EDM concert or dance club, lighting designers make it the center of attention, but move it to a foreign land like say a corporate event, and it’s often treated like a forgotten stepchild. New York LD Jason Blends thinks that’s a mistake.

Over the past two years, Blends has illuminated about 75 DJ booths at non-EDM events, ranging from trade shows to college reunions and upscale Manhattan parties. He has learned that treating the DJ booth as an important scenic element in its own right tends to make it and your overall lighting design that much stronger. Blends sat down with us on a recent visit to New York to talk about lighting DJ booths when they’re away from the familiar (for them) confines of an EDM venue.

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You’ve lighted DJ booths at dance clubs as well as at less traditional DJ venues like corporate events and non-EDM music festivals. Is it different designing a DJ booth for each of these applications?
“I do treat the DJ booth differently, depending on where it’s being used. In my view, you should look at the DJ booth as an important part of its surroundings even when it’s not an EDM type of dance club or festival. In those cases you don’t want to see it as just a place where the DJ hangs out; you want to make it part of your design. To do this, you have to light it in a way that fits the venue.”

How do you do that?
“You light it to reflect the type of event or setting that you’re in. So for a corporate event I want the DJ booth lighting to be more subtle. I’ll do things like rely on uplighting behind a translucent facing. So I give it a warm glow without being overpowering. In this case it’s an ambience creator. On the other hand, if I’m at a festival or a college setting where there’s a lot of dancing, I will add more flare and flash to the DJ booth, going with LED panels and blinders to generate intensity.”

Can you elaborate on how you use video panels on a DJ booth?
“Sure, I love to use video panels with booths. They really engage the crowd and connect the booth to the rest of your design, especially when you use pixel mapping to tie the lighting effects into the panels by sharing images. I did this at a one-off at Rider University in New Jersey. I put panels on the booth, and to either side of it, and had the same break out patterns on the panels and the pixel mapped lighting fixtures around them, so it created this unified club atmosphere in what was basically a school cafeteria setting.”

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Are there mistakes we should look out for when using video panels on DJ booths?
“Yes, the one thing I advise is that if you use video panels at a booth, always make sure you coordinate the display on your panels with the lighting around the booth. It looks really disconcerting when the colors on the panels don’t match the lights. So you don’t want to get so carried away with creating images for your panels that you forget to coordinate them with the lighting.”

How about blinders, any advice on using them?
“Same as video panels. You have to coordinate them. The same is true of things like the ÉPIX strips, which are really cool for DJ booths. You should pixel map those strips so they work in harmony with your other lighting.”

So what’s the first thing you consider when starting your design for a DJ both? It’s size? Shape?
“The first thing I think of is the type of event the booth is going to be used at. The booth should relate to the crowd. I’ll give you an example, I recently designed a DJ booth for the American Disc Jockey Association’s trade show booth at DJ Expo in Atlantic City. The DJ booth was actually the centerpiece of the trade show exhibit. The client sells insurance to DJs so they had no equipment. They didn’t want a couple of guys just sitting there in a booth. That’s when I designed the booth to resemble a DJ booth. There was no audio equipment in the booth, just lighting that evoked the DJ booth image. I know this isn’t a typical application, but my point is that DJ booths can and should connect to a crowd, so you have to understand who is attending an event.”

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Do you change your approach to design based on the DJ who will be using the booth?
“Not really, it’s more the venue and the crowd that I think of. I design for the style of the event more than the style of the DJ.”

When you design a DJ booth you’re also designing the rest of the event, so how do you match the DJ booth with the rest of your design?
“I work both the booth and the rest of the event into my design vision. There has to be a fusion. You don’t want a DJ booth to stick out like a sore thumb, but you do want it to stand out. So it has to be bold but has to blend with its environment.”

Which do you think of first when you design, the booth or the venue?
“It varies — sometimes one, sometimes the other.”

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You designed the DJ booth at Vetro, a popular New York restaurant that becomes a club at night. How do you design for a venue that does double duty going from restaurant to club?
“You try to build flexibility into your design. In the case of Vetro, I used LEDs around the booth in the early evening and then I hit it with more overhead lights at the night heats up.”

Speaking of moving into the night, what do you do when lighting a DJ booth at an outdoor festival that starts when it’s still light out?
“That is always a challenge. You can pull some tricks like run a lot of haze and put beams through it, but you really can’t beat the sun. That’s the number one lighting effect!”