It isn’t easy to make waves in New York’s intense and crowded live music scene, but when Bowery Presents, the owners of several of the city’s top drawing concert venues, opened Brooklyn Steel in April, everyone in the Big Apple took notice. Located in a cavernous former steel plant in Brooklyn’s hip Williamsburg section, the industrial looking venue draws a steady stream of national recording stars from a variety of genres, beginning with LCD Soundsystem, which sold out five consecutive shows when the venue opened, and onto the likes of PJ Harvey, Tycho, and Laura Marling.
Overseeing the lighting rig at Brooklyn’s newest (and largest) live music venue is house LD Dinah Miller. A New York-based designer who’s worked at several of the city’s top clubs, in addition to doing some touring, Miller talked to us about being the first house LD at a venue that is likely to one day become a New York legend.
Brooklyn Steel opened in April, so you are its first house LD. What was that like? Did it give you more freedom to set up the house rig your way?
“It is great to be the first one here figuring out what parameters are going to be set for the Touring LDs that are coming through. What we are able to offer them and integrating touring designs into the existing design in-house. I did not design the BKS rig though, it was designed by Luciano Savedra.
Were there any glitches to work out being the venue is new? Did visiting LDs have different expectations because the venue is so new?
“The only glitch we came up against was figuring out hazer placement. The HVAC was being adjusted every night and outside temperature and humidity seem to affect the HVAC operation, which in turn can affect how the haze distributes in the venue. It’s still a work in progress.
“Another challenge is when touring LD’s want to add or move fixtures from the grid. The way the rig is designed (tight looms, lights rigged inside the truss, etc.) that’s not possible. The design is very much meant to have everything someone would want who isn’t traveling with any production. On the other hand, it can also be easily struck and taken out to accommodate a production with all their own lights There aren’t spare points or truss just hanging around with nothing on it to rig to. That’s something we are looking to address in the new year. How to accommodate the tour that only needs to hang a few things Networking, integrating touring floor packages to house system can be an issue for traveling LDs depending on their experience with different size venues.”
How did this job come about for you? What did you do before Brooklyn Steel?
“I was a lighting freelancer working at different venues, events, and a bit of touring. The Production Manager here was formally the PM for Music Hall of Williamsburg another venue in the Bowery presents/ AEG family that I freelanced at. He asked me If I was interested in coming over to Brooklyn Steel and I jumped at the chance.”
How did you become an LD, what drew you to it?
“I started doing lights when I was 15, working on the school plays etc. Then I went to college for it at Emerson where I got a BFA in lighting. Working with lights is the only thing I have ever done other than one summer working at the local pool growing up. I love the idea that lights are creating a different world, taking whatever is happening in stage in the song and helping bring it to a new level.
You have a moveable stage at Brooklyn Steel that can assume three different positions. Can you tell us about that? How does this affect your lighting design?
“The moving stage lets us go from a 1100, to a 1500, to a 1800 capacity venue. Our lighting rig is also able to move so we can give the artists a full show in any configuration without them feeling like we are limiting them due to their sell.’
The big mirror ball at Brooklyn Steel has attracted a lot of attention. Can you talk about how that comes into play in your designs?
“We have a 4’ mirror ball that was purchased for the venue. It is so big that it does not regularly live in the space. When LCD is not in the space and a band has not specifically asked to use it, we hang it in the lobby since if it is left in the main space it has a dominating presence.”
Another thing we’ve notices is your high ceiling. How do you adjust for that?
“From the venue floor it seems pretty high but it’s not as high as we could use for many acts coming through. Many of them are used to Theater or Arena grids that are typically much higher. We’re a venue built in an already existing structure. We had to deal with the ceiling height as it is. Once you start adding beams, motors, truss, the height gets eaten up pretty fast.”
What’s the best thing about being a house LD?
“I would say the best thing about being a house LD is seeing how different LDs coming through have their processes of setting up their show and how they use the lights differently from the other LDs who visit us.”
Do you LD outside of Brooklyn Steel?
“I definitely do try and do LD work as much as I can outside of BKS. We are a size of venue where almost all of the groups coming through have their own LD so I don’t really get to do lights of anything other than the opener which is fun but I don’t get to go full out with them.”
When you go to light a band, whether it’s the rare headliner or opener, how do you get yourself ready?
“If I’m the LD for the evening then I’ll do a quick listen to their most popular music and their newest release if they are doing a cycle. I will also talk to the band and management during or before sound check and ask them if they have anything they love or hate that other LDs have done. I also ask if they have any moments in any of their songs that are their favorite that they would like me to play up.”
What’s the secret to getting along with visiting LDs and bands?
“What I always try and keep in mind with visiting LDs is that this is their big NYC show and they are going to be super stressed. There’s management label, agents all coming down and they want it to be perfect. If there’s any issues that arise during the day tensions can get up there pretty quick. It’s good to be patient and confident, troubleshoot and get them back on track. It always works best if the LD advanced everything before showing up, that way if there’s anything we don’t have, they can hire it in. I want everyone to have a good show but the key is advancing and being prepared. It’s natural that people want to come in and change things to make the show extra special but they do have to live with what is possible here and with whatever budget they have for extras.”
What’s your favorite part of the Brooklyn Steel house rig?
“I would say that the quality and quantity of the fixtures is the best. When LDs walk in and see what they have to work with for the day they are always super excited to get started!”