Sydney’s Marquee nightclub dealt with the pandemic by being the first to close and the last to open, but it didn’t mean it was closed down.
Marquee is soon to turn 10. It’s been noted that nightclub years and dog years are much the same. Notching up 10 years as the premier nightclub in Sydney might well be the equivalent of 20 or 30 years running just about any other business. Nightclubs are notorious for bursting on the scene then, like a (champagne?) supernova, flaming out just as quickly.
So what’s Marquee’s secret? Predictably, it’s always the ‘boring’ stuff. Good fundamentals, like properly looking after clients (especially returning clients); looking after artists, so it’s not all about the money; and maintaining a strong core team. Actually, it’s not all boring stuff. Marquee is also famous for luring big-name artists to Sydney. Over the years it’s hosted the likes of Avicii, Calvin Harris, just about all the members of the ASAP crew at different times, Drake, Diplo, Steve Aoki, Bruno Mars and more. The atmosphere at these types of ‘marquee’ gigs is intense, nothing like a regular club or arena concert. It’s intimate, sweaty and memorable.
This is the Tao Group DNA — big names; great fundamentals. Tao Group launched Marquee as its first international venture after embedding itself in the New York, then the Las Vegas, late-night scene. Interestingly, Tao isn’t about relentless expansion or franchising, there’s prestige in the exclusivity.
The other Tao difference is bottle service, which it pioneered in Australia with Marquee. Many said it wouldn’t work here, because of the tighter liquor licensing restrictions. But Marquee made it work, and many others have followed.
The Covid shutdown has been tough for hospitality and Marquee has done it as tough as any. But it always kept its staff and patrons’ safety top of mind, acting carefully and methodically. It also used the lockdown to refine its offering. This included embarking on an audio upgrade.
venue sat down with Programming and Artist Relations Manager, Duane Buriani-Gennai; Marketing Manager, Liam Schembri; and Technical Production Manager, Arian Yeganeh, to talk shop.
venue: What are the economics of bringing a big-name international DJ to Sydney for one or two nights?
Duane: It’s not cheap to put on those shows. But we’ve built a reputation as being a place that looks after talent. We make them feel comfortable. They like performing here because it’s an intimate venue. It’s not a small venue but the low ceilings help provide that feeling of being close to your favourite artist.
I think the global reputation of the brand really helps us secure the talent and makes them feel comfortable. People know what Tao Group is about and they know what to expect when they perform, and that New York or Vegas experience is replicated here in Sydney.
We’ve managed to figure out the commercial model that allows us to put on these shows now. That said, we don’t make a lot of money on them, but we use them as a way of giving back to our fans that come week-in and week-out. They buy tables, they buy that VIP experience or they buy tickets. We’re not just taking from the customer, we want to give back, and we’ve been giving back for 10 years, staging some of the best shows in the country.
venue: Would Marquee work just as well in Melbourne?
Duane: I moved to Sydney from Melbourne to take the job with with Marquee. Prior to that, I was an agent and artist manager. I represented [star Trance DJ] Marlo. Sydney suits a nightclub like Marquee a little more than Melbourne. Melbourne cultivates more of an underground feel, whereas Sydney is more about the show; about the the party and the experience; and a bit more extravagant. However, I really do think it comes down to the operators. The Tao Group DNA is largely responsible for the success of the Marquee. It’s what drives the success and drives and motivates our team — we want to live up to the standard set globally. And we have a very strong team here – we have the best operators, sales, service and marketing people in the business. If we took that team and ran something in Melbourne or anywhere else in Australia, I’m sure we could make it work — and we hope to in the future.
“We pride ourselves on longevity, beating out new competitors in market because our standards are just consistently higher.”
Marquee might be part of a significant international hospitality group but enjoys a level of autonomy when it comes to many aspects of its operations. There isn’t an international ‘cookie cutter’ template for its technology, for example, each venue must make the right choice for its tenancy and its territory.
Duane: The expectation of our technology offering it that it has to be the best. It’s starts with the best people. Arian Yeganeh heads our AV team and he’s the best. You can’t get the most from your gear if you don’t have the best techs driving and maintaining it. Arian maintains a vision for Marquee. He can see over the horizon as to where we need to be to stay ahead of the pack.
Arian: I am definitely very passionate about the technology and I like things done properly — we have high standards. It’s not just the music, it’s how it’s presented and reproduced. The experience is about how we convey the intent of the performer, that’s my job. I’m always striving for perfection and how we might do things better.
Duane: There’s no point booking some of the biggest artists or DJs in the world and having them perform on a substandard system. We’re not a pub that’s just bumping in a PA and calling ourselves a nightclub.
We have a reputation as the number one music venue and nightclub in Australia. That’s how we consider ourselves. And if you’re going to be the best, you need to have the best, and then you need to attract the best artists… you have to hold yourself to a high standard.
Arian: It’s all about consistency, right? Around the globe, Tao Group venues consistently have very high quality audiovisual standards. If you look at the Singapore club, the New York venue and Vegas, they’re all running some serious setups.
Marquee used its Covid-enforced hibernation to upgrade the loudspeaker system for the main room dancefloor. The four-point design is based on the new L-Acoustics A15 full-range loudspeaker and L-Acoustics KS28 subs. The installation is the start of a venue-wide audio upgrade that will be rolled out in 2022.
Duane: The venue is approaching 10 years old, and we wanted to take a fresh look at everything we had. How do we modify, adapt, adjust and improve our offering, including our technology offering.”
It was Arian who advocated hardest for the audio upgrade. And for him L-Acoustics was his first choice.
Arian: In my experience, L-Acoustics is the benchmark. It’s on almost every technical rider. The fact we could lead the market with a brand new series of loudspeaker was a bonus. The A15 is based on the same proven V-DOSC technology, so I knew what I was signing up for, and I was confident it would comfortably carry us through for another 10 or 20 years. To be honest, it was a no brainer. Obviously, the artists come first, again, making sure they’re comfortable. And the difference the new system makes is noticeable, even to the audience: they notice there’s a difference, even if they can’t put their finger on it, they know.
Liam: The clarity and power is there. It’s next level. If you’ve bought a pre-sale ticket to see your favourite artist, it could easily be the best night of your year. It’s a big responsibility to provide patrons with an experience they won’t easily forget. The new L-Acoustics A15 PA helps us do that. And it’s a point of difference. No other nightclub in Australia can match what we have. What we have is exceptional.
Arian: It also makes the conversations with tour managers and artists a lot easier. As soon as you tell them about the L-Acoustics A15 system, the conversation changes — they know they’re going to get looked after from a technology perspective.
Marquee’s DJ booth is based on Pioneer playback systems running through a new Pioneer DJM-V10 mixer. New to Pioneer, you can take an AES3 digital output from the mixer at 96k sampling rate. That output runs into the L-Acoustics P1 processor then via AVB to the LA4X amplifiers that power the loudspeaker systems.
The new A15 loudspeaker is well suited to the tight ceiling height of Marquee, as it’s designed to provide big-time, flagship, and sonic signature typical of the largest line sources for festivals and stadiums – but in a more compact enclosure. Having backup from the KS28 subwoofers under the front stage makes for a powerful and balanced system performance, while minimising spill to adjacent areas.
“Originally, the subs were positioned against the structural column,” Jands’ Gerry Gavros explains. “This configuration added vibration to the structure, so we arrayed the subs in the centre of room room under the booth. This gave us additional directionality, along with the native rear rejection of the KS28’s design.”
The DJ booth audio mirrors the same quality as the main system, served by an additional pair of A15 loudspeakers, coupled with matching KS21 subwoofers.
Arian: “The V10 mixer is a step up for Pioneer. Pioneer has been renowned for its effects. Now it has the sound quality to match. The fact we can go digital all the way to the amps from the decks has improved the sound quality as well.
“Jands’ service has been great. Knowing that help is just a phone call away is a great feeling. If there was something that we needed last minute, I know one of their guys will just drive over without any dramas. Service is the biggest thing for me.”
Jands provided Arian and Marquee with a system design modelled in L-Acoustics’ Soundvision software. Jands’ L-Acoustics Application Engineer, Scott Harrison, calibrated the system after the installation, with special emphasis on time aligning the PA to place the acoustic focus on the DJ booth.
venue: After a layoff that’s extended longer and bitten harder than anyone could have imagined, what’s 2022 promising?
Liam: “As international borders open up, we’ll have an opportunity to bring back that international talent this club is renowned for. First and foremost, we want to get back to that level of entertainment our guests expect and that we love to provide to them.
“It’s interesting. We’ve been more conservative, opening up after our competitors, so our regulars and VIPs have been to other nightclubs in the meantime. They’re so grateful that we’re back. That’s what we’re hearing. I think Sydney needs Marquee.”