Are you a DJ or electronic musician looking to up your visual entertainment factor, but frustrated with the low-powered lights and tacky mirrorballs available at your local Guitar Center? What you’re really looking for, my raveadelic friend, are lasers. Nothing like the pointer-sized stuff you can get at the gas station — you need big ones that make lots of shapes and pretty colors and look cool as you shoot them through a fog-packed club.
Lasers make everything better — that’s just science — and surprisingly enough, the best company to get you started on your journey towards EDM immortality is the same company supplying some of the software and equipment for this weekend’s Super Bowl: X-Laser. Its entry-level machine is the Mobile Beat MK5, a 450-milliwatt machine that costs $1,399 — but that’s just the beginning of your quest to rule the night.
Run-of-the-mill, pen-sized laser pointers are widely available because they don’t require much power. Any laser more powerful than 5 milliwatts actually requires a filing with the FDA to allow use in a public place (which makes me wonder why they haven’t changed their name to the Food Drug and Laser Administration), sort of a driver’s license for lasers. Luckily, in addition to selling you the MK5 itself, X-Laser will sell you a $49 kit that’s basically a big scratch-off card that you can redeem through its web portal. Just input your product’s serial number and a couple of other pieces of personal information, and you’ll get your very own FDA-stamped approval in under 30 days. It’s kind of like paying an accountant to prepare your taxes, but instead of giving the government money, you get to use a sick-ass laser machine at the end.
Generate a Taco Bell logo
With your approval in-hand, you’ll be able to use any of the Mobile Beat’s 100 classic scanning and pattern effects presets right out of the box, which can be controlled by DMX or in "sound-activated" mode. But what you’ll really wanna do is go ahead and buy X-Laser’s Lasershow Designer Quickshow software for $649. Hook the machine up to your Windows laptop, and you’ll be converting your own digital designs to analog laser output in no time — Quickshow is actually really fun to use, sort of like a combination between Ableton, After Effects, and PowerPoint. You can browse through presets ranging from trippy ("plasma," "energy," "tunnel," and "weed") to practical (a TV, a football, a Taco Bell logo), generate your own text input, or convert images into vector-based artwork the lasers can draw natively. You then layer on your own translational effects at will — zooms, pans, fades — or transition smoothly through any color in the rainbow. Pair Quickshow’s live-adjustable parameters with your MIDI controller and you’ve got an instant, impressive visual show in a package that fits in a small Pelican case.
As someone who grew up in awe of the Pink Floyd LaserSpectacular, I was shocked at how easy it was to get up and running in this creative medium that seemed to only exist in the realm of giant arena shows. The software is essentially the same all the way up through the top of X-Laser’s retail line, the $22,000 Defiant 6.5W RGB — a version of the 35-watt Defiant will, in fact, be in use as the Broncos and Seahawks square off in New Jersey this weekend.
Like any good modern creative tool, the user can quickly spiral into a universe of possibilities and limitations to be worked around — or bought out. Laser projectors work kind of like backwards CRTs, re-drawing a single dot up to 30,000 times a second to create the illusion of movement. The prosumer-level Mobile Beat MK5 has fewer motors than its commercial-grade siblings, so as a result you’ll run into challenges if you try to project complicated animations. But with enough creative programming you can find the perfect balance of movement, color, and complexity.
The latest rave lasers can't even damage your eyes
Because X-Laser is based right outside of Washington, D.C., it’s able to work closely with the FDA to ensure that any new concepts the company is working on will also fall in line with federal regulations. At the NAMM show in Anaheim last weekend, I got a peek at some new eye-safe lasers currently in development: they use a diffraction grating to make beams wider than will actually fit into your eye, and a series of motors to ensure the beams don’t rest in any one spot for more than a few milliseconds. The result is fat, always-moving lasers that won’t technically be able to damage your macula.
There are lots of laser manufacturers in the USA, and although the industry isn’t that closely monitored, X-Laser seems to be the biggest and most-comprehensive of the bunch: it files for more FDA variances than any other company in the country. So while you’ll probably never be able to just walk out of Guitar Center with that high-powered laser projector of your dreams, X-Laser is the company that will get you into the Rave God game with the least amount of hassle and expense… and it will be able to kit you out all the way to your DJ slot in the middle of America’s most-watched sporting event.