by Dezmond Remington
It’s midnight on a Saturday, and the rafters are clapping. Spines vibrate and teeth wiggle. Faces pose in macabre grimaces, writhing like they have a car battery clamped to their tongues. Above it all is the light, heavenly light, that dips and dodges and fills up the warehouse. It spells names, makes rainbows and does anything the god that controls it wants to do. The deity is named Nathan Ray King and this is his office.
His office that night was an EDM show at Ramparts Skate Park. King has been doing laser work for gigs as diverse as raves in the forest to a dance at Eureka High School for about two years now. After winning four jackpots in a row playing keno at the Blue Lake Casino, he bought his first laser. Although the pay in Humboldt is often bad and the grind painful, he hasn’t looked back since. Seeing hundreds of people feeding off of the energy of his lasers and the music he plays makes it worth it.
“The amount of love you get for creating that vibe [is great],” King said. “The laser is so powerful. It has such an impact on what people are going to remember. It’s those memories that are some of my favorite type of things. It’s hard to explain the gratification you get from all those smiles from people who are mind blown.”
King didn’t come by his profession out of the blue. In the early 2000s, he attended a festival in Phoenix and was inspired to start his career with lasers when he walked behind a stage and saw all the wiring. He and the group he was working with performed at shows in the area for about six years, using illegal equipment owned by someone else until they were shut down by the local laser commissioner. He spent most of the next 10 years working as a household appliance repairman before his roommates stole his tools. When he had his stroke of fate at the Blue Lake Casino, he decided it was time to invest in himself.
He bought one laser and messed around with it in his apartment for six months, eventually buying more lasers when he outgrew his setup. He reached out to promoters for a while to get some work and got a gig performing at the Jam in Arcata. He offered to do it for free just for the exposure, but the promoters liked it so much they ended up paying him. He’s been booked full almost every weekend since.
“I’ve been doing a lot of shows for next to nothing, just to get seated in the industry and get more experience,” King said. “It’s worked fairly well. I’m still struggling financially, but it’s coming along.”
King is a staple at just about any event in Humboldt that a laser might make a little better. He has somewhat of a monopoly on laser shows here, being pretty much the only local to offer his services. His marketing techniques can be aggressive. Occasionally, he sets up lasers at Moonstone beach, projecting shapes on the cliff sides, as well as his Instagram handle. He has a bus with his name on it and rigged it so his lasers could attach. It’s the dream machine for King, a portable slice of his talents. It makes it much easier to travel south for the big festivals, where the real money can be made – a couple thousand for a weekend of work.
King would like to branch out into other areas he could use his lasers, such as large, billboard-style effects. One of the things that fascinates him about the lasers is simply how many things can be done with them; the ceiling for innovation is practically limitless. The program King uses to make his lasers function has hundreds of preset designs. Any image file can be projected. Dancers made out of nothing but pure light and shadow. The only boundary is what King can think of, as well as his budget.
“The possibilities are limitless,” King said. “I can play with it for days and never do the same thing twice.”
Despite what his club reputation may bring to mind, King is far from the glowstick and neon aesthetic of many festival goers. He’s 44, with salt and pepper stubble, clad in athleisure khakis and Adidas running shoes. However, one of the things he loves most about the events he works is that they don’t put him all that outside the norm.
“I see people way older than me,” King said. “I’ve always been an old soul but young at heart at the same time. I feel right at home…I feel like a kid again, almost. I’m just a free-spirited kind of kid. I like to have a good time.”
The people in the crowd are what compensate for the oftentimes bad pay and wacky working hours. King said he often has trouble talking with people, but lasers are the great equalizer.
“I don’t really care about the size of the event,” King said. “Just being able to connect with people [is why I do it]. Doing lasers allows me to speak with people without having to interact with people.”
One of the finest moments of his career was at the Stilldream Festival in eastern California. A technician took King’s chair, which he was mad about until he learned it was for a DJ by the name of Dreamweaver. He had been in a car wreck several years prior and needed it a lot more than Nathan did.
“He was just crushing it,” King said. “Everything was going great… I got this epiphany in my head like halfway through his set, ‘You know what? I’m standing for this man right now!’ We’re on opposite sides of the crowd, kind of having our dance amongst ourselves. ‘I’m his legs right now!’”
However, King said that after the highs of working the crowd can often come the lows. However, the solution there is often also people.
“You get probably a ‘Musician’s Gloom’ where, when you’re performing, you get this rush of endorphins — and, of course, the extracurricular activities that get you there — and then when it’s over, it goes [airplane crashing noise],” King said. “So the next night, it’s quiet, you’re by yourself, you get this super low… I like to just talk to friends… have a chill one-on-one.”
King has met hundreds of different people during his years as a laser performer, one of them being HSU alumni Joseph Ostini. Ostini is the founder of artist’s collective Arcane Artists, started two years ago to give local performers an outlet during the pandemic. Ostini met King at a show at the Jam about a year ago, and was impressed by the laser effects, something he said had never been seen before in Arcata. Ostini likes the lasers as a way to enhance the experience of attending a music show.
“[King’s] artwork does a good job of translating music to visual space,” Ostini said. “…His growth has been apparent to me as a promoter.”
King’s connections are what he hopes will allow him to finally become a successful, happy performer.
“Lasers are fucking cool,” King said. “That’s all I want to do — be sustainable and comfortable and just be able to shine my lasers for people.”