Las Vegas: Bright lights, dance city

It was Memorial Day weekend 2010 and the internationally famous American DJ Kaskade was standing in his hotel room on the 35th floor of the Encore hotel in Las Vegas looking down on the pool of the just-opened Encore Beach Club.

“There were thousands of people inside, and I could see thousands of people trying to get in,” said Kaskade, whose real name is Ryan Raddon, by phone recently from Brazil, where he was due to spin that night. “When it was over, we were grinning ear to ear.”

That day marked the beginning of Kaskade’s weekly summer residency at Encore Beach Club, which met with unprecedented success and went a long way toward proving what many in that city’s nightlife industry had been saying since 2008: Las Vegas is fast morphing into the electronic dance music capital of the world, beating even Ibiza, the Spanish island long known for its hedonistic nightlife and top-name talent.


The electronic music craze is in turn driving the city’s expanding nightlife scene. Nightlife baron Sean Christie, the man behind Encore Beach Club, says the nightclub business has floated Vegas during the recession and has grown by as much 20% annually over the last five years. Vegas is adding between three and five major nightclubs per year and now has more than 50.

According to Nightclub & Bar Magazine and the food service industry research and consulting firm Technomic Inc., which produce an annual list of the nation’s leading nightclubs, bars and lounges, Vegas nightclubs account for 12 of the top 20. The survey reported that XS, at the Encore hotel and No. 1 on its list, had nearly $60 million in revenue in 2010. . That’s not to mention Vegas’ thriving pool party scene, which also traffics in the popularity of DJs and house music.

And Vegas nightclubs are multimillion-dollar, multilevel temples to revelry. Take this year’s hottest new club, Marquee at the Cosmopolitan hotel, a $50-million, 60,000-square-foot palace with coliseum-style seating and two dance floors.

“The layout of the entire room is focused on the DJ,” says co-founder Jason Strauss, adding that Marquee was the first club on the Las Vegas Strip to commit to electronic music programming on both Friday and Saturday nights.

This weekend adds significant credibility to the “Vegas is the new Ibiza” claim, as North America’s largest electronic dance music festival, the Electric Daisy Carnival, comes to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It will feature more than 150 artists with attendance projected to top 250,000, according to Pasquale Rotella, chief executive and founder of Insomniac Events, which produces the festival.

“If you had told me five years ago that Vegas would be the global hot spot for electronic music — even three years ago — I would say that you got it wrong,” said Kaskade. “But this music is finally having its time in North America. It’s always been a niche, boutique thing, but now when you turn on the radio you hear JLo [Jennifer Lopez] and Britney Spears copying the music we’ve been making for 10 years. And Vegas is indicative of that, it’s mirroring what’s happening.”

The boom in electronic music isn’t all sizzling dance moves, however. The genre has long been known to attract a young crowd that is prone to experiments with drugs, particularly Ecstasy. A 19-year-old died at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Dallas this month, and a 15-year-old died of an Ecstasy overdose at last year’s event at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, although Rotella says that “as tragic of a situation as that was, it wasn’t why we took EDC to Vegas.” Meanwhile, Las Vegas police said they will bring extra vigilance to the festival, deploying undercover narcotics officers to augment the more than 1,000 private security personnel.

Whatever happens this weekend, however, it’s not likely to hinder the Vegas challenge to European hot spots as a dance capital. Clubs here are now part of the regular circuit of globe-trotting DJs such as Tiësto, Paul van Dyk, David Guetta, Dirty South, Kaskade, Deadmau5 and Armin van Buuren. Veterans of the club scene here trace the rise to 2008, when British DJ Paul Oakenfold began a long-term residency at the Palm’s nightclub Rain.

Oakenfold’s agent, Joel Zimmerman, head of William Morris Endeavor’s electronic division, says his agency has seen a sharp increase in Vegas bookings for its clients in the last year alone.

“The casinos are spending a lot of money marketing their nightclubs and branding the DJs with them,” says Zimmerman. And because Vegas is a transient market, “if you do more volume in Vegas over a period of time, you hit a humungous population base, which is the reason we would actually say to an artist, ‘Why don’t you play in Vegas 20 times this year?’”

“We’ll spend the money to bring in the biggest DJs,” said Jesse Waits, managing partner of XS and Tryst at Encore and Wynn. “It has become super competitive, there’s a lot of schmoozing and wining and dining for sure.”

Christie, who in addition to his role at Encore Beach Club is also an operating partner of Surrender nightclub at Encore, where Steve Aoki is the resident DJ and musical director, says that this year’s Memorial Day weekend was the biggest the city has ever seen in terms of nightclubs and pool parties. “As a whole, it was the most traffic I’ve seen coming into town. Outside of major festivals, I don’t know that there has been that kind of collection of talent in one city in America. We had pretty much every major DJ in one town.”