Be careful what you wish for. Even an industry of control-freaks like local nightlife might just give it to you. Sort of.
It happened once before. Many in the nightclub scene clamored for electronic dance music in 2001, and it got just that. The new megaclubs brought the underground sounds prevalent in the clubs of large American cities to the Strip. No longer were your groove options limited to Club Utopia.
And with that, Las Vegas nightlife flirted with the one thing it had yet to attain: credibility. Historically speaking, the great American dance palaces and nightlife scenes introduced their patrons to new rhythmic sounds and styles — be it house, disco, breakbeat or trance — and dismissed Top 40.
The steady bookings of progressive, trance and house DJs turned an occasional clubber such as myself into a weekly reveler. Finally: real dance music, regularly programmed.
However, the introduction of European bottle service shifted the nightlife business away from the underground and toward VIP-oriented escapades. A new crop of posh dance palaces emerged, and operators subsidized their extravagance with the promotion of expensive table service that gave wedding parties and mancationers both status and a place to sit.
Dance music was largely anathema to most clubbers because, between 2002 and 2008, they didn’t recognize most of it. International talent found itself unwelcome at most local nightspots. Instead, revelers embraced a club soundtrack of Top 40 singles, flashback favorites and hip-hop. Local DJs became glorified wedding DJs. And the Grey Goose set could influence what was played by flashing their wallets.
Then, a turning point: Paul Oakenfold started a residency at Rain in 2008; clubs began fighting over electronic dance DJs for “house” nights, and four-on-the-floor European dance music snuck into the Top 40. Marquee opened in 2010 with only EDM headliners on the weekend. XS raised that strategy the next year, building up a resident DJ crew unparalleled in North American nightlife. Ibiza-style daylife pool culture followed, which meant the clubs’ cash registers remained full around the clock. This, to say nothing of the behemoth that is Electric Daisy Carnival.
Now, in 2012, Las Vegas reigns over the American nightclub market, with several of its clubs making more than $40 million a year. All this, thanks to the explosion of DJ culture, once again celebrated in Las Vegas. Clubs are giving crowds what they want. That’s been a blessing … and a curse.
For one, it’s getting awfully expensive to book in-demand DJs like David Guetta, Deadmau5 and Tiesto, the latter being rumored to make upwards of $250,000 a gig. XS, with its nightly turnover in the thousands and extensive bottle-service customer base, can afford to set and pay those prices — people in the nightlife industry have grumbled that Wynn nightlife has outpriced the market — as long as it keeps the queues and tables full. That works for them now, but the bidding war has left many of the other large venues unable to afford the big headliners. Tourists might not care about that, but local partiers can only see the most in-demand DJs at the same small handful of clubs and pools — a frustrating dilemma in a city with so many nightlife options.
Know what else has grown tiresome? Hearing the same songs every night. The DJs have become so enamored with being received like giant pop stars, they’re pandering to the crowd every chance they get with easily recognizable songs: “Levels,” “Hello,” “Cinema,” even older tunes like “Sandstorm” and “Show Me Love.”
They’re played as they become Internet hits, they’re played when they’re being featured on TV — and they’re played well after that, too, by lazy jocks. Essentially, the biggest DJs in the world have crafted sets that are more or less an EDM equivalent of heavy-airplay radio charts.
Where’s the introduction to new and underground music that used to be part of the clubbing experience? Where’s the real house music that built modern nightlife? Where’s the dynamic in the DJ sets? When you’re playing one YouTube smash after another, you’re just plateauing.
Another issue: Many of these guys fill their sets with their own productions and not much else. At that point, it’s not so much a DJ set as it is a concert. That might be a plus to loyal fans of the headliner, but it threatens to alienate anyone else — especially those visiting the club just to dance and have a good time.
For those individuals, a local DJ can reduce that musical narcissism effect. But usually you’ll have to arrive at the club early or stay real late to hear them play — or go to a less popular nightclub unwilling to shell out $100,000 for a Top 10 jock. It’s a shame only a small handful of them receive any significant promotion. (It’s also a shame that many of them also stick to the unwritten playlists homogenizing the sound of our clubs.)
For the Las Vegas club scene to grow, it must take more chances on emerging, lesser-known DJs, and reduce some of the residential monotony on the calendar. It must not enslave itself to Dutch trance, electro and vocal house, and gently challenge the patronage — y’know, try to blow their minds once in awhile. It must bring something new to the local nightlife experience, much the way Utopia brought rave culture to the Strip in the mid-1990s, the way Ra merged entertainment and house music with its long-running “Pleasuredome” party and the way Rain was given an Ibiza-like flair with Oakenfold’s “Perfecto.”
And it must also rely less on visiting DJs and create its own, especially to maintain the interest and loyalty of locals not always on the guest list. Palms and N9NE are stepping in the right direction with their heavy promotion of Mike Attack, one of the most popular local DJs. With his charisma, versatility and ambition, he could break out of Vegas. Other candidates might be DJ/producers 3LAU (Marquee) and Mighty Mi (Surrender), provided nightlife management allows them to follow their artistic instincts in the booth. And on Dec. 7, local electronic duo Black Boots makes its Vegas debut with a DJ set at Surrender — an encouraging sign for them and that club.
The local nightlife scene has grown and succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. A true bellweather of its growth — and future — will be one of its own boasting a Las Vegas pedigree all over the world.