Fever for dance music puts pricey DJs at hotel gigs

When the Electric Daisy Carnival drew 240,000 attendees last June for the first edition of the festival held in Las Vegas, generating a reported $136 million for the local economy, it seemed to put an exclamation point on what most fans had already noticed: Vegas had become the new mecca for electronic dance music.

Yet after that high-water mark, the always churning race for nightclub supremacy seems to have slipped into an even higher gear, with exclusive, expensive DJ residencies becoming the new currency at Strip casino clubs, and fear of oversaturation becoming even more acute.

The Wynn group of hotel clubs — encompassing four venues — made a splash in late March when it announced its exhaustive lineup of residencies for the rest of the year. Its roster comprises 34 name-brand DJs, including recent Grammy darlings Skrillex, David Guetta and Deadmau5, as well as chart-toppers Calvin Harris and Afrojack and perennial draw Tiesto.

The sheer quantity and quality of the names is undeniably impressive — indeed, the full list reads like it could easily be a provisional Electric Daisy lineup. But booking residencies like these involves a large number of moving parts. Considering these DJs sign exclusive deals for the entire year, with fees sometimes as high as the five digits for single gigs, bookers have to make it worth their while, lining up enough engagements at peak times while also balancing the performers’ outside schedules.

Exclusivity of the deals can also lead to some serious one-upmanship between bookers. In fact, two of the Wynn’s biggest coups were snatched from other casinos: Last year saw Guetta residing at the MGM Grand, while Tiesto settled in at the Hard Rock. (For its part, the Hard Rock responded in turn by poaching away “Jersey Shore”-ite Pauly D from the Palms.)

According to Jesse Waits, co-owner and managing partner of the Wynn’s X5 and Tryst, putting together this year’s residencies took a year and a half. “It was intense,” he said. “This is the most competitive nightclub market in the U.S., if not the world.”

“There’s a lot of fighting between the clubs over who’s the best fit for the DJ,” he continued. “They want to feel special, and they really want to see something concrete from you with the marketing.”

But ultimately, like any other talent booking scenario, the advantage often comes down to relationships. “A lot of these people are genuinely my friends,” says the 15-year nightclub vet.

Yet however massive its lineup, the Wynn is hardly without competition. The Tao Group’s Marquee club at the Cosmopolitan, for instance, just signed a platter of star DJs including Kaskade, Chuckie, Benny Benassi, and LMFAO’s Redfoo for extended stays.

While DJs are happily cashing in and fans seem happy to shell out, some older hands worry that the market may be unsustainable. In an earlier interview with Variety, longtime dance music manager Michael Cohen criticized Vegas’ “book anything that moves” philosophy, noting that such extravagance had been a contributing factor to the premature death of the Stateside “electronica” boom in the 1990s.

When asked if the notion of oversaturation crosses his mind, Waits admitted, “Absolutely.” Though he went on to note, “But I felt that way last year too.”

Music Bits

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