Electric Daisy Carnival Kicks Off: Is Las Vegas Becoming America's Answer to Ibiza?
This weekend, between 200,000 and 300,000 dance music fans will swarm the city and take in the touring electronic music event known colloquially as EDC. BBC 1’s Pete Tong, festival founder Pasquale Rotella and DJs Kaskade and Benny Benassi weigh in on Sin City’s electronic music renaissance.
Las Vegas is known internationally for its casinos and hotels, but the city is fast becoming Mecca for 35-and-under dance music fans hell-bent on hedonistic thrills set to a pulsing soundtrack -- day and night. Look no further than this weekend’s Electric Daisy Carnival, where headliners Tiësto, Swedish House Mafia and David Guetta are expected to draw as many as 300,000 people.
While Los Angeles and Miami have traditionally been America’s hotspots for international DJs to drop in and play for thousands, now more than ever, it’s Las Vegas where the fans are at -- and the DJs, if the money’s right.
“The volume [of bookings in Vegas] is just incredible,” Joel Zimmerman, a booking agent for William Morris’ music division who specializes in dance talent, tells THR. “The amount [billed] compared to last year for us in Vegas is up 1600% percent.” Zimmerman adds that between festival bookings, residencies and one-offs, some 500,000 fans are expected to partake in dance music-themed events in Vegas annually.
“Attendance levels are also up around 150%,” says Zimmerman, who boasts a robust talent roster at the recently formed William Morris Electronic, which features top European names such as Sweden’s Axwell and Germany’s Boys Noize.
Hotels such as Vegas’ The Wynn and hot new City Center-adjacent The Cosmopolitan are reaping the benefits of fanatical dance music tourists as well, and profiting as a result. Several ancillary daytime events tangentially related to EDC are taking place at both hotels’ pools, and the Cosmopolitan is officially sold out this weekend and packed with festival goers. In fact, the demand for hotel rooms has driven up the prices so dramatically on EDC weekend that the going rate for the two-star Comfort Inn way off the Vegas Strip is $300 on Saturday night.
So what’s behind the recent upswing in bookings and attendance in Sin City? The reasons are myriad, but as dance music’s popularity has swelled, Las Vegas, more than Los Angeles, appears ready to make a bid to be America’s answer to the Spanish resort island known for orgiastic all-night club sessions. “The parallel to Ibiza is the transient nature of the market,” says Zimmerman.
And for the DJs who frequently play Las Vegas to visiting tourists, the city is increasingly a cash cow. Names such as Paul Oakenfold and Kaskade embraced high-paying residencies at various high-profile nightspots in the city a few years ago, and fans responded in kind, prompting rival casino-hotel hybrids to book their own residencies with top names in an effort to compete.
Now, as a result, on any given weekend one can see top talent from Holland and beyond on a near-nightly basis in the city. It’s no longer just Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend when poolside megaclubs throw big dollars at top names to lure travelers.
“They want more in Vegas,” says Kaskade, who was one of the first to embrace the idea of a residency in Sin City. “It’s crazy.” The California-based DJ has reaped the rewards of playing in Las Vegas and appearing at EDC for the past few years -- his fan base has grown exponentially as a result. “[Trance and electronic music in general] is still not really on the radio so I’m not sure how people are hearing this stuff,” he shrugs.
But there’s no doubt that promoters have the ear of dance aficionados. Pasquale Rotella, founder of Los Angeles-based Insomniac events, who hosts multiple EDC-branded electronic music events annually in various cities, says choosing to throw his marquis summer concert in Las Vegas is a no brainer.
“We expect more people to come this year than last year,” he says. No joke: between 200,000 and 300,000 are expected to pass through the Las Vegas Speedway Friday through Sunday, despite promised tough security in the wake of two confirmed deaths in Dallas earlier this month from the Texas edition of EDC. “Vegas might not have the population of Los Angeles but it’s the perfect destination,” Rotella adds.
The promoter passed on hosting EDC in L.A. this year at the traditional home of the summer “massive,” Los Angeles’ Memorial Coliseum, after months of back-and-forth with L.A. city officials. Those city employees, and other local politicians, were clearly spooked by local press coverage surrounding a drug-related death tangentially related to 2010’s edition of EDC (hearings on the matter ended up not tipping in Rotella’s favor, though he says he moved the fest by choice earlier this year).
In stark contrast, the Mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman, recently welcomed Rotella in his office and presented him with a proclamation declaring the week of June 20, 2011 as “Electric Daisy Carnival Week.” “We’ve gotten great responses from all kinds of people from the corporate level all the way down to the local fans,” says Rotella. “The whole city seems to be excited.” He adds that he’s had “interest” from artists “on the level” of Britney Spears who want to tap into the massive audience EDC now draws.
“We get inquiries all the time,” Rotella says, cautioning, “we don’t always want to do things like that…we have a core fan base that we don’t want to alienate.”
Not everyone, of course, is happy about EDC rapidly expanding or moving to Las Vegas from L.A. this summer. “I’m a little sad because the Coliseum was special,” said Kaskade, born Ryan Raddon, the trance DJ who began his career in San Francisco. “Now that EDC has moved on, I’m sure it will maintain that atmosphere, but it will be tough for them to have the same vibe.”
Yet Raddon is still bullish on Las Vegas and electronic music in general as it has grown to take over elements of American Top 40 radio (see David Guetta and Pitbull’s collaboration with Holland’s AfroJack, No. 2 on this week’s Billboard Hot 100 with the song “Give Me Everything”).
“I remember playing Vegas seven or so years ago and it was tough,” Raddon recalls. “It’s a lot different now because of the popularity of artists such as Lady Gaga and the clubs in Vegas are so much better now… Vegas is becoming the biggest weekend scene in the U.S. and there’s nothing that comes close to EDC in the world.”
Italian megastar Benny Benassi, who has been DJing at summer festivals all over Europe for years (as well as at island clubs such as Pacha in Ibiza) echoes the sentiment. “I love coming to Las Vegas,” he said via email earlier this week. “The scene is growing by the month and it’s people on vacation, sunshine and fun.” Benassi, who has appeared at EDC several times in years past, says the festival is “always one of the best experiences of my career as a DJ… it’s sheer energy.”
But not every master of the turntables is ready to write off Ibiza as the most important dance music destination in the world. Influential BBC 1 Radio DJ Pete Tong, who just last month announced a summer residency at Encore Beach Club at The Wynn, says the Vegas strip will never supplant the gathering of talent on the Spanish island every August.
“Las Vegas is not Ibiza,” says Tong. “Years ago, it was always fun to go to Vegas, but the novelty wore off quickly when you realized there wasn’t a crowd there… it was hard to connect, even though you made good money.”
In the past, he adds, Vegas was a far cry from the healthy scene in Spain. “In terms of comparing it to Ibiza, there was no comparison,” though he notes that things are edging ever closer these days to becoming America’s answer to the island scene. “When I fell in love with Ibiza in the late 1980s, people were blown away by people dancing all night or during the daytime. Now that has become a naughty thing to do now in Ibiza because of the legalities,” says Tong, insinuating that Vegas may be channeling the freewheeling spirit Ibiza used to have.
“The buying power of Las Vegas is becoming very significant,” adds Tong. “By chance accident or design, electronic music has found its place in Vegas. It’s what people want to hear.”