Steve Aoki, Skrillex, Sebastian Ingrosso -- the next time each of these electronic dance music masters headline in Las Vegas, they’ll be christening their residencies at two new groundbreaking nightclubs.
MGM Resorts International, which operates 11 properties on Las Vegas Boulevard, including the Bellagio and Luxor, will unveil two new EDM destinations -- one at Mandalay Bay, the other at MGM Grand -- each betting big on the booming genre. And for some reason, both venues are hosting grand opening celebrations on the same weekend.
Light at Mandalay Bay is the first nightlife venture by Cirque du Soleil CEO Guy Laliberte, who partnered with Light Group (which established ARIA’s Haze and 1 OAK at The Mirage). Spanning 38,000 square feet, the two-level venue features three general admission bars and immersive LED screens that not only span the front wall from floor to ceiling, but cover the ceiling as well. Designed by Moment Factory, the multimedia effects experts behind Bon Jovi’s Because We Can tour and Madonna’s Super Bowl XLVI halftime gig, the screens will evoke the depths of the ocean, offering patrons a chance to go under the sea for an evening, as performers in avant-garde costumes swim suspended above tiered VIP booths and the largest dance floor on the Strip.
Such show elements will depend on the evening’s DJ, as each headliner works directly with Cirque’s creative team to construct custom choreography for their residencies (Axwell, Alesso and Swedish House Mafia’s Ingrosso traveled to Montreal to meet with the acrobatic designers in person). Additionally, costumed performers will mingle on the dance floor, spontaneously engaging with patrons by tapping some on the shoulder and winking at others -- an attribute similar to Simon Hammerstein’s show-club The Act at Palazzo.
“It should feel like the show is all around you, and hopefully, therefore, you’ll want to join in with the show,” Light’s creative director Amy Thomson, a respected EDM artist manager who works with such acts as Swedish House Mafia, tells The Hollywood Reporter. She notes that the general admission experience is often overshadowed by the lucrative table culture. “We’re gonna give you a memory that will stick with you, that wasn’t just about whose name was on the ticket, which DJ’s face was on that billboard," she says.
The roster of headliners -- Skrillex, Thomas Gold, “Harlem Shake” star Baauer and the Stafford Brothers -- will also spin on an elaborate 1,500-square-foot stage at Daylight, the Ibiza-inspired dayclub and culinary component that opens Memorial Day weekend. It’s just another piece of Mandalay Bay’s property-wide transformation, which includes a full overhaul of the casino, the opening of Cirque du Soleil’s latest resident show, Michael Jackson’s One, the redesign of the all-suite THEhotel as a Delano Las Vegas, and the recent addition of 24-hour comfort kitchen Citizens and upcoming Japanese eatery Kumi.
“Coming out of the recession, there was so much competition in Las Vegas -- you needed to be clear on what differentiates your property from all of the other properties ... and what was missing,” Chuck Bowling, president and COO of Mandalay Bay, tells THR of the changes. “You have to be in that game. Unfortunately, people were leaving Mandalay Bay to go and enjoy the great nightlife of some of our home properties with Light Group relationships and AMG relationships, and sometimes our competition.”
Bowling hopes that changes soon -- ideally, before Light’s grand opening party on April 26 with Nicky Romero at the turntables. The club is hosting a preview night on Wednesday, April 24, with resident DJ (and a producer of Lady Gaga’s upcoming album) Zedd and a surprise special guest.
Will it all be enough to outshine Hakkasan at the MGM Grand? The five-level Chinoiserie hotspot, which replaced the ‘70s-inspired Studio 54 after fourteen years, totals over 80,000 square feet with seven bars throughout the venue, oversized VIP booths, floor-to-ceiling LED screens, multiple DJ booths and a two-story water feature. Hakkasan's vibe echoes the massive feel of the EDM venues that acts like Tiësto, Calvin Harris and deadmau5 call home -- with a luxe Vegas twist.
Hakkasan, helmed by Michelin-starred chef Ho Chee Boon, is the first foray into nightlife by the global restaurant brand of the same name, which has locations in London, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Mumbai, Miami, New York and San Francisco, and is scheduled to expand to Beverly Hills this summer. Owned by Abu Dhabi’s property investment company Tasameem, Hakkasan partnered with Angel Management Group (of Pure at Caesar’s Palace, Luxor’s LAX, MGM’s Wet Republic dayclub) to create a multidimensional venue: a two-level eatery for modern Cantonese cuisine like stir-fried black pepper rib-eye beef with Merlot, and silver cod with champagne and Chinese honey, an intimate Ling Ling level for a more relaxed vibe, and a massive main nightclub, overlooking mezzanine and adjacent outdoor space.
Coming off a dissolved partnership with a halted Fontainebleau Las Vegas resort in 2009, Hakkasan approached MGM with an interest in trying out nightlife, hoping to open doors in time for New Year’s Eve and kick off 2013. But jackhammering continued into April.
“The reason why it’s taken a little bit longer than anticipated is that we weren’t quite sure that we were gonna go into this electronic music,” Scott Sibella, president and COO of MGM Grand, tells THR. “To be honest with you, we really weren’t headed that way; we thought by the time this club was being built, this electronic thing would have come and gone out of Las Vegas ... we got together and said, look, let’s build something now that appeals to this electronic music, and if you do something like that, you’d have to do that with size ... That’s the challenge with some of the clubs in town, they just don’t have the size that this one has.”
Such space boosts the potential nightly earnings of the club, allowing them to book -- and boast -- an all-star roster with Laidback Luke, R3HAB and Aoki, who helped launch Wynn’s Surrender Nightclub as musical director and will debut his Neon Future party series at Hakkasan’s grand opening party on Thursday, April 25. Like Light, Hakkasan will feature a preview -- except, rather than just one Wednesday evening, it’s a full weekend with sets from deadmau5, Hardwell, Bingo Players and Tommy Trash. (These residencies also include sets at MGM’s Wet Republic dayclub).
Hakkasan is the latest piece of the MGM Grand’s expansive renovations, which moved its touristy lion habitat off the Strip, built Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club and featured a $160 million facelift to its guest rooms after some ten years. With the new nightclub, along with lounges and restaurants in development, the hotel hopes to keep its patrons on the property all night, after big events like the Floyd Mayweather vs. Robert Guerrero boxing fight on May 4 and the Rolling Stones concert the following weekend.
“It’s not a dormitory -- you don’t just stay at MGM because it’s close to the airport, and you maybe like the size of it, whatever,” Sibella says. “It’s going to be one-stop shopping now ... It’s a big game-changer for us; we’ve been preparing for this.”
So why would MGM Resorts schedule the debut of nightclubs at two of its resorts on the same weekend, forcing them to compete for customers and also the spotlight?
When asked by THR about the timing, both resorts’ presidents insist that the overlapping dates were coincidental, as each venue needed a weekend that’s late enough to accommodate construction timelines, but early enough to kick off the lucrative summer travel season.
“There’s always something big happening; it’s hard to plan a weekend that’s slow,” says MGM Grand's Sibella, which pushed Hakkasan’s opening from winter to spring. “I think with Vegas itself, in today’s world, we could both do a grand opening and be fine ... There’s enough to go around.”
Of Mandalay Bay, which always intended to open Light in spring 2013, Bowling said he “maybe” would’ve liked to give each venue its own opening weekend, but is focusing on the big picture impact of the friendly rivalry.
“The more successful we all are -- MGM’s Hakkasan, Mandalay Bay and Light, or Bellagio and The Bank or quite frankly, sometimes our own competition, the great job that Steve Wynn and their team have done -- it just brings more attention to say, if this is what motivates you to travel and see this kind of music, then there’s only gonna be one destination in North America that you’re gonna want to go see all this in one place, and each time, you’ll never be disappointed,” said Bowling. “In all honesty, I think this is just gonna lift the attention, focus and excitement on seeing some of the greatest DJs in the world at some of the greatest venues you can only find in Las Vegas.”
But the coinciding dates have left a bad taste in one person’s mouth -- Amy Thomson of Light, who found out Hakkasan’s opening date from an online update, like everyone else. Though she has great respect for all parties involved (she and Angel Management Group founder/CEO Neil Moffitt are from the same town in England), as well as for Hakkasan’s large-scale EDM ethos, Thomson stressed that there is a clear loser in this accidental duel: “Who misses out here? The fan.”
And while Bowling sees the coincidence as an opportunity to tout Vegas as an EDM-centric destination, Thomson thinks otherwise.
“I thought that it was pretty bad management to show the world that you were already not aligning your assets,” she tells THR. “That’s silly. I have to be honest -- I’ve shut my eyes to what they’re doing and carrying on. ... It is what it is, and we’ll both be busy, and I hope everyone that goes out that night has a good time."