Last September The New Yorker ran a long piece on the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) scene in Las Vegas and noted that the top DJ’s were earning $300,000 a night at the biggest nightclub at The Encore called XS. They noted that perhaps there was an EDM bubble that might soon burst, so on Friday I took a plane to Vegas to check it out. The DJ Avicii was playing and by midnight the joint was jumping. I was the oldest cat in the room by about 30 years, but since I was on an anthropological field trip, I enjoyed my roll as observer of this new tribe. Of course we have always had dance music. I used to go to Studio 54 in the 70’s, but this is different. First off is that everyone is dressed in a uniform. The girls are all dressed in skin tight micro mini skirts, mostly in black or blue. The guys are all some version of the Hangover cast, with most opting for the Bradley Cooper shirt outside the pants look, but with a fair number of slightly schlubby Zach Galifanakis types scattered in the mix. By midnight it seemed like a high school mixer that wasn’t going well. The girls were all together dancing with each other, while the guys stood around the periphery of the dance floor, drinks in hand.
Where the real money is made is at the 100 reserved booths, each holding maybe 12 people with bottle service that starts at $2000. Grey Goose Vodka and Red Bull seemed to be the drink of choice and by 1:30 AM I understood why. Avicii doesn’t even go on until 1 AM and he was proceeded by a DJ who keeps everything moving. What surprised me was that the basic “four on the floor” beat was consistent for over 6 hours. There are what you might call songs, but they are more like chorus hooks–a short catchy phrase–that everyone seems to know and sing along with. An example might be “The Bad Touch” by DJ Gollum and Empyre One which has only one line for it’s 18 minute length–“You and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals , so lets do it like they do on the Discovery Channel”. “Like a Rolling Stone” it is not. But that of course is not the point. All three thousand revelers in XS seemed to sing it in unison, because they were fighting for their right to party. Whether there is some sort of generational lesson here is not clear. Having participated in some fairly psychedelic evenings at the Fillmore in San Francisco in 1967, I believe that Dionysus, rather than Apollo is the god of youth. But in 1967 there was a certain spirit of utopian optimism in the air. The belief in the power of the young to change the world. We had already marched in the streets for civil rights and were currently in the streets against the war in Vietnam. The kids in XS had no such idealism. It was more like lets get wasted and have a good time before the next bubble bursts.
Many of the booths seemed to be occupied by either bachelor or bachelorette parties, so there was a weird kind of separation on the dance floor. The rest of the booths seemed to be filled with young male execs (probably in Vegas for a convention?) who were being introduced to girls who were clearly “escorts.” The ethnic mix, like the rest of Vegas was completely United Nations, with perhaps an Asian over-representation. By 2 AM it was full on Satyricon-with the girls dancing on the tables because the dance floor was too crowded to even move, let alone dance.
Obviously EDM is incredibly popular and I hope Avicii and his pals are putting some of their money away and not just blowing it on Gulfstream jets. Clearly when you hear a new summer anthem like Coldplay’s A Sky Full of Stars, you can see that EDM has moved into pop in a big way. Whether it will turn out to be a historical curiosity like Barry White and Donna Summer, remains to be seen. At one point in the evening three of the gorgeous female bartenders started snaking their way across the dance floor. One held what appeared to be a magnum of Dom Perignon champagne, except the label glowed in the dark. The other two held sparklers which shot up in the darkness. I figured it was some savvy product placement by Dom Perignon, anxious to move in on the Grey Goose monopoly. I’m sure Steve Wynn charged them a pretty penny for the stunt. The New Yorker says that Wynn is making more from his EDM nightclubs than his slot machines. I wouldn’t doubt it.