Monday, June 25, 2012

Is Las Vegas the New Ibiza?

The New York Times recently ran a fairly in-depth piece about the rise of DJ and dance music culture in Las Vegas. Framed by the insanely successful 2012 Electric Daisy Carnival, the article is notable (in addition to its hilarious details about 70 year old billionaire Steve Wynn befriending DeadMau5 and hyping a performance by Afrojack) for declaring that electronic dance music has finally arrived in the mainstream (after some false starts in the 90s), and that Las Vegas is becoming the ground zero of EDM culture. A dance record company exec is even quoted declaring that "Las Vegas is the new Ibiza."

The EDM scene has certainly exploded in Las Vegas in the recent years, with big-name DJ's creating an advantage in drawing thronging crowds to the city's many competing mega-clubs. Nightclubs have emerged as one of the city's most reliable revenue generators over the last decade, as The Hangover and the "what happens here, stays here" PR campaign put the Sin back in the City and restored its reputation as a hard partying mecca of excess (after the 90s were spent trying to market Vegas as a family friendly tourist city. But we all made mistakes in the 90's. It was the decade that The Spin Doctors became famous, after all) helped attract eager groups of young people looking for all night parties.

But before the recent EDM-slosion, the soundtrack at most Vegas nightclubswas generally made up of Hip Hop and Top 40 bangers, with some crowd pleasing 80's and 70's classics thrown in for good measure. Only recently have DJ's themselves become draws at clubs (replacing celebutantes like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, who were paid stupefying fees to dumbly wave their hands in clubs during the first half of the 00's), with fans coming in knowing and expecting to hear their original music. Big name DJ's are now attracting Saturday night sized crowds to the clubs on Wednesdays, and Wynn is taking the trend even further, with plans to start an in-resort TV channel based around his nightlife destinations and sell CD's to guests (which seems adorably retro considering that exactly no one buys CD's anymore).

So Las Vegas is developing a new image, as it does every few years, one defined by party starters standing behind laptops and turntables. While (readers of this blog will already know) I'm not into the EDM scene... at all. In fact, I wouldn't want to come want to touch a ten foot pole ten feet away from a club banging out Skrillex music with a twenty foot pole on most nights. Big name DJ's are also headlining douche-filled Dayclub Pool Party parties, with their oiled up STD riddled crowds, which horrifies me even more. I can cut a rug (badly) on the dance floor with I get enough drinks into me, but I'd rather gesticulate wildly to some 90's hip hop classics or a goofy 80's pop song instead of listen to the angry robot beats of a typical Dubstep track. That said, I think the growing popularity of EDM in Las Vegas is a hugely positive sign.

Yes, EDM is becoming more and more popular in mainstream culture, but Skrillex and DeadMau5 are hardly moving the kinds of units that Rihanna or Kanye move these days (even though they barely move any units themselves since the recorded music industry is dead). DJ culture has exploded, but it's still a niche more than a full on cultural movement (the fact the NYTimes is talking about it all is pretty significant, and the fact that AO Scott and David Carr discuss it in their bookish nerd and old guy video show is even more so). The fact that Las Vegas is actively courting a niche, even if it's a rather large and growing niche, is proof that the definition of a "Las Vegas person" is ever evolving. While I spent the better part of the last decade defending Las Vegas to my snobby and pretentious film and art school graduate friends, the fact that a once underground music genre is filling megaclubs on weekdays in the least underground of cities is proof that it could become the preferred vacation destination of that same group within a few years.

If the kids who were made fun of for liking weird electro music have found a home for their subculture in Las Vegas, why can't the town accept more and more niche groups into its ever growing big-tent? Superstar DJ Steve Aoki (who has a montly residency in two of Wynn's megaclubs) describes the evolution of the scene by saying that he "used to consider Las Vegas the most musically ignorant place in the world. Now it’s completely flipped." If it can happen with EDM, why can't it happen with other niches? I can envision a scenario where Las Vegas becomes an indie rock mecca, with bands moving to town for the lower than Los Angeles rents and the abundance of venues in which to perform. There's already tons of standup shows going on every night in Las Vegas (many of them filled with the hackiest hacks who ever dared to hack), so why couldn't the city evolve into a home for hip alt-comics, sharp improv performers, and inventive sketch artists down the road? Cinevegas never took off, but with Downtown's evolution into a cool urban center, I could see an art-house theater and a yearly film festival popping up near Fremont Street. Las Vegas has already become a foodie mecca with namebrand celebrity chefs opening restaurants across a variety of resorts, but why can't rising chefs make their mark in the city as well?

With the rise of the interwebs, the idea of the mono-culture has been completely decimated as people are able to find the kinds of entertainment that appeals to them specifically. While Las Vegas casinos have worked hard to appeal to all people at all times, the way culture has broken us all down into specific mini-niches makes that far more difficult... and appealing to more specific niches just makes more sense at this point. In his review for Midnight in Paris, Roger Ebert compared Woody Allen's surprise hit to typical Hollywood fare by admitting that he's "wearying of movies that are for everybody-- which means, nobody in particular." Though it seems absurd to expect Las Vegas, a city that is almost a too convenient metaphor for capitalism to evolve into a place that's not just meant for an unspecific everybody, the smartest resort owners of the future will find ways to create experiences that appeal so specific niches... or more accurately, to someone in particular.

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