Take a drive down the Strip, and you will see famous DJ faces lighting up hotel marquees at the Wynn (David Guetta), the Cosmopolitan (Kaskade) and the MGM (Deadmau5). DJs are the new Elvises.
Big DJs pull down tens of thousands of dollars for gigs. But it was only two years ago that Wynn’s XS nightclub balked at paying Afrojack a now-relatively low price to make him a resident DJ.
“The prices they were asking back then were so nothing (compared to) today,” says Jesse Waits, co-owner and managing partner of clubs XS and Tryst, and Botero restaurant.
Waits says when Afrojack’s agent asked for a small but undisclosed sum in 2011, “I was, like, ‘You’re crazy. I would never pay more than $1,000 a night for a DJ.’ ”
But Waits loves house music, and he came around. XS signed up 22 producer-DJs in 2011; 36 last year; 44 this year — including Guetta, Avicii, Dirty South, Fedde Le Grand, Knife Party, Redfoo, will.i.am and Martin Solveig.
XS throws a fourth anniversary party on Friday with Guetta.
Waits won’t tell me what any of these DJs pocket.
“It’s definitely a business secret, but they’re making a lot of money. A lot,” he says. “If they weren’t worth it, we wouldn’t be doing it.”
Indeed. XS was named 2012’s top-grossing club in America (earning $80 million, as did Cosmopolitan’s Marquee), which likely means XS and Marquee are the top-grossing clubs in the world.
So far, XS, Marquee and Encore’s Surrender have been the only clubs going full-speed with international DJs. But this month, they get competition when two new clubs open with EDM (electronic dance music).
Mandalay Bay opens Light. MGM opens Hakkasan. Both new clubs hired DJs away from XS, Surrender and Marquee. Hakkasan alone signed up Deadmau5, Calvin Harris and Steve Aoki.
This has been slightly weird for Waits. He is good friends with Aoki, and he was on the phone with Harris before I interviewed him.
“I love Steve Aoki” and other DJs who split for the new clubs, Waits says.
“I’m sad when all these guys” leave XS, he says. “The first couple of times things like that happened, I got my feelings hurt, because I look at DJs as an actual friend and you feel a loyalty.
“But (when) someone is offering that much more money, you have to be a friend and say, ‘Take the money.’ These guys too have a shelf life,” just like any musician who should accept serious paydays while they can.
Waits isn’t kidding about his friendships. Last summer, Waits and his 18-year-old son flew to Amsterdam with Afrojack on the Dutch DJ’s plane.
That was a rare moment when Waits wasn’t at XS. He works seven days a week — seven — honing a sterling reputation and, frankly, looking more like age 28 than his actual age, 37. How is that?
“I don’t drink unless I’m on vacation. I don’t drink in Las Vegas. I take care of myself. I’m a vegan. And I go to the gym,” Waits says.
So Waits will humbly tell you he’s rooting for his friends who are ex-Wynn DJs, and that he’s rooting for his friends who are rival club operators at Surrender, Marquee, Light and Hakkasan. They’ve all worked with each other in the past, and they still talk business with each other now.
“New nightclubs bring in new energy. And they have so much marketing power, they bring new crowds,” Waits says. “I’m confident we’re going to do well, and these guys are going to do well. We’ll see where it takes us.”
Doug Elfman’s column appears Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He also writes for Neon on Fridays. Email him at email@example.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.