"Vegas is the new Ibiza.”
That's what iconic DJ Paul Oakenfold told us in 2008, and it’s been coming true ever since.
What began as an underground scene with below-the-radar desert parties, is now the home of the Electronic Daisy Carnival and a four-mile stretch of land that hosts all ten of the world’s highest paid DJs on a weekly basis. But this all didn’t happen overnight—here's a brief history of how Vegas became a destination for EDM.
MOVIN' IN THE DESERT
Throughout the 1990s, there were parties at unconventional locations around town, but the true catalyst of the now booming electronic music scene in Vegas comes from the Desert Move party in 1996.
The first party of its kind in Las Vegas, this was the first time a dance music-focused party had big brand sponsors and radio station support— and a stacked lineup featuring dance music legends like Josh Wink, Dmitry from Deee-Lite, WestBam.
Partygoers took a bus into the desert about an hour outside of town, where organizers orchestrated a pop-up production involving impressive sound systems and transformative lighting and lasers. Every key player in the dance music scene attended—from Insomniac’s Pasquale Rotella, to iconic local DJ Robert Oleysyck.
Inspired by Desert Move and the dance music culture in San Francisco, Gino LoPinto and the late Aaron Britt went on to create Vegas’ first large-scale electronic music-focused nightclub, Utopia.
A DJ'S UTOPIA
Utopia is strongly regarded as the last Vegas electronic-focused nightclub of the pre-casino nightlife era. It was a stand-alone club located on the Strip, tucked behind where Hard Rock Cafe is today.
PRODUCING THE RIGHT VIBES
A Way Of Life Productions (AWOL) helped produce parties at Utopia and hosted its own dance music events as well.
AWOL took advantage of unconventional locations, such as industrial warehouse Candie Factorie or a local RC track, to host parties with several areas that played a wide range of electronic music genres (drum and bass, acid techno and more).
Where would people get this underground music without the same digital options we have today? The EDM culture converged at Liquid303 (currently Arts Factory), one of the only places in Vegas that you could buy electronic music records at the time.
PUT A RECORD ON
Liquid303 owner and local DJ John Torres established The Record Store in mid-1997 because he saw a need to make fresh, underground dance music available in Vegas. The store exclusively sold dance music and was the local expert in the genre.
KINDLING TO THE MEGA-CLUB
With the trend in electronic music ramping up in off-Strip nightclubs and record stores, casino executives saw the potential. Properties on the Strip started incorporating more big-name DJ bookings.
Former clubs like RA (Luxor Hotel and Casino), C2K (The Venetian Resort Hotel & Casino) and Baby’s (Hard Rock Hotel) were among the first Las Vegas nightclubs to book nationally recognized DJs on a regular basis.
While this was happening in the early 2000s, Ice, was a stand-alone club known for hosting world-class DJs on a weekly basis, including Donald Glaude, Tiësto and Armin Van Buuren. Ice was also on Spike TV’s reality show The Club.
THE RESIDENCY THAT CHANGED IT ALL
These relatively small dance music events continued through the 2000s. There still wasn’t a mega-resident DJ until Paul Oakenfold arrived with Perfecto at Rain (Palms) in 2008 and changed the game entirely.
Oakenfold broke through the mainstream sounds of hip-hop and top 40 when he introduced his residency, which was a fleshed-out production with light shows, aerialists and more.
In a 2008 interview, Oakenfold said the bar had been raised since Perfecto at Rain, and that every new Las Vegas nightlife venture keeps getting better than the last.
Oakenfold was so successful that his residency was extended, and other properties incorporated this high-profile DJ residency model.
EDM CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
Light Group, Tao Group, Wynn Resorts and Play Management arrived on the dance music scene creating groundbreaking venues, showing that the sky’s the limit with this new nightlife experience. These groups pushed the nightlife boundaries throughout the 2010s, making Vegas the EDM Capital of the World it is today.
These EDM-focused clubs popped up one after another: XS Nightclub in 2008 (Encore at Wynn Las Vegas), Marquee in 2010 (The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas), Surrender in 2010 (Encore at Wynn Las Vegas), Hakkasan in 2013 (MGM Grand Hotel and Casino), LIGHT in 2013 (Mandalay Bay), OMNIA in 2015 (Caesars Palace), and Jewel in 2016 (ARIA).
These clubs are known for high-profile DJs and performers, cutting-edge sound systems, special visual effects, dancers, and more.
TAO Nightclub (The Venetian Resort Hotel & Casino)) was first to incorporate the dayclub pool party experience. Hakkasan Group acquired Angel Management and Light Group, aggressively expanding their Vegas nightlife portfolio.
While these new clubs were opening, the Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) moved from Los Angeles in 2011—which truly put Vegas on the map as an EDM destination.
UNDER THE ELECTRIC SKY
Founder and creator of Insomniac Pasquale Rotella has said that Vegas was the perfect fit for EDC—not only was the destination large enough to accommodate the numbers he envisioned, but it was already the Entertainment Capital of the World.
With an annual theme expressed through performers, costumes, and decor, EDC attendees can explore art cars and carnival rides while listening to talent on several stages. Pyrotechnics and fireworks are also crucial to the experience.
Since EDC has arrived in Vegas, the norm for nightclubs on the Strip is to host high-profile DJs. A recent Forbes report shows that most of the highest earning DJs all have a Las Vegas club residency, including: The Chainsmokers, Marshmello, Steve Aoki, and Tiësto.
EDM has become pop music; what started as an underground subculture is now dominating the top 40 charts with artists like Major Lazer and Calvin Harris.
With even more high-profile collaborations between producers and performers like Zedd and Ariana Grande and Skrillex, Diplo and Justin Bieber, Las Vegas continues to make bigger and better entertainment experiences.
The EDM landscape in Las Vegas now includes even more large-scale events. The Life Is Beautiful Music and Art Festival debuted in 2013, bringing some of the most popular musical acts to the streets of Downtown Las Vegas. The festival has continued to grow each year—and with that growth, the number of electronic acts also continued to rise. The most recent lineup included chart-topping DJs like Illennium and Fisher alongside experimental electronic acts like Purity Ring and Cash Cash.
Some of the state-of-the-art nightclubs lining the Strip have started to present their own festivals—bringing in artists to play the venues throughout blow-out weekends. Art of the Wild at Wynn Las Vegas is just one example, featuring four days of stacked lineups at XS Nightclub and Encore Beach Club. Venues also continue to get more technologically advanced, like Zouk Nightclub at Resorts World Las Vegas, which features over 26,000 square feet of state-of-the-art equipment—and a residency from the massively popular producer, Zedd.
As entertainment in general continues to grow in Las Vegas, so will its thriving electronic music scene. The future of EDM in Vegas is bright as the lights. ✨