4 Vegas Club Power Players Talk Being Tastemakers and Why DJs 'Are the New Pop Stars'
Managing partner, XS, Tryst at the Wynn Hotels
When Jesse Waits, now 39, moved to Las Vegas in 1996, he arrived with a few thousand dollars and promptly spent it on a 1965 Ford Thunderbird. Thirteen years later, he opened the $100 million mega-club XS, dedicating one weeknight to house music. "Everyone was skeptical, but it was gigantic," he recalls. Today, XS is the highest-grossing club in the country and maintains a roster of EDM superstars, including Skrillex, David Guetta and Kaskade, many of whom Waits pals around with off-duty. Plus, his prized Thunderbird now belongs to Avicii, a gift for the Swedish DJ's 21st birthday -- a purely sentimental token, considering his rumored rate of $400,000 per gig. Waits won't discuss figures, but he will confirm the value of a star DJ. "They're the new pop stars -- and unlike singers and rappers, they can perform all night."
Partner, TAO Group
Vegas is full of nightlife impresarios who claim they brought EDM to the city, but Jason Strauss, 40, may actually be the first: In 2006, his Strategic Hospitality Group threw a Memorial Day weekend party featuring Erick Morillo at TAO. "After that, we became the strip's first nightclub strictly dedicated to EDM," says the executive, who in addition to Marquee is behind Lavo and Tao. Back then, most clubs hid their DJ booths in the corner because "it was all about the scene." Today, the booth is often the priciest part of the decor. To ensure the good vibes go until morning, Strauss partnered with the Cosmopolitan and Austin-based C3 Presents to schedule afterparties for shows held at the hotel's Chelsea Ballroom and Boulevard Pool. Also keeping things fresh? "We sprinkle in other styles, like Snoop [Dogg]'s residency [at Tao]," he says.
Executive VP Marketing, Hakkasan Group
As Hakkasan Group lunges toward a takeover of the Strip, acquiring Angel Management Group and The Light Group and adding clubs like 1 OAK and Light to its roster, Alex Cordova is behind the scenes steering the message. The 36-year-old oversees Hakkasan Group's PR and marketing and is heavily involved with the much-anticipated new club Omnia, which opens its doors this month with Justin Bieber's 21st-birthday party and a performance from Calvin Harris. "It's going to make a splash," Cordova says. After revamping clubs at the Paris Hotel and Caesars Palace, he joined Angel Management Group in 2008 to work on Wet Republic, one of the first day clubs to feature such EDM heavyweights as Kaskade and Deadmau5. "For some of them," he says, "it was the first time they were coming to play Vegas."
VP Brand Development and Entertainment, The Light Group
After holding top positions at some of Las Vegas' most powerful nightlife companies -- The Wynn and Angel Management Group (now under Hakkasan Group) -- Zandi, 40, was tapped by Vegas powerhouse (and Swedish House Mafia manager) Amy Thomson to oversee electronic music programming for the Mandalay Bay's Light nightclub and Daylight day club in 2013. The clubs, which are operated by The Light Group (also under Hakkasan), pair in-demand DJs like Disclosure and Fatboy Slim with Cirque du Soleil visuals. Now, Zandi is tasked with maintaining momentum. She spends a few weeks each year attending industry conferences and such festivals as Amsterdam Dance Event and the BPM Festival to find out what's next. "We're known as tastemakers," she says, "which is unusual for Vegas."
This story originally appeared in the March 21st issue of Billboard.