Three am is a time when most cities around the world are quiet, dark and fast asleep, but, here, on the world-famous Las Vegas Strip, there are no real discernible changes from prime-time, only hours before dawn. Inside The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, the casino floor is still abuzz with gamblers, restaurants are still serving hungry patrons and tourists are drunkenly reminiscing about the adventures of their night.
And even though most headlining DJs have finished off their sets, partiers have drained their bank accounts on bottle service, and women can no longer bear the thought of keeping their stiletto heels on for another minute, a new wave of revellers are just on their way to the club. Marquee Nightclub has joined forces with the reigning minimal techno royal, Richie Hawtin, for an inaugural 3am-5am event, which many hope will be the beginning steps to a new era of EDM in Vegas.
Over the last three years, Las Vegas has played an integral part in what many have called an EDM boom in the US. Electronic dance music has been elevated from an obscure fandom (in North America) to an industry that propels some of the highest grossing clubs in the world. Las Vegas has also become the catalyst for mainstreaming the genre and making DJs into superstars. Billboards of the biggest names in electronic dance music line the Strip, venues engage in bidding wars to sign the hottest DJs of the moment, and artists now infamously play a “Vegas set,” that caters to a crowd which by most accounts is around 50% actual fans.
This is precisely why Las Vegas is viewed sceptically by many longtime followers. They have been turned off by the typical artist residencies and see it as the beginning of the end of the EDM scene.
However, Richie Hawtin’s name and face gracing the cityscape on a giant LED screen high above Las Vegas Boulevard has the electronic community wondering if this first-ever, late-night performance at Marquee Nightclub could be the start of an underground movement right in the heart of Las Vegas. While the idea seems noble, the question remains — how will Richie Hawtin and his avant-garde brand of electronic music fare in Vegas?
Arriving at Marquee Nightclub at 2:30am the scene outside the doors is surprisingly similar to the regular peak hours of the venue. However, the bachelor parties and rainbow-coloured, bedazzling dresses that usually line the red velvet ropes have been replaced by the edgier, darker fashion of a more sophisticated crowd. The crucial difference, other than fashion preferences, is that this crowd did not accidentally stumble upon Marquee by chance, these people have come specifically to see Richie Hawtin.
Inside, the 62,000 square foot indoor/outdoor venue all seems normal by Las Vegas club standards as club-goers drink and sway to an innocuous progressive house opening set by local DJ Brett Rubin. The crowd is a combination of high spending attendees with tables, Las Vegas tourists, as well as a new group of dance music fans who are slowly but surely becoming the majority in the venue. At slightly past 3am Richie Hawtin appears behind the decks and fans fill the central dancefloor to capacity. The ENTER. signature circular logo appears on the four-storey LED screens, the music takes a dramatic shift and the club quickly slips down the rabbit-hole into Richie Hawtin’s enigmatic world.
DJ Mag keeps its finger right on the pulse of the crowd, and signs of a steady heartbeat begin to emerge. While Hawtin drops a blend of house and techno beats, which keeps both the fans and newbies captured in his musical vortex, one of the more obvious signs of the successful club event appears.
Bottle service parades swirl around to various tables across Marquee well past 4am, a tell-tale sign that the experiment is working. The artistic integrity of the genre and the business venture for the nightclub are blending in perfect harmony. The event actually goes so well, that Richie Hawtin keeps the crowd and club running an hour past the planned 5am close.
Richie Hawtin’s performance was an electronic music fan's dream come true. Being in an immaculate, state-of-the-art venue like Marquee with Hawtin’s expert musical storytelling is a must experience for any electronic music fan. But the question remains, was there a shift towards the underground made that night?
Well… not really.
The broader view actually reveals a different story about the current climate of EDM in the region. This particular weekend Richie Hawtin had also brought his ENTER. show to one of the biggest EDM clubs in Los Angeles, performed at the massive Escape from Wonderland festival in Southern California just hours before jet-setting to Las Vegas for his Marquee performance, and he even had the honour of gracing the main stage at Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas this past June. These factors actually show Hawtin is gaining momentum and popularity in the US and quickly becoming part of the mainstream machine. Although the perception of his underground status remains intact the evidence suggests the contrary. The growing popularity of Richie Hawtin and the apparent success of his performance at Marquee in Las Vegas actually reflects that, maybe, EDM fans' tastes and the industry is actually being underestimated.
The supposed boom in the US wasn’t built on the back of Las Vegas clubs in a few years, it's been built step-by-step, over decades, by the fans who have been buying tickets, supporting their favourite DJs, and wearing out their dance shoes well past dawn in clubs and venues that still hold strong today. The roots are what made EDM and will continue to give it strength through the transitions of the future. Richie Hawtin’s weekend, with his finale in Las Vegas, signifies that the American palate is becoming more refined and proving that fans have a desire to explore the sub-genres in electronic music, if given the opportunity.
Marquee Nightclub and Richie Hawtin have taken steps to ensure the longevity of electronic music by expanding past the conventional, having faith in the fans and investing in future fans who will hopefully be joining the ranks of old school dance lovers someday. Hawtin will hopefully be part of the class of DJs in Las Vegas and around the US who will be pivotal in sustaining the proverbial bubble everyone is so concerned will burst as electronic music continues to grow. Electronic music is here to stay, and is actually mainstream, whether we like to admit it or not. And while the chances of a burst don’t seem likely in any foreseeable future, there is a very real chance that it will become stale if artists like Richie Hawtin aren’t part of this electronic music growth.
So, while this performance didn’t cause some seismic shift in Las Vegas towards the underground, it did begin to lay a much more solid foundation for the future.
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