Is Las Vegas The ‘New Ibiza’? Music, Nightlife Experts Weigh In

Electric Daisy Carnival, A-list residencies and mega-venues solidify Sin City's global appeal to dance-music community.

For as long as most dance-music aficionados can recall, Miami has been the Stateside destination for sun, fun and the hottest music year-round. But in just a short period of time, a new player has emerged. In the blink of an eye, America’s Playground has morphed into America’s Dance Music Capital.

Consider the 200,000 electronica fans who descended on Las Vegas International Speedway for the Electric Daisy Carnival in June, or the billboards up and down the Strip plastered with dance-music superstars such as Tiësto, Dirty South and deadmau5. It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, Sin City catered to an entirely different scene.

“Say there are 100 clubs in Vegas: Two years ago, 90 were playing hip-hop, 10 were playing house,” said Shawn Sabo, Beatport co-founder and member of the Manufactured Superstars. “But now it’s completely flopped. Ten are playing hip-hop, 90 are playing house — and I really don’t think it’s going to stop.”

With an estimated 37 million visitors hitting the Strip annually, and America’s interest in the electronic dance music (EDM) scene exploding, Vegas is going pedal-to-the-metal for the dance-music craze.

“The Palms was the first major hotel/casino to have a dedicated house-music night,” said Jon Gray, SVP of the N9ne Group and head of nightlife for the Palms Hotel & Casino.

It was just three short years ago, in fall 2008, that the Palms welcomed Paul Oakenfold for the city’s first house-music residency, and his Planet Perfecto on Saturdays at Rain Nightclub was arguably the catalyst for the city’s dance-music boom.

“Ibiza is still, first and foremost, the powerhouse for electronic music and it always will be, but you can see how Vegas has moved incredibly fast so that it’s on an equal par,” Oakenfold told MTV News prior to one of his legendary sets.

“The DJs used to be back in the corner and you never knew who the DJ was,” the Palms’ Gray added. “But now, every major nightclub has brought the DJ booth to the center of the nightclub and brought in some huge names.”

Not surprisingly, DJ-centric mega-clubs exceeding 50,000 square feet or more are quickly becoming the norm, and things are just as popping in the daytime. Initially conceived at the Hard Rock’s infamous Rehab Sundays in 2004, the modern Las Vegas pool party is rite of passage for the weekend warrior — and there is no shortage of options to keep even the most fickle clubber content. Thanks to recent investments and expansions such as Encore Beach, the Cosmopolitan’s Marquee Day Club, Tropicana’s Nikki Beach and MGM’s Wet Republic, high-end pool parties have raised the bar and transformed Vegas into the premier destination for those looking to hit the increasingly popular day-club scene.

“We have bungalows with private Jacuzzis. We have an ‘ultra lounge,’ which holds 40 people, including its own private bar and bartender. Every bungalow has its own bathroom, and our bungalows downstairs even have their own shower. So we’ve really gone over the top,” said Sean Christie, operating partner of Encore Beach and Surrender Nightclub.

Encore Beach and its sister clubs, Surrender and XS, play host to resident DJs Kaskade and Pete Tong, along with appearances over the summer by deadmau5, Afrojack, Skrillex, Calvin Harris and Swedish House Mafia’s Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso, along with his protégé Alesso, to name just a few. Their laundry list of internationally known acts and massive events continues into the early fall.

Longtime DJ and Producer Kaskade has also taken note of the remarkable change in the tides as he rounds out his second year of residency at Encore Beach.

“This is probably the biggest and best pool party in the world,” he said just prior to his set one summer afternoon. “The venue is crazy, the sound is crazy, we get four or five thousand people in here.”

And just down the road, another party goes just as hard with equally big names. From Laidback Luke to Avicii, Armin Van Buuren to Cedric Gervais and Above & Beyond to LMFAO, Marquee Dayclub (and Nightclub) has no shortage of reasons for eager fans to flock by the thousands.

“Vegas is more equipped to handle the volume year-round,” said Jason Strauss, owner and co-founder of the Strategic Group, the entity behind both the Lavo, Tao and Marquee franchises. “With the proliferation of casinos and all the hotel rooms, we’re able to accommodate all the people that Ibiza and all of these other secondary markets can’t.”

Strauss and partner Noah Tepperberg ventured to up the ante with the Vegas version of Marquee Nightclub at one of the Strip’s newest gems, the Cosmopolitan Hotel & Casino. Boasting nearly 3,000 guest rooms, on a typical summer weekend, many are occupied by 20- and 30-somethings for bachelor parties, girls’ weekends and a zillion other reasons to head out to the clubs, blow off steam and spend some serious green.

“I’ve seen Las Vegas grow,” DJ Cedric Gervais said. “And what [Jason] has done to Las Vegas with Marquee Nightclub is amazing — and I think Las Vegas really is becoming the new Ibiza.”

“That’s been my mantra for the past year,” said Joel Zimmerman, U.S. head of William Morris Electronic, the partnership spawned by Pete Tong and the L.A.-based William Morris Agency. Not to be confused with the other Joel Zimmerman, a.k.a. Canadian DJ/producer deadmau5, WME’s Joel is the man who many point to as a key player behind Vegas dance-music explosion and the high-end talent that has been brought in. While he’s quick to point out the parallels, he noted that Vegas isn’t out to take Ibiza’s place in international club culture.

“I don’t think we’re taking people away from going to Ibiza,” he said. “One’s a beautiful Balearic island off the coast of Barcelona, and the other is stuck in the middle of the desert where people come to lose their minds. But the transient aspect of the island and Vegas, being a different crop of people every weekend, is very similar.”

The latest statistics show tourism is up 4.9 percent year over year through July, and forecasts estimate that Labor Day weekend alone brought nearly 291,000 into town — an increase of 3.6 percent from last year. During the holiday weekend, visitors spent $178.7 million of non-gaming revenue, up an estimated 3.9 percent, versus the same weekend last summer.

While the grand totals for summer 2011 have yet to be tallied, Cathy Tull, SVP of marketing at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority told MTV News summer 2010 brought Vegas an excess of 12.9 million visitors and took in nearly $8.3 billion in revenue. And keep in mind, these figures were for the year before Electric Daisy Carnival came to town — not bad for a desert oasis once known only for its slot machines, gentlemen’s clubs and bargain buffets.

Thanks in large part to its night (and day) life, Las Vegas is an anomaly in the current economic climate, showing no signs of slowing down. Paired with America’s insatiable pallet for EDM, the Las Vegas nightlife machine has undeniably proven to the rest of the world: If you build it, they will club.

Did you make it to Vegas over the summer to catch your favorite EDM superstars? Tell us about your wildest 2011 Sin City moments in the comments below! (And don’t worry: What happens In Vegas is totally safe to talk about on MTVNews.com!)