Headliner DJs now run this town. But they’re not from here, and they certainly don’t live here. If Las Vegas is the new dance music mecca of the U.S., why hasn’t one of our own risen to the ranks of a Kaskade or a Porter Robinson or a Baauer? Local jocks have been scoring Vegas dance spots since the 1990s. So why have they had to clear the booth for their Dutch and Swede colleagues?
1. The studio That’s where DJs like Deadmau5, Tiësto, Calvin Harris and David Guetta made their names. Sure, they quickly ascended the live circuit, but they did so because their fans and other dance music diehards already knew and could even sing along to their original tracks and remixes. Now, their sets are concert-like and focused mainly on their own work. Most local DJs aren’t producers—or well-exposed ones—and simply can’t compete.
2. Conditions apply The Vegas jocks who do nail down big club gigs often open or close a night, or get assigned to a smaller room. Thus, their exposure to the international patronage filing in and out of the megaclubs is limited. And when they do land a headline or peak-hour slot, it’s often to counterprogram against the EDM giants, usually with the catch-all DJ programming known as open-format, which reigned in the Valley just prior to the EDM explosion, but bred few national stars.
3. Glorified wedding DJs? It’s hard for local DJs to establish their own musical identity, especially with talent buyers and club management directing them to play particular genres or tracks to appease fickle tourists and fussy VIPs. Even global DJs play more commercial sets here than they do in, say, Miami, LA or New York City.
4. Exodus What about The Crystal Method, you ask? Well, before they released their 1997 smash debut, Vegas, they moved to LA, the preferred home base of many of our current headliner DJs. Even Nick Terranova (aka Starkillers) had to move west just as his tracks were catching on with dance fans outside of Las Vegas, where he has said he was underpaid compared to other big cities he played.
5. It never ends Famously low stipends are just one of many hindrances local DJs endure—as well as too much in-town competition, being passed over by peers with less experience but a larger personal network, scoring little to no regional exposure on club advertising and scant opportunities at events like Electric Daisy Carnival.
Mitigating factors Things could change in their favor. The budding Downtown scene holds a lot of promise as a DJ breeding ground less encumbered by artistic limitations and competition with non-local peers. And the EDM headliner resident bubble will no doubt pop as the music’s cultural penetration retracts, creating a need for newer, fresher and more affordable talent. And we’ve got two promising acts in town well on their way to big national breakthroughs: young DJ and producer Justin Blau (aka DJ 3Lau), whose “Escape” has made it into Tiësto’s sets, and Ultra Records electronic duo Black Boots (featuring musicians and Krave/Drink ’n’ Drag residents Mikey Francis and Pedi Amiri). Perhaps the slow Vegas ascension into EDM’s elite superstar club is like a great DJ set: a long build to the payoff.