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Black Coffee leads Wynn Nightlife’s ambitious new wave of sound

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Left to right, Solomun, Jamie Jones and Black Coffee.

Like a lot of musicians, Nkosinathi Maphumulo dreams of a big Vegas show. In it, he’s playing his music—“house music with a lot of soul, color and texture”—along with a 24-piece orchestra, a massive concert that transcends the perceptions of electronic dance music here or anywhere else.

But Maphumulo, better known as Black Coffee, has played this show before. It’s not just a dream. He did it a few years ago at Moses Mabhida Stadium in his native Durban, South Africa, one of the high points of a career that has seen the 41-year-old DJ and producer emerge as one of the most prominent musical voices in his country.

Another big highlight came last week when Wynn Nightlife announced that Black Coffee has joined its resident roster for 2018 and will perform four or more shows at XS, Intrigue and Encore Beach Club this year. He’s hoping the new partnership will grow into other new opportunities, maybe even that dream show with an orchestra in Las Vegas.

“It is one of the most exciting things to happen to me as far as my career is concerned,” he says. “I think almost every DJ today would love to end up getting a residency like this, with this kind of exposure in that part of the world. And it’s so exciting because I very much consider myself to be in a different space musically. I’ve always seen my music as the type that will never be mainstream.”

That’s the most exciting part. Black Coffee’s music—and the music played by a couple of his fellow new Wynn residents, Jamie Jones and Solomun—could be described as house or techno, but whatever you call it, you have to acknowledge that it’s quite different from the mainstream EDM and hip-hop sounds that dominate today’s Las Vegas clubscape. This trio of artists is far better known in Ibiza, where dance music remains house-centric, constructed around repetitive beats and deep-groove basslines influenced by funk, disco, soul and jazz. It’s not a new sound for Vegas clubs, but major casino venues haven’t committed to it this way in recent years.

“We’re always trying to be at the forefront of this industry,” says Alex Cordova, Wynn Nightlife’s executive vice president and managing partner. “We’ve noticed in the past few years that there’s a scene not represented in Las Vegas that is represented elsewhere in this country and around the world, and we need to explore these options and tap into this demographic that’s been alienated for quite some time. We don’t have just one sound, we have multiple sounds, and this roster shows that diversity.”

Of course, there are plenty of dance-music superstars on Wynn’s list, returning big names like Diplo, David Guetta, The Chainsmokers and Kygo, and rising artists new to Wynn like Galantis and Jauz. Bringing these “tech-house” DJs isn’t just an experiment; it’s intended to kick-start a musical movement here. “Other operators have produced events with some of these artists in the past, but I think the opportunity we are providing is not just trying this out as a one-off but embracing them as true residents,” Cordova says. “The first has to be the bravest and take the lumps and learn the lessons, but hopefully all of our industry will embrace this sound and capitalize on it.”

Halloween provided a test drive for Wynn Nightlife, when Jones—the Welsh producer and festival-playing DJ known for his warm, melodic sound—brought his Paradise party from Ibiza to XS. Cordova says that event brought 4,000 partiers to the club on a Tuesday night.

More influenced by R&B, funk, soul and hip-hop, Solomun, born in Bosnia and raised in Hamburg, brings a different sonic vibe. He has held residencies at standout Ibiza venues like Pacha, Destino and Ushuaia.

Black Coffee reached a new level of exposure in the U.S. music market in 2017 when hip-hop megastar Drake sampled his song “Superman” for a track called “Get It Together” on Drake’s More Life album, a record that has been streamed more than 1 billion times.

But while Drake surely exposed new listeners to Black Coffee, the DJ isn’t expecting the rapper’s audience to show up at his Vegas club gigs. “It’s totally different,” he says. “If Drake fans come, that could be cool as well, to get them to understand there’s more beyond ‘Superman.’ But the people who understand what we are doing with Wynn are the people who come to gigs I do in LA or New York. The guys at Wynn are trying to pioneer a certain sound by bringing us in. They don’t want us to change; they want to change the audience or the audience’s taste in music.”

It’s a very ambitious endeavor, especially on the Las Vegas Strip, where chart-topping artists are the main draw whether it’s in a club, at a concert or for a concert inside a club. But Wynn and Encore have a not-so-secret weapon in gradually turning the musical tides. The luxurious twin resorts already draw the international clientele familiar with this kind of music and the Ibiza/European dance club experience. “We have those customers and access to that demographic, so we are in a better position to be successful,” Cordova says. “But the ultimate goal is not to harbor artists like these only at Wynn but to introduce them to Las Vegas. Hopefully they will come more frequently.”

Trends come and go, but the flavor on the dancefloors at XS, Encore Beach Club and Intrigue has long been varied and inclusive, so much so that new musical discoveries are made by the DJs as much as the audience. In explaining his return this year to Wynn Nightlife, Dutch superstar Afrojack said spending time at XS has been instrumental in keeping him on top of trends and sparking creativity, and Big Boi—one half of legendary Southern hip-hop duo OutKast—created the deliciously clubby “Chocolate” for latest album Boomiverse based on his experiences as a Wynn resident last year. “That’s that real Las Vegas sound right there,” Big Boi said. “That song was definitely influenced by that residency. Being a DJ there helped me get the pulse of what people dig and what they want to dance to and sing to.”

Black Coffee made his first-ever visit to Vegas in early December, to lock down his deal, but he’s well-aware of the type of musical education that goes back and forth between the artist and the audience at clubs and festivals and concerts, and he’s looking forward to learning and teaching at Wynn.

“Growing as a DJ is constantly trying to learn to keep the sound on a certain level, but at that same time learning how to blend and appeal to a wider audience,” he says. “There’s so much that comes with it. You can’t escape it.”

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Brock Radke has been writing about Las Vegas for more than 15 years. He currently covers entertainment, music, nightlife, food ...

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