Brazilian dancers in skimpy sequinned get-ups stand on top of the the DJ booth, shaking their hips to the music. More in animal costumes – including silver zebras, pink flamingos and a single yellow chicken – amble around the dancefloor, accosted for selfies every few seconds. Halfway through a track, cannons launch clouds of confetti over the party, while Fisher, the larrikin Australian DJ, unleashes a massive drop, revving up an already bonkers crowd. So far, so Elrow.
But this is not just any Elrow. Today marks the Barcelona-born party’s debut in Las Vegas as part of Art Of The Wild, a new three-day, three-night event hosted by Wynn luxury resort and casino. Known for its EDM residents such as The Chainsmokers and Alesso, Wynn is serving up some very different beats this weekend, hosting Elrow, Circoloco, All Day I Dream, Paradise, Rumours and White Coffee (Virgil Abloh and Black Coffee) events across two Wynn venues, Encore Beach Club and XS nightclub. EBC is impressively made over for each of its three daytime parties over the weekend to the point of being barely recognisable. The crowd looks a little different to the norm, too.
“I never thought I’d see a bloke in a scarf and singlet at XS,” Fisher tells Mixmag on Friday night at the Circoloco party. He’s eyeing a bloke who, in hippie vest, beaded necklace and fashionable fringed neckwear, looks more Burning Man than Ocean’s Eleven. “Now that’s fuckin’ underground, mate.”
Art Of The Wild marks the first time a set of underground artists has headlined consecutive days at a major Las Vegas resort. For the past few years, Sin City has been synonymous with EDM – it’s where artists like Calvin Harris, Tiësto and Marshmello have enjoyed eye-wateringly lucrative residencies. Now, while still backing that sound, Las Vegas resorts as a whole are looking to ride the next wave. That, as far as they see, is the underground (also commonly referred to as ‘techno’ in the US, irrespective of whether or not the music is actually techno). In January this year, Wynn announced two underground residents for the first time: Jamie Jones and Black Coffee.
“It’s a natural progression,” explains LA nightclub impresario Kobi Danan (of Framework), who, along with Wynn’s Zarnaz ‘Zee’ Zandi, was enlisted to assist Wynn’s Alex Cordova after he conceived Art Of The Wild last year. “We identified this by going around the world and looking at what’s cool and what’s hot. We felt like there could be a demand, but it was a risk.”
Cordova took his research seriously, embarking on a few overseas reconnaissance missions including a trip to Ibiza to hang out with the Elrow family during the 2017 closing parties. “I was supposed to stay for a week and a half, and I ended up staying for three weeks,” he says. Elrow was the first party to sign on for Art of The Wild after Jamie Jones’ Paradise, which debuted at XS last Halloween.
“That was on a Tuesday night. We’re not usually open then, but we were like, ‘Let’s try this out, let’s see if the idea has any teeth’,” says Cordova. “We had four thousand people, it was tremendous.”
The success of the Halloween event helped convince some of the more hesitant artists to join Art Of The Wild. “The same artists who were skeptical and said ‘I’m not going to do it’ three or four times – they’re now calling, saying, ‘So when’s the next one?’,” says Danan.
Lee Burridge had his reservations when first approached by Wynn. Las Vegas is probably the most incongruous home yet for his esoteric house music party series All Day I Dream, which started out as a 300-capacity event in Brooklyn. Burridge says that while there was a “techno tourism element” to the crowd in Vegas, he also met a bunch of locals.
“They were like, oh my God, we’ve been to Burning Man and we love All Day I Dream and we’re so happy we’re seeing you here!” he says. “I actually walked away mildly shocked.”
Chris Liebing played the last slot at Circoloco. “The party went ’til six [in the morning] and it was busy to the end. People didn’t leave, it was a good vibe, smiling faces everywhere – I thought to myself that I have to rethink my Vegas idea a little bit, maybe. I never really thought that a bit more experimental or harder music would work [there].
“The USA has a big new movement going on, of course triggered by Movement in Detroit and these parties. Loads of people that used to be interested in EDM are now interested in techno. I would very happily play at Wynn again. It’s a good way to promote music in places I love that I would usually not get to.” Art Of The Wild might be the first multi-club of its kind in Vegas, but it’s not as though the city has been entirely starved of underground music. The profile and financial clout of EDM tends to overshadow the healthy underground scene there, spearheaded by the renowned Techno Taco Tuesdays crew, which pulls acts like Davide Squillace and Butch, and the AFTER after hours events, which coined the viral hashtag #djrules in 2014 (no EDM, hip hop, trap or dubstep etc). But AFTER boss Thom Svast has mixed emotions about the new direction: “We saw this coming to the strip for a long time now,” he says. I’m not sure we wanted it to come. It’s great for the city. But just like what happened with the EDM thing, people with deep pockets are going to outprice the little man in a lot of ways.”
Arguably, though, a lot of the existing underground events wouldn’t have had the budget to attract some bigger names even before festivals like Art Of The Wild came along. But it’s true that those attending events at the resorts are probably less likely to stray from their hotels to check out other venues, especially when resort clubs are extending their hours.
Zandi says that convenience is a major part of Art Of The Wild’s appeal. There’s no schlepping around town in Ubers and trekking to festival sites; you just go down an elevator and in between parties return to your plush suite, or maybe have a flutter at the casino sprawled between XS and EBC.
Although prices are reasonably accessible – presale tickets for access to all seven events started at $100 – it’s still not a cheap weekend. Exceptional Wynn suites start from around $200 a night and drinks will set you back around $20 on average. To book a table at a club, you’re looking at $1,000–$2,000. Obviously, Wynn hopes to attract out-of-towners booking a package deal, but it’s vital that they appeal to locals too – many of whom Mixmag spoke to over the weekend.
“This is extremely important because it’s very high taste [sic] house music,” says Svetlana, a Burning Man regular dressed head to toe in purple velvet. “Vegas doesn’t get a lot of acts like that, so when we get it, we cherish it a lot.”
Connecticut-born punter Anthony has lived in Vegas for a few years now, and feels that his love of underground music makes him an “outlier” in the city. “This wouldn’t have happened two years ago,” he says, gesturing to the Encore Beach Club festooned with red lanterns for Guy Gerber’s Rumors party. “Wynn are really trying to push the envelope here, and I respect that.”
To be clear: Wynn is not turning its back on EDM. Hosting regular underground events is part of a “three to five year plan,” we’re told, during which they’ll continue to support their still-popular EDM artists. But off the success of the first event, they’ve already booked their next Art Of The Wild for March 2019. Time will tell if other major Las Vegas resorts start to follow suit.
Annabel Ross is a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter