E.D.M. will be the death of our culture, if molly doesn't kill us all first. That is what I gathered from "Night Club Royale," the New Yorker's semi-profile of Paris Hilton's ex, producer/DJ Afrojack, who amused me so when I saw him at the Electric Daisy Carnival in 2012, and through whom writer Josh Eells gives us a good look at the entire Vegas nightclub casino scene. (Between this and the Rolling Stone Miley Cyrus profile, Eells having the best culture-writing week ever.)
Really, what's sickening is the way the resorts push piles of money (hundreds of thousands of dollars a night) at DJs who provide soundtracks to people pushing piles of money back at the resorts to play for entry and bottle service (again, hundreds of thousands of dollars a night). Mainstream music is a product, yes, but rarely has it been presented in such crassly commercial terms. "They shouldn’t even call it dance music,” Black Eyed Peas frontman/Wynn DJ will.i.am says in the piece. “They should call it look-at-the-d.j.-and-get-drunk music." His tone is hard to determine, but as someone profiting from the industry, he's probably not too angry about this.
It's embarrassing to be the old guy shaking his fists at Kids Today and their corruption of a hallowed piece of culture, but the world of E.D.M., as presented in Eells' piece is so far removed from the foundation of house music that it bears at least brief mention. That the vast majority of the capital—social, cultural and actual—generated by E.D.M. is enjoyed by white (and almost entirely straight, from what we can tell) men is an affront to house music's roots among gay blacks and Latinos in poor neighborhoods. will.i.am's comment is particularly galling when you consider clubland beyond Chicago house sweatboxes—legendary venues like David Mancuso's Loft and the Paradise Garage, where Larry Levan spun, had strict no-alcohol policies.
But even if you don't look back on dance music history with romantic over-fondness, and even if Vegas' E.D.M. industry doesn't strike you as effrontery, there is plenty in the piece to turn your stomach, make you cry, or reduce you to cackles, depending on your method of coping with other people's excess and others' inflated salaries. Here are those bits, ranked:
To determine how much profit the Wynn could pay a d.j. and still turn a profit, [managers] [Sean] Christie and [Jesse] Waits used a formula that included everything from the number of a d.j.’s Instagram followers to the weather forecast.
The d.j. market was entering a bubble. Skrillex had been earning fifty thousand dollars a show. “Now he’s worth five times that,” Waits said.
“It’s a whole new metric,” will.i.am, the leader of the Black Eyed Peas, who also d.j.s at the Wynn, told me. “What makes a hit in pop music is how many times a song gets played on the radio. A hit in d.j.-land is how much alcohol is bought.”
A restaurant called Andrea’s, which is named for Steve Wynn’s wife, opened in December. It combines Asian-fusion cuisine with an E.D.M. soundtrack selected by a dance d.j. billed as a “musical chef.”…The music is played at a volume that makes conversation difficult. The Wynn calls it “vibe dining.”
…These days when [Afrojack] writes a song his ambition is to create a hit. “I know what people like, and I give it to them,” he said. Although he has no formal training, and cannot read music, he has an intuitive talent for assembling the parts of a song so that they deliver the maximum impact. To illustrate, he played a song called “Beyond” from the latest album by the French duo Daft Punk. “It’s cool,” Afrojack said. “But where’s the hook? Where’s the drop?” Then he played one of his own unreleased songs. “Sonically, it’s not half as genius as Daft Punk,” he said. “But the kids are gonna love it, because it has all the elements they love.”
"I have no idea what I'm supposed to do with all of this money," [Afrojack] said...At the beginning of April, Afrojack flew from New York to Las Vegas to perform at XS’s fourth-anniversary show. He had hired a ten-seat Gulfstream G-IV, at a cost of thirty-eight thousand dollars. It was the latest splurge in a splurge-heavy few months: in February, he had bought another new Ferrari, which he totaled after forty-five minutes, when he hit an oil slick; in March, he’d rented an eighty-foot yacht in Miami to throw a first-birthday party for his daughter.
When Afrojack played his most popular song, “Take Over Control,” a column of waitresses appeared, carrying a thirty-lire bottle of Armand de Brignac champagne that a customer had just bought for a hundred thousand dollars.
Last year, XS earned more than eighty per cent of its revenue from alcohol sales. A bottle of Grey Goose that wholesales for forty-five dollars costs more than six hundred in the club—a markup of more than a thousand per cent. The biggest customers often spend half a million dollars on drinks in a night.
Afrojack liked the vocal line [of a song he was working on], but he wasn’t sure about the song’s structure. “It’s a thirty-second verse, a thirty-second pre-chorus, and a thirty-second chorus,” he said. “Is that right for a radio song?”
“You don’t go by time,” [songwriter Antony] Preston said. “You go by bars.”
Afrojack cocked his head. “What’s ‘bars’?”
In January, the Wynn announced its d.j. lineup for 2013. Calvin Harris, Tiesto, and Deadmau5 were all decamping for Hakkasan, and Skrillex had signed a contract with Light. Waits said that, despite his years of building relationships, it had all come down to money: Hakkasan would pay Calvin Harris roughly three hundred thousand dollars per show; Deadmau5 would earn even more. (Neil Moffitt, the C.E.O. of Hakkasan, declined to discuss specific figures, except to say that Waits’s numbers were “bullshit.”)
Here's a bonus excerpt:
Near the lip of the stage, a young woman in stilettos started dancing on the arm of a couch, and a busboy motioned for her to get down.
“I won’t fall!” the woman told him.
“You’ll fall,” he said.
She danced for fifteen more seconds, then fell.
That one's not sad, though. It's just funny.
[Image via Getty]