A tall, tanned girl in a tiny, light-brown fringed bikini can't stop dancing. Her pneumatic breasts undulate to the beat of explosive drums, synthetic blares, and well-timed drops. She's gyrated her way to the front of the 3,000-strong sun-drenched crowd that has piled into Encore Beach Club, inside the luxe Encore Resort in Las Vegas. Behind her, two tiers of ivory-colored cabanas rim a trio of swimming pools; to her left and right, tables cordoned off by velvet ropes are well stocked with Grey Goose and Patrón on ice. Sandwiched between guys in stylish swim trunks and an array of bronzed females with buff bodies, the girl in the fringes wags two index fingers to rhythms that originated in the brain of the Swedish House Mafia cofounder Sebastian Ingrosso. He stands atop a stage six feet above her, pumping well-inked arms in the air.
Up on the shallow riser dominated by a four-channel mixer as wide and as long as a carry-on suitcase, Ingrosso smiles like he's having more fun than anyone else in the place. With four memory cards plugged in, he pushes dials up and down and twiddles knobs, sending out demented whoops, beats, and bleeps. The 29-year-old dance-music savant downs shots of Jägermeister and coaxes the sweaty crowd to party harder at this start of Memorial Day Weekend, a four-day electronic-music extravaganza at Encore and its parent casino, Wynn Las Vegas, owned by the billionaire gaming mogul Steve Wynn.
Soon Ingrosso is joined by a pair of A-list exes—Reggie Bush (Kim Kardashian's former paramour) and Afrojack (Paris Hilton's recent flame), like Ingrosso a member of the international brotherhood of superstar DJs. They in turn hoist a couple of girls as a roar rises from the crowd and a fresh round of Jäger shots get drained. Afrojack does an enthusiastic shout-out, and Bush basks in the moment. A frequent presence on the Vegas club scene, the Miami Dolphins running back has tried to master the mixer, and he's been heard to joke, "Football is coming to an end and soon I'm going to be DJ'ing."
When Ingrosso finishes his two-hour-plus set, at around 5 p.m., the brown-haired, blue-jeans-clad Swede relaxes at a banquette backstage. One eye on the clock, he says, "In a few minutes, we head to the airport and take a private jet to San Francisco. Once we land, we'll get a police escort to a festival there. I do my set and then it's right back to Vegas."
Who could blame him for the quick turnaround? These days, top international DJs—reinvented nerds with monikers that sound more like computer-gaming handles than carefully crafted stage names—compete to get in on Las Vegas' gold rush, currently dominated by dance-floor aces like Kaskade, Afrojack, Tiësto, and Skrillex. Reports indicate that in-demand performers are paid $100,000 per hour. The truth, according to an insider with knowledge of the deals, is that the top rate is $100,000 for 20 minutes—$300,000 an hour. And more and more DJs are signing on for year-long residencies. According to Jesse Waits, the managing partner at the Wynn's $100 million dance club XS, this year's contracts add up to "almost as much as building a nightclub." These astronomical fees are being driven by sellout crowds, millions of dollars in bottle-service revenues, and a bidding war that aligns a quartet of Wynn's clubs against two outlets at the hipster casino farther down the Strip, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
Taken together, these six venues have made Vegas the bright, shining center of the electronic-music universe, exerting a magnetic pull on young, ultra-wealthy revelers who are known to party till 5 a.m. and fire it up at high-stakes gaming tables the next afternoon. As one devotee, a heavily tattooed 39-year-old physician from Denver who obsessively follows his hometown pals, the spacesuit-wearing mash-up artists Manufactured Superstars, explains: "I come here to escape the pressure of life. It calms the beast and makes nothing else matter." Later, at a table at the club Surrender dominated by a group of young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Dr. Tattoo gestures toward his hosts and shouts to be heard over the music: "Three of these guys are already worth more than $100 million."
It's no wonder then that the perma-tanned Steve Wynn invites deadmau5, the 31-year-old Canadian DJ of the moment, as famous for his moody disposition as for the giant mouse head that he wears on stage, to dine in his villa and test-drive his new 3-D flat-screen. This cadre of fleet-fingered artists aren't just the new rock stars—they're bigger than that. Transformed into spending machines who demand private jets, employ personal drivers, and gamble as hard as the whales they're hired to attract, Vegas' masters of electronic dance music have become casino royalty, like Frank Sinatra, Celine Dion, and David Copperfield before them. Only more lucrative. "When we booked Sinatra, we lost money on the shows and we hoped to make it up through gambling," says one longtime gaming executive. "With the DJs, we're making it both ways."
TOOLS OF THE TRADE: Above: Big-money bottle service is back in vogue at Encore Beach Club. Bottom: Cedric Gervais mans the mixing board at Marquee.