ATLANTIC CITY — A single spotlight lit a path through the artificial fog of Mixx nightclub to the DJ booth where Tijs Michiel Verwest stood, his glittery headphones shimmering in the blue glow.
Behind him, massive screens flashing in sync with the pounding bass displayed his better-known stage name: Tiesto.
It was the second of two sold-out shows at Borgata earlier this month by the Dutch producer, who’s most often found globe-trotting to play packed stadiums.
“This is the closest we’re ever going to get to Tiesto,” said Paul Castro, of Atlantic City, a resident DJ at the club who was equally enthralled as he watched from the second level.
The show capped a year that brought a lineup of world-class DJs to Atlantic City as the popularity of electronic dance music surges in the U.S.
“There are so many people who are really embracing it that never did before,” said Gregg Coyle, director of nightlife for Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
Seeing this trend, Borgata started its “I Love House” music series earlier this year, “house” being the most popular style of electronic music’s countless sub-genres.
So far, the promotions featured a variety of premier electronic artists, including Tiesto, David Guetta, Deadmau5, Kaskade, Steve Aoki, Steve Angello, Sebastian Ingrosso, Laidback Luke, ATB, A-Trak, Dirty South and more.
Every show in the series has sold out. Tickets for Tiesto’s performances, which were $75 each in advance, were selling online for more than twice that amount.
But Borgata hasn’t been alone in bringing the world’s best disk jockeys to its nightlife scene this year.
In May, Calvin Harris headlined a 14-hour, 30-act electronic party at The Pool at Harrah’s Resort. Harris produced Rihanna’s hit single “We Found Love,” a song that currently tops Billboard’s Top 100 chart.
In July, Skrillex, a DJ and producer recently nominated for five Grammy awards including best new artist, performed at the House of Blues.
And on Wednesday, The Pool also brought in Roger Sanchez, a Grammy-winning and internationally renowned DJ and house producer for its “Official House Beach Bash.”
For many of these artists, it was their first time in Atlantic City. Only a handful of internationally famous DJs played here prior to 2011, including Paul Oakenfold, Paul Van Dyk and Carl Cox.
The shows, whether in a concert hall or a nightclub, are more than the artists plugging in their iPods and loading a playlist.
The best can seamlessly mix the music live, controlling the speed and pitch, adding distortions and filters, and selecting songs based on the energy of the crowd.
People in the industry attribute its recent success to a variety of factors, leading among them a continued collaboration between electronic artists such as David Guetta and mainstream pop acts like The Black Eyed Peas and Usher.
Whatever the cause, the ability of popular DJs to draw crowds to their live shows is undeniable.
Example: Tiesto’s newest music video, “Maximal Crazy,” shows him performing at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas this summer, a festival of electronic DJs with an attendance of 230,000 people over three days.
He also regularly performs in the summer at Privilege in Ibiza, Spain, the largest nightclub in the world, with a capacity of 10,000.
By comparison, the capacity at Borgata’s Event Center is 3,200. At Mixx it’s 732.“
As it relates to our customer base, these guys are extremely loyal,” Coyle said. “They buy tickets way in advance, and they get here first in line even if they have tickets. They’re so passionate about what they do.”
Howard Weiss, the regional director of nightlife operations, strategy and development for Caesars’ eastern division, said that means some of the biggest names in the business can be expensive to book. Some DJs making $40,000 a night last year are charging twice that now, while the biggest make $150,000 or more for a performance.
From his perspective, Atlantic City is actually just now catching up to the scene’s meteoric rise.
“In Vegas about five years ago, it was popping in and out, but it really started taking off in 2010,” he said. “This past year really showed it could be steady.”
Always plugged in
Of course, that hasn’t stopped smaller clubs throughout the city from fueling their dancing floor with house music. Lesser-known DJs are armed with many of the same hits and remixes, and they work them into their sets on a nightly basis.
This summer, The Chelsea Hotel worked with the Philadelphia-based promotion company Art of Electronica to debut “Delicious Sundays,” a weekly daytime party around its fifth story rooftop pool with regionally-known house DJs.
“It used to be more underground, but I see it actually taking over different clubs and getting larger,” Chelsea nightlife manager Darryl Logan said about the genre. “No doubt about it.
”The hotel’s C5 nightclub also debuted “Euro Night” on Sundays this past summer, featuring electronic music that’s big with foreign crowds.
Similarly, Dusk nightclub at Caesars has made house music a focus of the “Global Fridays” promotion it began in 2010. On Tuesday, Dec. 20, singer John Martin will appear at the club and perform “Save the World,” the Grammy-nominated hit song he recorded with the DJ supergroup Swedish House Mafia.
Logan said the crowds that usually fill electronic shows are out-of-towners, coming from New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., which Coyle and Weiss said is largely true of their shows as well.
Todd Rodeghiero, who co-founded Art of Electronica last year, said the city can easily attract electronic music fans from those cities if they market events the right way.
“Atlantic City stays open all night, and you have a lot more to do after the show,” he said. “At some point, New York shuts down, whether you want it to or not.”
Rodeghiero and Coyle both said they have big acts planned for 2012, but declined to name names.“
I think 2012’s going to be the strongest year ever,” said Weiss, who predicted that the new clubs at the Revel casino will focus on the house music market.
DJ Paul Castro agreed. In August, he opened at Mixx for Kaskade, who was recently voted America’s best DJ in a contest sponsored by Pioneer DJ.
Castro started DJing in 1991, and he’s been a fan of house music for a long time. Lately, he said he’s been getting a better crowd response from house than a lot of the mashed-up hip-hop and pop that dominated DJs’ playlists for years.
“I think this music has a lot more energy,” Castro said, “and I think America is ready for it.”
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