Year One of Hakkasan: How Vegas Was Won
Opening as one of the largest club debuts in history could daunting feat, to say the least. In Las Vegas, nightlife expectations soar higher than temperatures of its summertime desert, the weight of pressure to perform is a magnification in comparison to the rest North America’s club-savvy cities.
“When we first brought the idea of opening the largest nightlife and restaurant venture the country had ever seen, a lot of people looked at us like we were out of our mind,” said Alex Cordova, the Vice President of Marketing of the Hakkasan Group, now a fusion of the Hakkasan and Angel Management Group business entities. “I think the hardest part was getting people not only to believe we would be able to do it, but that we would be able to do it successfully.”
Hakkasan Group had set out to establish a new standard in world class entertainment. The 80,000 square foot restaurant and club hybrid cost $100 million, a project that would spare no expense to differentiate themselves. Even with the survival of Sin City’s club wars non-guaranteed; established mainstays XS, Marquee, and others already well-entrenched in battle.
The challenge was a tall one. Vegas had become the center of a nightlife arms race, fueled by dance music’s popularity. The haven for entertainment had DJs skyrocketing as bookings, scoring top-dollar residencies that were only getting more extravagant. Competition, a bloodbath: in the dog-eat-dog world, each major player clawing to tread water, let alone pull away from competitors.
The former Angel Management Group (AMG) was tasked with developing Hakkasan from the conceptual development of the very beginning. Their approach: to create a better experience with such detail that speaks to the level of dedication and thought in the Hakkasan ecosystem for all parties involved. They focused on both artists and clients, and developed a program to successfully and completely satisfy both.
First order of business for AMG, to curate an artist roster that would become faces the Hakkasan, even its lifeblood. “When it comes to selecting talent, it is important to not only identify successful current headliners, but to essentially predict future trends as well. We attracted artists who could create the best events through their fan base and we also strived to engage upcoming talent to make sure we had a diverse evolving music policy when programing four nights a week,” according to James Algate, Vice President of Electronic Music at the Hakkasan Group.
This meant luring major talent away from the top current Vegas clubs, which enjoyed previous proof of concept as well as a comfortable working relationship with both the artist and their management. Hakkasan, somehow, needed a brilliant pitch to move the many of whom were comfortably making millions on current contracts (though rumors of massive residency fees could not have hurt).
The heart of the pitch went beyond the tangible benefits of the venue itself. The nightclub was not yet finished, and this ambitious of a product had still never been seen. There was no prior basis of comparison — none that could be effective in communicating what the club would entail upon completion.
Instead, the team focused on promoting the tireless dedication that defined what the Angel Management Group’s philosophy. They emphasized their core values: no stone left unturned in delivering the nightclub, raising the bar on what a nightlife experience should encompass. This was to be a highly custom experience for every DJ; pushing up against the cookie-cutter, glorified dance floors, DJ booth, and generic parties.
Slowly, artists signed on. First deadmau5, Tiësto, and Calvin Harris defected. Then next generation headliners such as Hardwell signed on. Still, with a future number one on board, they’re nowhere close to done — acts like Above & Beyond and Deep Dish would, too, join.
“The artists realized our drive and determination for creating the best platform in which they were able to showcase their skills then everything seemed to fall into place,” Algate explained, “we really welcomed the artists to play an integral role in producing shows that are uniquely their own.” Artists had their hands in the creative vision of their residencies. This would present varying, distinguishable experiences. Tiësto’s Club Life nights, for example, would be distinct from Steve Aoki’s Neon Future parties.
“Over the year that we have now been open we have seen the artists shows develop; where every night seems to be an exciting difference from the previous performance. The beauty of the space is that it enables them to keep an intimate connection with their fans in the main room which is something the artists thrive on.”
MGM has been well-rewarded for participating in this massive venture. Prior relationship with some of AMG’s established venues — including WET REPUBLIC, LAX Nightclub and the former Studio 54 — make for a more comfortable embarking of the endeavor — one that would require patience, trust, and communication. Since Hakkasan’s opening last year, both companies have already joined forces on multiple ventures including the most recent announcement of the global hotel management company, MGM Hakkasan Hospitality, a testament to the stunning successes enjoyed this year.
Hakkasan, though, is not resting on their laurels. Already eyeing bigger possibilities ahead, they look to target upcoming acts and experiences that will continue to push boundaries in dance music nightlife. More international venues, innovative programming, and more are in future plans. Hakkasan treats their journey as if it’d had barely begun, despite the overwhelming success. An approach that glosses over their stellar year, making for the foundation on which bigger productions would be built upon.