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November 28, 2014

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Q+A: Surrender, EBC exec Sean Christie: ‘People all over the world know Las Vegas is the best’

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Erik Kabik / Retna / ErikKabik.com

Sean Christie is flanked by Macklemore, right, and Ryan Lewis during Surrender’s third-anniversary celebration Thursday, June 6, 2013, at Encore.

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Skylar Grey, Andrea Wynn and Sean Christie attend Andrea’s first-anniversary celebration Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Encore.

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DJ Calvin Harris, center, celebrates his two 2012 MTV Video Music Awards wins at XS in the Encore with Jesse Waits and Sean Christie.

With Memorial Day Weekend just nine days away, Encore Beach Club and Surrender Nightclub get ready to celebrate their fourth successful anniversary and head into a fifth season.

Despite new clubs and venues popping up and planned for the Strip, EBC still breaks year-to-year records as the dominant luxury dayclub and added 25 percent more staff this season and 10 percent more seating. Surrender placed fourth on the Top 100 revenue rankings of Nightclub and Bar’s 2014 list.

At the helm of this success story is managing partner Sean Christie, who also oversees executive chef Joseph Elevado’s Asian hotspot restaurant Andrea’s named for Steve Wynn’s wife. He’s hosted celebrities including Lady Gaga, Kate Upton, Martha Stewart, Billy Joel, The Jonas Brothers, Matt Lauer and John Legend with Chrissy Teigen. Andrea’s was voted Best Interior Design: Restaurant at the 2013 Best of the Silver State Awards.

Sean’s newest project is a branding initiative for the resort sourcing and acquiring film, TV and publishing opportunities, the first of which is the Sony sequel “Mall Cop 2” starring Kevin James. The $46 million film is being shot almost entirely at the Wynn and Encore. A TV movie project for additional worldwide exposure is about to be announced.

Incredibly, Sean was just 7 years old when he helped his parents and grandparents at their family restaurant in Boston. He was literally hooked into the hospitality industry from day one. After high school where he threw parties, Sean began promoting and managing three nightclubs and bars in his Massachusetts hometown by the time he celebrated his 19th birthday.

Las Vegas called in 2000 when he flew here to help join the management team for the opening of House of Blues at Mandalay Bay. He’s been in Sin City ever since, first with the Light Group from 2001 to 2006 working on Jet, Light, Mist, Caramel, Stack and Fix and then with his own consulting company at CityCenter and Bare Pool Lounge at the Mirage.

Hotel mogul Steve tapped him in 2007 to create Blush, and that led to a partnership with Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla on Society Cafe at Encore there before the collaboration with Steve on the sprawling EBC and Surrender and their opulent 60,000 square feet of space. It has been voted Dayclub of the Year and Best Las Vegas Adult Pool Party.

It’s an impressive track record for the 7-year-old restaurant helper who by 2012 was named by Billboard Magazine as one of “Dance Music’s Most Influential Executives.” When I talked with him for our anniversary interview, he made it clear that he hasn’t slowed down, and his sights are set even higher with more innovations and new ideas to explore for future years.

His 21st century creative vision is already fine tuned as he expands his diversified roster of talent with R&B and hip-hop acts such as Grammy winners Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Ne-Yo and Akon in addition to EDM superstar DJs and producers Avicii, Diplo, Steve Angello and David Guetta.

You’ve been here now in Las Vegas almost a decade and a half, and boy has this city changed when it comes to nightlife.

Oh, yeah! When I got here 14 years ago, there were only about four nightclubs. The most popular one was Rum Jungle. Now there’s so many, I don’t even know how many there are.

But there were more regular clubs, smaller clubs back then, and now we’ve seen the advent of the megaclub. That and superstar DJs are the two biggest changes, yes?

Yes, I would agree. The clubs that were here in 2000 resemble nothing of what they are now. What cost $1 million back then is now $100 million. A big DJ booking for us back in 2000 was Grand Master Flash. I think he got a few thousand dollars at the House of Blues, and I remember thinking to myself then I couldn’t believe he got that much money. But now some DJs can pick up $250,000 in one weekend.

What does all that kind of money say about the state of the business?

If the crowds are there to demand that entertainment, and when thousands of people show up for it, then the pay is commensurate. Look at the top entertainers list every year. I think last year Justin Bieber made $90 million. These DJs can fill stadiums. They fill our clubs every weekend. I don’t know what Celine Dion gets or Jerry Seinfeld or Elton John, but I would argue that the DJs play to much larger crowds and thus bring a lot more people to town.

If Las Vegas isn’t No. 1 now, it’s certainly No. 2 in the world. It’s not as simple as supply and demand, but the enthusiasm around the genre of music, and I use the word EDM loosely and lightly, that’s kind of what the younger generations are holding and grasping onto.

Las Vegas was always about entertainment. It was the world’s capital with shows and singers years ago. Today, it’s nightclubs and only nightclubs, and we have the best in the world. People all over the world know Las Vegas is the best. People know they will be blown away here. Nobody else anywhere on the face of the earth is spending the $70 million like we spent on Encore and Surrender. This is the entertainment of Las Vegas today. We do it better than anybody anywhere.

Ne-Yo at EBC and Surrender

Ne-Yo is all smiles at Surrender on Friday, March 28, 2014, in Encore. Launch slideshow »

Will.I.Am Spins at Encore Beach Club

Will.I.Am spins at Encore Beach Club on Saturday, April 27, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Katherine Webb at Encore Beach Club and Andrea's

Katherine Webb at Encore Beach Club on Saturday, April 13, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Is it a chicken-and-egg scenario, though? What came first — the shift to the younger demographic or the DJ phenomenon and music change?

I grew up in Boston and was involved in the nightclub scene in the very early ’90s, and we were booking DJs. The first time I went to what is now Ultra in Miami, I started going to the Winter Music Conference and seeing top DJs from around the world DJ’ing. We certainly in Boston and in New York in the mid-’90s were bringing in DJs that were making $10,000 a night back then. It’s been around, but I think with the explosion of social media and the generation coming of age, it collided with the DJs and went mainstream in a very short period of time.

It was happening in a way on European beaches and on the Spanish island of Ibiza in the Mediterranean. Somebody must have said what goes on there really should be happening in the desert of Nevada?

When I first got here in 2000, DJs were coming into Raw. I had just come from Boston where we were doing those kinds of things, so I immediately took notice, but it kind of died down shortly afterward. Even back in 2000 when I got to Las Vegas, people were talking about how Las Vegas was going to be the next Ibiza.

Nothing is forever, but when I really think of today’s version of EDM, I think that the superstar DJ business was started by DJ AM. DJ AM was the first DJ to come to this town and make a million dollars over the course of a year — about $20,000 a gig. Paul Oakenfold brought Perfecto to Rain, and the popularity of that was so high.

When we were opening Surrender and Encore Beach Club, I decided to have Steve Aoki on Friday nights at Surrender and call it Aoki’s House and see if he’d be the music director. When I did the deal with Kaskade to do 16 out of 21 Sundays when we opened Encore Beach Club, that was kind of our answer to the genre, and it really just started taking off.

Once we opened Encore Beach Club and we were having huge crowds, we could see people were coming to see Aoki and Kaskade. There were skeptics on whether we could pull off the day and night thing in the same venue. I think we pulled it off because of the Wynn brand, but also because we offered different types of entertainment that people in town weren’t doing on a nightly basis in the form of the DJs and EDM.

So you get credit for putting the package together as a weeklong entertainment schedule year round?

Mike Fuller, Michael Morton and George Maloof at the Palms were about a year before me doing it in Rain. That was when the bidding wars began to heat up over the superstar residencies. AM kicked off at Body English in 2004 and then Pure in 2005 when a lot of money started being spent and people began realizing this was the new entertainment of Las Vegas.

And that bidding war, because there were few great big-name DJs, is what sent the paychecks sky high?

We opened Jet with the Light Group. That was really one of my first projects that I did. That was kind of my baby. We did something called three rooms, three sounds. The main room was open format, and the side room was house music, which people now refer to as EDM. The house room was small and only held about 200 people, but those guys were still coming to town, Deadmau5, Steve Angello, and they weren’t as popular right then.

We had segued out of the early 2000s and then just as it began finding its feet in a big way, nightclubs were hit with the recession. Overall, though, the industry has grown. It’s become the most dominant driving force of Las Vegas and grown by double-digit percentages since 2000. It continues to grow. First it was the nightclubs. Then came the pools and the dayclubs. They fed each other and literally doubled the revenue.

You couldn’t ask for a better industry to be in; it’s exciting. There’s always challenges and competition. You are always thinking about tomorrow and never thinking about what you achieved yesterday. You are always planning one step ahead of your competition. You’re always thinking what new you can bring to the game to stay a winner. What more exciting daily challenge could you ask for?

Is more change ahead? Will there be more megaclubs, or are we going to see smaller, more intimate places to meet and talk?

The day and night business have become two very important components of Las Vegas. They are important revenues on the hotel balance sheet. Both are growing, the pool business especially. Nightclubs are now well over a billion-dollar business. Daytime pools with their nighttime hours may catch up to that figure eventually.

We keep our customers at both because they don’t want to leave. If there is a trend, it’s that there’s going to be room for the megaclubs and the arrival of new, smaller, more intimate clubs. The big pool clubs and dayclubs will be here for a long time for the younger demographic, and that will continue to grow.

But as they age, they will want to keep coming back to Las Vegas and want something a little quieter, a little more comfortable. However, this music is here to stay for a long time.

This is the new Las Vegas entertainment. We’re very proud and happy celebrating four years and moving into our fifth. We’re going to be here and growing for many more.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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