XS’ Party Has Just Begun

A stair-side chat with four Day One execs on the eve of the megaclub’s coming of age

John Wood, Yannick Mugnier, Jesse Waits, and Ronn Nicolli. Photo by Anthony Mair

John Wood, Yannick Mugnier, Jesse Waits, and Ronn Nicolli.
Photo by Anthony Mair

Five years is a major milestone in the lifespan of a Las Vegas nightclub. For the ones that hit this mark, it usually means time to rebrand and remodel, to introduce fresh ideas that keep the vibe going and the fickle clubbers packing the dance floor and buying tables. This is contrary to what happens on the international scene, where nightclubs become icons and rage on for 20 or more years. Without question, as XS in Encore celebrates its fifth anniversary, it has reached a certain level of maturity, expressed through the caliber of talent it attracts and consistency of its clientele. Vegas Seven recently sat down with a power quartet of the club’s top executives: Jesse Waits (managing partner), John Wood (senior executive director of VIP services), Ronn Nicolli (executive director of nightlife marketing) and Yannick Mugnier (executive director of nightlife operations)—all of whom have been there since Day One—to discuss the challenges, the secrets and the formula for true XS.

Photo by Danny Mahoney

Photo by Danny Mahoney

XS is approaching “institution” status, something other clubs in Las Vegas haven’t been able to do. How do you keep it relevant?

Wood: XS as a space is really the evolution of nightlife, especially in Vegas. Before we went to the inside/outside concept, everybody thought a nightclub had to be in a box.

Waits: And now that’s what the new normal is; you have to have a nightclub and a pool to be competitive.

Nicolli: We’ve essentially been the trendsetters from a design and atmosphere perspective, and then back in 2011 Jesse had the vision to evolve our business into the electronic-dance-music world.

Waits: In the first years you’re growing and you’re strong. You’re a novelty. The second year you kind of hit your peak, and then the third year you flatten out, and it usually drops like 20-30 percent typically in Vegas. What we did the third year, going to the fourth, is we transitioned and ‘owned’ every DJ. We bundled them up into our resort—into all the nightclubs—and it gave us this re-energizing effect. It was XS the pretty club, the nice club, the pool and all this other stuff, and then suddenly it was this electronic-dance-music nightclub. So it gave us a jolt. Obviously we couldn’t hold onto all the DJs because there were other nightclubs opening. You can’t keep 10 stars in one spot, because there are only so many days to program.

How have you managed to cultivate a loyal clientele?

Wood: We’ve had a 40-person team for years, and most of our people have stuck with us. We preach acquisition retention: We go out and find customers, and then we figure out how to retain them. So we send a host to [the prospective customer’s] hometown to hang out with them, to take them to dinner, maybe fly them to Miami, fly them to Chicago, and then we get them here and make sure they have the best experience.

There have been slow and subtle modifications to the physical aspect of the club. What are some examples?

Photo by Erik Kabik

Photo by Erik Kabik

Waits: Moving the DJ from the corner area to the center of the room on a stage.

Wood: Deadmau5 was eye-opening for us.

Mugnier: Everybody was excited about it. There was so much energy around the room. It was definitely a big change. The next week we were trying to think of building something different—and it’s constantly evolving.

Waits: We also upgrade the things you don’t [immediately] notice, like the lighting and the sound.

Wood: The hotel was willing to make major changes for us to accommodate our line out front; they took out a lot of the retail. It was tough to operate with the space that we were given, and so we needed that change.

Mugnier: Another major change was outside by the pool. We totally changed the seating area because when we opened, this place was supposed to be where people went to chill and a social experience. Now it’s totally different. It’s a nightclub experience outside.

What has been your most memorable moment over the last five years?

Wood: It would probably be the two-year anniversary with Deadmau5. Just walking onstage and seeing what had been built for him, and watching him go on for the first time and the lights go out, and the way the entire room just went absolutely crazy. The ground just shook when he went on.

Waits: We also added a ton of sound for that show. It was rumbling in here.

Wood: It made the hair on the back of your neck stand up just to see the crowd when he popped up. Everybody had their mouse heads on.

Mugnier: Sometimes on the same stage, at the same time, we’ve had Afrojack, Skrillex, Deadmau5 and Sebastian Ingrosso all playing together one after the other. You only see that here—it’s pretty amazing.

Nicolli: The first time seeing that 2012 lineup on a graphic; that’ll never be replicated. The lineup we had in 2012, there’s no way that anyone in the world could ever come out with that again. Seeing all these names together.

Waits: Deadmau5, Tiësto, Avicii, Calvin Harris, David Guetta, Afrojack, Axwell, Steve Angello, Skrillex, Alesso—we had every single star.

Nicolli: The stage area has become a real industry hangout. We have DJs who are no longer with us come back and hang out in that area because they’re so used to that environment.

Photo by Danny Mahoney

Photo by Danny Mahoney

Who are your celebrity frequent fliers?

Mugnier: Jeremy Piven.

Waits: Warren Buffet.

Waits: We had Tom Hanks. Leonardo DiCaprio. Rihanna. Every young celebrity comes through; athletes, boxers, UFC guys.

Nicolli: [Soccer star] Cristiano Ronaldo.

Waits: Katy Perry’s been in here a few times; we just had a party for her a couple of weeks ago, actually.

How come there are no women sitting at this table?

Mugnier: Actually a lot of the team is women, working at a very high level of the operation.

Waits: Our senior host is female.

Wood: [Natalia Badzjo] is No. 1 now in sales, too.

What is the XS philosophy?

Mugnier: We probably have one of the most welcoming doors at a nightclub. We are well known for that.

Waits: Clubs in L.A. and New York have hard doors. And then you’re lucky if you get in. We are an industry-friendly city, where we are happy to have you here. We want you in our club. We appreciate who you are, and we want you to come and spend money. We want you to be happy and go back and tell your friends that you had the best time of your life. And that’s been our policy from Day One.

XS celebrates its fifth anniversary February 15 with Dom Pérignon Champagne and a performance by Kaskade.