by bill kearney | March 12, 2013 | People
DJ Cedric Gervais has made his mark on the global dance scene.
Gervais throws punches as Florida state champion Niko Valdes practices defense at 5th Street Gym.
With grandfather Osvaldo Volpi at Gervais’s downtown condo.
Spinning before an ecstatic crowd at Story nightclub.
The Marquis building’s elevator opens on the 57th floor into a slick, airy apartment. I’m greeted first by Pucci, a prancing Maltese, then by an elderly Frenchman who had been watching a fishing show. Moments later, Cedric Gervais emerges from his home recording studio in the rear of the apartment. “Meet my grandfather, Osvaldo,” says Gervais. “He loves fishing.” Gervais, who grew up in Marseille, hosts his grandparents in Miami for three months every year. After deejaying as a teen at his father’s local clubs, he moved to Miami alone at age 16 to pursue his dream of becoming a big-time DJ. It seems he’s done well for himself: Last year’s Ultra Music Festival sensation, “Molly,” which Madonna infamously inquired about, was a Gervais tune; tonight he’s spinning with superstar Tiësto at South Beach’s latest It club, Story; tomorrow he has a gig in Los Angeles; and next week he will be at a festival in Colombia.
He plays some new music in his recording studio. “[My style] is not underground, it’s not commercial, it’s in the middle—it’s fun,” he says. “I play for the girls. If you have the ladies dancing, you have a party.” Part of his success, he says, is differentiating himself from everyone who claims the title “DJ,” an abused moniker in a digital world where “the DJ from the bar next door is playing the same tracks.” As a reaction, he produces his own original songs, playing 15 or so in a two-hour set.
He pulls up his current creation, a remix of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness.” “The first thing we work on are the [keyboard] chords behind the voice, then the progression built up [to a crescendo], and then drop.” The track indeed builds with layers of energy, like a ramp set to launch listeners into flight. When the drop hits, it’s easy to imagine a laser-lit dance floor of bouncing smiles.
3:30 p.m.—Quattro Gastronomia Italiana
We sit outside for a production meeting about tonight’s show with Jojo Lahoud, Jimmy Greenup, and Jona Araujo of Miami Marketing Group, the company that runs Story. Lahoud sarcastically teases Gervais about his lack of celebrity draw, when in fact Reggie Bush and Michael Bay will be there, and it’s Wilmer Valderrama’s birthday. As the Lincoln Road parade of beautiful people walk by, the table can barely hold a conversation without someone running up with air kisses or smooth handshakes. New York Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards says hello, as do a crop of models. We refocus. The crew debates whether going to Space after leaving work at 7 a.m. is grounds for a relationship drama. “How would you feel if your girlfriend went to Space and stumbled in at 11 a.m.?” asks Gervais. No one musters much of an answer. Lahoud challenges Gervais to a ski-off on their next trip to Aspen. (They both claim, with a wink, to be able to perform helicopter aerials.) The South Beach afternoon settles into a temperature otherwise known as perfect.
5 p.m.—5th Street Gym
Gervais is on a serious fitness kick after years of what he calls “living the DJ life”—drinking, sleeping late, eating massive meals, and suffering the lethargy of said cycle. He jumps rope with his girlfriend, Melanie Ribbe, before gym owner Dino Spencer works them through combinations on the mitts. Finally, it’s time to square off with an actual human. In a controlled session, Gervais punches as 178-pound Florida state champion Niko Valdes gets an opportunity to practice defense, bobbing and weaving as Gervais gets his bearings. The DJ is tentative at first. “It feels strange to hit someone in the face—or try to,” he says, winded between rounds. By the end of the session, he is more fluid and Valdes far more careful in his defense.
Gervais and Ribbe order steak tartare, polenta, and yellowtail crudo. I ask how spinning with Tiësto might change his own style. “I’m going to do what I do, but not overdo it. That’s disrespectful,” he says. “I’m not going to put on a show where I’m talking to the crowd—it is not my place to do that.” He fixes his silverware into precise alignment and Ribbe laughs. “It’s bad luck,” he says. He checks the score of the Heat game, then relays the story of his recent role in the film Pain & Gain: After meeting director Michael Bay, he was cast to play the DJ who introduces Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to his stripper girlfriend at a club. Bay wouldn’t give him his lines until he got to the set (quite unnerving), and Mark Wahlberg was eating every two hours to maintain the muscle he put on for the role. We dig into our tartare.
Down a Dumpster-lined back alley we walk, Gervais shaking hands with a security guard before we enter a basement hallway, the bass from the club resounding. Then it’s up an industrial stairwell, where we open a fire door to another universe: visceral waves of sound, lights dripping from the ceiling, a vast dance floor of fans facing the DJ booth. Backstage in the VIP area, curvy Miami girls in Herve Leger dresses and lanky models in loose tanks (never vice versa) pack around a bottle of vodka, orbited by older men—the testosterone therapy generation—and a sprinkling of local VIPs. Gervais hugs the opening DJ, consults the lighting director, tweaks the set of turntables he’ll use, and dons his headphones. There’s a baseline handoff of sorts—the music simplifies to a driving beat, and Gervais is on. A distorted saxophone kicks in, a dirty baseline. Lighting intensifies. A girl mounts a dancing platform, her hips a metronome. Now two girls, now three. The track builds, the crowd rises. They are his for the next two hours.
photography by Leonardo Corredor (opener); bill kearney (gym, Volpi, Story)