Cedric Gervais Is #Winning: Miami's Hometown DJ Prepares To Take Ultra By Storm
Cedric Gervais at the 5th Street Gym in South Beach
Michael E. Miller
Cedric Gervais lounges by the pool of his Biscayne Point bungalow in nothing but a pair of small white swim shorts and sunglasses. He is buff and bronze, with cheekbones like cliff ledges. House music ebbs and swells around him. It is 75 degrees and sunny. Add a couple of models, and this could easily be the scene for one of Gervais' viral music videos.
Life is good for Miami's very own mega-DJ. But it could always be better.
Or so Gervais believes. Hence the IV bag above him that's dripping a "medical cocktail" the color of pink lemonade into his left cephalic vein. And hence the tattoo in French on his other arm that translates to "Whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger."
Gervais is recovering from battle. Forty-eight hours ago, he was giving interviews in his hometown of Marseille. He's also about to return to the fray. Three days from now, he'll fly to Cleveland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and then back to Vegas to perform for hundreds of thousands of EDM fans. Then it's back to Miami for Ultra Music Festival before jetting to Australia, Asia, and Europe.
"It's like everybody wants a piece of me," he says. "My gigs are going crazy. But I'm not satisfied yet. I'm still working towards it. It's like, 'Great, I got a Grammy. What's next?'"
Few DJs are as driven as Gervais. The 34-year-old isn't as young as EDM whiz kids Avicii and Afrojack. Nor does he make a quarter-million per show like Calvin Harris, Tiësto, or Deadmau5. But he soon might. That's because the past two years have belonged to Gervais.
From the moment his controversial song "Molly" made waves at Ultra 2012, Gervais has maintained a grip on the Billboard charts. His remix of Lana Del Rey's "Summertime Sadness" dominated pop radio, went double platinum in the States, and racked up 35 million YouTube views on the way to earning him a Grammy this past January. His latest remix -- of Miley Cyrus' "Adore You" -- appears headed for similar success.
But even as Gervais is blowing up, he remains a mystery to most Miamians. New Times hung out with him ahead of his performance on the Ultra stage this Sunday. During our day together, Gervais weighed in on EDM's drug problems, slammed DJs who can't keep a crowd, unveiled his unreleased singles, and described his love for his adopted home.
"I feel so much love from this city," he says. "I feel like I represent Miami now. I'm a part of it."
Long before making it big in Miami, Gervais was just another Euro raver with spiky hair and EDM dreams. He was born Cedric DePasquale in 1979 in Marseille. "It's on the water," he says of his hometown. "If you look at a picture of Marseille, you'd say it's paradise."
But life there was far from perfect. His mother moved to Seychelles to live with another man when Gervais was 10 -- an abandonment the DJ has never forgiven. ("She wants to be part of my career now, but I don't know. You lose feelings. I don't really care -- that's the thing.") His father worked long hours as the owner of a waterfront bar.
Gervais at his Miami Beach home
Michael E. Miller
So Gervais was raised by his grandparents, Italian immigrants Osvaldo and Wanda (whose names are now tattooed on his arm and who spend winters at his Miami Beach home). Tall and athletic, Cedric initially tried taking the traditional French route to fame by playing le football. But his real obsession was music. Marseille was awash in techno in the early '90s. Wanda bought the teenager a Technics SL-1200 turntable, and Gervais began fiendishly buying records. His first vinyl was "Chocolate City" by the Iranian-American dub duo Deep Dish.
"All I wanted to do was play for a crowd," he says. "So I'd invite my friends over and pay them just to stand around." He quickly upgraded to real -- if still small -- crowds at his father's bar. Soon, it was summer stints at Papagayo, a popular club in Saint-Tropez.
It was there that Gervais caught his first big break. The owner of Parisian megaclub the Queen spotted him spinning at Papagayo and liked the 17-year-old's style. He invited Gervais to the City of Light.
"Imagine. I'm this little kid. I'm so happy to get a residency at the biggest club in France on the Champs-Élysées," Gervais says. "I move to Paris using all my savings... and they shut the club down."
It was the summer of 1997. French authorities ordered the Queen and four other of Paris' most popular nightclubs closed because of rampant drug abuse. Gervais had just turned 18. He had lived his dream for a month, and now he was unemployed again. He thought about returning home to Marseille. Then he got a call from a friend of his father's. "Come to Miami," he said.
"It's like my life was written, like every move I made was meant to be," Gervais says. "Electronic music wasn't big in America at that time. But for some reason, I felt like this was the place for me."
His faith in Miami would eventually be repaid, but not before five frustrating years. Gervais landed gigs at local clubs such as Liquid and Living Room but hardly spoke a word of English. People would complain he had ignored their song requests, when really he had no idea what they were saying.
The biggest problem, however, was rising through the ranks of other desperate DJs, many of whom would promise gigs and never follow through. "In this industry, everybody wants to see you fail," he says. "But this city was actually the thing that kept me up the whole time... It's not like I'm living in New York and it's minus five degrees... I go to the beach, I take in the sun, I watch the beautiful women walking on the sand, and I feel automatically better."
By 2008, Gervais had become a mainstay at Space Miami. One night he was spinning downtown when a familiar face approached him in the DJ booth. It was Sharam Tayebi from Deep Dish. A couple of months later, Gervais was touring the country with his childhood techno idols.
But when he did make his breakthrough four years later, it had as much to do with marketing as music. Gervais, who says he doesn't drink or do drugs, prides himself on staying on top of social trends. In 2006, he released the song "Pills," which seemed to glorify popping pharmaceuticals. In 2012, he crafted "Molly," an apparent ode to molly, or MDMA, the main component in the dance-club drug ecstasy.
The month before Ultra 2012, Gervais and his manager blanketed Miami in posters depicting a woman with duct tape over her mouth under the headline: "Missing: Have you seen Molly? She makes me want to dance." A QR code at the bottom linked to a music video featuring delirious teenagers kissing on a dance floor.
Then, of course, Madonna popped up on Ultra's main stage during an Avicii set and asked, "How many people in this crowd have seen Molly?"
Gervais in his home studio
Michael E. Miller
"I was in the studio when a friend called me and told me about Madonna," Gervais remembers. "I was like, 'Shut the fuck up,' and hung up on him. But then everybody started calling me and texting me. I was like, dude, this is really serious."
The shout-out was pure gold for Gervais' record sales, but it also plunged the DJ into a long-simmering debate over drugs in EDM. "It's like back in the days when Woodstock was happening and everyone was doing drugs," Gervais says. "It's there. There is nothing you can do.
"The song is about looking for a girl," he says. "So, OK, yes, it is the name of a drug and everything, but Jimmy Hendrix sang about purple haze, and the Beatles sang [about Lucy in the sky with diamonds]. It's music. It's not like I'm selling drugs or anything."
"Molly" made Gervais an Ultra legend, but it was his remix of Lana Del Rey's "Summertime Sadness" that launched him into the mainstream. The song became a worldwide hit. "We sold $5 million with Lana Del Ray," Gervais says. "We basically took a song that nobody knew and turned it into a worldwide hit. If somebody else can sell $5 million with a remix, let me know who."
The song earned Gervais an award for best remix at this year's Grammys. But success can be suffocating. Since "Summertime Sadness," everyone from Usher to Depeche Mode to the Killers have asked him to remix their tunes. So far, he has given in only once -- to Miley Cyrus. "At first I said no," admits Gervais, who met Cyrus at LIV. "I was afraid my fans would say, 'What the hell?' But I thought it was very cool for an artist to take the time to [fly down here]." A few months later, the remix for "Adore You" is now climbing up the charts.
But he's wary of becoming known as a remix man. "I think it's failure if you just say, 'Oh, I got a Grammy. It's great,' and then you don't think about next year," he says. "I want to win one for my own song."
Gervais is scheduled to release his third album next year. At a mixing board inside a small studio in his house, he presses Play on a song called "Broken Arrow." It's a synthy, hypnotic pop song about lost love -- in other words, a soon-to-be hit.
Then he plays a track featuring British singer Coco O, "Through the Night," a more indie-rock track than anything Gervais has done before. Finally, the DJ reveals his secret weapon: a single called "Hashtag," which he hopes will get this year's Ultra buzzing the way "Molly" did in 2012. Like its predecessor, "Hashtag" features a robotic female voice and an irresistibly catchy chorus. Gervais plans to shoot the video for the song at Ultra and promises appearances by Hulk Hogan and Adriana Lima.
After the studio, Gervais heads to a sushi joint in South Beach that just happens to have a larger-than-life photo of him in the window. "Someone wrote on my forehead," he says with a scowl. Which leads to a question: How does he deal with his detractors?
"It depends on what kind of criticism," he says. "If it's very mean and pisses me off, like if you start involving my family, then I get very upset.
"Haters talk shit every day," he says. "Like with Lana Del Ray. Her pure, diehard fans are insulting me because they think I ruined her song by making her music popular, and they want it to be their little secret. C'mon. Give me a fucking break."
If Gervais is angry, it's good timing. He pulls his black Range Rover up behind the 5th Street Gym. He heads here every day to box and lift weights. Gervais wraps his fists and steps into the ring with Olympic hopeful Niko Valdes. The 20-year-old gamely dodges the DJ's punches while throwing enough of his own to give Gervais a workout.
"He's number four in the country," Gervais pleads with owner and coach Dino Spencer.
"But you're the number one DJ," Spencer jokes. "Come on, hit him! He listens to Swedish House Mafia!"
After the bout is over, Gervais works out his legs while checking his email. "Wow," he says, staring at his iPhone. "I just won my lawsuit against Cash Money." The hip-hop label owes him money -- "hundreds of thousands," he says -- for sampling "Molly" without paying him.
As he slips out of the sweaty air and back into his SUV, Gervais says that despite his incredible drive, he doesn't want to DJ forever. He estimates he's lost 20 percent of his hearing over the years, and touring has cost him romantic relationships too.
"Traveling is very hard on a DJ," he says. "The day that I'm satisfied, I'm going to stop. I'm not going to be a Tiësto. I'm not going to be a guy 45 years old still DJing."
Back inside his house, Gervais' grandparents are watching The Dog Whisperer on Nat Geo Wild. Wanda sets out a plate of turkey and cauliflower for Cedric, but he heads back into the studio to work on "Hashtag."
"This is my moment," he says. "This is the time to work hard. Everybody has their eyes on me. If I think I've made it, then it's all over. But if I tell myself that I haven't done anything yet, it drives me."
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