Cedric Gervais Is #Winning: Miami's Hometown DJ Prepares To Take Ultra By Storm
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.
Michael E. Miller Cedric Gervais at the 5th Street Gym in South Beach
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.
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.
Michael E. Miller Gervais at his Miami Beach home
"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?"