Sometimes you have to look backward to move forward. For DJ/producer Serge Devant, it’s about revisiting his early musical inspirations while maintaining integrity in an industry that often becomes stuck on a formulaic pause.
“When you have to play what everybody expects you to play, it’s not really art anymore, it’s just playing it safe,” Devant says. “Unfortunately some club promoters don’t see it that way. It seems like in this modern day and age, all the DJs become like jukeboxes—it’s always the same shit that everybody expects and wants to hear.” While he’s happy to see the scene growing, Devant, who headlines Bazaar, Chateau’s new Saturday night under the Eiffel Tower, on March 31, laments that, save a few tracks here and there, it’s not quality but quantity the newbies are getting.
We’re just glad someone of his caliber is finally saying what we’ve been thinking.
The Russian native first honed his skills in the booth at New York’s legendary Tunnel nightclub. But before reaching acclaim as a DJ and receiving ample support for his 2009 freshman album, Wanderer, he was just another kid watching his idols on television. “I used to make my own mixes on [VHS] tapes. I’d watch MTV, and if there was a song that I liked, I’d press ‘record,’” says Devant, whose idols at the time included KLF, Peter Gabriel, Depeche Mode and Pink Floyd. “That’s where all my inspirations came from, and that’s what the new album [Rewind] is all about. It’s about having some tracks that I liked when I was a kid and which pushed me to try dance music. And if I didn’t have MTV and make these tapes, maybe I’d have tried something else and I would have never become a DJ.”
From a reworking of the iconic KLF song “3 a.m. Eternal” to “True Faith” by New Order, Devant’s Rewind, which drops April 3, also includes original tracks such as the catchy “On Your Own.” “In this album I basically took some [classic] tracks and combined them with new stuff that I’ve been working on for quite some time, but maybe didn’t find a way to produce them,” Devant says. “It’s a nice mixture on this album. It kind of rewinds back in time to my inspirations.”
A pro at refusing to bow to the norm, Devant’s brand of dance music channels rock while remaining dance-floor friendly. He also manages this without giving in to requests from record labels that he incorporate typical sounds popular in everything else that’s selling. It seems to be working, thanks in part to his ear for strong singers including dance-music darling Hadley, Rachael Starr and Coyle Girelli of the band Your Vegas.
“I’m a fan of a quality vocals, nice texture and voice, and beautiful delivery,” he says. “I always want somebody who doesn’t sound like anybody else. It has to have an identity. I pretty much never follow the trend with the vocals; I don’t want to make something chipmunk-y, the really kind of cheesy voice that you hear everywhere else.”
So for the DJ who’s headlined gigs at Rain and Marquee, why don’t we hear from Devant more often in Las Vegas? “I don’t try to mold myself just to play as many gigs as possible or reach as many people as possible,” he says. “It’s really tough coming to places like Vegas that are commercial to kind of step out of that mold and be somebody, be an identity, because you’re just another jukebox with a different name basically. I’m not a big fan of that at all.”
Though Devant understands the commercial nature of Sin City, he aims to improvise in such a way that he might play a few of those “have to” tracks, but then work in something original he believes partiers will grab on to. “Generally, most of the people don’t really know what they want. They’ve been fed—and like—what you’ve given to them,” he says. “When everybody comes in and plays the same shit, how are you going to know anything else that’s out there that’s good? So it’s pretty sad in that way, hopefully they’re maturing and kind of realizing that.”