The Shapeshifter

From nightclub manager to turntablist to bootlegger artist, Jim Saviano is DJ Savi

If anyone should win an award for having the most unexpected career path it’s Jim Saviano. This Midwestern altar boy grew up to become the opening manager of Hyde in Hollywood—a job that thrust him into a scene where the Olsen twins, DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Kanye and Jay-Z were regulars, and where it was commonplace for Britney Spears to shut down Sunset Boulevard out front. Fast forward eight years and Saviano has emerged as DJ Savi. He’s become an L.A. staple, playing “it” clubs, and is now poised to rock the Las Vegas scene. In advance of his inaugural show at Marquee on January 25 with Jochen Miller, we’ve got his take on music and the scene.

You’re a fixture in L.A., but a relative newcomer to Las Vegas. Why should we take note?

What is happening right now is most DJs are trying to become bigger entities and transition from DJ to artist, but are distinguished by content. The way I’ve distinguished myself from being an open-format DJ was to make mash-ups and bootlegs. Almost every track I play is a mash-up or bootleg.

And that’s what Las Vegas wants?

Everything is steering super-commercial, and if you aren’t a ticket-selling DJ then you need high-energy performances. I play Tommy Trash tracks with original vocals that nobody else has heard. I mash-up Otto Knows’ “[Million] Voices” with “Titanium.” If you can do this for three hours then I think there’s a place.

Marquee is known to be more house/tech-heavy, though, than open-format.

I play very commercial, house-heavy sets, similar to what their resident Lema does. My first big break in L.A. was in March 2011, when I opened for Benny Benassi. That was one of L.A.’s first commercial shows with a big house DJ. I went on at 9 p.m., and the place was at capacity by 11. I stayed away from Benny’s stuff and he hung out and watched me for 40 minutes before he came on. I went on to play with Paul Oakenfold, Kaskade and Afrojack. Everything was a learning experience on how to drive the room and entertain.

Is Valetto your alter ego?

It’s a collaboration with my cousin [that] we started in 2012. Savi was branded as an open-format, house-heavy DJ, and I wanted to start something solely as an artist. I like the separation because when I play [L.A.’s] Greystone Manor I play 30 percent hip-hop and 70 percent house. As Valetto I play my own content and DJ for our fans. Ted Field’s [Interscope Records] has gotten behind us, so we’ll get radio play for our new songs, which really helps.

You co-host a popular Australian radio show, Hot Hits Live From L.A. How’d you land that gig?

I’ve been doing that for about three years. We are syndicated in 85 cities to 2 million people and bring a taste of Hollywood to Australia. We talk about what’s cool in the clubs in L.A. and the celeb scene. People are obsessed with Hollywood, and they were looking for a DJ with a personality. I had worked with Carson Daly, MTV and all the major clubs, so they knew it would be honest and authentic.

I heard The Wanted performed while you were DJing the US Weekly AMA after-party at Lure in Hollywood.

[Laughing] I was surprised how interactive they got with the audience. One of them brought a girl up onstage. He picked her up, grabbed her butt and made out with her for at least a minute, then comes over and said, “That was my first Asian!”

Any other celeb dirt?

Johnny Depp is going out a lot now, and when you see him out at Greystone with Marilyn Manson it creates a crazy energy. Kanye West also asked/demanded that I play all Kanye and Jay-Z, saying “kill it with the Kanye hotness.” That was at Apple in West Hollywood and was exactly what you’d expect him to do. He was there, and everybody knew it.

What is country house?

[Laughing] It doesn’t exist! I don’t play country, and someone who loves country asked me to play it, so I said I don’t play country house.

So requests should be left to Kanye?

It’s really frustrating that the bottle buyer has a tremendous amount of power to request a song if they are the right clientele. Some of these guys are good for a couple hundred thousand, a million or frequent the club, so the club really tries to get their requests played. If you won’t play it, sometimes they will just play [it via the club’s sound system] and that’s crazy! Crossing over from a DJ to artist, my job is to read the room and please the various table clients. At Lure on New Year’s Eve, I gave in and did some hip-hop because so many tables wanted it.