By Tess Eyrich | July 21, 2015 | People
Meet the DJ who’s managed to infiltrate some of Vegas’ hottest clubs, from Hyde to Marquee to Drai’s.
Performing an average of eight nights a month in Sin City clubs, Jim Saviano, known in nightlife circles as Savi, just may be one of the hardest-working DJs in all of Vegas. Earlier this year, he released two singles, a remake of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and a remix of Bebe Rexha’s “I’m Gonna Show You Crazy,” and will debut a new track, “Battle Cry,” with Rexha and Australian singer Havana Brown on July 24. Fresh off a flight, the EDM up-and-comer sat down with us for a conversation about his impressions on Vegas nightlife and plans for 2015, which include releasing a steady stream of original music, breaking into new markets (did we mention he’s also a fixture in San Diego, Austin, Miami, and Chicago?), and conquering the festival circuit.
Let’s start from the very beginning. How did you first get into DJing?
DJ SAVI: I was the opening bar manager of the original Hyde in Los Angeles back in 2006, when the resident DJs were AM, Steve Aoki, Sam Ronson—we had a bunch of people in there, but it was a very A-list, celebrity-driven venue at the time. With Hyde, I was working 80-hour weeks and killing myself, and I saw what the DJs were doing—Serato had recently come out and they were just getting into playing on laptops with vinyl—and I started playing around at the club on Sundays. I always had been into music. I started playing the drums at five and the guitar in eighth grade. Music has always been something I’ve been passionate about and it made it easy for me to pick up DJing pretty quickly.
Is there a moment that you can pinpoint in your career where you finally felt like you’d made it as a DJ?
DS: I got really lucky when Benny Benassi came to Supperclub in 2011. It was one of the first times that a big club in Los Angeles was bringing in a big DJ, and I’d been a resident at Supperclub so all of the promoters agreed to give me a shot at being the opener—it was a full house, and I got to play three or four hours to a crowd that was kind of like the pioneers of the big-room nightlife scene in Los Angeles. All of the promoters were there, which gave me the ability to showcase that I could play dance music for a big room. I started getting a lot of headlining opportunities in LA, and then I got brought to Vegas with SBE, which is ironic because they’d started me as a manager and now I was DJing the Hyde that they’d opened in Vegas.
One of your major releases of 2015 is a remix of Bebe Rexha’s “I’m Gonna Show You Crazy.” Can you tell us about it?
DJ: It was definitely one of the most challenging remixes, being that the original was very down-tempo, but once I rebuilt the vocal up-tempo and played with a few sound ideas it moved pretty quickly from there. I definitely kept the heart of the record but completely reinvented it with a very progressive makeover that I think people are going to love—it’s hard not to love Bebe anyway because she’s such a massive talent.
It was also ironic that I got this remix because I had just finished an original record for Havana Brown that Bebe and I are both featured on. This song is a game-changer for me and was awesome to be a part of. It’s also the first non-EDM/dance record I’ve done since I played in bands in high school and has opened a new door for me to explore again.
You’re talking about “Battle Cry,” right?
DS: Yeah, it's such a massive record. Havana is a pro and so insanely talented. I was lucky to work with her–making a cameo in the video was just icing on the cake.
How did you first connect with her?
DS: My cousin and I did a record under the name Valetto with Taryn Manning. I met Taryn through one of my friends, and she knew that I was trying to make music. She’s been a singer and songwriter for a really long time along with being an actress, and I’d been playing her music in the clubs in LA for as long as I’d known her.
She did a record called “Send Me Your Love” with Sultan & Ned Shepard. She played it for me and it was one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, so I asked her if we could work on it and she said yes. We did the record and she loved it, but Sultan & Ned Shepard had a much larger name, so that’s the version that got pushed to radio and went number one on Billboard’s dance chart.
From there we made a lot of different records, just trying to find our sound—some hard records, some super progressive records, and some pop records. I met Havana back in 2009 or 2010, when she came into the U.S. and was talking about her first single, “We Run the Night,” which we remixed. We talked about working on something together since, and “Battle Cry” finally gave us that opportunity.
And are you still making music with Valetto nowadays, or are you focusing more on Savi?
DS: About a year and a half or so ago, I decided that I wanted to rebrand Savi and recommit myself to making my own music focusing on more melodic and vocal-driven content, which to me is always going to be timeless music, while also not staying married to any one genre. When I decided to start putting 100 percent into Savi, I had to stop putting in nights playing the cool-kid clubs in LA. I was stuck being a DJ in the kinds of clubs where you’re told to play certain records because a table came in and the client wants to hear them. I felt like I was more of a musical puppet than the artist I wanted to become. That was hard because it meant that I was going to be giving up a lot of money—it was my primary source of income—but I felt like if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t grow.
Leaving LA also gave you the chance to spend more time in Vegas, we’re assuming?
DS: And I started playing with a lot more guys in Vegas because I was doing a lot of support shifts. I got to play with everybody from Avicii and Kaskade to Calvin Harris and Tiësto, as well as hear a lot of different DJs and what they play at certain times. It was really cool for me because I got to not only play my own stuff, but also hear these other guys test out new stuff or new records that might’ve been big on radio but didn’t necessarily work in a club or live set.
Vegas is a great place to try new music out because you’re getting people from all over the world together in one room—that’s one of the best benefits of playing in Vegas, just getting to see how all different kinds of people react. What’s really cool is that I get to take a record I might’ve finished that day and go play it in the club that night and get an immediate response, like I did with my upcoming record with ATB and Lema, or while I’m developing a record, like I am right now with Dave Audé and Nervo, I can get people to listen to what I’m working on and get feedback. It’s very, very beneficial to be a working DJ while you’re making music because you can get an immediate reaction. But still, I do get pigeonholed as a DJ because whenever we try to go into new markets, the question is always, “Well, how many tickets does he sell?” Unless you’re also making your own music, you’re going to be limited as far as the kinds of rooms that you can get into, regardless of playing great venues in cities like Vegas.
Where do you see the dance/EDM scene heading over the next few years?
DS: Live acts are going to be really important. I think you’re going to see a lot of new artists that are coming into the scene with the ability to sing while they’re DJing, or bring in bands or live instruments. It’s going to go back to involving some type of live play—I don’t necessarily know to what extent, but I don’t think it’s going to go back to the format where there’s a DJ booth hidden in a corner. If anything, artists’ shows are going to need to continue to get bigger because people have seen a lot, and they’re constantly needing to be entertained.
PHOTOGRAPHY VIA JIM SAVIANO