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To get to WKTU DJ Louie DeVito's home, you have to drive down the Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway. Finally, after an hour and a half (and a few stretches of no-left-turn split highways), you'll encounter a three-house cul-de-sac with perfectly manicured yards and recently washed Jaguars and BMWs parked out front.
While most downtown clubbers have never heard of DeVitohe doesn't have a residency at Centro-Fly or the Tunnelthere is an entirely different audience for whom he is a superstar. DeVito's most recent disc, N.Y.C. Underground Party Volume 3, released last fall on his own independent Elastik label, has sold roughly 315,000 copies. It is the unofficial all-time best-selling DJ mix compilation. He also recently started a late-Friday-night mix hour, airing just after Riddler and MTV's DJ Skribble on WKTU, 103.5 FM. The evening is tagged RSL (Riddler, Skribble, Louie) to take the piss out of MTV's TRL, and according to KTU is very successful.
In spite of all the success, or perhaps because of it, DeVito finds himself struggling for respect. Rather than carefully culling underground beats like other big-name DJs such as Sasha and Digweed, DeVito's mix series is an indulgent blend of bridge-and-tunnel club smashes, the sort of aerobicizing tracks where vocals are a prereq and the synth riffs are bigger than sprayed hair at the Jersey Shore. Undoubtedly, the biggest track on Volume 3 is a trancetastic take on Spice Girl Melanie C's "I Turn to You."
"I called it 'New York City Underground Party,' " says DeVito in his home studio, "but there's nothing underground about it to someone who's really into the scene. You have to define who you're asking. For your average KTU listener, they'd think this is very underground."
More significantly, DeVito inverted the hallowed DJ success paradigm, the one that clearly states that a DJ shall only release a CD (and then to generally modest success) after years of begging gigs at tiny clubs and working to headline at larger ones. DeVito was a Billboard success story before the club cognoscenti knew who he was. "This might be a strong statement, that I'm not respected as a club DJ. But that's how I feel. A lot of people say, 'Maybe you're not playing for a roomful of 30,000 or 40,000 people, but you're selling a ton of CDs. And there's probably not one DJ out there who isn't envious of you. They're playing to big rooms. But you're doing in one week what it takes them months to sell.' "
Sitting in his studio, DeVito looks every bit the contractor he likely would have become had DJ'ing not worked out. He is stocky in shorts, a tank top, and sandals. Around his office, in addition to a wall of vinyl and CDs, are the trappings of testosterone: shiny models of Porsches still in their boxes, a poster of Carmen Elektra (with butt cleavage), a row of books about baseball, an autographed photo of Giants star Lawrence Taylor, and a plaque commemorating the Subway Series. In front of the books is a picture of a shiny, bright yellow sports car in a wooden frame that reads "Louie's Pride and Joy." It's a sharp contrast to the man who held the sales record prior to DeVito, U.K. trance deity Paul Oakenfold.
Oakie sold 222,000 copies of 1998's Tranceport (Kinetic), a breezy blend of digital pulses and cotton-candy trance melodies. Ironically, Volume 3 and Tranceport share the track "Someone," all saccharine beats and yearning vocals. On Oakenfold's mix, it's the fluffiest moment. On Volume 3, it's just one more slice of cheddar on the cheese tray. Oakie boasts the ultimate DJ pedigree: He spearheaded the U.K.'s rave and club scenes and last year was named "The World's Most Successful DJ" by the Guinness Book of Records. Louie DeVito has a slight but noticeable Jersey accent and lives with his mom and stepdad not far from Trenton. Oakenfold's most recent headlining gig was at Creamfields in Dublin, where he closed the day spinning for about 30,000 people. DeVito's most recent gig was at a yacht club in Long Island ("They have a new Tuesday-night thing going," he muses). Oakenfold has done remixes for Madonna and the Rolling Stones. DeVito has never produced a track and doesn't really know how.
"He's not a mixer of any real consequence," says a marketer who requested anonymity at Kinetic records, the label that released Tranceport. "The whole Louie DeVito phenomenon, a lot of that was built around the strength of that Melanie C song. But at the end of it all, it is a mix record, and I guess with the sales on it, it has to be put in the same category as every other mix record."
Such begrudging respect has been fostered by some of the dance community because DeVito seems three parts businessman and one part music nut, more comfortable quoting city-by-city sales figures for his last album than talking about DJ'ing. Oakenfold played some 200 dates in the States when he released Tranceport, racking up incremental sales in each town. DeVito took a wholly different approach, targeting five major club markets (New York, Boston, Philly, D.C., and Miami) with 60-second radio spots that prominently featured the Melanie C track. "Every time we played one of those spots, we'd see the sales peak," says DeVito. Consequently, he wound up with the sales record based almost entirely on East Coast purchases.