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By Tom Murphy
Madonna opens up her latest full-length CD -- the ten-million-plus-selling Music -- with a small request: "Hey, Mr. DJ," she says, "put a record on. I wanna dance with my baby."
While the Material Girl's intentions are never easily deciphered, she seems to be addressing one Victor Calderone, the current darling of the nightlife circuits in New York and Miami who's scheduled for a May 12 turn behind the wheels of steel at the Denver club Pure. Calderone's dark tribal mixes have spiced up Mrs. Ritchie's singles for three years now; as a result, he's become something of a remixer to the stars: Past clients include U2, Elton John, Sting, Towa Tei, Art of Noise, k.d. lang and Garbage. So just what will possess one of the world's hottest DJ phenoms to make a stop in our little flyover state? Chalk it up to a turf battle in the Mile High City's escalating "celebrity DJ" wars going on in local clubs -- this one going hands down as a victory for the Five Points hotspot. And though Calderone is enjoying his status as the man who's captured the most coveted DJ gig on the planet, his career sprang from humble beginnings -- sort of like Madonna herself.
"I grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and the very first gigs I did were basically neighborhood house parties -- you know, friends of friends and sweet-sixteen kind of things," Calderone says. "I was just a mobile DJ, making tapes and passing them around the neighborhood."
Based on the word of mouth generated by those tapes, Calderone, now 33, secured his first professional round in a DJ booth at Brooklyn's now-defunct teen hangout the Bay Club in the late '80s. He modeled those preliminary sets on those of his favorite Manhattan DJ, Jellybean Benitez; when Calderone was as young as fifteen, he'd haunt the then-famous mixer at Funhouse. This mid-'80s obsession seemed to forecast elements of Calderone's future: At the time, Benitez was the producer for and amour of Madonna, who had just secured a record deal with Sire Records bigwig Seymour Stein by cornering him in a hospital bed.
In his own early work, Calderone moved away from this formative period's funky freestyle sound and developed a trademark tribal groove influenced by early-'90s techno and mid-'90s hard house.
"The drums are where I start as a DJ," he says. "They're the foundation of the tribal sound that I create." The comment may seem obvious, especially after one listen to his recent Tommy Boy mix-CD release, E=VC2 Volume 2. Unlike other DJs, who sprinkled their mixes with vocals, synth washes and samples, Calderone's latest -- a followup to 1999's E=VC2 Volume 1 -- is a pounding, somber journey that rises to the rhythmic intensity of his celebrated gigs at the Roxy and Twilo clubs in Manhattan and Fire Island's notorious venue the Pavilion.
"I think tribal has so much to offer, even though there's no vocal content there," he says. "It still has so much soul and rhythm. It's that rhythm that captures you, pulls you in and makes you move."
Calderone's driving mixes attain a hypersexual friction, one that's been welcomed by clubbers over the last five years. E=VC2 Volume 2 manages to fold the ambient balladry of Mandalay's "Beautiful," the drum-and-bass kick of Luke Slater's "All Exhale," and the electro-pop of Madonna's "Skin" into one continuous, beat-driven frenzy. Whether you call it hard house or gay tribal, the sound is not for casual afternoon listening.
Calderone, who married his girlfriend of many years in 1999, has captured a fiercely loyal gay fan base with his signature beats. That affiliation has led to the most ambitious event of his career.
"For the first time, I'm producing my own event here in New York City for Gay Pride Weekend," he says. "I'm financing the entire event, and we're planning on having a really blown-out party here." The event will take place at the famous Hammerstein ballroom, across from Madison Square Garden, on Saturday, June 23. Any doubts that Mayor Giuiliani has stifled Gotham's ongoing experimentation with hedonistic expression -- or that Sydney, Australia, is stealing its Gay Pride torch -- will probably be put to rest by the event. "The theme of the party," says Calderone, "is Caligula 2001: A Roman Orgy. It's going to be a lot of fun. We're going to have this whole Imperial decor that should be very sexy, very Romanesque." The Caligula 2001 party will include Cirque du Soleil-type acts and even a performance from the Metropolitan Opera's orchestra, which will offer renditions of two tribal classics, including Brainbug's "Nightmare."
"I'm not throwing this event to raise money or to become a promoter," Calderone says, a logical caveat considering the fierce competition among such NYC nightlife promoters as Marc Berkeley and John Blair, Manhattan's pre-eminent gay Svengalis responsible for much of the schedule at the Roxy, Twilo and the Tunnel. "I'm really doing it to create some excitement, to have a big party and to give something back to the gay community. Gay Pride in New York has been okay, but it's been about the same two clubs, Twilo and the Roxy, for a long time. I wanted to have something new this year."