'V' FOR VICTOR

by Matt Kalkhoff

It’s 4:00 a.m. and you’ve been on the dance floor for several hours under the relentless assault of an orgy of expertly layered percussive sounds and explosive vocals. You have to go to the bathroom, but you just can’t bring yourself to leave the floor. Maybe if the DJ brought things down a bit you’d be able to justify a break, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon. This is a familiar scenario for those of us fortunate enough to have spent a night dancing to the high energy sounds of Victor Calderone. His turntable wizardry and intense live performances have set new standards in clubbing, and he’s only just getting started.


Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Victor still calls the borough home. He just bought a house there with his fiancée, Athena, whom he will marry in September. Victor’s introduction to the world of nightclubs happened back when he was barely old enough to drive. His older brother took him to the Fun House in New York City where Jellybean Benitez was spinning. He discovered a passion for music that would pave the way for his remarkable career. Victor recalls, "That was it. I was there religiously every Saturday when the doors opened, from beginning to end. That’s when Madonna and Jellybean were really close and I’d seen her a number of times at the Fun House hanging out in the DJ booth." Little did he know that some 15 years later Jellybean would be offering to play for him at his wedding and Madonna would be hiring him to remix songs from her Grammy award winning album.


Realizing his calling at an early age, Victor followed in his brother’s footsteps and set out to learn as much as he could about the music industry. After a failed venture with a partner, he took a three-year break. Slowly, he motivated himself to get back in the studio and finish his first project, "Give It Up," a song that would eventually become one of the top dance records of 1997. Being shy and insecure at the time, he was hesitant to let others hear the song. Eventually, a friend convinced him to play it for the A&R staff at Eight Ball Records in New York. "I played it in the store and the response was just overwhelming," Victor says. "Everybody just flipped over it." Eight Ball later signed the record, Junior Vasquez worked it in the clubs, and Victor Calderone was on his way to an amazingly successful career beyond his wildest dreams.


Riding the success of "Give It Up," Victor started taking gigs around town. After playing a few straight venues and a couple of rave parties, Mark Berkeley got hold of one of his tapes and offered Victor a guest spot at Sunday night’s Boys’ Life in New York. This immediately turned into a regular gig and marked the beginning of this straight man’s metamorphosis into a gay circuit icon. "It flowed over into a couple of private parties on Fire Island that I had done that were just explosive, and then that’s when it just really started to take off and I really started to build a gay following," Victor explains. Since he prefers playing for gay audiences, Victor couldn’t be happier. He professes, "For me, it’s a much more educated crowd. They know the music much more and they go out for the DJ."


It wasn’t long before Victor’s talents caught the attention of nightclub impresarios Ingrid Casares and Chris Paciello. On the advice of a friend who worked with Victor in New York, Ingrid and Chris wasted no time in introducing South Beach to Victor Calderone. The 1997 post-White Party event at their club, Liquid, was without a doubt the defining moment in Victor’s career. A residency at both Liquid in Miami and Roxy in New York City followed, and once circuit party promoters caught on, all hell broke lose. Miami holds a special place in Victor’s heart though. "With Miami, I go there and it just seems like these people are here for the music. They walk in, they walk on the dance floor, and they are on the dance floor all night," Victor explains. "It’s very special to me. There are times when I come out there and the appreciation and love and response is just so overwhelming for me."


Not only has Ingrid provided Victor with a gateway to superstardom, but she continues to play a vital role in many of his business ventures. In early 1998, Ingrid convinced her pal Madonna to enlist Victor’s talents to remix her new single, "Frozen." His mix quickly rose to the top of the dance charts, and in less than a year, Victor had replaced the man who helped him break his first record as Liquid’s golden boy, Madonna’s remix artist, and the circuit’s most sought-after DJ. Not surprisingly, Victor loves working with Madonna. "She, as an artist, understands better than anybody [the need] to just let people do their thing, and that’s the way she’s worked with me. She just sends me the vocal and she doesn’t give me any guidelines. She just tells me to do my thing," he says. Careful not to compromise the integrity of the original songs’ vocals, Victor adds his unique arrangement of tribal sounds to masterfully create high powered dance anthems. If you like his latest creation, a remix of "Beautiful Stranger," as much as Madonna does, you’re in luck because it will surely dominate dance floors throughout the summer. "She loved it," he proudly declares. "She thinks it’s the best one I’ve done for her yet."


Madonna’s duet with Ricky Martin will be next. Victor is also teaming up with Peter Rauhofer of Club 69 fame for "The Collaboration," a remix project including an old Clivilles & Cole song, "Do It Properly," which will be released on Rauhofer’s new Star 69 label. "It’s going to be released as a single, produced by both of us," he divulges. That was really fun because I admire his work and he admires mine, and it was a great collaboration." Rauhofer has also been pulled in to help Victor with a new mix of Madonna’s "Skin." "It was something that I requested. I love that song and I really wanted to do it, so we’re gonna do that one together also," he adds.


As if all that were not enough, as part of a multi-album deal with Tommy Boy Records, Victor will be releasing his own compilation CD of carefully chosen remixes later this summer. Included on the CD will be one new original song that will also appear on a follow-up album of all new original material. Victor hopes that his success with Madonna will sway her to allow him to include one of her songs as well.


Victor is very careful these days to make sure that the proper releases are obtained before remixing other artists’ work. He learned a hard lesson last year when his remixes of Olivia Newton-John’s "Hopelessly Devoted to You" were shelved. Although he was paid for them, the remixes were never released because the person who commissioned them never obtained permission to remix the song. According to Victor, "Once the remixes were done, they just got caught up in this whole political mess. They never released them because they never wanted them done in the first place." Things with Olivia may not have worked out so well, but Victor is hoping to add the names of two other accomplished artists to his already impressive resume. "I’d definitely like to work with Bjork. I’d like to do a remix or a production. I don’t know how much of a reality that would be, but I’d like to do something for her; I really admire her vocal style and her work," he professes. "I’d also like to do something with Lisa Stansfield."


Victor’s studio work may have jump-started his career, but it’s his live performances that truly showcase his boundless energy and mastery of the turntables. The next several months will provide many opportunities to experience his magic. After the pixie dust has settled in Orlando from his performance at the MGM party during Gay Day at Disney, Victor will help the community celebrate Gay Pride in three cities: Los Angeles, New York and Toronto. His passport may also get quite a workout after the success of past performances at parties like the Sleaze Ball in Sydney and the Dolce & Gabana fashion show in Milan. But he’ll have to be back in North America in time for the Black & Blue Festival where he will join Marc Anthony and Abel at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal for the biggest gay party in the Western World. He’s not sure where he’ll be spinning on New Year’s Eve but one thing is definite -- it will be in Miami.


Things are going to slow down for Victor after Montreal. He’ll be spending more time in the studio, a little less time in the DJ booth, and hopefully, some quality time with his new wife. "I’d like to start producing and working more closely with artists that I want to work with, and developing a well-rounded and solid sound. I am still learning something new in the studio every day," he admits. "I’d like to definitely venture into doing soundtracks with movies. Also, having people hear a different side of me production-wise. I am very into doing ambient music, and down tempo stuff also. In the future I want to produce an album of that kind of stuff, sort of like Peter Gabriel’s ‘The Last Temptation of Christ.’" But don’t worry, this won’t compromise his signature, hard-hitting style, and he promises that he will not abandon his loyal followers. "DJing is a major release for me," Victor insists. "It’s something I need, I need it in my life. It goes hand-in-hand with the production work and the studio work. If you’re going to be producing dance music, you’ve got to be out there playing it and be in the clubs, so it’s very important to me."


While there is no questioning his expertise or how well he can work a room, it is Victor’s personality that is the real surprise. In an industry that is often shallow and harsh, it is refreshing to find someone who is as friendly, sincere, and down to earth as Victor Calderone. He truly appreciates his fans and he claims to have as much fun working as we have partying. "If it wasn’t for the audience and the fans, I wouldn’t exist, so I wouldn’t have any right coming off to anybody like I’m anything special," Victor modestly says. "I’m very grateful for all the support and everything that’s been going on in my life. It’s been amazing and I’m very happy." So are we, Victor, happy to share in your immense energy and magnificent music.


Copyright © 1999 / Matt Kalkhoff

This article first appeared in Miamigo's June 1999 issue.