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DJ Avi: Behind the decks

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For those who have spent a night out on Iowa State’s fabled Welch Ave, chances are you’ve grooved to the beats of Avi Devan, more widely known across campus by his stage name, DJ Avi.

Avi Devan, a senior studying actuarial science at Iowa State, said he has always possessed a deep love for music. Devan, a first generation immigrant, was born and raised in Waukee, Iowa following his father’s emigration from his home country of India.

Avi’s father Raj began mixing at the age of 17 after moving to the United States to pursue his doctoral degree in pharmaceuticals at Drake University.

“He always had a passion for DJing, so ever since the age of like four, we always had turntables and music playing… I was always surrounded by music,” Devan said.

DJ Avi and his father, DJ Raj, performing a set at AJ’s Ultra Lounge

Devan’s father Raj eventually became the owner of his own pharmacy before selling it off and shifting his focus solely on his newfound business and passion, Eclipse Entertainment.

“I never really thought of myself ever DJing, but then one day freshman year, when my dad was DJing the bars… He told me to come in and I started watching and getting more involved,” Devan said. “Eventually I picked [it] up, and I picked it up fast, and ever since like a year ago, I’ve been doing it and made a lot of strides.”

Devan’s DJ journey began after his father invited him to AJ’s Ultra Lounge on a Thursday mug night to help with the lighting displays.

“I said sure, so I started doing lights. When you’re working with the lights and programming them to the drops and the color changes, you kind of have to learn to recognize songs and patterns,” Devan said.

Devan continued to help his father out with lighting and eventually began managing the social media accounts for AJ’s Ultra Lounge.

“You know, I did a lot of extra stuff just to be surrounded by the DJs that are playing there,” Devan said.

After working various jobs around the bar to immerse himself within the scene, Devan finally got his chance.

“One day, the DJ just stepped away and was like, ‘Hey, you should play,’” Devan said. “At that point, I had maybe like one 30 minute session on how to DJ basically… like I had just recently seen a controller in front of me.”

DJ Fito, a mentor of Devan and the DJ who provided him his first opportunity, asked him to mix a few quick songs while he stepped away for a moment.

DJ Avi at Basslands Music Festival

“He’s like, ‘You’re doing good,’ and then left me for two hours to fend for myself with just a mixer and computer,” Devan said. “He basically just threw me into the deep end and that’s how I learned, that’s what I credit to being a very fast learner; the fact that these DJs are willing to risk their own sets just to let me play and have fun.”

And so, DJ Avi was officially born.

“When I first started DJing, it was the creative aspect of it. I always had a creative mindset growing up,” said Devan. “My major is very math and stem focused, so having that outlet to be creative was really fun.”

Since his first experience, Devan has gone on to perform sets all across the midwest in venues including Iowa City’s Gabe’s and Voodoo Lounge in Des Moines.

While Devan aspires to one day play sets across the world, he possesses a deep appreciation for his Iowan roots. 

“I love Iowa and if I were to ever blow up as a DJ, I definitely want to center back to my hometowns, which are Ames, Waukee and Des Moines.” 

While Devan cites several cities in Iowa as his home, he said he believes Ames possesses something very special on Welch Avenue.

“The character, the friendliness… After DJing for a while the people get to recognize your face and when they come up they say ‘hi,’ it kind of feels like a family,” Devan said. “It’s still an ecstatic feeling seeing my friends come out and support me, seeing them dance and smile to the music I make… that’s my favorite.”

While Devan has quickly become a recognizable face within the Welch Ave community, his DJ endeavors have not always been easy.

Shortly after some of his first sets at Mickey’s Irish Pub, Devan began receiving direct messages from patrons via the bar’s Instagram, which he managed, saying that they weren’t enjoying his sets because they were too high energy and rave-like. 

“I’d been really down about it and I didn’t know if I could continue. I really wanted to give up because I was like I can’t do this,” Devan said. 

DJ Avi at Wellman’s Rooftop & Pub

Devan was ultimately determined not to give up and a few weeks later, he performed what he regards as one his best sets of his career.

“It got so crazy and so insane that I jumped on top of the DJ booth and was dancing, and like everyone was recording me… it was just like an insane vibe and just good feelings.  I was dancing, the crowd was dancing, it didn’t really matter what it was playing, it was just a fun time,” Devan said.

Throughout his time DJing on Welch Ave, Devan has picked up on what songs to play, and which to avoid.

“There’s about 20 tracks that you’ll always have to play at the Ames’ bars,” Devan said.

He stated that some of the songs that top the list of student favorites are Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA,” Mac Miller’s “The Spins” and “Goldigger” by Kanye West.

“I always like ‘Party in the USA,’” Devan said.“My dad hates that track, so whenever he sees me playing it, he always gives me crap for it, but I love that track,” Devan said.

When reflecting on his influences, Devan has a long list of mentors that he accredits to his success to. Some of his most influential mentors include his father DJ Raj, DJ Fito and DJ MXR.

In addition to his DJ influences, Devan said he extended his appreciation to Ben Singh, the owner of AJ’s Ultra Lounge, BNC Fieldhouse and Mickey’s Irish Pub for giving him the opportunity to play at his venues.

“I owe a lot to those people… giving me the opportunity to learn, ask questions, be curious and kind of just let me into their space whether that’s opening for them or even just watching their sets,” Devan said. “Honestly, I couldn’t have done this alone. I’m very fortunate.”

DJ Avi at Mickey’s Irish Pub

When asked about what advice he has for aspiring DJs, Devan emphasized the importance of originality and self confidence. 

“Start on your own. Be your own person. Figure out who you want to be first. Don’t focus on the bars and clubs, TikTok and social media,” Devan said. “Grab a mixer and make some music that you want to mix. Once you find out who you want to be you need to stick to that person and continue to play those tracks.”

Devan also emphasized the importance of growth and determination advising those interested to not be afraid failure or to ask for help.

“Don’t be focused on what the crowd wants or what the clubs want or what’s going to get you gigs. Focus on what makes you happy and makes you smile, because at the end of the day that’s what’s going to make other people happy,” Devan said.

Looking towards the future, Devan hopes to continue to stay involved in music, whether it be DJing, working in the entertainment industry like his father or somewhere in between. 

“You know if I was to win the lottery and have all the money in the world, I would make a venue for people to enjoy music for free, you know, and have nights catering to specific people,” Devan said. 

Devan’s sister, four years the younger, was diagnosed with down syndrome and is one of his biggest inspirations in life.

“To you know, travel the world and spread the music that she enjoys and listens to, that would be my biggest dream… making money off of my music and starting a nonprofit for kids with disabilities,” Devan said.

Devan stated that she has also has a deep love for music and is the reason that he continues to pursue his career.

“That’s what I want to do. It’s my dream to basically become a big DJ, then donate all my money to kids with special needs, like my sister who can enjoy music and follow whatever dream that they want, whether that’s being a doctor… or being a DJ,” Devan said.

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