In Music

DJ Avets takes a quick break from selling and spinning records. (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

DJ Avets reflects on 25 years spinning retro records

Steven Watkins – aka DJ Avets – started spinning records in 1993 after his cousin gave him a few pointers on the art form. Early in his career, Watkins met a producer at the now-defunct Thai Joe's located in the basement of the Prospect Mall who gave him the name "DJ Avets."

"I was going by my real name, but he said that was corny. So he gave me 'Avets,' a variation of Steve spelled backwards," says Watkins.

Since then, DJ Avets has played thousands of gigs in Milwaukee and created a respected niche for himself as a vintage vinyl DJ. For the past decade, he's joined 88Nine's Marcus Doucette for "Sound Travels Live," every Sunday night at Nomad World Pub.

Watkins is a regular DJ at the Mad Planet's Friday Night Retro Dance Party – his next appearance is Friday, Feb. 22 with Sage Schwarm – and on Friday, Feb. 8 at Walker's Point Music Hall for Bob Marley's Birthday Bash. He also spins at Strange Town and Sabbatic, along with many other local clubs and taverns.

Watkins says the Milwaukee DJ scene is unique and one he's proud to represent.

"Milwaukee DJs are really supportive, not competitive – everyone knows everyone, there's no hustling. There's competition in other cities, but not here," says Watkins.

According to Watkins, the most requested songs during his sets are by Prince or Michael Jackson. "I don't mind requests," he says. "If I got it, I play it."

For every gig, Watkins limits himself to two crates of records – about about 60-70 albums. However, he does not find this limiting in the least, nor does it make him want to switch to digital.

"I actually like the limitation. I prefer it. It brings out the best in me," says Watkins. "DJing is very therapeutic for me – exactly the way I do it. It's what I look forward to. It's my life."

But Watkins says he most appreciates the effect his talent has on others.

"It's a good feeling to see people get onto the dance floor. Their emotions and their moods change because of the music I'm playing," he says.

Watkins grew up in Milwaukee and Chicago and graduated from Milwaukee's Hamilton High School. He currently lives on the East Side in a place he shares with "more than 5,000 records."

He also works part-time at We Buy Records in Riverwest, owned by fellow DJ and restaurateur Andy Noble, but says the majority of his pay goes right back into the merchandise.

"I collect everything, from rock to classic hip hop to reggae to ska to soul," he says.

DJ Avets is currently working on a collection of original music and although he's not sure when it will be finished or what he's going to title it, he's certain of one thing.

"It won't be on the internet," he says. "It will be on CD and will be given out by hand – straight to the people."

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