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A Weekend at DJ School

As a DJ and clubbing writer, and avid rave enthusiast, I felt I really should know more about what goes on behind the decks. Also, the other guys on the Clubbing desk do a spot of mixing, and I’m jealous. To my delight, the lovely (and brave) people at Point Blank agreed to take me on and show me a thing or two on their intensive weekend course. I failed to inform them of my lack of co-ordination skills (sober at least) and low concentration span, which time and time again has been the bain of my existence. But no matter…

At the college we’re put into an intimate sized studio (not in estate agent terms), kitted out with six sets of vinyl decks, control desks and CDJs. We all sit in a circle. “What is your name and why are you here?” There are various reasons: one guy, PJ, is apparently “married to hip hop”, much to the dismay of his wife. One lady, a die-hard Prince fan, has been to the Scratch Academy in New York, where pretty big hip hop names take time out to tutor. It was all lost on her though: “Er, he was famous,” she recalls, “but I can’t remember his name”. Then it comes to be my turn and I have to consider how my broad taste confuses people. I opt for “techno… electro.. etc”. To my relief, it doesn’t seem too unreasonable.

So, first up: identifying the first beat of the track on vinyl and bringing in the two tracks together. Speed settings on 33, NOT 45: check. Headphones on: check. So, I work the vinyl around to find the initial beat. This is where I wish I was ambidextrous, or even slightly co-ordinated. Bringing both tracks in on the first beat is hard! It involves a lot of slight taps and nudges to steady them down to the same speed, but after a lot of nudges and pull backs, I’m there… for about ten seconds. Something clicks within and it’s a good feeling. But that’s only a second, and if I stop to appreciate, I’ll lose track of it all. Luckily Ben approaches to check it out before I throw down my headphones in a fit of rage, and reminds me to breathe. It shows I’m passionate apparently. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

Back in the afternoon, we’re onto cueing and drop-mixing, switching between tunes but maintaining the structure of the phrases. I switch to CDJs, just to have a go really. Life is a zillion times more manageable on a CDJ – that’s not to say it’s easy, just manageable. I have a track I can’t for the life of me identify, and the instrumental of ‘Precious Love’ which has nice thick beats perfect for drop-mixing a teaser in whilst the other one flows smoothly. All I have to do is give the CDJs a gentle nudge for them to catch up, rather than the ‘push-pull’ method on vinyl. Cross-fader switched and… drop. I’m having a party over here!

Day Two sees us move onto little aspects like effects: echo, vibrate, and flanger. You what now? It seems to transform tracks into some ridiculously warped, echoey shadow-sound. I’m back on the vinyl, and playing around with some effects to mix it up a little, and it does a good job for disguising ever so slight errors/ miss-timings (ahem).

A lady is unwittingly making me laugh by asking “Do DJs sing? What if a DJ wants to sing during a set?” and I guess all this learning has got me all overtired. Ben breaks into a beatbox, and also goes for a bit of scratching. We’re all kind of enchanted, in the same way hyperactive six year-olds are by balloon animals. A round of applause!

I’m a long way off, but I feel like slowly but surely, and with a lot of practice, I could get the hang of this. Like learning to ride a bike, eventually it’ll become automatic, and that’s when you can get drunk and enjoy it with the crowd. It’s also kind of an addictive feeling when you grasp something: when it gets to 7pm and time to leave… I really just don’t want to. Dammit, I want decks for Christmas. Anyone?

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