Thursday, March 08, 2007

DJ Lessons

I had my second DJ 101 class at the Scratch Academy. Definitely a lot fewer people this time around. Class one contained a surprisingly diverse group of aspiring spinners -- a grey-haired man in his late 40s, several caucasian "geek" types (myself included, for lack of a better category), a pack of asians who were drawn in by one asian woman, perhaps three black men and women, a large hispanic guy, a high school kid (who listens to Drum n' Bass non-stop in his head), and other women I would expect to come across only at clubs. But by class two, this had dropped by about half. The diversity had also dropped. It felt a bit like an unaired episode of Beauty & the Geek, except that the "Beauties" here were a smarter.

Class One:
After a preview of the movie Scratch (now in my Netflix queue), the teacher (DJ Hapa) and his side-kick gave a spiel about how the Academy was formed by the late Run DMC DJ, Jam Master J, so that the collective knowledge of hip-hop turntabling -- started by DJ Herc (scratching discovered by Grand Wizard Theodore) back in the early 70s and perfected by so many others -- would continue to the next generation. They stressed (despite us being in a Hip-Hop store called "Rehab Records") that no matter what kind of music we liked (within limits I suppose), we could learn something useful in this class. Apparently one graduate spins country music. And they pointed out that this can not only be a great hobby, but a potentially lucrative habit as some DJs make well over 6 figures. (A tiny percentage, I assume? Playing basketball can be lucrative too... )

They had us all introduce ourselves, insisting that we each come up with a DJ name. Hmm. Most people picked rather dull ones. Never liking to join the crowd, I picked LordBanjo (my old e-mail handle) which people laughed approvingly of and again when the teacher asked if I actually played banjo. "No!! That's the irony of it all." Of course that hasn't stopped me and my friends from coming up with other names. In the running are:

LordBanjo
DJ Stojo (a mashing of my last and middle names)
DJ Dot Dot Dot
DJ Baze (after my college nickname)

After watching some demonstrations, we all manned (womened?) our turntables. Far more fancy-looking than the old RCA, or even the Mirantz my parents had. Not one but two start/stop buttons. Putting my childhood years of proper record hand-holding to work I picked up the Scratch Training LP record daintily, fingertips along the side. "No, grab it like this!" In horror, I watched as the teacher clasped half the record's radius with his hand, presumably offending the Vinyl Gods. I expected us to be smoted within minutes! But no, apparently this is how a DJ holds records -- perhaps having made some pact with the Vinyl Gods around the time Compact Discs took over.

We proceeded to learn baby scratch techniques, basic rhythm theory, and began the DJ equivalent of an aerobics or typing class, scratching away in semi-unison to Run DMC's version of "Walk This Way." "Quarter notes! Forward! Back! Forward! Back!" It was trickier than it looked. You get the appropriate scratch sound only if your black circle is properly rotated such that the "Aaaah" sound hits the needle at the right time and correct speed. I could imagine some imaginary dance crowd staring up in aghast at my sloppy, rhythmically boring sound effects and my awkward, over-thinking body. Fortunately, the second class felt a bit better, my brain having absorbed the proper motion technique somewhat.

Class Two:

I got there early and reacquainted myself with the turntable. Smaller class -- we could each have our own turntable pair this time! Different teacher -- ours was off spinning somewhere. We learned a bit about song structure and how to drop a song on the all important "One." We did this by pulling out some terrible rap records (ones they couldn't sell) and cueing them up. (One "lucky" guy ended up with some very 80's break-dancing music on his LP. I was jealous!) We learned how to do a release scratch, where your hand rides around a bit, then pulls the record back to where you started.

Have to say I'm really enjoying the class a lot so far. If you happen to be in Miami, New York, or L.A., give it a try sometime.

Stay tuned!

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posted by Brian at 8:25 PM

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