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Publication Date : 17-02-2014
Superstar disc jockeys (DJs) are the new rock stars. That is one reason there are more DJ-ing courses offered in Singapore than in years past
Student Lucas Lee, 15, signed up for DJ lessons last July at Pop Trash at Peninsula Shopping Centre, and attends a class once every couple of weeks. "I play the drums, keyboards, trumpet and guitar, and I've always liked music. One day, I walked by the school and decided to sign up. Right now, I'm experimenting with deep house and electronica music."
Veteran DJ Ash Narayan, 43, who started DJ school Pop Trash in 2002, says: "It's a bit of a trend - being a DJ is like being the new rock star. I mean, you have people such as Grammy-winning English music producer Jamie XX and even British rock band Radiohead's Thom Yorke who are also DJ-ing."
With the rise of electronic dance music, a wave of aspiring DJs has hit the decks, hoping to follow in the footsteps of popular DJs and music producers such as French house DJ David Guetta, Dutch DJ Hardwell and Swedish house wunderkind Avicii.
There are now more than a dozen schools and instructors offering DJ-ing and electronic music production courses to people who want to master the craft as a hobby or who have dreams of spinning to hundreds in a nightclub.
It is a spin from just a decade ago, where there were only a couple of dedicated DJ schools helmed by veteran DJs.
Pop Trash was started more than 10 years ago to provide an avenue for aspiring DJs to learn how to do it properly, says one of its instructors Brendon Pereira, who is resident DJ at Club Kyo in Cecil Street.
"A lot of DJs back then didn't even know how to set up their equipment. We wanted to make sure people knew the right things to do and to let them know that DJ-ing is more than putting your hands up in the air and getting chicks."
He adds of the current popularity of DJ-ing: "I didn't expect it to take off. But I've always said it is a skill... and that you need to learn it properly."
Narayan says he is seeing a "definite increase" in the number of people interested in taking up courses. The school has two to three new students signing up each month on average, with six to seven students signing up in peak months.
Those who sign up for such classes come from all walks of life, from students as young as nine or 10 to working professionals in their 30s and 40s.
"I think there is just more awareness about DJs and there is now easy access to the equipment and software to DJ and produce music," says Ms Stephanie Choo, co-owner of DJ school E-TracX, on the growing popularity of DJ courses.
E-TracX DJ Skool, which was started in 2003, currently has 30 students enrolled - the majority of them sign up for DJ-ing and turntablism courses, where they can learn how to sample and scratch vinyl, and remix music.
Co-founder Edwin Lum, 39, estimates that the school used to get five people signing up for classes in a good month when it started. These days, the school has up to 15 to 20 people signing up in a good month.
Speaking on behalf of the collective behind all-girl FFF DJ Bootcamp, co-founder and DJ Debbie Chia, 33, says: "We think DJ-ing has hit the mainstream with superstar DJs and electronic dance music taking over the commercial clubs. So naturally, the youth see people such as Guetta or Paris Hilton DJ-ing and want to be like them. Technology has also lowered the entry barrier."
These days, one does not need to learn how to spin with vinyl to be a DJ, and it is easy to acquire equipment to help you transition between songs on cue.
The FFF DJ Bootcamp was an initiative started in 2008 by veteran female DJs Chia, Cherry Chan, Natalie Tan (Natalie PixieDub) and Pamm Hong to educate women about electronic music production and DJ-ing and encourage a growing community of active Singaporean female DJs.
Although it is taking a hiatus from running the annual bootcamp, its founders note that interest has grown eight-fold since it started. "We began just barely covering the required intake of 12 applicants to start a class. Five years later, in 2012, we received 100 applications, but we narrowed our selection to just eight," says Chia.
Fees for DJ lessons can vary, from S$350 (US$278) for five to six group classes, or between S$500 (US$397) and S$960 (US$762) for a handful of one-on-one sessions with a veteran instructor.
But DJ-ing is not for everyone, notes instructors. "Out of 20, one or two probably can't make it," says veteran DJ KoFlow, 32, who teaches DJ-ing and turntablism at E-TracX. "But we try to be very encouraging."
But the DJ, whose real name is Wayne Liu, notes that some of the school's former students have gone on to compete in DJ and turntablist competitions, and secured residencies at popular clubs here, including iconic club Zouk.
Calvin Yang, 38, who goes by the name of DJ Headline, of DJ Live Music Academy, says: "I often get asked, 'By the sixth lesson, will I be able to play in a club?' But it's like driving - some people can learn it in one day, others take much longer."
The DJ school, set up in 2010, has 10 students currently, and gets two to three inquiries each week.
Pereira says the "majority of students can string two songs together after five to six lessons, but being a master at the art of DJ-ing, that takes a lifetime".
The full-time DJ and instructor searches for new music online daily and practises DJ-ing about six hours a day. Masterful DJs have the ability to read the crowd and keep them entertained for an entire set of about two hours, he adds.
Tattoo artist Victoria Woon, 26, who signed up for DJ lessons as a hobby and has attended three sessions at E-TracX, discovered that it was tougher than she imagined. "People say being a DJ is easy, but I now see why not everyone can be a DJ. Apart from knowing how to drop a track... there are so many buttons and knobs - I haven't figured out 75 per cent of it. There's a lot of stuff to learn... but I like the challenge."
Instructors go beyond teaching students how to spin.
They help them score live gigs at clubs and events, which is key in helping students hone their skills and learn how to engage the crowd with their music. They also invite the students to their own shows to shadow them and observe how they go about setting up for a live show.
But it is also why schools such as Pop Trash discourage taking students younger than age 15 as the legal age to enter a club is 18.
Pereira explains: "If they are young and they want to come out and play, we have to explain the technicalities of the law. Then we will have to tell them to go to YouTube and watch how DJs do it."
Other DJ students, such as Kelvin Chan, 39, are doing it purely as a hobby and not too hung up if they do not get to DJ at live events. The production specialist in a chemical industry, who is taking lessons at E-TracX, says: "DJ-ing has always been a childhood dream of mine. It's also a stress-relief from work... Everyone at the school is nice and friendly, I feel really comfortable here."