Fazed by faders? Then sack off that BA in anthropology and throw your tuition fees at DJ lessons from the pros. Lee Gale goes back to (old) school
[By 2011, I seemed to be getting somewhere playing records while drunk at various night venues across London and there was even talk of playing at a festival – which eventually happened. The trouble is I’d never learnt how to mix. Here was my chance to learn! I was always delighted to get my name in The Guardian’s Guide – until they buggered up one of my TV advert critiques and I never pitched them anything again. I’ve just googled The Guardian… it’s still going.]
After eight years of fancying myself as a DJ – The Funk Pursuivant – I realised that I’m unable to grasp even the simplest of techniques. I can’t mix, instead relying on drunk luck to segue one track into another. I steer clear of records with worryingly long outros because that would require “beat-matching”. The choice was stark: live a Don Draper-type DJ lie or, in the words of MC Tunes, “release my beef and erase grief”.
Point Blank in Hoxton is run by Rob Cowan, once bass player in rave-era funk-house outfit HoneyChile, and Jules Brookes, formerly of acid-jazz ensemble Raw Stylus. Offering courses in DJ skills, music production, radio production, songwriting and the music business, they claimed they could teach me the basics in a day. With the imminent rise in university fees, Point Blank, a private college, is experiencing a surge of interest. Its staffroom is a who’s who of clubland: Pete Tong, Louie Vega, Basement Jaxx, Carl Cox, Annie Mac, Annie Nightingale and Boy George give their time. If there were a canteen, Marva Whitney would be dinnerlady.
“We don’t support what’s happened with university tuition fees,” says Jules, “but people are considering, ‘Do I want to take on £40,000 of debt and study social anthropology, or do I want to follow something I love and have a dream for, like music?’ That’s what we’re seeing happen here.”
Today, Point Blank faces a challenge. DJ tutor Ben Bristow (DJ name: Mr Bristow) will need a master’s degree in patience if he’s to prevent himself from slamming my hands into the decks. Mr Bristow reaches for Lazy (Original Mix) by X-Press 2 and Billie Jean (Bushwacka! Remix) by Michael Jackson.
“The mixer, with all its flashing lights and buttons … it’s like trying to fly a spaceship,” I tell my teacher. Mr Bristow has heard it all before. I quickly learn that modern music works in “phrases” of four bars; this is the basis of DJing. Maths! We beat-count using our fingers, before running through the mixer. Slowly, the icy grip of fear thaws. By 2.30pm, I’m switching from Lazy to Billie Jean, sometimes terribly, occasionally world-class. For so long the effects knob on the mixer has been an absolute no-go, but it becomes apparent I’ve been missing out on a whole universe of showing-off. The echo function’s like a DJ cheat. No longer will I shy away from running Model 500 into Weezer.
Exhilarated, I head for a cuppa in Point Blank’s kitchen. By the fridge is star pupil Dr Benstein. Bound for the US, he dreams of producing Beyoncé and Rihanna.
“I’ve been coming here for two and a half years,” he says. “It’s high time parents stop thinking music is for people who don’t have ambition. On the train, everyone’s listening to music. Without music, there’s no life.”
Courses start from £245, see pointblanklondon.com for info