Beat generation

24th March 2000 at 00:00
It seems everyone these days wants to be a DJ - and now there's a college course to show them how. Martin Whittaker reports

JACKIE CANN, a 42-year-old housewife and mother-of-three, is training to be a club DJ.

"I've been into the dance scene for six years," she says. "I'm a big follower. I go to all the big clubs and travel all over the country."

She is learning how to mix records together using twin record decks. As a dance rhythm pounds out, she listens to another dance record on headphones and tries to match the beats together.

"It's not as easy as I thought. I've watched people and thought I can do that - it's easy. But it's not. It's all so technical."

This is the first accredited course in the UK in DJ-ing. The part-time course is based at Estover Community College, Plymouth, run by The Soundhouse, a local music project.

Over 10 weeks students learn practical skills of mixing records together, scratching, and MC-ing (speaking over the music), as well as the business side.

The Open College Network accredited course was devised as a hook to get disaffected young people from the surrounding Estover estates into learning.

But since its launch last September, the course has attracted widespread interest, with would-be DJs lured on by the chart success of the likes of Fat Boy Slim and the Chemical Brothers.

"We've had enquiries from places like Canada and India," said Dave Puttick, Soundhouse's development co-ordinator.

"Mostly it's been people asking if they can do the course via the Internet. At one time everyone wanted to be a pop star. Now everyone wants to be a DJ.

"The thing that surprised me is the number of older people and people in full employment doing the course."

Tutor "Little Sanj" travels from London to teach the course. Five years ago he gave up his bank job and is now professional DJ on the capital's club circuit.

He says there are good rewards - a top DJ can earn upwards of pound;500 an hour. "It's not only the money. You're getting paid for doing something you like. And then there are the perks: walk into any club you want, get records for free, everyone knows you."

He started out on turntables in his bedroom. "Quite honestly it's painstaking - you've got to spend five or six hours a day practising."

You also need boundless confidence: Sanj got his first break in Gossips, a club in London's West End, by walking in and telling the owner he could do better than the resident DJ.

But he says the DJ-ing business can also be fickle and very competitive. He warns his students about the uglier side of the business, like the risk of not getting paid by unscrupulous club-owners.

"I consider it like a title fight. You might be champion of the world, but that's when you've got to start training even harder, because the man underneath you is trying to take your title.

"And it can all disappear right in front of your eyes."

Sanj believes the Plymouth course can give a good grounding. "I wish I'd had a course like this when I was coming up," he says.

Students learn the basics of music - harmony, melody, rhythm - how to use a microphone, and interact with an audience. They get to find out about the economics of setting up as a DJ and how to promote themselves. The 10 weeks culminate in a live performance.

Factory worker Andy White, 18, spends four hours a day travelling from Taunton to do this course. "I've got my own decks at home. I wanted to get more experience and knowledge of behind the scenes, the management side.

"The course is well worth it. I'd recommend it to anybody."

For more information contact Dave Puttick at The Soundhouse project on 01752 207882

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