I wonder what he’s doing up there?” “I’ve no idea, but I could probably do that.” “Isn’t he just playing songs from his laptop?” When it comes to DJing, this is often the line of thinking from anyone who isn’t dropping the beats.
Sure, not all music maestros fall into the I-use-a-laptop-to-DJ category, but there are plenty out there who do. So when my editor suggested I get behind the decks – for his own amusement no doubt – I thought it would just be a matter of pressing a few buttons and waving my hands from side to side. If Paris Hilton can DJ, so can I, right?
When it comes to music in a club and getting people dancing, I've always enjoyed a mix of urban tracks and commercial hits with a Latin song thrown in for good measure. So I felt that it would be a style that suited me. Immediately, Dubai's DJ Bliss came to mind as a mentor. As the owner and founder of Bliss Inc Entertainment and the man behind 411 Nights at People by Crystal (and winner of Best Urban Night at Time Out Dubai's Music & Nightlife Awards earlier this year), I felt confident that he could turn me into a DJ… of sorts. As I made my way to his studio in Jumeirah for my lesson, my mind started to wander… perhaps this could be a new career for me… maybe I could get an agent and spend my summers DJing in Mykonos or Marbella… maybe I could be the next Annie Mac…
But what should I be called?
I need a DJ name. Nothing cheesy like DJ 2-cool-for-school or Miss Butterfly. No. It should be simple and understated. All the big-name DJs go by their own name – Calvin Harris and Steve Aoki to name just two. So I figure DJ Chanelle will do.
At the studio I start to get nervous. On the walls are dozens of pictures of Bliss, aka Marwan Parham Al Awadhi, with musicians and DJs like Nicki Minaj, Tim Westwood, Craig David and Akon. I start to panic. “What was I thinking? I can’t DJ…” But I summon my inner Sasha Fierce (Beyoncé fans will know) and decide to give it a go, even if I do embarrass myself.
The first thing I notice is how much equipment there is, which is pretty overwhelming. There are buttons everywhere, and the software on the laptop looks like a hospital's heart monitor screen. Sensing my fear, DJ Bliss gives me a simplified tutorial on Pioneer decks, a Serato mixer box, headphones, laptop and Scratch Live DJ software. He then tells me the basic premise of DJing, which is essentially to take two tracks of a different tempo (such as Justin Bieber’s I’m Sorry and Daddy Yankee’s Gasolina) and make them the same tempo, before finding a way to transition from the first song playing to the second so that they are blended. Easy, right? Not quite. We start by choosing two songs, Tyga’s Ayo and Jeremih’s Don’t Tell ’Em featuring YG. I learn that a huge part of making the songs work together is figuring out the BPM of the song (that's beats per minute to the uninitiated). That way, you can decide at what point to bring the tempo up or down to have them both playing at the same speed. To do this you just count the number of beats in a song per 15 seconds and multiply it by four to get the beats per minute. For example, if you count 24 beats in 15 seconds, multiply 24 by four, so the song's tempo is 96BPM. Matching the songs up can be tricky, though, but after a few attempts and some careful listening we’ve got it.
The Serato box makes mixing easier by queuing up two songs of the DJ’s choice. When an icon on the display goes green, the DJ has to release a track on time with the other song, then turn down the bass and fade out the initial track. Once you master that, that’s pretty much it. While the technical side of Djing such as scratching and mixing can be learned, sensing when to play a song is down to practise, a good ear and raw talent. Anyone could technically learn to master the skills of mixing, but having the ability to create magical moments can’t be taught. If you want to learn to DJ, accept that it is an art. And I think I might just have a knack for it. Watch this space, DJ Chanelle could be coming to a nightclub near you.
Catch DJ Bliss at Rosay on Wednesdays at Cavalli Club, Hip-Hop by Nature on Mondays at Cirque Le Soir and 411 Nights at People by Crystal on Saturdays. Free. From 10.30pm. For bookings contact www.blissinc.com.
Four stages To becoming a DJ
Take some lessons
The DJ Academy in Dubai is ideal for beginners as well as upcoming DJs looking to hone their skills. Take a one-hour introductory lesson to learn how to use the equipment and create your first mix.
Dhs199. Daily 9am-9pm, closed Tuesdays. DJ Academy Dubai, Al Quoz 1, www.dj-academy.ae.
Get the equipment
You don’t need to start off with super-high-tech gear when you begin to DJ. Depending on your budget, all you need are turntables, DJ cartridges, a mixer, controller, headphones, some vinyls and an RCA cable.
From Dhs399 (turntables); from Dhs799 (controllers). www.djcorner.ae.
Electronic music labels Toolroom, Suara and Kitball will be at Dubai Music Conference and will showcase their most talented DJs. Mingle with industry reps, get stuck into the workshops, attend the conferences and see where it takes you.
February 18-19, 2016. JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, Business Bay, www.dancemusicconference.com.
Watch a pro
Iconic French DJ and producer David Guetta will welcome in the New Year at the Media City Amphitheatre with his epic catalogue of hits including When Love Takes Over. Ticket holders must be over 18 years.
From Dhs350. From 8pm. Media City Amphitheatre, Dubai Media City, www.peppermint-experience.com.