DJ schools draw kids and others keen to spin music

DJing is a growing interest, with both young and old taking up courses to learn it

At her cousin's wedding, 10-year-old Alisha Ramchandani donned a pair of earphones, took to the decks and started spinning her favourite tunes for guests on the dance floor.

When the hired wedding DJ called her "DJ Alisha", she was exhilarated. Her relatives have been calling her that ever since. "I felt so excited when the DJ announced my name. It encouraged me to take DJing further," says the CHIJ (Katong) Primary pupil, who started DJ classes when she was nine and will join an intermediate DJ course at Ministry of DJs next month.

Interest in DJ classes is growing in Singapore, with kids as young as five and working adults trying their hand at it. Some are aspiring DJs, while others are simply music enthusiasts looking for a creative outlet.

At least seven schools here hold DJ classes and some have had to expand over the last four years to cope with the increasing demand.

One school, Ministry of DJs (MODJs), started with one DJ console and a group of seven instructors in 2013. Today, it has five consoles in its studio and 21 instructors.

Industry veterans say the growing interest in DJing could be due to the lower cost of equipment and classes, as well as the trend of DJs gaining popularity in pop culture.

  • DJ SCHOOLS

  • Ministry of DJs

    11-02 Claymore Plaza, 6 Claymore Hill;

    tel: 9748-8811;

    www.ministryofdjs.com.sg

    Price: From $540 (basic course)

  • POP Studio DJ

    02-20 Peninsula Shopping Centre, 3 Coleman Street;

    tel: 9766-9493;

    www.popstudiodj.com

    Price: From $275 (Teen Spirit basic course for students and full-time national servicemen)

  • E-TracX DJ Skool & Studios

    411 Jalan Besar;

    tel: 9665-9085;

    www.e-tracx.com

    Price: From $480 (elementary DJ course)

  • Show Ning DJ School

    02-31A Fortune Centre, 190 Middle Road;

    tel: 9776-4698;

    www.showningdj.com

    Price: From $190 (junior school/elementary DJ course)

  • Le Sens' Music School

    B1-08 Selegie Centre, 189 Selegie Road;

    tel: 9029-8674;

    www.groupofdjs.com

    Price: From $720 (basic course)

  • Zouk Academy

    Zouk Singapore,3C River Valley Road;

    tel: 6738-2988;

    www.zoukclub.com/zoukacademy

    Price: From $130 (introductory course)

"Ten years ago, basic courses could cost up to $1,000. With cheaper equipment today, classes are more affordable," says DJ KoFlow, a veteran in the industry. Today, a basic course for four sessions starts at $190.

Social media has also influenced the scene, says the full-time DJ, who teaches at E-TracX DJ Skool & Studios. "Now, everybody can be somebody (on social media) even if they aren't as skilful. Many people want to be like (David) Guetta and Avicii, but they're not solely DJs, they're music producers. The lines have been blurred."

Children who attend the classes are usually introduced to DJing by elder siblings or their parents.

In Alisha's case, her parents encouraged her and her brother to pick up the skill. Her mother Dimple Ramchandani, 41, says: "We wanted to expose our kids to different interests. DJing was also a way to give them more self-confidence."

Alisha's brother Kevin, 15, a St Patrick's Secondary School student, has already completed the intermediate course and is interested in becoming a full-time DJ in the future.

DJ classes can also lead to a career, as was the case for university student Rica Wong Chu Wen, 23. She started DJing only two years ago and is now a resident DJ at Empire, a penthouse lounge at 50 Raffles Place.

After completing her course, she would head to clubs to work as a light jockey - managing the lights on the dance floor - and stand in for DJs when they went on toilet breaks.

"After a while, the manager at Empire noticed I could DJ and took me in as a resident DJ."

While many think DJing is just about playing in nightclubs, those in the industry say it is a form of creative expression for many people.

Mr Chris Columbus, 34, director of Le Sens' Music School, says: "It is a performing art. It helps build confidence and creativity."

Student Ryan Sun, 18, agrees. "DJing has helped me build charisma. When you DJ, it's not just about playing music behind the equipment."

The Ngee Ann Polytechnic film, sound and video student takes lessons from POP Studio DJ and spends nine to 12 hours a week practising to create his sound. "You need to connect with the audience, have stage presence and bring out your personality through your music."

Working adults are also picking up DJing skills in their spare time.

Mr Muhammad Zaki, 29, a full- time car salesman, is fulfilling his dreams of DJing. "I told myself it's now or never. I don't want to spend my life just earning money, I want to pursue my passion. I have been selling cars for eight years, but I have wanted to be a DJ since I was 21."

He was unable to pursue his dream when he was younger because the classes and equipment were too expensive. He later chanced on MODJs' basic DJ techniques class under SkillsHQ Academy - an accredited SkillsFuture Credit course for eligible Singaporeans - and took the one-day crash course. He then signed up for more classes at MODJs.

He has completed the advanced DJ course and will start his turntablism one next month, learning to create new mixes using vinyl records and turntables. "When I come back from work early, I'll be in my room practising. Funnily enough, my parents still don't know that I'm DJing. I don't think they'll approve, so I just told them I'm learning music," he says.

But not all parents disapprove of DJing. In fact, some dabble in it too.

Mr Shasi N. Gangadharan, 52, CEO of Berkley Insurance Asia and a father of two teenagers, signed up for a 10-week course at Le Sens' Music School so that he could spring a surprise on his friends at his 50th birthday party, themed Revelation. "I took to the platform and everyone was shocked. They still are."

After his party, he continued DJing for his friends and even at his company's dinner last December. He has spent close to $6,000 on equipment.

"My wife is supportive - she knows how much I love music," he said. "My children enjoy my music too. They are the guinea pigs for my mixes."

Upcoming gig at Zouk Phuture for teen

Teenager Anrev Kim (above) won first place in the online international competition, The Beat Junkies Instagram Turntablism Competition, last year.
Teenager Anrev Kim won first place in the online international competition, The Beat Junkies Instagram Turntablism Competition, last year. PHOTO: LIAN SZU-JIN

Anrev Kim, 18, used to spend his free time playing computer games, but that stopped when he picked up DJing in 2014.

Since then, the Singaporean youth has turned his attention to spinning and mixing music, winning prizes in both local and international competitions.

"After DJing, I forgot about video games," says the Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student with a laugh. "I don't have other hobbies. I just love DJing and studying science."

Last year, he won first place in The Beat Junkies Instagram Turntablism Competition, an online international competition. In 2015, he came in second in the local All Beats Cineleisure DJ competition. He was the youngest competitor.

Known as DJ Anrev, he has had classical piano training since he was four. He started DJ classes at Show Ning DJ School at 14 and went on to more advanced turntablism and controllerism courses in E-TracX DJ Skool & Studios. Controllerism is the art of using musical software controllers to create music.

His father Kim Chun Wei, 49, a brand consultant, paid about $8,000 for his DJ equipment.

When asked about his most memorable gig, the teenager, who wants to be an astrophysicist and part-time DJ, says: "I got to gig with one of my inspirations, DJ D-Styles, at Cherry Discotheque last December. It was for only about five minutes, but after the gig, we had a good chat. It was great."

He has also secured a gig at Zouk Phuture in September.

He says: "DJing is easy to learn, but difficult to master. The speed at which you improve is proportional to the amount of effort you put in."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 11, 2017, with the headline 'Decks the way we like it'. Print Edition | Subscribe