Having learnt Audio Production during my polytechnic days, I was confident about heading into this experience, despite having zero background in music. I have always assumed that DJ-ing is mainly just pre-setting some songs and a whole lot of showboating— when you watch world-famous DJs perform during music events such as Tomorrowland, it would seem that they have too much time on hand to flail them around in the air and hype up the crowd. It can’t be THAT hard, right?
I contacted E-TrackX DJ Skool, a DJ school based in Singapore for a workshop. Located in Jalan Besar, the school is essentially a cosy shophouse. Posters filled the wall of this dimly lit small space, which comprised of only one room with equipment.
Anrev Kim or DJ Anrev came in panting 10 minutes after we arrived. He was dressed in an oversized tee-shirt and flip-flops, and his hair was dishevelled—a sign that he had just gotten out of bed.
“Sorry ah, I only slept one hour last night,” he apologised. But I don’t blame him. Anrev would be participating in the Goldie Awards DJ Battle World Finals taking place in New York next month and had to balance his time between preparing a routine for the competition and teaching at the school.
Usually, you can sign up for a six-session elementary course at E-TrackX DJ Skool for S$480. However, Anrev went ahead and gave me a crash course on the basics of DJ-ing. He explained to me that at the basic level, DJ-ing is about mixing two tracks seamlessly,
At any one point in a set, two tracks would be playing concurrently. For my trial, Anrev chose two EDM (electronic dance music) tracks. The reason he chose EDM tracks was that EDM tracks generally have the same BPM (beats per minute) and for a beginner like myself, I would not have to adjust the BPM of one song to match the other.
There are eight coloured keys known as the loop section that can be programmed to perform a function or produce a sound—from drum beats to air horns and even human voices. Anrev programmed one of the keys to play the music on one track from the beginning, so all I had to do was to align the start of that track to the drop on the other track, and at the right moment, cross-fade the two songs.
How do you find the right moment? This is through counting the beats in your head. Music is made up of bars, and each bar has four beats. First, I had to count eight bars before pressing the coloured key to ‘align’ both songs. You can tell if both songs are aligned by comparing the frequency of the soundwaves of both songs displayed in the software.
How do you get a beautiful drop after that? I had to count another eight bars before I bring the volume of the second track up and bring the volume of the first track down. This is the cross-fade.
It may seem easy, but for any of these steps, if my timing were off even by a fraction of a second, it would compromise the overall sound of the set. Imagine two singers singing two completely different songs at the same time in your ears—that’s how bad it could be. Anrev then shared that it takes a certain amount of practice before mastering this and that even if I were to be off-beat, I could physically spin the disc to adjust the rhythm of the track.
I was then introduced to scratching. Scratching is essentially the first action you think of if the word DJ appears in a game of charades. What this motion of swiping your hand back and forth on the disc does in a nutshell, is producing the “scratching” sound, or what you would hear as “wiki wiki”.
On the disc, there is an arrow. Every time the arrow passes by the needle, it will produce a sound. Position the pointer before and after repeatedly to produce the scratching effect.
After my one-hour crash course, I had the opportunity to learn more about the passionate young man in front of me. Anrev shared that he has been spinning since the tender age of 13 and that this would be his seventh year spinning. As he was not permitted to spin in nightclubs until he was 18, Anrev spent most of his time competing. His reasoning is this—“There are so many DJs in Singapore, and unless you make a name for yourself, you won’t stand out.”
Anrev has been juggling his studies alongside his passion for seven years, and just last year, graduated from Anglo Chinese School (Independent). During his JC days, he would attend school, and spin at clubs such as Altimate and Bang Bang on the weekends. Since his graduation, he has shifted his focus back to competing and spends his free time teaching at E-TrackX DJ Skool, where he teaches advanced DJ-ing to his students. Some of them have even gone to spin at clubs.
“It’s an easy skill to pick up, but a hard one to master,” Anrev added that while it may be easy to pick up the technical skills of DJ-ing, one must also be able to gauge the atmosphere of the club, and know when to switch between genres of music as it can be boring listening to the same genre repeatedly. The sets created for clubs and competing are very different as well, as competitions may require you to spin up to 50 songs simultaneously within a short amount of time. Yet here I am, struggling to even transition one song to another.
While I was not able to pick up DJ-ing in my one hour under Anrev’s tutelage, I learnt not to judge a book by its cover, and gained a newfound respect for DJs—that while DJ-ing may look easy, it actually requires a lot of practice, multitasking, crowd-reading and most importantly, passion. That is before you have the free time to flail your hands and shout “ARE YOU READY?” at a crowd of adoring music goers.
Price: S$480 (six-lesson Elementary Course)