Red Bull Music Academy New York 2001

The fourth annual Red Bull Music Academy happened in New York earlier this month, but as a result of the attack on the World Trade Centre it all came to a scary end less than half way through. Two Aussie DJs attended the Academy – DJ Kontrol from Adelaide and Miss DJ from Melbourne – who are now both safely and soundly back in Australia. What they experienced was so much more than anyone could’ve told them.. fortunately they pulled more out of the experience than just CNN type images of September 11. In the first of a two-part piece, DJ Kontrol explains the Academy during week one.

“On arrival of New York, there were no expectations, just a hope that I would actually learn something and come back with a greater determination to succeed along with a better understanding of the industry on a global scale.

As a group of 32 DJs from 25 different countries, we attended our first introduction session on the Sunday night and were given a program sheet with gigs and lecturers who would be appearing throughout the week. It was funny checking out the looks on people’s faces as they read the schedules hosted by reggae DJs, hip hop DJs and other non directly dance related lecturers. As we introduced ourselves it was evident the styles of music across the room varied – with a handful of techno DJs, a mix of deep house and soul DJs, hip hop DMC champs and me being the only person to play trance/Dutch house.

Each day was started in the morning with the topic History, followed by Business and finishing with Technical and Practical sessions of about 2 hours each.

Monday 3 September
Well the first day and the academy is set up in a theatre warehouse in the downtown area near Brooklyn and Chinatown/Soho. The room is very comfortable and is covered with lounges making for a very unintimidating atmosphere. We start off with Dave Ralph, a UK DJ who had made it big in NY. He posed the question What Is Trance? He outlines the roots of trance and where it started (reggae) breaking everything down, explaining how every style of music has elements of reggae and house, and what makes each style different from the next etc. giving us examples of each. Well it’s not hard to guess but every DJ that played techno hit the roof when he likened the elements of trance to techno. The purpose of our being there was to have an open debate and to learn more from each other, so it was a good fiery way to start the academy.

We also have lectures from an artist’s manager who tells us how he deals with serious artists and time wasters, and says when you are serious have a product and a profile then he’ll return your call.

The final lecturer for the day is Woody McBride, who has recently won ‘best electronic artist’ in the USA. He expressees his concerns over drug culture in the US, as cops shut down big clubs because kids are getting stuck into drugs.

Tuesday 4 September
Come Tuesday morning the whole group is feeling pretty trashed after a couple of big nights out on the town. New York never sleeps and neither do DJs. Enter Dave Rodigan, reggae expert and 50 year old child! Within 10 minutes of his opening his mouth the whole room is wide awake and he tells us stories of Jamaicans bringing their culture to America. You may have heard the story of DJs having sound clashes where they would set up their sound systems against other DJs in battle mode and have play offs to see who could get the best reaction for their tunes. Dave explains how this happened in people’s front yards or in the streets! We learn how this culture spreads worldwide and starts the dub plate culture of today.

We also have an insight into the beginnings of one of New York’s biggest promoters/labels, Giant Step. From small jazz and house house parties in its early days, Giant Step is now behind the city’s best parties with names like Ron Trent at the wheels.

Topping off a busy day is Alex Rosner, responsible for inventing the first DJ mixer, telling us the story of the mixer’s almost non existent beginning.

Wednesday 5 September
How do you function properly after only sleeping for four hours? Well I guess that’s what you get for going to see Crystal Method and Fat Boy Slim at the MTV party on the docks the night before.

Starting the day on a slower note, thank god, is Mix Master Morris, a freaky little Englishman who has earned his fine reputation as an ambient DJ playing all over the world. Mix Master Mike pretty much started the whole ambient/chill thing and the idea of actually having a chill room at parties.

We also meet Todd Roberts, an ex-major record label A&R rep, who steered away from the majors because he doesn’t like the way they ‘shaft’ artists. The advice from him is simple: start your own label, be the publisher of your own songs (this point is absolutely crucial) and license your work to the majors – but always own a percentage of your work so you have more than just creative involvement. For the first time we start finding out more essential information and it’s starting to become apparent what the academy is all about. As a fairly naive artist I learnt so much today.

The last lecture was about how to break down a turntable and I might has well fallen asleep for that one. The whole feel of the academy is very much a relaxed one – if you don’t want to attend a certain lecture don’t, but all the information is for your own future and to have this source information is invaluable.

Thursday 6 September
Each night we all go out, check out each other’s sets or play with the many studio toys that the academy have rounded up from Vestax, Roland, Technics and the many other companies who have hardware toys, synths, mixing desks & mixers. There are 6 studios to munch around in and there is also Logic and Pro Tools set up in two separate studios. Thursday’s lecture is for me the best in terms of learning Logic sofware and the mechanics of music production. MJ Cole – responsible for Sincere and Crazy Love, to name just two of his 2step masterpieces – gives us a rundown of how he works in the studio and how he’s got to where he has from his days as a classical music student, to the later days working in a studio working for around $50 per week.

The highlight of the day, which even the most discerning of music lovers would enjoy, is MJ Cole making a track in 23 hours and showing us the workings of Logic sofware and Midi. For once all of the class is on the same wavelength, there’s no “you play this I play that”, we all appreciate MJ Cole for who he is – an artist who makes music. He makes a very crucial point – his music may be put in the 2step genre, but he doesn’t necessarily class it as that the media does, as far as he’s concerned he just makes music. For all of those who might think his work is too soft, he was inspired by drum & bass and that’s what he plays out.

Friday 7 September
If you need to look for inspiration or a true account of the music industry in New York, then you ask Mel Cheren, a man who started in the armed forces and moved into marketing and then major record labels half way through the century. As the dedicated music lover behind East End records, Mel’s stable developed what we call the Remix and he is also responsible for New York’s first gay, coloured and cultural nightclub, the legendary Paradise Garage. We are given a first hand look at how New York evolved to its current nightlife scene. Mel is now behind a fundraising group called 24 Hours for Life, a musical group who raise money for AIDS.

We also spend time with ex-pat Aussie Harry the Bastard, who has earned his name in America by being the top of his league as an A&R guy. 5 years ago he received 20 white labels per week, whereas now he sees in excess of 400 white labels per week (all from budding artists trying to make it in the industry). Harry gives an insight of how to stand out and find a way into the music industry, with the most important point being that you have a better chance of making money if you own your own work, should you of course make the grade.

Well that’s pretty much an insight into the going’s on of the first week of the academy. It’s not like a Big Brother type thing where we are forced to be with each other – it’s an experience and a chance for us to network and learn off each other.

As a final word, I think there is too much happening in corporate America to work out at the moment, but all in all I am privileged to witness one piece of the big picture puzzle. Three of us went to Tracks Records’ party on the USS Intrepid, the old War Aircraft Carrier docked in the harbour. The party was attended by people from the old Paradise Garage days, along with the new generation of New York clubbers. It was a very moving experience, as we danced away amongst true black Americans listening to 70s funk, soul and everything with a feeling. I didn’t have to live in America to see what it was all about – the people, the atmosphere .. it was just electric. I felt like I was one of the Jackson Brothers.. Peace!”

Jonathan Morley aka DJ Kontrol, Adelaide SA
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