Surviving New York City with a Red Bull clenched in my hand!
The opportunity of a lifetime lay before me. An all expenses paid trip to New York City to be taught by some of the best DJs and producers in the world at the Red Bull Music Academy. Currently in its fourth year, this is the first year that Australian DJs and producers were invited to apply. The application process was quite simple but time consuming. A mix demo and a detailed questionnaire ranging from the obvious Why are you a DJ and Who are inspirations? To more psyche evaluating probes like… What 10 records would you take to the moon? And, What is your perfect weekend?
Flying into The Big Apple the first thing I noticed was the twin towers standing tall and strong over the lower part of Manhattan Island. This is when I lost it for the first time. An awesome sight, I sat imagining what other great things I was going to see over the next three weeks.
Once on the ground in NYC, we headed to the Academy HQ to meet and greet the rest of the 29 students that had travelled from 24 countries around the world. Many Europeans, two American, two from the UK, two from NZ and one other from Australia. Of all the students, eight were female, five played techno, six played Drum & Bass, four played Hip Hop, but the biggest common denominator was that everyone had an email address, and13 were hotmail.
All of the guest lecturers were kept a secret until the first day of the Academy, when we were handed the timetable for the next two weeks. Among the names were Derrick Carter, Richie Hawtin, Derrick May, King Britt, Tom Middleton, Adam Freeland, Mike G from The Jungle Brothers, MJ Cole, Herbert, Mix Master Morris, Steve ‘silk’ Hurley, and heaps more. This is when I lost it for the second time! And my Red Bull hadn’t even kicked in yet!
The Academy itself was in an old primary school come theatre workshop space located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan Island. The main lectures of the day were held in a large auditorium style room with heaps of couches for the students to lay back and take in all the expert advice. Of course there was an endless supply of Red Bull for one and all.
Each morning at about 11.30am the students gathered and exchanged stories on the previous nights events, and were also advised what DJs were playing in the big apple that night. Wherever possible, the Academy staff provided free entry to these clubs. On the first Monday we had the privilege of checking out Fat Boy Slim and The Crystal Method at a free outdoor party by The Hudson River. Not bad for a Monday night! That Friday I danced my arse off to the sounds of Danny Tenaglia @ Vinyl. Hearing his sets twice in Sydney before was no comparison to hearing him play before his home crowd. He was a true entertainer, not just a DJ spinning records, but a complete nightclub entertainment queen complete with high-powered torches and sirens at his fingertips. He still remains one of my biggest inspirations. On the Saturday night I ventured to The Roxy, and it was like I was back at Sydney’s Sleeze Ball. Hardly a woman in site and all I could see was bulging, tanned male flesh. The pinnacle of my clubbing experience in New York was playing before Christian Smith at his own night called Tronic Treatment @ Guernica. It was similar to the now de-funked Tweekin in Sydney.
Anyway enough about having it large… back to the learning stuff! The first lecture of each day was at midday (Red Bull obviously aware of the body clocks of DJs! Nice!! ). The focus of the lecture was History. These were pretty much a ‘sit back and relax while we tell you a story’ type lectures. Really interesting stuff, ranging from The development of the ‘Chill Out Room’ with Mix Master Morris. The history and development of trance with Dave Ralph. How 2-Step came about with MJ Cole and The beginning of Disco and Garage with Mel Cheren, the man responsible for inventing the 12” DJ mix or extended version for club play. He was also the first to suggest that the B-side of vinyl should be an instrumental, so that DJs could do seamless mixes. Probably the most interesting and definitely the most entertaining for me was the lecture given by David Rodigan called Come Selectah Reggae/Dub. At first I was thinking, this isn’t really my thing. But he was a great storyteller. He was in Jamaica when Reggae was born and told us the stories of how the DJs used to make huge sound systems out of wardrobes and take them onto the beach and have ‘DJ clashes’. This was when there were 2 or more reggae DJs set up on the beach and the crowd would go from one to another while they played their set and the winner was the DJ who got the biggest cheers.
The second session of each day was focused around the business side of the dance industry. Some of the lectures were called Call my manager, Creating a global name, Why labels sign what they do, Distribution around the world, and Major, Indie or doing it on your own. These lectures were more of a discussion and a lot of questions were thrown around to get as much information out of the lecturers as possible.
The third session of the day was a technical/skills workshop that ranged from subjects like Home studio setups with Woody McBride. DJ mixers with Alex Rosner, the man who invented them. Breaking apart the turntable, The Art of the Remix with MJ Cole (actually he created a track for us right there in the class). Introduction to Logic and Pro Tools, and my personal favourite The art of the 10 minute Blend with Derrick Carter.
Some days we had an optional 4th session that was a smaller tutorial type class. Some of these were about Law in the industry, How to be a Hippy and still make money, Performance in DJing, and a special treat for me was Nu-Skool breaks with Adam Freeland.
After the final session of the day we had full access to a number of studios and a huge selection of DJ and production equipment. The studios were old classrooms with custom made tables suitable to host the standard DJ equipment of two turntables and a mixer. But to make the experience even more valuable, we could borrow what seemed like and endless amount of equipment such as samplers, keyboards, effect units, and microphones. The variety was huge, not only could we use the standard Technics SL1200s and 1210s but we could try out the Vestax and Numark turntables, mixers from Roland, Pioneer, American DJ, Vestax, Numark among others. There were also studios to use ProTools and Logic. People teamed up depending on their musical preference to exchange information, skills and music.
Our accommodation was organised and paid for by Red Bull and was located in midtown, one block away from Central Park and only a short five minute walk from the tourist haven of Time Square. This was considered the ‘nice’ area of town, by comparison to the lower east side which was more of a grungy area, somewhat similar to Newtown in Sydney or Fitzroy in Melbourne, only very New York.
Record shopping in the city was not much different to how it is here in Australia. The distinct advantage however was that it seemed that on every block there was a second hand store where you could pick up anything from rare early jazz to crazy soundtrack albums like early Batman and Wonder Woman.
The Academy was moving along nicely and everyone was bonding in a way that only DJs on Red Bull can. On September 11th at 9am we were all woken up by frantic phone calls and anxious door knocking. Immediately we all tuned our TVs on to see the second highjacked plane hit the World Trade Centre, and our experience in New York became an experience many of us would like to forget. This is when I lost it for the third time, but in a very different way. After 4 hours being glued to the screens I decided to take a walk down through Manhattan to get as close as I could to the disaster. All of the city’s retail outlets were closed and most of the city’s workers were relieved for the day and told to go home. The disaster however, brought the cities public transport systems to a halt, and this meant that the whole of Manhattan’s workers were on foot. Never in my life had I seen so many people. Thousands stopped dumbstruck staring at huge screens in Time Square broadcasting the disaster live. Further down the island there were people and NYPD cars covered in a thick layer of grey dust. Every bar and restaurant was open and filled with people anxiously watching TV or trying to get through to loved ones on their mobile phones. After walking for about 90 minutes, I got as close as I was able to without holding any kind of medical or emergency service licence. Smoke was bellowing from the lower half of Manhattan. It looked only a couple of blocks away.
The city that I came to understand as the rudest place on earth suddenly changed its tone. People started to actually look people in the eye and even smiling at each other. Whenever sirens roared past, people stopped to clap and cheer as they drove past. Truly it seemed like the world had been turned upside down. In the next few days, God Bless America signs and American flags were displayed proudly in every shop window.
The Red Bull Music Academy and most of the clubs and nightlife were geographically quite close to Ground Zero, and subsequently shut down for an indefinite time. There was however an awesome benefit gig organised by Tronic Treatment and was held on the Friday night after the disaster at Guernica, and featured none other than Richie Hawtin, Derrick Carter, Joel Mull and Christian Smith. $10 got you into the small venue, by 11pm it was crammed to the core.
So it seemed that the whole trip had to be put down to incredibly bad timing. The Red Bull Music Academy, what we had of it, was an awesome experience. An incredibly generous and worthwhile project initiated by an obviously cool minded company, even if it was a very expensive ploy to get us DJs addicted to the stuff 😉
Check out Miss DJ’s photos from the Red Bull Music Academy here in the ITM photo gallery.