We despatched two artists again to high school to take the UK’s official DJ examination

Late for the college bus, boring meeting, double maths, a fast gossip or kickabout at lunch — adopted by a music lesson taking part in banging techno and home tunes, with some oldschool Detroit classics blended in. It’s truthful to say that college days have gotten a bit extra thrilling in the previous few years. 

While the normal DJ blueprint to success is properly established, there could be one other method to begin your journey to the highest. Following the GCSE reforms in 2016, the music GCSE provided by the OCR, Eduqas and AQA examination boards has been modified in order that pupils can now select a turntable (or CDJ or controller and even laptop computer packages) as their instrument. 

We determined to ship the Utah Saints and Denney, two world-class DJ acts, again to high school to take the efficiency component of the GCSE, partly to see how they’d cope beneath trendy examination requirements, and likewise to evaluate the GCSE syllabus for DJing. Will it give the following wave of DJs the talents wanted to make it in an more and more aggressive market? And how successfully can DJing actually be assessed, with its many genres, sub genres and kinds, to not point out the know-how modifications which have made the artwork kind evolve so shortly?

The Utah Saints had been one of many first area dance bands, promoting out big stadiums again in 1995 when the present bunch of GCSE candidates weren’t even a romantic glint of their mother and father’ eyes. With three UK Top 10 chart hits, and one other 10 Top 40 singles, the duo toured with U2, re-wrote the digital rule-book with their Kate Bush-sampling ‘Something Good’ smash, and have since turn out to be competition favourites and launched cult breaks label Bomb Strikes. A DMC finalist in 1987, Tim from the Utah Saints is a real scratch DJ, as blissful dropping mid-tempo breaks as he's tear-out drum & bass or electro. 

The different DJ we selected was Denney, a staple of the home music scene for the final 20 years, having reduce his tooth at Back2Basics in Leeds, earlier than progressing to very large releases on Hot Creations, a Global Underground combine album and a forthcoming single on FFRR. A go-to tester for Pioneer and an annual visitor speaker and lecturer at Leeds Met, Denney often took half in DJ competitions as a youngster (coming third within the nation at Earls Court in 2001), so he was the right DJ to ship again to high school. 

We sent two artists back to school to take the UK’s official DJ exam

Students need to take the total music GCSE, with a written examination which challenges their understanding of music and counts for 40% of the mark, the efficiency a part of the examination (which we’re testing right this moment), which makes up 30%, and a music composition check, which makes up the remainder of the rating.  

While AQA and Eduqas have loosely tailored the present examination format to incorporate DJing, OCR have gone a step additional and created a extra specialist qualification. They’ve opened up their remit to incorporate rappers and MCs for his or her GCSE and A-Level , whereas additionally they embrace a ‘My Music’ part of the examination, which permits college students to concentrate on their chosen genres and kinds. 

The examination efficiency takes place on the DJ School UK in Leeds, one of many largest non-profit DJ faculties for deprived youngsters, with hundreds of scholars annually, together with breaks DJ and up to date writer of the Little Big Beat Book, Rory Hoy. And, in a neat flip of occasions, Tim from the Utah Saints is on the board of administrators at DJ School UK, making him an apparent selection.

The faculty is led by Jim Reiss: a famend hip-hop and scratch DJ who’s performed alongside Amy Winehouse, carried out Glastonbury a number of occasions and launched his personal turntablist album. Jim was additionally consulted by AQA for the launch of the DJ GCSE, and is an examination invigilator, having put three college students by means of the music GCSE this 12 months — which is why we determined to make use of the AQA examination standards. 

In 2018, 39,358 college students took the music GCSE, with 7,000 of these college students utilizing the spectacular OCR format, however there aren't any particular numbers from any of the examination boards on who chooses to make use of a DJ setup as their instrument. To put that quantity in context, round 800,000 took maths and English, whereas 74,621 selected computing, and 62,122 took drama.

The AQA syllabus states that college students should use: “turntables (uncooked vinyl/CDJ) and/or digital DJ know-how (software program controller/DVS) to govern tracks and exhibit an understanding and use of a spread of methods. There have to be a minimal of two tracks — beat matched, with respect to the construction, tonality and association of the chosen tracks. The examiner will assess them on pitch, rhythm, tempo, fluency, dynamics and articulation.”

The examiner will look out for primary abilities, together with cue stuttering, rewind/spin again, drop ins, EQ and FX; intermediate abilities like child scratches, looping, scorching cues and acapellas; and superior abilities resembling scratching, scorching cue juggling, prolonged use of acapellas and beat juggling. The college students are given 4 minutes to carry out their routine, and three minutes for his or her ensemble piece, the place they need to carry out alongside a musician. But to simplify our examination, we’ve given them the total seven-minute allowance, purely for the solo DJ efficiency. 

As with the examination, each DJs get to decide on their very own setups for the occasion, with Tim Utah requesting Pioneer CDJ 2000NXS2s, which we very kindly borrowed for the session from Sheaf St, a close-by bar and occasion area. 

We sent two artists back to school to take the UK’s official DJ exam

Denney begins. A DJ since 13, with a jazz drummer dad inspiring him to ‘by no means get an actual job’, and knowledgeable DJ by 17 at his native membership Empire in Middlesbrough, he arrives bouncing with vitality, recent from three months off placing collectively his excellent Global Underground combine. With his regular workplace a darkish, smoke-filled rave full of hands-up, heads-down dancers at 2am, a sober soundproofed DJ studio in Leeds is a really completely different proposition. Nervous a lot? 

“The nerves are a unique state of affairs from my regular gigs,” says Denney. “When you’re in a membership, individuals gained’t discover if the combination isn’t majorly tight. But in a classroom, any errors will soar out. As quickly as you get a set of decks in entrance of me, although, I ought to really feel OK, I’m in my consolation zone.”

Kicking off with ‘Morning Light’ by Proudly People, Denney is shortly into his stride, neatly dropping out the EQ on the kick and utilizing the filter to convey the observe to life, accentuating the breakdown. Slickly mixing into his second observe, Anthony Attalla’s ‘3D,’ he retains each tracks working concurrently, the pumping drum patterns dovetailing properly, because of rolling filters and echo. 

It’s then that his home abilities actually shine by means of, because the Chus & Joeski ‘El Amor’ acapella bounds in, looped and echoed till it turns into a fizzing stutter, that explodes simply as ‘3D’ thumps again into motion. With a easy however energetic mixing fashion, you may clearly inform that Denney was introduced up on a weight loss plan of Roger Sanchez, Yousef and Sasha. 

“I loved that, yeah!” says Denney as he steps away from the decks. “Did I go?” A fast look over at Jim reveals a thumbs up and a giant smile, with Denney getting 34 out of 36 factors, solely dropping factors for not together with a sophisticated scratch or introducing a fourth sound supply. 

Next up is Tim Utah, a dancefloor mainstay with over 40 years of expertise. And he’s used that have to curate a really, very completely different combine. Not content material with simply testing himself out beneath examination situations, he’s given himself the problem of doing the combination utilizing simply Chemical Brothers tracks. He’s additionally introduced in his personal Pioneer RMX1000 unit that he makes use of for each dwell gig and blend. 

“Shall we simply go for it then?” says Tim, as he launches into the type of full-on audio assault that the majority music examiners won't have heard earlier than (however has the examiner Jim smiling from ear-to-ear in anticipation).  

Kicking off by beat-juggling with ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl’ on a loop, he shortly brings within the Belloni & Nocera mixture of ‘Go’, letting each tracks run for a minute, with the acid squelch of ‘Go’ using beneath the celebrity DJ chorus. Fast and livid, he then makes use of scorching cues to herald the ‘Salmon Dance’ acapella, letting that breathe for 10 seconds earlier than cross-fading ‘Go’ again in beneath. A looped melodic refrain from ‘Swoon’ gently breaks in, giving the combination a melodic ring, earlier than ‘Star Guitar’ and its windswept breakdown provides the combination extra respiratory area, as we brace for the MDMA rush of the breakdown. But it’s a fully genius double bluff, as he blends it into the Brookes Brothers remix, a tearing double-gun d&b salute. With the seismic Phibes remix of ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ scratched excessive, it’s an outrageous finish to an outrageous combine — seven tracks in seven minutes, plus an arsenal of samples and results unleashed from his RMX1000. 

Still grinning from that very surprising drum & bass rinse out, we ask Tim how he felt? 

“When I did it at dwelling, it was about 30% higher,” says Tim excitedly. “My requirements are fairly excessive — I’ve obtained OCD, I attempt to make the whole lot excellent. I've to complete a job. I can do it once more really, if you'd like?” Somehow, we are able to’t think about many GCSE college students saying the identical factor after they’ve taken their examination. And the rating? Top marks, 36 out of 36.

We sent two artists back to school to take the UK’s official DJ exam

The three greatest areas of suggestions relate to how the know-how is used and assessed, how only one examination (and examiner) can cowl a variety of DJ kinds and genres utilizing the identical standards, and whether or not you may realistically decide a pupil’s means to programme a set in just some minutes.

“I believe it’s a superb begin,” says Tim afterwards. “But I don’t see how the identical examination can check my set, which makes use of my hip-hop roots the identical as Denney. The two units are worlds aside, however they’ve each obtained a spot within the dance world — how are you going to decide them on the identical standards?”

It’s a superb level. Tim introduced his bombastic reduce and scratch DMC fashion to the examination, full with a swathe of genre-crossing tunes, whereas Denney introduced his home and tech-house finesse, with fine-tuned loops, weaponised filters and easy mixing: two wildly completely different kinds, however each undeniably good. 

Technology generally is a contentious subject, with the die-hard 1210 crew butting heads with those that embrace digital leaps and bounds. Students taking the examination get to decide on their very own setup, and we are able to see the reasoning. While trade commonplace gear may imply a pair of CDJ2000s and a top-of-the-range mixer, faculties (and oldsters) are unlikely to have that form of funds, so there’s no stipulation on what gear can be utilized. Students using turntables are given the identical mark and consideration as these utilizing an all-in-one console and even DJ software program on their laptop computer: all that’s required is 2 completely different sound sources. While that ranges the taking part in subject by way of value, there must be extra consideration for the wildly completely different ranges of know-how concerned in DJing.  

Having used an RMX 1000, alongside scorching cues, mixed-in-key software program and loops, Tim is blissful to embrace the know-how on provide. 

“Most of that set was blended in key,” says Tim. “Back within the day, I’d sing a observe in my head to attempt to work out the important thing. But now when you choose a observe utilizing Rekordbox, it routinely highlights each observe that’s in the identical key. It’s a superb factor, because it makes use of know-how to make units sound higher.”

A vinyl DJ like Tim in his youthful years, Denney thinks that the speedy rise in know-how is killing the artwork kind, and needs the examination to check the fundamental abilities. 

“Technology does all of the be just right for you,” he says. “The artwork can’t be misplaced, each as turntablism and the artwork of blending and programming. Imagine in case you had been studying drums in your entire life, needed to follow on daily basis to get your grade, after which your DJ mate may are available and press play twice on sync and get a go? That’s why a lot of the DJs right this moment aren’t DJs — they’re producers which have had successful after which exit on the street.”

Denney and Tim are united by the concept of a blind DJ check. 

“I’d give them 20 home, jungle, hip-hop vinyl data which might be inside 5BPM of one another, and ask the coed to combine two of the tracks collectively,” says Tim. “That’s testing a lot of issues — the rhythm, your beat counting, how intuitive you might be on the spot. Plenty of occasions you might be placed on the spot as a DJ.” Or, suggests Tim, they might make it even easier and, “cowl up the knowledge on the decks so that they need to depend on their ears?”

More frequent floor comes after they focus on the programming facet of the examination. Technical abilities can arguably be demonstrated over a shorter time frame, however DJing as an artwork kind is taking the group from level A to level B over a number of hours by way of deeper, weirder, funkier, less-travelled, hands-in-the-air moments. It’s concerning the highs and the lows, about not peaking too early, about unifying the group, discovering a typical groove, about discovering that steadiness between leisure and training.  

“I actually really feel that the artwork of programming is getting misplaced, 100% — they don’t know the best way to do heat up units, they don’t know the best way to set the membership up,” says Denney. “DJing is about understanding when to let the groove of the document move, when it's essential to step in with some FX. You don’t need to smash it each time. Sasha is the right instance, the king of blending — the whole lot is in key, creating moments with the music.”

We sent two artists back to school to take the UK’s official DJ exam

Including DJing within the music GCSE can solely be a superb factor, legitimising the artwork and occupation at an early age, and offering college students with a curriculum that exams their music data, abilities and composition. And it’s necessary to notice that is an entry-level qualification for 16-year-olds, with extra in-depth choices obtainable at music schools, A-Level grade, B-Tec , college programs and extra. 

But how can one examination be anticipated to check a standard hip-hop set versus a blistering techno set, or a contented hardcore throw-down, or one which makes an attempt to juggle disco, funk and soul? With so many variants, how can a turntable, with its inherent beat matching and scratching talents, be judged on the identical standards as DJ software program on a laptop computer? The two are worlds aside. It doesn’t occur for different music GCSE devices just like the flute or violin or trumpet, which is why extra particular tips are wanted. And with DJ units lasting hours, how can the examination presumably assess a DJ’s programming over simply 4 minutes, when for techno DJs, that’s when the primary observe actually begins to get going? 

All the examination boards that we spoke to stated they'd be open to our suggestions, so right here’s hoping that in a number of years’ time, now we have a extra strong music GCSE that offers extra focus to DJing genres, know-how and programming. Until then, select music, select DJing (and the OCR syllabus in case you can), and switch these tunes up loud in school.

“Having devoted my life to this artwork kind in all its variants, and having arrange a college that goals to assist any aspiring DJ no matter their place to begin, or no matter their objectives, I'm as conscious as any simply how difficult it's for faculties and examination boards to attempt to qualify these abilities. I utterly agree with all of the considerations raised by Tim and Denney. I wrangle often with how we are able to stage the taking part in subject for aspiring DJs of all genres to realize certifications, after which how to make sure DJ exams are equal in demand to these obtainable to aspiring guitarists or singers. I'm within the unenviable place the place I additionally understand how gradual it's for training coverage to simply accept and pay respectable consideration to a brand new talent resembling ours, and the way onerous it's to coach the lecturers to reliably assess the talents.

“When I used to be requested to seek the advice of with the examination boards to develop these GCSE specs, I used to be overjoyed on the official recognition our music was starting to obtain. I used to be then extraordinarily stunned that after only some quick discussions, the session was thought-about full, and the exams revealed. I'm the primary to say I can’t wait to have one other have a look at it. 

“At DJ School UK, we all know we are able to’t educate anybody the best way to be a star. We don’t know any guitar lecturers who suppose they'll both. We go away that to Disney stage faculties. We do know we are able to educate a spread of abilities that a teen can use to develop their very own creativity, with respect to their very own selections of music, and with that method to the aggressive DJ market, or simply throw an ideal home social gathering. We need to develop far more strong for learners, and nationwide coaching for lecturers, however till one of many large examination boards decides to pay extra consideration, we're simply vastly grateful for this primary step in the best course.”

We sent two artists back to school to take the UK’s official DJ exam

“As anticipated from a professional DJ, Tim completely nailed this — he approached the duty with a creative theme in thoughts and produced a combination that achieved his imaginative and prescient, and represented his chosen style extraordinarily properly. We at first thought he dropped one level for technical accuracy, but it surely was confirmed this was a technical subject (auto load of scorching cue operate failing), brought on by the examination moderators not offering the requested gear. The combine revered construction and concord of the chosen tracks utilizing guide platter looping, a number of FX, EQ, an exterior sampler and a number of sound sources, plus scratching. The sync operate was not used, and genuine ‘nudging’ might be seen to take care of the heartbeat of the combination with out affecting the general move of the piece, which was a drum-break heavy routine incorporating a number of sections and vocals. By showcasing a spread of the extra demanding abilities obtainable to a DJ at this stage, he achieved full marks. This examiner is conscious that different abilities displayed by Tim should not coated by this marking scheme, particularly the flexibility to cram so many mixes into such a short while, with out using sync capabilities.”

“As anticipated from a professional DJ, Denney flawlessly achieved his efficiency with full consideration to the construction, concord and association of his chosen sound sources. He misplaced zero factors for technical accuracy, expression or interpretation. It was so easy and the programming of the tracks so suited to the general piece, that to a layperson, it may have seemed like a pre-prepared remix or one observe. The video proves that it was the truth is three tracks, certainly one of which was an acapella. He integrated a number of EQ and FX modifications, which confirmed musical consciousness and added to the general composition. Sync was not used, and guide nudging gave the set a groove particular to this efficiency and suited to the event. Had Denney added yet one more intermediate talent (say a scorching cue edit), and yet one more sound supply, he would have achieved full marks, nonetheless to take action, he would in all probability have needed to cram a lot into the quick time obtainable it could have detracted from the general move. This examiner is conscious that for a DJ utilizing this style of music, a part of the talent is in programming consecutive songs over an extended interval, and that the examination necessities make that exact expertise inconceivable to evaluate.”

Thanks to Jim Reiss and all on the DJ School UK for his or her assist and assist. Find out extra about their tireless neighborhood DJ work here.