A College for DJ’s?
Some of you guys gotta sign up!
LYON, France—Here in the country that gave us Molière and Monet, government support of the arts dates back for centuries.
But now it’s come to this: a college for disc jockeys.
The state-backed curriculum at the Ecole des DJ lasts 18 to 22 months and covers subjects such as copyright law, music appreciation and stage lighting—as well as more subtle DJ arts like record scratching.
It’s not for deadbeats. During one recent class, teacher Olivier Colignon—who goes by the professional name DJ Getdown—blasted a student for his narrow repertoire. “You have no pop-rock on your computer?” he barked. “No Nirvana? No Queen? A DJ’s job is to make people dance, not just play music you like.”
Students must learn to fine-tune their ears. In his class, Prof. Samuel Cornut played the first few bars of classic disco hits for a group of 20 kids. He cut the music the moment a student shouted out the name of the single. “Daddy Cool!” “I Will Survive!” “Funkytown!”
A sober discussion about the Supremes ensued. “You spell that plural, not like the Supreme Cheese,” said Mr. Cornut, making a reference to a burger sold in France by the Quick fast-food chain.
The Ecole, French for “school,” is the brainchild of Pascal Tassy, a onetime real-estate salesman. He founded the program in 2001 and persuaded the Ministry of Employment and the region of Rhone-Alpes to both certify and subsidize it.
During their time at the school, students apprentice at dance clubs and earn modest pay that is partly borne by the government. Last November, the ministry of employment came up with an official DJ designation—”animateur musicale et scenique”.
“This is a craft that was crying out for formal training,” said Mr. Tassy, 47 years old. “We talked to nightclub owners and discovered there was a real need for DJs to be educated with more structure.”
Across the rest of Europe and the U.S., DJs usually train as pop musicians or sound engineers and learn on the job. In the U.S., some colleges offer informal classes, but nothing nearly as long or as formal as the Ecole.
In a classroom labeled “dancefloor,” students recently took turns mixing—creating a combo of song snippets that seamlessly blend into a unique compilation. A disco ball hung from the ceiling. Three professors watched intently from the back of the room, their brows furrowed like a trio of hard-nosed directors. For each 10-minute set, they took notes on formal report cards, grading each pupil on presentation, technique and attitude.
Mehdy Terki, aka Mehdy Prince, a 24-year-old from Marseille, was up.
“It’s minutes to midnight,” he boomed into the mike, at 11:45 a.m. “We’re gonna rock you into 2010.” He launched Dire Straits’s “Money for Nothing” and clapped his hands.
“Tell ’em Paris Hilton is in the house,” Nico Ortiz, a professor, urged Mr. Prince.
Esteban Duret, 21, got an assignment to play a set of funk. He peered into his laptop, tweaked a few settings, and put on “Fascinated” by the 1980s electro-pop band Company B.
“Cut!” yelled Mr. Ortiz, 37. “We’ve got a serious issue here. Company B’s ‘Fascinated’ has never been funk. If you get away with that at the exam, it’ll be smoke and mirrors. Company B is New Wave, OK? Continue.”
Competition for the school’s 45 slots is keen, with about 250 hipsters applying each year. One reason: Global club and fashion culture have helped spawn an elite new tier of DJs, with a handful attaining celebrity status.