Empowering Girls through MusicAugust 14, 2009
I had to look at the advertisement twice to believe it: a ladies-only intro to DJing workshop at one of my favorite local concert spots? I love music and dancing, but I have been intimidated by the DJ community. Ebony Dumas, one of the event organizers, assured workshop attendees that while many women are hesitant to get involved in DJing because of the technical aspects, the most important skill is being able to feel the music.
On the night of July 29, the back room of the Black Cat was filled with about 40 women, ages 20 to 30, who all seemed to be eyeing the turntables and mixing boards set up around the room. The workshop covered basics about the turntable and the mixer, as well as music selection and phrasing. We learned about cueing — what the DJ is doing under the headphones — fading, and equalizing. The DJ presenters made the switch from one song to another seem effortless, but we weren’t fooled. If it were that simple, we’d all be DJs.
Even though it was late on a Wednesday night, everyone seemed engaged, asking questions ranging from digital versus vinyl to equipment needed for club gigs. The last part of the workshop covered phrasing, the part that makes DJing an art.
Most music you hear in clubs operates on sets of 32 counts, or four eight-count phrases. Transitions in songs are almost always timed in 32 counts. To demonstrate how it works they played Gorillaz’s “Got the Cool” and had us count out the sets of four eight-counts. And sure enough, without fail there was a transition after every 32 counts. Try it sometime. You can be phrasing expert, too.
At the end of the night we had the chance to “drop it on the one” ourselves, hovering over the two DJ stations for the chance to put our newly learned skills to the test.
“The idea of ‘catching’ that first beat, suspending it, and then letting it go when you’re ready … that was amazing. Growing up I always handled vinyl records with such care. I was told to only hold them by the edges or they might scratch and smudge. But that was all lies! Vinyl was made to be touched. Putting our hands on the records was liberating,“ said one of the women at the event.
At one point Ebony told the story of why she got into DJing in the first place. She loved dancing, but she found the music on the dance floor degrading. The desire to give young women equal exposure in the music scene and to use music to empower girls has prompted Ebony and others to get involved with the organization Girls Rock! DC. The intro to DJing workshop was part of a larger series designed to raise awareness about and funds for the Girls Rock! DC summer camp held this week, August 10–14.
Open to girls ages 8–18, the camp provides instrument and vocal lessons and offers workshops ranging from media literacy to image and identity. Over lunch local female musicians come and play music with the girls. The afternoons are occupied by band practice.
On day one of the camp, the girls form bands and begin writing and rehearsing an original song to be performed at the August 15 showcase event at the 9:30 Club. Julie Yoder, local DC indie band drummer and core organizer of the camp, said, “The changes you see in confidence levels in the girls in 24 to 48 hours is amazing.”
As we headed out of the Black Cat after 11 p.m., I was thinking about what I could do with my newfound DJ knowledge. One thing stressed by the workshop presenters was that it takes practice to be a good DJ. I don’t know about myself, but the girls attending the Girls Rock! DC camp have the chance to practice their skills during the week of camp and show them off at the showcase August 15. For more information about Girls Rock! DC or about the showcase, visit the GR!DC website.