Deejay Kulture

Sorry for dropping off the Internet!  I was spending a warm and sunny Christmas in California, followed by a sunny January at my grandma’s house in Florida.  Some people prefer a “white Christmas,” but I feel so lucky that I got to wear flip-flops all through the break.  Here’s me and my brother during the first week of the new year — can you tell it’s January?

I wasn’t all that excited to return to snowy Cambridge, but my first week back was amazing.  Harvard has a new initiative called January Arts Intensives, held during the week before school starts.  The classes are small (about ten people each), and we receive intensive instruction in a special art technique.  The week-long class wasn’t graded, which makes it feel less like school and more like recreation.

I signed up for the coolest class: How to Deejay.”  I’m not your typical-lookin’ deejay, but I’ve always been in love with music – I religiously read Rolling Stone, SPIN and Pitchfork, and I spend any extra money I have on new tunes.  I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t play an instrument of any kind (not even the recorder! and everyone learned the recorder in grade school), so this deejay class seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn how to “make music” without actually playing an instrument.  Each class is taught by an expert in the field, and mine was led by the phenomenal Boston DJ and ethnomusicologist, DJ Super Squirrel.

Over the course of the week, we learned about mashups and remixing as an ideology that extends into an infinite number of fields (not just music!)  Remixing can happen in films, in visual art, in performance, in poetry and lyrics — and even in fields beyond the arts, like science, where major solutions are often found in the intersections of very different projects & studies.  Remixing appeals to me on a really fundamental level, because I’ve always felt like I come from a mashup of cultures.  Sometimes I don’t even know where my loyalties lie — I feel so invested in each community and place that shaped me.  At the end of our deejay class, I made a sweet mixtape that blended some of my favorite Kenyan pop songs with US dance music.  The result sounded as muddled as my own identity, but at least it was danceable.

For most of the week, we used this mashup software called Ableton, which is apparently what all the eminent DJs use (even artists like Girl Talk and Skrillex!).  But, in the interest of authenticity, we also learned how to scratch using records and turntables – the old-skool way.   I discovered that I have no natural skills in the scratching department.  You gotta use your left hand to push the record while you flick the fader back and forth with your right hand.  Unfortunately, I can’t make my hands do different things at the same time – but it was still fun spinning Nastymix records like I knew what I was doing.  In my daydreams, I’m just as amazing as these guys:


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  1. Renters Insurance’s avatar

    Amazing!!! What I would give not to have a white Christmas…… a lot.

    1. shannon’s avatar

      yes i felt very blessed! I’ve actually never had a white Christmas 🙂

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