Check out the exclusive video above, taken at the Scratch Lab, including a chat with DJ Grouch and DJ David Campbell during a private lesson.
Remember wearing funky bell-bottoms and singing along with Burton Cummings to “American Woman”? Neither do I. But that was the ’70s, recognized as a significant decade for music. In particular, though, it’s the era known for giving birth to one of today’s most popular genres: hip-hop.
A DJ is actually credited as the father of hip-hop. DJ Kool Herc was the first to isolate and mix drum beats from disco and funk records, creating the early sounds of the genre. Hip-hop’s arrival in the ’70s redefined the DJ, shifting the job description from simply playing records to a performer and musician. The art of turntablism transformed your mom’s old record player into the modern DJ instrument.
Over the last few decades, Canada has produced some of North America’s top DJs, such as Richie Hawtin, Max Graham, Luke Fair, A-Trak and many more. Today, DJing has gained acceptance through Canadian award shows like the Junos, with Deamau5 and DJ Brace taking home awards over the last few years. The rise of the Stylus Awards has also shed more light on the art form, celebrating DJs all over the country in various categories. And this abundance of DJ talent in our nation has spawned an interest in the music form throughout newer generations.
Almost half a century since turntablist pioneers discovered they could create their own sounds, how can this new generation of potentials master the craft? In Toronto, facilities like the Scratch Lab DJ Institute are the answer. Recognized as Canada’s original DJ school, I decided to head over to the Lab and get some training insight.
“When you treat the turntable like an instrument you are a turntablist in a sense,” says DJ Grouch, manager and lead instructor of Toronto’s Scratch Lab DJ Institute. “The turntable is the only instrument where you can play sound effects, you can scratch a horn, you can scratch drums, you can be any instrument. Scratching is the next level thing that you can do as a DJ, as far as creating your own notes and sounds. It’s an amazing art.”
The Scratch Lab was created by DJ Baba Kahn, Jordan Fisher and Abby Tobias, and was officially open for students in January 2006. The school quickly gained notoriety, with its lineup of star instructors and a curriculum developed by DJ Baba Kahn, DJ Grouch and DJ Starting From Scratch.
What better way to learn the craft than through a program created by some of our finest homegrown DJs? The curriculum is so solid that the Ontario Ministry of Education has credited the program as an eligible music course for high school students. And the course isn’t focused solely on the craft —DJ Grouch stresses the importance of teaching his students the business side of things.
“The business is definitely the most important thing to learn about DJing because the talent unfortunately is like a five per cent thing compared to the business, which is your other 95," he explains. "If your business isn’t right you’re going to end up getting taken advantage of.”
Grouch shared some of his horror stories with me, about dealing with shady promoters, club owners and in some cases even friends that would take advantage of his skills during his early days as a DJ. The now 25-year veteran passes on his knowledge to students, preventing them from making similar mistakes. Stories of shady dealings set aside, DJ Grouch claims the rewards are great once you get your game face on.
Like all technology, the turntable continues to evolve. There is now a wide range of digital DJ products that can substitute the turntable and mimic its functions. Although Grouch and the staff stay up to date with these products for the new generation, Grouch still stands by his Technics 1200s, a discontinued model launched in 1972 that remains among the top choices for many of today’s DJs.
“I’ve had mine for over 20 years, they’re built like tanks,” Grouch says.
No matter what shape DJ technology may take in the future, the turntable will always be the DJ's instrument.
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