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“I’m all about the early ’80s,” says DJ Sinestro to his audience. “I mean, come on. Look at my shoes.”
The 27-year-old DJ ducks down, slips one off, and holds it high above his turntables. It’s a black-and-white-and-red-checkered Van with no laces.
“If you want to be a DJ,” continues Sinestro, “you always have to make people dance. The challenge for me is to get people to dance to something they normally wouldn’t listen to. That’s the hard part. It takes a while to get there. But there are tricks.”
It’s a Wednesday night in September, and about 10 aspiring DJs are sitting on couches and stools opposite Sinestro and listening attentively. Some clutch a handout that reads, “Possible Questions for Sinestro (Feel free to make up your own, too!).”
Nobody has bitten on question No. 1: “What are you doing as a DJ that a robot can’t do?” But Sinestro is on a roll anyway, reminiscing about his early days as a DJ, fishing out favorite records from a stack at his feet, and rhapsodizing about a Flavor Flav track that long eluded him.
Sinestro’s show-and-tell session is part of a weekly series held at Metatrack Studios, the District’s first vocational-school-cum-community-center for students of electronic dance music.
In the audience is the studio’s founder and owner, Juliette Siegfried, 34, who gave up teaching middle-school students at Sidwell Friends to teach DJing to the masses. After nearly two years of planning, she opened Metatrack Studios in late July.
“I love to teach,” says Siegfried. “I’ve taught all level of classes, from total, absolute newbieswhich I think are my favoriteto people who already know how to spin. I’m certainly not the most advanced DJ myself. So I’m taking lessons, too.”
Metatrack Studios offers a diverse curriculum. Beginners can sign up for seminars called “Introduction to DJing” and “Introduction to Production.” More advanced mix masters can choose between workshops such as “DJ 201: Beyond Beatmatching” and “DJing as Performance Art.”
Siegfried has assembled a teaching staff of about 20 professional DJs, whose fields of expertise range from techno to trance to hiphop to house. Siegfried’s own specialty is techno, and she has spun locally under the name Zelda at such nightclubs as Nation, Tracks, and the Edge.
“People sometimes say to me, ‘Lots of famous DJs are self-taught. What do you need school for? Why take lessons?’ Sure, you can learn it on your own. But if you work with someone, you’ll learn things faster, and you’ll get connected to the community,” says Siegfried, who has formed a partnership that will allow some of her up-and-coming students to perform live at the Edge.
Siegfried says that when she bought her first set of turntables, about four years ago, she was surprised by how difficult spinning could be. As a result, she started AmtrakDJs.org, an e-mail listwhich eventually grew into a Web sitewhere DJs could share advice with each other, recommend new music, and discuss production techniques.
“I started thinking about an actual building where people could come and mentor each otherlearn, perform, and practice,” says Siegfried. “It worked online, so why wouldn’t it work in person?”
Siegfried hopes that Metatrack Studios will help showcase the positive aspects of the DJ lifestyle. “The media loves to say that the techno scene is all about drugs,” she says. “But drugs can only carry you so far. This whole community is about people’s passion and their level of involvement. When people come here, I want them to feel an atmosphere that’s like a big group hug.” Felix Gillette