Let’s be honest, we’ve all thought we could do that DJ lark: plug in the laptop or USB stick to a mixing deck that lines the beats up for you – all you need to do is switch the crossfader back and forth, throw your hands in the air and pretend to take requests. Sounds like a doddle, right? Wrong.
Mixing music – and for many, it’s an art – is a serious skill. I’ve dabbled on some decks using 12-inch vinyl before, but things have changed, as Cliff Townley, the general manager of Rush Nightclub at the Yas Viceroy and resident DJ, tells me. “I wouldn’t say that turn-tabling is a dying art, but there are certainly more digital DJs nowadays in clubs and bars.
Here at Rush we are digital,” he says. “[But] we do have the turntables that are connected to the laptop, so there is an element of the ‘old-school’ mixing in there.”
Cliff takes me through the programme on the laptop – Serato – which is a popular choice for many disc jockeys.
At first, the screen looks similar to something you’d find on the Starship Enterprise, but Townley only shows me the part I really need to concentrate on – the beat.
I hit play on the first track, Show Me Love EDX Indian Summer Remix, and then cue a different track on the second deck. But it’s the same song as the first. “I need to see if you can mix the beat of the same track first,” Townley explains, when I flash him a quizzical look. “If you can’t get that, then we could be in trouble!”
Luckily, I do. I’m told to count to the beat of four, four times, before starting (or “dropping”, in our scene-savvy DJ lingo) the other song. I nail it in the first couple of attempts, so Townley, who’s been DJing for 12 years, takes things to the next level. A new song is introduced, Sugar EDX Ibiza Sunrise Remix, which is ever-so-slightly faster than Show Me Love on deck one.
This time, I get the drop right, but it’s out – it actually sounds horrible, to be completely honest. “That’s just because it’s two beats per minute faster than your current track,” Townley says, reassuring me. “Use the outer part of the turntable to speed it up a little.” So I do.
The laptop screen in front of me tells me how fast, or the BPM (beat per minute) each track is playing. I spin the outer ring of the digital turntable to bring it up to speed, but I’m also encouraged to use my ears rather than my eyes – something the pros make a habit of.
I practise cueing and dropping a few times before Townley shows me how to fade. Currently, I’m keeping the volume of each deck the same so I can hear what it would be like on a club night – thankfully no-one is around to hear my first couple of attempts. I keep the volume of the track I want to mix in turned off. I can hear through the headphones – which, for the first time, I realise aren’t actually just for show – to hear the track I want to mix in. Listening to one song, while listening to another that is pumping through the club speakers, trying to find the right time to bring it in, takes a lot of concentration.
“When you know what music you’re playing, what your set is going to be, you know what ‘that moment when the beat drops’ part is. It’s a bit like co-ordinating a show.”
So, how did I do? Is it worth my downing my journo notebook and downloading Serato on to my MacBook? “I think you’ve done really well for your first time on digital,” Townley says, with what sounds like a hint of almost parental pride (or maybe I’m just hoping he’ll take me under his wing). “You’ve got great rhythm and musical timing which is something near impossible to teach.
“The best thing now is to get practising and feel confident, and we’ll hopefully see you behind the decks soon!”
Rush Nightclub. Open daily 10.30pm-3.30am. Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, Yas Island (055 780 0086).
Four more abu dhabi DJs to watch out for (apart from us)
Neil Torious has been DJing for 20 years, with five of those being right here in the capital. Neil T likes to play music that’s high energy, now-and-again throwing in tracks that you may not have heard before. Neil T plays at People by Crystal, Al Maya Island (from time-to-time) and Legends at Sheraton Abu Dhabi Corniche.
Abdallah Seleem has been spinning the decks in the capital since 2013, but has been behind the decks since 2008. DJ B-Luv is from Egypt and is known for playing urban beats to audiences at Pearls & Caviar, Rush Club and People by Crystal. He likes to cross genres, keeping the crowd guessing and is one lovable lad to boot.
DJ Kaboo, or Mohammed Srour to his friends and family, has been hitting the decks for more than 15 years. The Egyptian has been playing everything from hip-hop to RnB, dancehall to reggae and old school to funk, for five years in Abu Dhabi. You’ll find him at spots like People by Crystal and Etoiles at Emirates Palace.
Slim from Paris
DJ Slim has been in the city for close to eight years now, and has performed alongside some huge names from the music world including Shaggy, Rita Ora and NERD. Playing most genres from house to Latino, DJ Slim can be found every Wednesday and Friday at Etoiles, Emirates Palace, and People by Crystal. Also found pumping iron in the gym.