Oct 2, 2013
Babies Love Disco: An Interview With Natalie Elizabeth Weiss of Baby DJ School
In line at the cafe, playwright and composer Natalie Elizabeth Weiss tells me she has five jobs, her newest being the head honcha of Baby DJ School at Cool Pony in Crown Heights. She told me that if you wanted to ever get anything done, you have ask someone who is swamped, because they’re already going a little crazy. She also told me that she likes to be in control, which means that Weiss loves being swamped — in addition to guiding infant hands on pads and sliders, she’s produced a musical (CAMP WANATACHI), was a Composition Fellow at the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and is a regular DJ in the NYC party scene. In Cool Pony’s backyard, we talked babies, Aphex Twin, and why girls should get into DJing.
How have the classes been going?
It’s better than I could have ever dreamed, as far as what’s happening with the kids in the classes. All of the babies are bringing up the volume up on one track and down on another, and helping me sync the BPMs, putting effects on the sounds, and they love it. I have worked my ass off doing research on working with kids and babies, and so I’m just using all of my tools that I’ve been reading about and just getting the kids comfortable with it, and seeing their parents so shocked is really cool.
How did you get into Electronic Dance Music?
I got exposed to it through Travis Stewart (Machinedrum). We’d just met each other and, on a road trip, he forced me to listen to electronic music for like ten hours straight. It was a little scary to me. But I knew this was a magic time, and he knew all the people he was playing me, and within the next couple of months I met all of them, and I was like: This isn’t some Satan shit. This is amazing.
What did you read and what did you discover?
At first, I just wanted to know whether early music education could make a difference. There haven’t been many studies doing music research with infants. But as early as three months old, they can recognize certain musical structures and distinguish between them. The studies show that it benefits the kid’s spatial reasoning and language skills. So it started with that to back up my guess that it’s gotta be good to expose them young. I read a lot of stuff on parenting. A book I really liked is called Parenting From the Inside Out. The way you make sense of your early childhood experiences greatly affects the way you rear your children, so it’s not what your childhood experiences were, it’s the way you make sense of them. To that end, the way I make sense of my early exposure to electronic music and DJing has a huge effect on the way I teach babies about electronic music and DJing.
How can teaching a baby to DJ educate them?
You’re getting that same kind of spatial understanding as when you listen to classical music, but in the fake universe. Especially with stuff like Machinedrum and Aphex Twin, who the new music composers David Lang and Missy Mazzoli cannot touch. So, like, if you listen to the left ear, while precueing the next song, while asking yourself , “do I want to blend the next song up,” it puts you right in the middle of the world, and gives you the option of turning sections up and down. It’s empowering because we’re bombarded by pop and electronic music. When you go into Duane Reade, you hear Daft Punk, but we can’t control it.
But how do you approach a two-year-old with different BPMs? Or which song to speed up or slow down?
Well, I don’t explain BPMs to a one-year-old or anything. One of the challenges is that it’s a lot of prep: collecting songs that do and don’t sound good together. I’ll jam two songs together, and I’ll ask them: “Does that sound good or does that sound jumbly?” And if it’s jumbly, I’ll make a face, but if it sounds good, I’ll make a positive face. They see it and the parents see it, and I’ll take their hands and mix it up in the PA. I mean, what you’re doing with the three month old and with someone who’s almost four, it’s a bit different. They speak up more.
Why Babies? Why DJing?
I’m not doing Baby DJ School to capitalize on the children’s music market, I’m doing it because I think more kids need to learn to do music at a younger age to bring people together, to have electronic music not be something that happens only when you’re wasted, or at the club, and away from your family. It can be something that brings people together, and especially with young parents, who all listen to Autechre and Ellen Allien. It’s about community, just in a different way.
So you’re writing all of the material?
Well I mix in and out songs, but I wrote a couple of songs. I worked on one with Matt Young from Body Language called “That’s Why Daddy Loves Disco” and Ben Bromley from New Villagers, who did the Baby DJ theme song. [Sings]. “Well the right output is for you / it’s the way we do the precue / put the headphones on and / before long, we’re mixing in the song. Baby DJ, put your hands up!” I mean, they’re baby songs. Bob Jones wrote one with me about the SB-404. Sometimes I’ll play some Footwork, and we’ll all run around the room.
How important is it for you to expose kids to EDM from another lens, away from the stereotypes?
For me, it’s more than just the drugs stereotype. Le Tigre had a 7″ that had this quote on it: “In seeking specific technical information, we discover that behind the hysteria of male expertise lies the magic world of our unmade art.” I want to get more girls to DJ. Creating a more gender equal landscape is a priority for me. To have kids learning from a woman is big for me too. Who’s the authority on DJ matters? A woman who’s smiling and nice, and not trying to be cooler than you.
Another reason I want to focus on the school is because I want to practice my DJ skills 24/7. This allows me to make money during the day and work on DJing, and also at night, when I play a show.
Who are these parents?
The parents who want to do this class are the people who got the iPhone first. I was watching this TEDTalk about technology and innovation the other day, and I realized how important these four or five parents that are doing my class. They’re really innovators, and I’m glad they’re doing it with me.
What are you working on?
Baby DJ School is my main thing right now, but I’m writing librettos for two different projects. One with new classical composer Conrad Winslow and one with Tim “Love” Lee, a trip-hop producer and founder of Tummy Torch records.
Baby DJ School is on rolling admissions, so you can still sign your baby up here.
Follow Ryan Chang on Twitter @avantbored.
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