In a city where club music revolves around global commercial sensations, a duo have recruited the town’s top deejays to expand electronic horizons
An English schoolmaster and a veteran American deejay have founded Phnom Penh’s first DJ school in the hope of creating the Kingdom’s future Tiestos and Skrillexes.
“In the old days everyone wanted to become a lead guitarist; today everyone wants to be a deejay,” said Anthony Whyte, who previously ran a cross-cultural communications training school in London.
His partner Steve Manow, from Pennsylvania, said he wanted to share his skills to advance the local industry while promoting less commercial electronic music.
“Everyone listens to the same music here because that’s all there is – they don’t know there’s a whole other world of music,” Manow said.
Based out of KTH Power Mall, opposite the Chinese Embassy, Cambodia DJ Academy’s eight coaches provide one-on-one lessons for all skill levels. For beginners, said Whyte, the intention was to introduce prospective deejays to all aspects of the craft over the course of 12 hours.
“By the end of the 12 hours you’ll be able to understand what deejaying is all about – you might not be able to do everything, but when you see a deejay you’ll know what they’re doing,” Whyte said, adding that the school aims to cater to professional aspirants and amateurs alike.
The cost is $240 for 12 hours of lessons, with free practice time included.
“We’re looking [to teach] anyone of any age – any nationality, any creed – who loves music, is affected by technology and who wants to interact with their music instead of just listening to it.”
The team stressed the importance of teaching basic technical fundamentals in spite of the digital automation that allows deejays to skip over formerly necessary tasks.
“You can buy a controller, link it with your computer, press a couple buttons and off you go,” said Whyte, adding that such laziness could be catastrophic in the deejay booth if software failed.
Coach Alan Ritchie, who previously gave deejay lessons to Vietnamese youth in Nha Trang, said the analog tradition of deejaying ought to be respected even if technology takes away the need for physical vinyl.
“I definitely instil that it’s very important to learn about time, rhythm, and beats ... where it all came from with vinyl – when there was no screen, there was no digital readouts,” he said.
Manow said the idea was to eventually teach all aspects of electronic music showbiz from sound technology to lighting.
“We’re basically going to be a one-stop shop for every kind of [role] for putting on events,” he said.
Local nightclubs have already taken notice of the school. Nivit “DJ Illest” Tep, co-owner of Pontoon, Duplex and Epic clubs, said he was hopeful that the academy would bring deejaying in the Kingdom to a new level of professionalism.
“If you want to develop a music scene, you obviously need deejays, and deejays need to be taught properly, and I think we have the right guys here,” Tep said, adding that the school could provide new recruits for his own businesses.
In addition to improving skill sets, Manow also said he hopes to encourage local deejays to embrace more than the usual commercial electronic dance music.
He said his years in Thailand, where he lived from 2008 onwards, showed that drum and bass, house and other electronic subgenres could become popular in Southeast Asia once audiences were given the opportunity to hear them.
“When Thais actually heard underground music for the first time, they loved it. It was like watching James Bond for the first time,” said Manow, who founded the UB underground radio station in Bangkok before coming to Phnom Penh.
In a country with no formal deejay academy, Manow said he relished the challenge of introducing formal education to the craft.
“I always wanted to do a deejay school, started from scratch, just getting people raw and training them to be deejays, and proper deejays – not just the EDM crap that people play,” he said, referring to commercial electronic dance music. He added that the political turmoil in Thailand also influenced his decision to cross the border.
While Whyte said he didn’t want to preach his music preferences to Cambodian youth, he said introducing house, drum and bass and other electronic subgenres was essential to the academy’s mission.
“We welcome people to bring their own music if they want to stick to their own music – that’s absolutely fine – but with us they will discover new sounds. And that’s one of the missions we’ve given ourselves,” he said.
Above all else, said Ritchie, students must love the music they play.
“You gotta love what you play, otherwise you’re just a robot,” he said.