Want to learn how to DJ? This Thursday, you'll have your chance when traveling workshop series Intersessions hits Los Angeles. Founded by Chippy Nonstop, Rhi Blossom and Ainsley Willow aka Shy Daughter, the workshop is open to all, but it's steeped in intersectional feminism and aims to create what Chippy calls a "safe space" for women and people on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. "But everyone is welcome to attend if they are respectful of everyone around them," Chippy notes.
Intersessions began in Vancouver "as an experiment," Chippy says by phone from Toronto. The experiment worked. So far, they have organized two events in Vancouver and two in Toronto, where the rapper-producer is based. They have also brought Intersessions to Ottawa, Montreal and New York. This will be the brand's first L.A. workshop and, while the founders won't be in attendance, they have a group of friends and colleagues ready to school the crowd.
Chippy says she looks for teachers who are at different stages in their careers. The L.A. event will feature both up-and-comers and DJs who are fairly well-established in the city. Chippy says that kind of mix is important so that the students "can kind of relate to them." It's also important that the event's staff represents different musical styles and can work with different kinds of gear. This installment of Intersessions will be heavy on CDJ teachers — after all, that's the nightclub standard right now — but they also will have local DJs Jen Lasher on vinyl and Francesca Harding using Serato.
The workshops help to combat the stereotypes that exist surrounding the DJ world: that this is the boys' realm. "Representation is really important," Chippy says. "If you're not represented as a community, you're scared to even start."
They're also combatting the persistent notion that women aren't as tech-savvy as men. "When you're young, it's kind of pushed on you, men are better with technical stuff," Chippy says. "When a computer is down in class, the teacher always looks toward the guy to come help her or something like that." That alone is a crucial barrier to overcome in a field like DJing, where the job is far more technical than it looks.
Local DJ Francesca Harding, who has known Chippy Nonstop for about five years, heard about Intersessions and thought it was a good idea, so she was happy to join the L.A. workshop. Harding took to the decks "seven or eight years" ago and has been working as a full-time DJ for two years. She has a weekly slot on radio station KPFK, plays regularly across Los Angeles and is part of the group Wear Patterns, which was recently featured in L.A. Weekly.
Harding learned how to play the old-fashioned way but switched to Serato when building a vinyl collection proved to be too expensive. She's teaching Serato but wants to impart her love of records to the students as well. "Because I started with all-vinyl, I feel like learning vinyl is the best way to start, specifically if you don't want to become super visual in the way that you DJ," she says. "A lot of times, when you're just utilizing Serato, you can see the wave form, so you're being more visual instead of using your ears."
For the Intersession crew, the event is about more than simply learning to DJ. It's about building a DJ alliance. "The point of this is not that this is a one-time session," says Kathy Suarez, who DJs under the name Helikonia and met Chippy in New York about five years ago. She's the host of the event and will also be teaching CDJs. "It's that you come here and we're networking and building a community so that later we can continue to have these types of sessions and continue to support each other."
And that's good for the instructors as well as the students. "It just sounded like such a great opportunity," says Suarez, who relocated from London to Los Angeles six months ago. "I'm kind of going through that situation where it's so hard as a girl to get gigs and to find a community to get the support that you need to further yourself as a DJ."
Suarez says she's expecting to see people of varying skill levels at Intersessions. It's not just for people with no experience; people who can rock one format are invited to come down and learn another one, too. "I've lately started to learn other formats because, when you go to a club, you never know what they're going to have," says Suarez. "So it's good for girls to get an understanding of everything that is out there."
The event is designed to accommodate the needs of different students. It will begin with an introduction that focuses on the basics of the gear, then will split off into small groups to work with the instructors on CDJs, turntables or Serato. Students should bring their own music, whether it's on a USB or records. It's also recommended that they bring their own headphones, though Suarez notes that they will have extra pairs on hand.
After the coursework is done, students will have the chance to show off their new skills at an after-party to take place on the rooftop of the Ace. "You don't need to have any previous knowledge," Suarez says. "You just have to have the desire to want to learn, be a DJ and be part of the community."
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Intersessions takes place at the Ace Hotel downtown on Thursday, Aug. 25, from 3-6 p.m. There is a $10 suggested donation and the space is wheelchair-accessible. RSVP through the Ace Hotel's website.
Liz Ohanesian writes about DJ culture, electronic music and other subjects for L.A. Weekly. Her work also has appeared in Playboy, Noisey, Village Voice and a number of other publications. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.