There's something that Charissa Saverio tries to impart to her students: "Music doesn't have to stop and start with DJing."
Known as DJ Rap, Saverio has been in the electronic-music game for more than 25 years now. She's best known for drum 'n' bass but has played and produced everything from breakbeat to acid house. Even though she "semi-retired" five years ago, she's still active. She doesn't tour the way she once did, but just last month, she played Hollywood party Sunday Sanctuary. She's working on new music, including two new tracks, "Emote" and "High," which she anticipates will be out this summer. She's also in the process of writing a new studio album, to be called Detonate.
Last fall, the British-born, L.A.-based DJ and producer launched Music Tech Collective, a school for aspiring producers and DJs. She teaches students how to use Ableton and how to DJ and also offers workshops covering both technical and business subjects. "You don't have to just DJ," she says, adding that she stresses that her mostly female students should focus on honing their skills in engineering and production, which can help them make a living.
Saverio herself wanted to be a producer. She fell into DJing when she and then-collaborator Jeff B. released a record called "Ambience" under the name The Adored. To promote the record, they decided to find gigs as pirate-radio DJs. Saverio learned how to mix while working the graveyard shift at one such illegal station.
She was one of a handful of women DJing during the acid house era in the U.K. and that wasn't easy. Saverio remembers playing at a club in London where the female DJs were relegated to a small room while the male DJs rocked the mainstage. She bugged the promoter for weeks until she finally got a shot playing the big room on a system far fancier than what she had been using. Saverio held her own there week after week for about a month. Then she asked for the same nominal fee that the guys were getting. "They fired me the next day," she recalls.
But that was just the beginning of her career on the decks. She spent the bulk of the 1990s and early 2000s jetting across the world playing raves, clubs and festivals. In 1999, her single "Good to Be Alive" topped the U.S. dance charts. She turned up in a Calvin Klein ad and a Twix commercial. In the first era of superstar DJs, Saverio was at the top.
Since 2011, however, Saverio has focused on a different kind of life. She took up acting and now has some indie film projects in the works. She focused on living a sober, healthy life. And she started teaching.
She began by leading classes at Dubspot and other DJ/producer-related schools in Los Angeles before going out on her own. Now, she teaches local students in her Hollywood apartment and others online. Her courses are one-on-one and, while she teaches both men and women, she says that her students are primarily female.
"I'm passing all my knowledge about everything to them," Saverio says. "It's really not just an Ableton course, it's a mentorship about: This is what you're going to experience as a DJ, as a woman DJ, and I think that's probably the best reason to be taught by a girl."
By teaching one-on-one, she's able to tailor the lessons to students; some pick up the technical aspects quicker than others. Since Saverio has dyslexia and struggled in school, she's sensitive to her own students' needs. "I don't want anyone I ever teach to go through that barrier of feeling stupid or not understanding," she says. "I've noticed that male teachers, a lot of the time, they want to impress you with their knowledge. It's not my job to impress you with my knowledge. It's my job to encourage you to find your own way to get there."
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In teaching, Saverio found a calling that she didn't know she had. She seems to be a natural at it. When we meet, she pulls out a worn compilation of house tracks that are now considered classic and starts talking about the evolution from house to acid house to drum 'n' bass, the latter being the genre for which she became famous. "You would be shocked by how many kids don't know the last generation of producers," she says. "You might end up being signed to a label if you have some talent, but you have to know your history."
While Saverio is lending her decades of dance-music knowledge to aspiring DJ/producers, her students are pushing her as well. It prompts her to stay on top of her own production skills and has has helped inspire her to continue making music. "Now, I'm doing it for the same fucking reason that I got into it," she says, "because I love it."