Scratch DJ Academy: Mixmaster Classes are in Session.
“There used to be a bartending school here but I guess it’s gone,” murmurs a middle-aged woman, as she walks past the doors of 209 Chestnut St. She seems disappointed at the loss of a hip icon of Old City.
These days, the Academy offers an opportunity for those looking to hone their DJing skills or get an education in music production. Classes range from DJ-101 (Beginner DJing) to M-202 (Intermediate Mixing). They also offer private lessons.
Scratch DJ Academy started in New York City almost 15 years ago when Rob Principe and Jam Master Jay came together in hope of making turntablism more accessible. Now, in 2016, Scratch DJ Academy has operations in six of America’s most prominent music scenes: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta and now, Philadelphia.
As a renowned DJ, music producer and South Philly native, Baker has played shows everywhere, from Puerto Rico to South Korea. He is a part of a long, storied lineage of DJs in Philadelphia. DJs Cash Money, Tat Money, Jazzy Jeff, Spinbad, Too Tuff, Cosmic Cat, Lady B, Josh Wink, King Britt and DJ AM – all with national and international recognition and respect for their contributions to the art of turntablism – hail from Philadelphia.
“What people don’t know about the Philly DJ scene is that it is alive and well,” says Rich Medina, a DJ and instructor at the Academy, who has built a loyal worldwide following. He says that many people don’t realize that Philadelphia’s DJ scene is the father of all other DJ scenes.
Baker knew Philadelphia was an obvious choice when he found that Colin Kelly, vice president of Scratch, was looking for the next city to expand in.
“There are kids playing in warehouses,” says Baker. “All they want to do is belong, and they find that in Philadelphia’s DJ community. There are also 16-year-old girls in New Jersey who don’t know a thing about turntables, but want to, because they know Skrillex.”
With the intention of both drawing attention to the scene here and capitalizing on the potential of its talent, Baker put in the legwork to open a Scratch DJ Academy in his hometown.
The Academy, which opened in January, is full of DJ equipment in what looks like an upscale warehouse setting. Almost every wall features funky and colorful pieces by Mike Davis from Burlesque of North America.
Baker wanted to create a space that would appeal to anyone – young or old, novice or advanced, guy or girl. Baker also hopes to contribute to the Philadelphia DJ community by making the Academy accessible and useful to everyone.
“The indie/hipster collective, the Gayborhood, the working adults, the professionals,” Baker says about the target market, “there is a place for everyone here.”
Baker hopes that the diversity of the instructors – from Regina “Gun$” Garcia to Rich Medina – will encourage people from all walks of life to feel comfortable in the Academy.
Nick Spinelli, a wedding DJ in Philadelphia, has been very satisfied with his experience as a student at Scratch.
“We are learning from the best of the best here,” says Spinelli. “It’s just insane. There’s just so much to learn. It’s the hands-on approach – you have some of the biggest names in the industry picking up on your mistakes and teaching you how to fix them.”
“We have different teaching styles, and different teaching experience,” Medina says. “It’s like a football team. All of us bring a different skill set to the table.”
Baker was able to take his turntable dreams and turn them into a career. He hopes his story can inspire others while the Academy helps them achieve their goals. World tours as a party-rocking DJ might not be everyone’s goal, but now students of the culture can get an education and the experience to make it possible.
New school and old school are in session.