Watch: Jake Brigstock checks out the FourFour DJ Academy
Nottingham’s first and only DJ academy is teaching people of all ages, walks of life and ability how to spin.
Located in the grounds of the National Justice Museum on High Pavement, the FourFour DJ Academy started in September 2018 and was created to provide a space for people to learn how to DJ and make music.
Now, the academy hosts sessions for and welcomes people of all ages, with some of those through its doors so far as young as seven or as elderly as 60.
It also facilitates for children with mental health issues or special needs as the space can be used for some as a sensory experience.
Jake Brigstock spoke to one of the owners Charlie Fletcher and the general manager Luke Alisson together about how the academy started, playing host to some of the biggest DJs in the world right now and some simple tips for DJs wanting to get started.
JB (Jake Brigstock): Guys, thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. First and foremost, how did the FourFour DJ Academy come about?
CF (Charlie Fletcher): Thank you for coming down! It all started by me and two of my friends. We knew Nottingham needed an informal space for people to come and learn how to DJ and make music. It’s gone from strength to strength – we hosted the big Wigflex City Festival on Sunday May 5, we had a few hundred people in our courtyard. The student base keeps growing and we’re here to stay.
JB: Take me on the journey from that first moment when it opened to now – did you ever think it would grow as quickly as it has done?
CF: I don’t think we thought it would grow as quick as it has – we did our research and knew people were searching for DJ lessons. We knew all people wanted to do was pay and play – the DJ kit is expensive as it costs up to £6,000 for a full club setup. We did our research, the marketing was right, the site was launched and it’s gone from there. Word spread and Luke here with his DJing as part of Chubz & Nukem wanted to come and work.
LA (Luke Alisson): The main thing we find is that when people do find us, they say ‘I didn’t know you were here’. I think just getting as far reach as possible is one thing we are trying to do as we know a lot of people out there are aspiring DJs but haven’t quite found us yet. I know when people do discover us, it’s a place where people do want to come and it’s getting busier and busier.
JB: This is a space open for people of all ages and backgrounds isn’t it?
CF: We’ve got students as young as seven!
LA: And we’ve got a guy pushing 60 haven’t we?
CF: We’ve had children that are on the autism spectrum as well who find it as a sensory experience. We’ve had parents ring us and say ‘can we just come down and mess about’ because of the sound, the lights, the hand-eye co-ordination and they find it therapeutic – really therapeutic. As well as that, we have people learning how to scratch DJ.
LA: We’ve got MCs coming in – it’s an artistic hub isn’t it?
LA: There’s people that even want to come and put on, you know, cinema nights and gaming nights. We’ve got a FIFA and Tekken tournament night coming up so it’s a hub for anything that we think is a good thing people are pushing, and we want to help them on that journey in any way possible.
JB: Luke, tell me a bit about your role here as manager.
LA: The first time I met Charlie, he helped me out with a charity gig I was doing called Saved By The House which was for the kids at the QMC. That’s the first time I met him and I had no idea who he was – he came up on Facebook and said he was more than happy to help with equipment and whatever you need to raise more money for that event. I then met the three owners here and thought, I like it here and love to get a job here! So I basically just forced my way in –
CF: Yeah, begged us!
LA: [laughs] And since then I’ve had a few different roles but I’m the general manager here now, at the front of house when we’ve got events on and run them, but I also tutor as well, especially the performance side of things. If people want to come and learn how to play out at a gig and how to mix from the very basics up to a decent standard then that’s what I do as well.
JB: You touched on the courtyard space, hosting the headliner Honey Dijon for the Wigflex City Festival, what was that like for you guys?
LA: One of the best days of my life.
CF: Yeah it was your favourite, wasn’t it!
LA: As cheesy as that sounds…
CF: Yeah you were more party side; we were working, technically! For me, it was the realisation of a dream I’d had. Yes, I DJ, but I was never going to be a superstar DJ. But, I helped created this space for several things and that was one of them; to be a space for people from Nottingham and in the UK to know we’re here.
LA: And to get to meet people like Honey Dijon and find out what trends and things she has seen from an inside point of view from the industry. We can then teach the students that when we’re telling them about how to approach people, so we always try and get a few little nuggets of information from each DJ.
CF: The National Justice Museum are our landlords and they’re behind us as well, we get loads of support from them as well as, essentially, it’s their courtyard that we’re allowed to use. They recognise what we’re doing is a positive thing for the city.
LA: Lukas runs the Wigflex Studio with Tom and he teaches production. He’s got a Masters in music production which is about as good as you can get. He’s got every bit of hardware you could imagine!
CF: That’s something we’re leaning more towards as well, production – you’re not just a DJ now but you’re a producer of music.
LA: You’re never going to headline or get paid as well if you haven’t made a track.
CF: That’s bad and good – you can be the most amazing DJ in the world technically, but if you haven’t got a track, people may not take as much notice.
LA: It’s part of the industry isn’t it. I think, with production as well, it’s one of them where you think you can be at a stage where you’ve got production nailed down. But you don’t want to then sign up for a course for three years – you might just need a couple of hours and might think ‘I may need help in this particular aspect’.
JB: What are some of your favourite genres of dance music and some of the DJs you look up to? What inspires you to keep this all going?
CF: My vice is 5am techno, the cave stuff! [laughs]
LA: [laughs] The cave stuff!
CF: But to be fair, Pete Tong is a huge inspiration for me – I’ve been following him since 1995, 1996.
LA: He’s got all his mixtapes.
CF: I used to record him on Essential Selection in Ibiza and he’s my biggest inspiration but I’m listening to Hot Since 82, some of the darker stuff by Dixon, Alan Fitzpatrick, that sort of heavy techno sound at the minute. That’s my go-to sound if I was to play out.
LA: This is going to sound quite cheesy again, but when I first got into house music and really enjoyed it, one of the tracks was Nottingham’s own Philip George‘s track. I started off playing and listening to really commercial house and I think a lot of DJs start to turn more underground as they eventually develop. Now, I’m looking at more like Seb Zito and Archie Hamilton, that type of DJ, so quite like minimal house. It’s a bit less mainstream but I love the artistry behind it and how they’ve made such perfect sounds.
JB: What are some of the simple tips wannabe DJs can pick up from here?
LA: It’s going to take time. I think a lot of people want to come and learn within a weekend and think they’re going to go away as Carl Cox. It does take time and even when you are three years in, you’ve still got a lot to learn. One of the main things I would say to people is you’re never quite finished as a DJ, you can always learn something off someone. Basics would be –
LA: Levels are massive yeah, don’t blow the speakers – we sometimes come in and students have the trim cranked up –
CF: Or the level of the new track coming in isn’t quite transitioned right and it’s low or high – that’s my biggest bugbear!
LA: Do your homework. What people don’t see is that the good DJs will be up until 4am preparing sets, planning key and planning everything so meticulously so that you don’t just turn up with a few records and chuck them on and hope for the best. Also, just give it a go. Just go for it. You’ve just got to chuck yourself into DJing, you really have, and a lot of people find when something grasps you, that’s it, you’ll never turn back and you’ll go for it.
CF: For me as well, the social media side of the industry is good but it’s also bad. If there’s one thing I could say, it’s don’t get hung up on what anyone else is thinking about you from your social media. You’ve got to be yourself. You’ve got to play to what you know, you’ve got to play to what you’re good at and don’t try and do something away from what you want to do just so you can get likes on your posts.
LA: When I started to DJ, I remember talking about it for around a year, but I never actually took it up. I kept saying ‘I was going to do it’ – I would say to anyone who’s thinking about doing it, just give it a go. What’s the worst that could happen? I remember I kept putting it off thinking ‘what if I’m not good at it? What if I can’t do it?’ But with DJing, you’ve just got to jump into it. If you’re on the fence, just give it a go.
JB: Where do you guys hope this will go in the long term?
LA: Well for example, Stone Soup is a school a couple of doors down from here…
CF: Yeah, that’s an academy for students who are excluded from mainstream education, they’ve been in here a few times with their students and that’s worked really well because we’ve been able to engage with them on a fun level. We want to continue with things like that and we want to grow, we want to have full accreditation. Next September, we’re working towards getting JCQ accredited, so we can offer BTEC courses or NVQ Level 2 courses in things like production. That’s the long term goal for us, to be an accredited institution of learning.
LA: Stone Soup reacted really well to it – they enjoyed the days and not everyone is made for mainstream school learning so it’s a hub for people who have maybe been held back artistically to come here and let their flair go crazy and get into the world of DJing.
CF: Yep, and we’re becoming known for a space too. Our courtyard is going to be busy over the summer, we’ve got events planned with local promoters and we want to become THE place to come and make music, play music and have a party!
LA: We’ve recently been doing masterclasses too, with DJs and producers such as Seb Fontaine, Philip George and we’re planning some more. It’s a chance for students to come down and play back-to-back with people like Seb and have people like Philip George tell you how he made a track that has more than 120million views on YouTube. It’s about giving something back to the students that you can’t find anywhere else.
JB: Brilliant, thank you guys so much and wishing you well for the future!
CF: Thank you very much!