The Soundsmiths

Originally published in The Moscow Times on November 26, 1999

Yevgeny Bikov loves being a DJ, but Russia is having a hard time loving him. According to the university student who has been spinning tunes at an unnamed House of Culture in the town of Nikrassov for the past two years, club culture has not developed as well in Russia as in other countries.

"The public isn't ready. Young people haven't opened up yet," 19-year-old Bikov said. "I don't know why. Maybe they are not progressive enough. And there are so few clubs with good equipment in Moscow - and so few good DJs," he said.

But Marina Polteva, a professional singer and theater producer who is famous in Russia and abroad, is coming to the rescue. She and top Moscow DJ Slava-Finest (a.k.a. Vyacheslav Bibi), who has DJed at a number of Moscow clubs and is the current art director at Moscow club Studio, have founded Russia's first school for DJs, at which Bikov is a student.

The school trains two types of DJs - radio and club. Radio DJs work in a studio, playing and talking about music. Club DJs work in nightclubs, spinning and even composing electronic music using computers, record players and a great deal of other audio equipment.

On Sept. 6, the DJ Studio opened its doors at central Moscow's Gnessin Academy of Music. Ever since, the corridors of the prestigious classical music school - which was founded in 1890, nearly a century before the words "techno" or "jungle" were ever used as descriptive terms for music - have been resounding with the sounds of base riffs and voice samples.

"This school was badly needed," said Polteva, who consulted with representatives from London's Ministry of Sound before opening the studio. "Our young people love this music - it's their life. And it's so important that they know where all these types of music came from and how they developed in Russia," Polteva said.

DJ Studio students, whose ages range from 14 to 35, take a two-month course that consists of 64 hours of classes in basic acoustics and DJing techniques. Other disciplines, such as choreography and musician studies, focus more heavily on program composition. A course in television studies and a master of communications degree will be available at the beginning of next year.

With no funds but the students' fees ($400 per course) to support the school, Polteva, using audio equipment financed by Slava-Finest, has laid the foundation here for what she hopes will develop into a full-fledged youth center called Zvuk, or Sound. She has taken the first steps to compensate for the lack of available literature by writing what she calls the "laws" of DJing, which include everything from how to adapt volume to the size of the room to eye-contact protocol. The first formal textbook, Yevgeni Avchenko's "History of House Music in Russia," is due for release in February. Slava-Finest, who has been an unofficial teacher of mixing techniques at the radio station 106.8 FM since 1996, also contributed to the effort by writing a book - "DJ" - about DJing techniques.

In order to better accomplish her goal of "officially professionalizing the DJ's job," Polteva has created a curriculum that includes more than just a few mixing techniques. The students, many of whom are also students at conventional universities, study the history of jazz and contemporary music, speech and communication, stage psychology, performing arts and radio journalism and take special lessons in image and leadership.

"I've gathered people who are fanatics," she said of the school's 15 teachers, one of whom is a professor of music theory at Harvard University who commutes between Moscow and Massachusetts.

"I want to teach…

Read the full text at The Moscow Times.