Jan 01, 2014
Natalie Weiss, Founder Of Baby DJ School

Natalie Elizabeth Weiss is the founder of Baby DJ School, a class for toddlers in Brooklyn designed to teach the ins and outs of electronic music. Natalie spoke to LessThan3 about the remarkable depth and breadth of her work, baby DJ poses, and her newest project, Senior Citizen DJ School.

LessThan3: How did you come up with the idea for Baby DJ School?
Natalie: One evening before a DJ gig I was hanging out with my friends and their son Rider–he was one-and-a-half at the time. I had my gear with me and since I’d already taught Rider to play piano it was natural for me to be like, “Hey Rider, I’m gonna teach you how to DJ!” He took to it immediately. I DJ using a midi trigger and Traktor Pro and my trigger has big buttons and sliders that he could manipulate easily with his little hands. It was cool to see him match beats, but it was even cooler to hear him name the components of my DJ setup. Like, he could say “milk,” “mom,” “dad,” “bye bye,” and “1/8 inch to 1/4 inch adapter.”

Rider and I got really close and I started taking him to group music classes for kids his age. What a bummer. They all just sat around and listened to a woman sing to them with a ukulele. Music school can be a very passive experience for young kids these days; all the songs have super predictable rhythms and rhyme schemes. The infant and toddler brain is capable of learning more quickly than our adult brains are capable of, so why give them simplistic music? It’s weird. So I was like, I’m gonna write some dance songs. Me and my friends are gonna make some jungle and footwork and house and disco and electro and hip hop for these kids. Syncopated rhythms, cut up vocals, intense panning, insistent bass. The songs will all be educational. I’ll strap my laptop and midi trigger to a board and put it right up in front of the kids faces so they can easily press play, ride the volume, trigger an airhorn sample. Each baby will get a record to bang on, a pair of headphones to wear. Props. Pedagogy. Interaction. I dove into research on pediatric neurology and developed a progressive yet developmentally appropriate program. Baby DJ School. If I don’t take infant and toddler music education seriously, who will?

LessThan3: What are kids and parents gaining from the class?
Natalie: Baby DJ School increases gross and fine motor skills, spatial reasoning, language skills, and fosters a special bond between caretaker and baby because they are both learning a new skill. Almost everything a parent teaches a kid the parent already knows how to do, like, how walk and how to drink from a cup. None of the caretakers who came into my class knew how to DJ with Traktor. It’s cool for the babies to see their parents learn and have fun.

Another thing both the adults and babies are getting is a drastic re-contextualization of DJing and dance music. I’m showing them that those things can be enjoyed in the day, with your family, without drugs or alcohol. It’s also big that they are learning about electronic music from a woman. There are way more male producers/DJs than female so it’s special for them to experience a woman as the authority on this matter. Not to mention we have just as many little girls signed up for the class as boys.

LessThan3: Could you run us through what a typical class looks like?
Natalie: I start by telling the caretakers that their babies are learning whether they want to push the buttons and try on headphones or not. Exposure to the electronic music and equipment is stimulating on its own. Each section of the class is formed around an original song, and each new song is triggered and mixed in by a baby. I always start with the Baby DJ Theme Song; we go around and the caretakers introduce all the Baby DJs. I then hand out headphones to each kid and say little chants like “I always always pre-cue before I play it in front of you.” I let them each try pre-cuing a song. We will sing a song about the elements of disco and do hand motions to the song–for example, we will pretend like we are playing hi hat or a synthesizer lead line. I’ll give everyone a record and I play records on a record player. We listen to house music and build a house with blocks. We listen to jungle music and put on jungle masks and act like animals. I bust out an SP404 sampler and sing them a lullaby that I play on the sampler. They can each push a button on the sampler. Tons of gear, tons of props, tons of energy, tons of time spent making the original songs. They are co-written and produced by amazing dudes: Matt Young of Body Language, Ben Bromley of New Villager, and Bob Jones of Eaters. I am giving these kids and caretakers as much electronic music enrichment as humanly possible. I carry so much stuff around from class to class, it’s insane. I’m hoping when the Baby DJ School record goes platinum it will all pay off.
LessThan3: Many DJs are known for trademark poses/dance moves. What’s the best DJ pose one you’ve seen a student do?
Natalie: They all do this penguin thing, flapping their arms up and down. I’m trying to make my new pose sucking my thumb because I DJ with babies so much now, but I’m told it reads as sexual. Why does acting like a baby seem sexual? People who think that are the gross ones; not me. I just want to suck my thumb. Like babies do. In front of a crowd.
LessThan3: How much selecting are the kids actually doing? What seems to be the musical preference at the school?
Natalie: None. I choose all the songs. When I give private lessons we spend time picking out songs that the kid likes. People seem to like the SP404 song because it’s really easy to remember.
LessThan3: You did a really cool track with Machinedrum a while back called Brighty. Are you working on anything in your own music career?
Natalie: I’m writing text for a new project I’m doing with Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It’s me talking, and Brian snare-ing. I’m also writing a libretto for a choral piece about a dentist with a classical composer named Conrad Winslow. I recently wrote lyrics and did guest vocals for the Eaters record that’s coming out on Driftless and wrote a spoken word piece for Tim “Love” Lee of Tummy Touch Records. I have been saying yes to projects that involve me writing lyrics and words–there is currently only one cool professional librettist in town. Besides that, I wrote some vocals for the score of a new movie called Afronauts that opens at Sundance in 2014 and I am recording a Baby DJ School album that me and Matt Young have huge ambitions for. It’s off the hook.
LessThan3: Do you have plans for any other projects in the future?
Natalie: I’m also now doing Senior Citizens DJ School. No joke.
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