French trainee DJs put through their paces

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The Independent Culture

"Respect the listener. No need to bark like a dog," instructor Patrick Arnissole warns, as one of his students blurts improvised DJ patter into the microphone.

"Give it more oomph... You're too shy," he tells others as they perform nervously, surrounded by their classmates in the role of excited clubbers. Those who protest risk a penalty of 20 push-ups in front of the class.

Welcome to the disk jockey school of Lyon's UCPA sports and leisure college, where youngsters are undergoing strict training to prepare them for the New Year party season and hopefully a professional club DJ career.

"It's an intensive training, so they learn to distinguish between partying and working," says Arnissole.

The school opened in 2001 and claims to be the only state-backed DJ school in Europe. It is much in demand as clubs and discos become increasingly demanding for quality DJs, says the school's director, Pascal Tassy.

Only about two thirds of those who pass the entrance exam make it through the 18-month course to graduation and a state-sanctioned diploma as a qualified "music and stage host."

They must take classes not only in their core skill of music mixing, but also light operating, video and computer training, stage design and music history - including instruction from a classical music expert.

Their final exams include playing a 15-minute DJ set of funk, rock, house and R 'n' B in front of professionals, and they must also carry out paid internships to practice their new skills.

The training also seeks to teach them the crucial skill of judging the mood, staff say.

"They must master the sound and respect the time signatures, which vary according to the genre, and avoid spinning a track at any old moment," says teacher Philippe Marcotti, a local DJ and 2007 graduate.

"It's not enough to play the music you like," he adds. "You have to learn to observe, take into account the venue, the concept, the people."

One student, 20-year-old Geoffrey - going by the stage name Jeff Norson - says he had been mixing on the decks at home before being advised to take the training and turn professional.

DJ school was "tough - physically and mentally," he says. He now has an apprenticeship in a bar.