HALIFAX — Hip-hop tracks blare out of a small third-floor room in an otherwise quiet Halifax office building on a Monday evening.
A look of concentration spreads over Michel LeBlanc’ face as the budding DJ bobs his head up and down, matching the tempo of Akon’ Locked Up.
“Don’t forget now, you’re gonna want to drop your volume,” says his mentor, Craig Muise, aka DJ Trixxx.
With headphones pressed to his left ear, LeBlanc places his other hand on a mixer flanked by two CD players and moves the fader down slowly.
“Nice. Perfect,” says Muise.
There are no bright strobe lights or smoke machines. The walls are painted off-white and the room — stuffy from the outside heat — is aglow in sunshine and overhead fluorescent lights.
But with the pounding beats, the dancing, the chatter and the laughing, the mood is comparable to a downtown nightclub.
Here, professional disc jockeys show young people how to turn the table on shyness and low self-esteem as part of an innovative weekly class.
The Rhythm program — an acronym for “Reaching Halifax Youth through Harmony and Music” — pairs eligible youths aged 16 to 21 with DJs, teaching them the basics of mixing and scratching for eight weeks.
“We’re looking for some kids that just kinda need a fair break, and just need something different, something fun,” says Sandy Sinnott, the program’s co-ordinator.
“Get them in here to learn a totally cool skill that nobody else is doing and, at the same time, boost them up, boost their self-esteem, their self-confidence.”
The program, which is funded under the Canada-Nova Scotia Labour Market Agreement, started in March as part of Reachability, a non-profit disability organization based in Halifax.
The Rhythm program, however, is open to most young people regardless of whether they have a disability, says Sinnott.
On this evening, LeBlanc and two other youths are meeting with DJs from Atmosphere Entertainment, a Halifax-based DJ company, for their final two-hour session.
After the class wraps, the students are given a CD with their personal playlist. They also get to keep disc-jockeying computer software so they can hone their skills at home.
LeBlanc, 20, says he was nervous about meeting new people when he first started his DJ lessons, but his love of rap pushed him to continue.
“You get stress out of your mind,” says LeBlanc, sporting a T-shirt featuring the Pink Panther wearing baggy clothes and a backwards ball cap.
“You have fun, enjoy people, enjoy your music and hang out with friends.”
Muise, who’s been a club DJ for the past 17 years, says he’s seen positive changes in his students.
“They come from being totally unaware of the gear and the surroundings they’re walking into, and by the end of it, you can really notice the difference in their confidence level,” he says.
A wide grin spreads across Cody Rogers’ face as Muise makes old-school scratching sounds over 50 Cent’s I Get Money on a special CD player that’s modelled after a classic turntable.
From his wheelchair, Rogers, 20, is unable to reach the mixer’ many buttons and knobs. But with a set of headphones over his white ball cap, Rogers says he’s content to sing along and help Muise count beats.
“I’m having fun with this course,” he says. “(My family thinks) it’s great. They’re proud of me.”