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Learn to Be a DJ in the Maldives

MARK LEAN talks to a disc jockey who teaches music-lovers across the globe the finer points of spinning a perfect set to find out what it takes to raise the roof.

Published on May 23, 2016


SOMETIMES GREAT IDEAS are spun seemingly by chance, but DJ Matty Wainwright's big moment of inspiration was sparked by a bribe attempt. His concept for the The DJ Dispensary (US$350 per person per day, excluding accommodation) was born after he was offered US$750 by a club patron to play a Macy Gray track. Could Wainwright be bought? Could you place a price tag on his musical integrity? Never. "If I am pacing and building a night musically at a world-class venue, watching the crowd, judging their mood and trying to give them the best experience possible," Wainwright says, "then I'm definitely not playing Macy Gray." He likens it to ordering a meal at a Michelin-star restaurant, and washing it down with a Coke: "I like them both, but I wouldn't have them at the same time."

The DJ Dispensary
DJ Matty Wainright shares his skills at Karma Kandara Bali. Courtesy of DJ Dispensary.

This was five years ago during a gig at the Yas Viceroy in Abu Dhabi. Back then, he says the clubbing environment was commercial and lacked creativity. "So there I was, a six-nights-a-week resident in Abu Dhabi, getting repeated requests each night for three or four top-40 artists. You name it… David Guetta, the Black Eyed Peas and Rihanna," he says. Most nights, it was a case of someone hounding him to "plug their phone in" and play their choice of tracks, which was often a far cry from his taste. And from this frustration came two realizations: firstly, that most people don't know anything about DJing, and secondly, that, much like Liam Neeson's character in Taken, Wainwright had a very particular set of skills, skills he had acquired over a very long career, that could help him educate the masses.

Growing up in Liverpool during the 90s, he began spending his allowance on mixtapes when he was 10 years old. He remembers being fascinated by how the tracks melded into each other. "I found a couple of rickety old turntables and started buying records every week," Wainwright says. A couple of decades later and the hobby grew into an obsession. "When you find yourself in the DJ booth with hundreds of eyes and ears on you, it's hard to describe the exhilaration, the fear and the eventual addiction that comes with playing records for a living," says Wainwright, who wanted to give people a taste of this rush when he set up DJ Dispensary three years ago. So now, in addition to his fulltime schedule DJing in Bali and across the globe, he shares his love with vacationers who want to spin like pros.

Guests can join the DJ Dispensary for two to three days of group and one-on-one DJ training along with three nights of hands-on DJ-ing at one of the popular resorts where the retreats are hosted, such as Niyama by Per Aquum in the Maldives: "It's pretty special, as you teach guests six meters below the ocean as sharks swim past," Wainwright says. Retreats are capped at 10 to 15 people, who break out each morning into groups of a max five per tutor for two-hour hands-on classes with mixers and turntables. Everyone also gets private 90-minute lessons on the decks in the afternoons. If you prefer to host a retreat from the intimacy of your own home, jet or yacht, Wainwright has just launched DJD Privé.

The DJ Dispensary
Spinning six meters under the sea at Niyama. Courtesy of DJ Dispensary.

A Wainwright education isn't only about beat-matching, cueing and pitch control; he also covers club culture and its roots, including a screening of Maestro, a film about the musical form's founding fathers. "The DJ Dispensary teaches guests not only about the craft of performing but also about the history that goes behind the art of DJ-ing," he explains. Armed with theory and practice, on the final night students DJ a set for a live crowd, which is photographed, recorded and streamed.

The success of these final nights is all about nuance, Wainwright says, and he tells his students to "watch for visual clues. Are people at ease or tapping their feet? Are people straining to talk to each other? Check your volume levels. Most importantly, develop your own style and sound that is like no one else's." And of course, you've got to be in tune with your venue. If a resort or bar is known for its chilled house tunes, you can't insist on playing 90s pop and expect a satisfied crowd. Wainwright helps his students find that balance. "We are able to meet half way," he says, "so that both the guest and the venue are happy."

After a long day learning the ropes at the retreat, everybody gathers for sundowners while Wainwright spins—and his clear love of the craft is part of the lesson. "You know you've played a good sunset set when the hairs on your arms stand up," he says. "It's an absolutely beautiful feeling."

The DJ Dispensary
Learning to DJ at Niyama in the Maldives. Courtesy of DJ Dispensary.





Here, four of Wainwright's favorite venues around the region to spin a tune.

+ We are based out of Bali so we are extremely lucky to DJ at Potato Head. The Sun Down Circle events held here have been phenomenal. Featured artists include Gilles Peterson, Mr Scruff, Trus'Me, Roy Ayers, Tim Sweeney, Osunlade and King Britt.
+ Take a 30-minute boat trip from Bali to Nusa Lembongan and check into Batu Karang Lembongan Resort & Day Spa perched on the rocks overlooking the sea. The resort's bar, The Deck, is set on the boardwalk running alongside the coastline. It's the best place to get a glimpse of the volcanoes on nearby Bali as the sun slips from view.
+ One of New Delhi's best underground venues Social Offline, is located in the creative Hauz Khas Village. The venue has an edgy music policy with regular live music performances as well as sets by international DJs, plus an exceptional playlist of some of the best radio shows on the planet.
+ The Observatory in Saigon hosts first-class international DJ s every weekend. It's dedicated to underground techno, house and disco music offering a more alternative sound to the city.



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Learning to DJ at Niyama in the Maldives. Courtesy of DJ Dispensary.
  • Learning to DJ at Niyama in the Maldives. Courtesy of DJ Dispensary.
  • DJ Matty Wainright shares his skills. Courtesy of DJ Dispensary.
  • Spinning six meters under the sea at Niyama. Courtesy of DJ Dispensary.
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