Calling all soundboys and soundgirls. The Four Four DJ Academy ball is properly rolling inside the National Justice Museum, for all your mixing, scratching and clashing needs. We headed down to find out what’s been cracking off since they opened in September, and chatted to one of three head honchos Charlie Fletcher...
If you love electronic music, there comes a point when learning to mix your favourite tunes together seems pretty appealing; whether it’s just to go back-to-back with your mates at the after party, or for playing your own gigs. But DJ’ing and music production can be pretty expensive to begin with. Even if you’ve invested in your own kit, it can be tricky to work the bleddy stuff. Believe me, I’ve tried.
When Four Four DJ Academy sprung up last September, the wannabe selector inside me screamed with joy and I couldn’t wait to take a look. Housed inside the National Justice Museum, the academy is more than just a space to learn new skills, and looks set to be a central hub for the community too.
In under a year, Four Four have already made a lot of noise: throwing intimate parties live streamed on Facebook, hosting masterclasses with Seb Fontaine, and becoming a permanent residence for Lukas Wigflex, Son of Philip, and their hefty collection of synths. After meeting them, it seems that this really is just beginning.
I popped through the National Justice Museum’s courtyard and headed upstairs to meet Charlie Fletcher for a tour of the venue. After introducing ourselves, we checked out the studios to see them packed with activity; one room is used to stream radio sets and another operates for one-to-one sessions, each space decked out with enough equipment to make a tech nerd drool. We sit in the main area, otherwise known as the Vinyl Lounge, where a bar is conveniently placed in the corner.
Charlie explains: “There are three of us in the business: myself, Charlie Clay and Scott Warren. We’ve all known each other through running various companies over the years.”
He reveals he’s juggling the academy with another, surprising venture: servicing and maintaining wind turbines, alongside Four Four’s business partners. Couple this with the fact he's also a dedicated husband and father of two, and you begin to understand why he’s got such a hard-working, entrepreneurial spirit.
We chat about his own introduction to DJ’ing and music: “I’ve been DJ’ing since 1994. My mum bought me some Technics 1210s for my seventeenth birthday and I guess the rest is history. My first early experiences of music were with her, listening to people like Donna Summer, Georgio Moroder’s stuff, even Talk Talk. I really got into house music because of Pete Tong; he was definitely the biggest influence at that time. Then you do the seminal trip to Ibiza and, before you know it, you’re hooked!
“I’ve been doing this for years but the brainwave to start Four Four started when, a few summers ago, a friend asked me to DJ for them. I still had my own equipment at home but I hadn’t done it for a while and needed someone to give me some hints and tips. I started searching for somewhere I could do that but I couldn’t find anywhere in Nottingham, Leicester or Derby where you could pay for a service for someone to show you the more advanced stuff.
I’ve been DJing since 1994. My mum bought me some Technics 1210s for my seventeenth birthday and I guess the rest is history
“Eventually, I found a place in Manchester and I just thought it was something that Nottingham, even the East Midlands, was lacking. So I decided to build it.”
Rather than being a formal institution with full-time courses, Four Four Academy prides itself on its boutique offering. Whether you need a one-off session to touch up your skills like Charlie, need to hire the equipment or space, or want to learn from scratch, you can do it all there.
“Our goal is to provide people with a place to learn about the electronic music industry. To learn how to produce and play electronic music, both from a beginner level right the way through to advanced. We are flexible, will create bespoke packages and we don’t pigeonhole anyone.”
His ethos is clear and well rehearsed, which isn’t surprising when you learn more about the quick and intense route he’s taken to make Four Four a reality.
“Our journey started in early 2018. We approached First Enterprise, a local business support company, and in the background we were finding our premises, putting a plan together, and fundraising. Eventually we had to pitch in a Dragon’s Den-type scenario in front of the council, the banks and so on.”
Charlie explains that it wasn’t difficult convincing the board: “Most of them knew about the artists and DJs we were talking about! Finding the premises was a little harder. A lot of landlords were put off by our naturally noisy nature. However, as soon as we mentioned what we were trying to do, our agent was really supportive and things fell into place with the National Justice Museum. We couldn’t be happier.”
Four Four Academy has already built strong links with the electronic community. Every week, the Trent Bass music society practice in the studios, and the University of Nottingham’s Underground Music Society threw a charity event there last March. A masterclass with local producer Phillip George has also followed a similar session from Seb Fontaine and, to launch the Vinyl Lounge, the academy invited DJs from local crews including Leftback, Sound Picnic, Wild Brunch and Wigflex to play. They’ve even hosted a Tekken tournament.
Perhaps most exciting though, and the chance for the city to explore the studios, is the open day its running as part of the Wigflex City Festival. Additionally, a discussion led by Tusk Wax around the resurgence of vinyl will be held at the academy, alongside a natural healing workshop. “I’m definitely looking forward to the festival. I can’t say much about what we’re going to do exactly, but the tech day is going to be really good.
“Looking back, it’s hard to pick my favourite moment. Getting the first student to sign up was definitely a milestone. We also ran an experience day for the students at Stone Soup Academy; it offers alternative learning opportunities for pupils who struggle in traditional education. We showed them about the varied careers in the music industry, not just DJ’ing, but about being sound technicians and engineers too. It was great to be recognised and work with another educational body.”
As our conversations end and I get up to leave, I’m invited back in to have a go in the booth one day. The welcome at Four Four DJ Academy is warm, and I urge anyone who’s interested in DJing to knock on their door and say “Ayup”.
Four Four DJ Academy, Second Floor Suite Shire Hall, High Pavement, NG1 1HN. 0115 697 6444
Four Four DJ Academy website