At-risk youth offered DJ and music production skills

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Many teenagers dream of becoming a DJ or music producer. A local nonprofit is trying to make that dream come true for Los Angeles teens that are on probation or in the foster care system.

“I ain’t never played with music before. This is my first time. I like it,” said Terrence, a 13-year-old from Berkeley. “This inspired me to do it again.”

Terrence lives at The Optimist Youth Homes & Family Services center in Highland Park. He’s trying to scratch a record for the first time.

Josh Winkler, an Atlanta DJ better known as Klever, says Terrence was impressive for his first attempt at DJing.

“He’s doing good. I think the most important thing right now is being on beat, the rhythm part,” he said. “And confidence really, man. Because at first all the guys were kind of looking, and scared. But now, look at ‘em, they’re all wanting to do it, so overcoming all that stuff means more to me than trying to learn a scratch.”

Klever was one of about a dozen prominent DJs and music producers stationed at five tables set up around the gym, offering lessons in scratching, beat making, and other basic tricks of the trade.

“Most of the people that are actually teaching the workshops today are pretty much self-taught. So the fact that we’re all here and showing these people, this may inspire them to become something like we are,” said Mr. Choc, a member of the Beat Junkies DJ crew and director of the Scratch DJ Academy in Los Angeles.

“If we had something like this when we were coming up we’d probably be a lot further now, but I’m not mad about where we are right now, because we’re at a point where we can give back to the community, so it’s a beautiful thing.”

These DJs are here because of the nonprofit We Are The Movement. The group uses electronic music to make a positive impact in young people’s lives. Candice Fliedner works at Optimist Youth Homes and runs the group. Fliedner is a longtime electronic music dancer as well as a preschool teacher and behavioral therapist. She started her nonprofit in 2010 to bring those worlds together.

“I figured, who needs this more than kids who are looking for an outlet, wanting to belong somewhere, and have not been exposed to something like this before,” Fliedner said. “And we want to share it with them because it’s really unique and special.”

Optimist Youth Homes awards the teens points for good behavior – enough points and they get to participate in workshops like these.

“When I was younger I used to get in a lot of trouble. I would make some beats in school, and my friends would rap,” said Jesse, a 16-year-old from East LA. “My teacher would get mad and be all like, stop distracting the class, and stuff.”

Jesse started playing drums when he was 4, when his grandmother bought him a drum set. He’s been playing ever since, including at his church. He ended up at the Optimist Youth Home, after getting put on probation for vandalism. He said he was trying to express himself by painting on walls. But now he’s thinking he can focus that creative energy into music.

Fliedner  says these workshops are just as a basic introduction to DJing and dance. But that’s going to change.

The tech company Native Instruments donated enough gear to open an in-house production studio at Optimist Youth Homes for kids to take classes and make their own music.

And a studio opening in Highland Park early next year has offered free use of its facilities for these teens to use.

An online fundraising auction is underway through Dec. 22, with money going to We Are The Movement and another nonprofit, Give A Beat. It includes donated items from The BPM Festival, Dubspot, Fool’s Gold Records, Fusicology, Goldenvoice, HARD, House of Blues, Insomniac, Krewella, Major Lazer, Mysteryland USA, Native Instruments, Pioneer, Ultra Music Festival and more.