EML ♥s EDM: New Lab on Campus Mixes Beats, Not Chemicals

Image courtesy of Shawn Tron.

By Mike Wang
In this high-tech age of internet and text-based communication, three-letter acronyms are all the rage. As bizarre as they are popular, examples include “bae,” “AMA” and, at Johns Hopkins University, EML.

EML, short for Electronic Music Lab, is a new campus group that provides student disc jockeys with the opportunity to come together and progress their craft through discussion and hands-on instruction.

“We are a club that wants to teach our members the basics of DJing, mixing, producing, and all the other aspects that go in to electronic music,” EML Vice President and junior Nick Kruyer said. “We also want this to be a space where we come together and discuss all things EDM.”

While the group is still very much in its infancy—its first official meeting was held in late March—its members already have ambitious long-term goals, including serving as a hub for gigs by connecting DJs to event organizers.

“[Right now], DJs get to know each other, promote each other’s music, teach interested students and find gigs on campus and in the city, but we hope to branch out [more] on campus,” sophomore and group member Agni Bhattacharya said.

Students are currently planning a number of Homewood Campus events, including an afternoon of music on The Beach and an evening event in the Glass Pavilion.

“[I want] EML to be a brand name that people approach when looking for a DJ to play at a gig,” Bhattacharya said.

Even though current EML meetings mostly center around EDM DJing and culture, Bhattacharya hopes that he can help the group grow into something more.

“[I want] EML to be a brand name that people approach when looking for a DJ to play at a gig,” he said.

Along with building a brand name for themselves, EML group members also have an interest in music related social causes. Club members DJ for charity events such as Dance Marathon, as well as advocate for the health and safety of electronic music enthusiasts. “EML DJ’s already play at free charity events like Dance Marathon. [In the future] we want to go further and promote awareness about the culture of EDM, ” he said.

This means promoting the positive aspects and addressing the negatives. It’s no secret that EDM culture often comes with a hefty serving of drug use, which contributes greatly the to the number of hospitalizations and deaths at music events. Last New Year’s Day at Echostage in Washington, D.C., a man jumped headfirst off a balcony to his death as headliner Flux Pavilion took the stage. By educating students about the hazards that come with EDM music festivals, group members hope to decrease the injuries and deaths that occur at these events, which will in turn resolve the stigma associated with EDM culture.

In contrast to the ambitious goals of the group members, EML meetings are relaxed and largely free-form. Members gather to discuss new music releases and concerts they’ve attended, and to work on their DJ techniques and share various songs in their sets. These meetings are meant to be fun as well as educational.

Eager to share his passion, one of Ayad’s personal goals is to teach at least 100 others how to DJ before he graduates in the spring of 2016.

Meetings happen wherever the group can find a space. Sometimes the students meet in the Mattin Center, other times in the Digital Media Center (DMC). Kruyer prefers the latter: It’s a special place for a group so immersed in music and technology. “[The DMC] is the place where we can best use our equipment and provide the best tutorials possible,” he said. There is a strong sense of purpose at EML meetings, where members come to learn and cultivate their craft, but the focused atmosphere is always cut with a quick joke or two.

Spreading the love

The man behind EML is junior Michael Ayad. He started the group for a simple purpose: “I hope to spread the love of EDM around Hopkins,” he said.

Eager to share his passion, one of Ayad’s personal goals is to teach at least 100 others how to DJ before he graduates in the spring of 2016.

Given EDM’s skyrocketing popularity, it made perfect sense to Ayad to begin an EDM club at Hopkins.

“In recent years, EDM has become a growing genre, so we decided why not create a group that could make students at Hopkins embrace this exciting time in EDM?” said Ayad.

And exciting it is. The advent of digital music playback has turned the DJ industry on its head. Truckloads of heavy vinyl are now stored as electrons in laptop computers, and the tracks themselves—previously grooves etched in plastic—are now bits and bytes, free to be sonically transformed in any way imaginable.

EDM’s processed sound slowly garnered notice with early hits like Bennie Benassi’s “Satisfaction,” Darude’s “Sandstorm” and Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch,” gaining steam from the late ‘90s on. The budding genre later mixed with hip-hop, incorporating off-beat rhythms, sampling and earth-shaking 808 bass drums, giving birth to tracks like M.I.A’s 2007 hit “Paper Planes.” Jamaican dub and 2-step UK garage coalesced into dubstep, which became an integral genre within EDM, thanks to artists like Skrillex, Excision and Bassnectar. Today, EDM is growing more than ever. Billboard Magazine estimates the EDM industry to be worth over $6.2 billion.

New technology hasn’t just changed the way music is listened to: it’s also changed the way it’s performed.

“Nowadays, you can spend a few hundred dollars and get a controller, a speaker, software and some samples you can use in your mixes. By using software, you can synchronize songs with the push of a button [instead of] using your ear to match the beats of the track,” Ayad said.

The accessibility of DJing has allowed many EDM fans, including Ayad, to pick up mixing.

“I vividly remember this one Saturday morning when I was 10 years old, watching a DVD of Tiësto’s concert at the Arnhem Gelredome in the Netherlands” Ayad said. “From that moment onwards, I was in love with music.”

Bhattacharya shares a similar background. He began DJing just last year, teaching himself how to mix music at home. He began tinkering with software on his laptop, not out of a savage thirst to become the next Skrillex, but simply because he was bored.

“I decided to start playing around with Garageband and electronic songs I already knew,” he said.

As he began chopping and mixing the sounds he knew so well, he caught the DJ bug: He itched with the desire to scratch some vinyl.

“I got really interested in remixing music so I asked my mom for an early birthday gift—a pair of digital turntables!” he said.

DJs like Ayad and Bhattacharya are increasingly common in the digital age. Thanks to EML, there is now a place at Hopkins for “bedroom DJs” to come together and explore all aspects of EDM. Still, Kruyer emphasizes that EML is open to all students, not just those who already have experience DJing.

“All types of students join. Engineers and pre-meds and anything in between are all welcome and encouraged to join,” he said.

You can find out more about JHU EML —including when their meeting times are during the fall semester—by checking out the group’s Facebook page.