Beginner and intermediate DJs looking to practise and hone their turntable skills come to Controller Club, a free gathering held at Bù Vintage every Sunday.
“It’s super chill, super welcoming, and everyone’s super friendly,” says Joel Evenson, a retail worker who took up DJing at Controller Club. “Everyone’s just here to hang out and have a good time.”
Controller Club began Kaffeeklatsch, a popular Calgary coffee shop, in the end of 2021. The first iteration of the club involved DJs gathering to jam together, practice, exchange techniques, and mentor each other.
“When it first started, it was pretty much just one setup, one controller, and a laptop speaker,” says Daniel Mohammed, who DJs under the moniker Jonathan Crane. “One person would jump on and play a few tracks, then another person would jump on and play a few tracks. It was more of a jam in the early days, whereas now I think it’s more instructional in nature.”
Controller Club is currently organized by DJ event promoter Liam O’Neill. The club took a brief hiatus when the Omicron variant of COVID was at its peak, but they started gathering again at Bu Vintage in April of this year.
At Bu Vintage, DJs set up tables and take turns spinning on each other’s gear. Instructions are done in a more collaborative style, rather than a straightforward lecturing style.
“Intermediate people are instructing, but beginners also show the basics to the other beginners,” says O’Neill. “It’s more of a collaborative thing; It’s pretty chaotic and DIY.”
The gatherings operate in the tone of a structured hang. As it is a free event, Controller Club can often attract anywhere from 20 people up to 40 people. When they’re not at the turntable, people will flow freely through the space, network with other DJs, and enjoy the music.
It’s the staging at Bu Vintage that gives the Controller Club an even more DIY feel. The second-hand store is located in the heart of Calgary’s Chinatown. The storefront not only provides them with an ample amount of space and a stage, but it also carries a lot of character.
“We’re not always open in the evening, so being able to let people in during these after-hours to experience this cool event is super amazing,” Rachel Li, Bu Vintage co-owner, says. “I think it’s huge to community building.”
For many, DJing can be mystifying. It is also a form that can be seen as hard to access, as it can involve expensive and sophisticated gear. Attendees of the Controller Club, however, are glad to have an outlet for practising the craft.
“I’ve been kind of interested in it since I was 14, just kind of as a hobby,” says Russell Lloyd, who has only recently started attending the club. “It’s something to do with music, it’s creative, you can make your own mixes, and it feels good.”
Evenson also attests to the value of the club.
“DJing was always something I was kind of curious about,” he says. “It was something I never really explored. The chance to kind of come around and just kind of play around was really interesting to me.
“I came once and had a really fun time and have been coming back every chance I can.”
Gabby Yu, a DJ who moved to Calgary from Vancouver, values the communal aspect of Controller Club.
“I felt like I never had anyone to share with, but now I feel like I have some people that share my musical tastes,” Yu says. “It’s just a big contrast from the lonely experience of listening to music.”
Though he has enjoyed organizing the Controller Club on his own, O’Neill has decided to open a Patreon so that people can support the club financially if they choose to. O’Neill plans to use the funds raised to offset the costs of running the club, as well as to invest in gear and assistance in running the club. O’Neill still wishes to keep it free for beginner DJs to attend.
Controller Club is held every Sunday at Bu Vintage from 6:30 p.m. until 9 in the evening.
“People should come down if they’re interested,” O’Neill says. “There’s no pressure and no one’s going to be snobby to them,”