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Kelli Smith-Biwer
Kelli Smith-Biwer

A lesser-known gem of the music department is the Beat Lab, located on the first floor of Hill Hall. This space includes the latest music production software and equipment, such as turntables, digital mixing boards, and more. It’s a great space for students to learn the art of hip hop, DJ’ing, and digital music creation.

This year, Ph.D. Candidate Kelli Smith-Biwer is bringing more awareness of the space to the department and broader campus community through workshops for students, faculty, and staff. Kelli is the inaugural Arts Everywhere Graduate Fellow in Music Technology and will be hosting four workshops in the Beat Lab this semester. The first of which, DJ’ing 101, occurred a couple of weeks ago and featured DJ PlayPlay, aka Jess Dilday.

Read our interview with Kelli Smith-Biwer below to find out more about this series!

What prompted you to start this workshop series?
Now that we are back on campus after more than a year of remote work, I found that there are a substantial number of students who don’t know that the Beat Lab exists, let alone that it’s open and available for learning, collaborating, and experimenting! I thought a workshop series would be a great way to re-introduce the Beat Lab to students and expose them to the wide range of creative and musical tools this space has to offer.

Tell us a little more about the first guest, PlayPlay.
PlayPlay is a DJ, activist, educator, and scholar who performs and teaches workshops all over the globe. They are particularly interested in fostering educational opportunities for women and non-gender conforming artists. Seamlessly bringing together academic and artistic careers, they are currently the head-of-content at Building Beats and formerly served as the editor-in-chief of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music website. All the while, they maintain a lively performance schedule and have recently released two club EPs on Knightwerk Records. As a “dance floor veteran,” their music brings together jungle, DnB, breakbeat hardcore, Baltimore club, industrial, jock jams, 90s club anthems, and hard house.

DJ PlayPlay and workshop participants during the “DJ’ing 101” workshop. (Credit KSB)

How was the student reception at the first workshop with PlayPlay?
Fabulous! PlayPlay did a great job demonstrating the basics of the gear and empowering the students to try out their own musical ideas! I’ve already had several students from the workshop reach out to me to request time to come back into the lab and practice their newly-discovered DJing skills.

What do you hope students will gain from this series?
Most importantly, I hope to break down the walls between students–especially those who are women and non-gender conforming–and the music technology resources the music department has to offer. I know that the tech in the Beat Lab can seem intimidating, but I want to empower everyone to play, experiment, and collaborate using these important tools of the trade. By bringing in DJs who have vastly different backgrounds, interests, and professional trajectories, I also want to show students the wide array of ways to work in music. My hope is that these workshops will connect students to a diverse network of musicians, artists, and educators who are carving out unique musical careers for themselves.

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