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From the DJ booth to the digital classroom

ALLTAG HEROES! The coronavirus wiped out DeWalta’s income as a DJ, but rather than accept defeat, the Berliner took his art online, teaching students around the world about the craft of music production.

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David Koch, the Berlin DJ better known as DeWalta, has taken his craft online, offering video classes to students around the world. (Photo supplied by artist.)

Until a few weeks ago, David Koch, the German DJ best known as DeWalta, would usually spend Mondays on a plane, hungover or both. As a touring DJ, he was away from home most weekends, spinning his smooth blend of house and minimal to crowds around Europe and North and South America. Playing up to three gigs between Friday and Sunday, he’d travel back to his Kreuzberg apartment sleep-deprived, ears ringing and eyes red. But the coronavirus stopped that. Nightclubs, never particularly hygienic, were among the first businesses to close as Covid-19 spread, leaving most of the world’s DJs unemployed. With no income in sight and an uncertain future, the electronic music industry is on unstable ground.

But not Koch, who’s been one of the most visible names in minimal house for years, often found at the understated spree-side spot Club der Visionäre. In late March, as the world shut down, he flew home to Berlin on a packed, last-minute Lufthansa flight from Canada, where he was holidaying with his Canadian wife and their toddler. Upon landing in Berlin, he pivoted to a plan he’d been considering for a while: online classes for upcoming electronic music producers. He teased the idea to his 18,000 Facebook followers, probing them for interest and potential prices. The response was overwhelming. He soon built a website and developed a course outline, eventually hosting his first private lesson on April 1. The quick turnaround was remarkable, as Koch went from jobless to the founder of an exciting new business in less than two weeks.

“I lost a bunch of money,” Koch says, recalling the first wave of cancellations over Facetime from his Kreuzberg studio. “But my brain was firing. I thought, ’Why don’t I completely shift gears?’” 

It was the right decision for the cheerful Koch, who speaks English with a Canadian twang and a grin. The classes, in addition to a slice of the Corona cash offered to freelancers and self-employed people, have given Koch a full income, leaving him no worse off financially than when he was DJing. It also gives students across the world access to the mind of a seasoned music professional, someone who’s earned a living from making tunes and DJ’ing in nightclubs for around a decade. That’s harder to find than you might think – the teachers at more established music schools rarely have Koch’s industry experience.  

“Over the years, a lot of people emailed me asking for feedback on their tracks,” he says. “I saw this opportunity. I think it’s important that some of us do that kind of work. Why not? Should I sit at home and spread conspiracy theories? No. I should do something for the community.”

Should I sit at home and spread conspiracy theories? No. I should do something for the community.

Koch teaches three 90-minute classes over Zoom per day, three times a week. Private lessons (€80), booked through Koch’s website, are the most popular, giving students valuable one-on-one time. “People can send me their projects and we talk about them,” Koch says. “They can choose what to work on.”

Then there are group lessons (€30) with space for up to 15 students. They’re often purchased in packs of three, allowing students to get a broad overview of the creative process over several lessons, which can reach from setting up a studio to putting the finishing touches on a track. Students stretch from Sydney to South America, and most were already fans of Koch’s work. He soon plans to invite guest teachers to share their wisdom, with the top-tier DJ Seth Troxler among the names confirmed. 

The schedule is booked out for the next seven weeks, which suggests Koch’s online music school has plenty of potential. And while he’s excited to get back to the DJ circuit whenever the situation calms down, his touring life won’t be like it was before. Teaching allows for a more balanced lifestyle, giving him weekends at home and more time to spend with his family, and in the studio working on his own music, during the week. “Here I was getting drunk on the weekends,” Koch laughs. “Hustling like crazy, trying to juggle fatherhood, my private life and parties. I don’t want to party all the time. Why didn’t I think of this before?”

Best of all, no hangovers.