Khal Barqawi knows music so well, he could be a doctor. The Ambler Campus student and up-and-coming disc jockey would make “house” calls if he could – that’s how seriously he takes his job.
“I have a good friend who’s like, ‘I just need to get away.’ When she says that she means, ‘I need to listen to trance music. I need to hear you spin.’ And I’m just like, ‘All right, let’s do it,'” he said. “I’ll come over.”
Barqawi started DJing when his older brother Moo B. let him use his DJ equipment. Moo B. was beginning to gain recognition as a DJ in the Philly club scene and encouraged his younger brother to follow his lead. He helped him book his first gig and after only one year of professional spinning, Old City’s Lounge One 14 and the dance club Emerald City hired the sophomore as a resident DJ.
He now spins regularly at the clubs, expanding his clientele each time he performs. His trance healing powers developed with hours of experimentation at the tables. When Moo B. would leave the house for school or work, the then 15-year-old Barqawi would rush to the basement and use the open equipment to beat-match and layer the tracks that would later land him with his first gig at only 18 years old.
“I literally learned everything in four or five months,” he said.
The secret of good DJing, Barqawi learned, isn’t about noticing the music. Rather, it’s about creating one giant track so that the audience, instead of noticing different songs, just keeps moving and reacting to the beat of one endless track.
“I have a natural ear for music. I can sit there and listen to anything and catch a beat with it – right away,” he said. “[When DJing] you’re basically taking one song and another and making them go at the exact same speed so they kind of sound like the same song. When you bring up a song, you bring it up slowly and bring the other song down slowly so it doesn’t sound like a big transition.”
With both brothers finding success in the industry, this “natural ear” must run in the family. Barqawi and his brother look so much alike that local DJ Tommy Boy named them “Stunt Doublez.” The nickname caught on and the brothers adopted it as their partners-in-DJing alias. Barqawi said that the duo spin together about 60 percent of the time, but he, as an aspiring DJ, chooses to perform solo often. This is something Tommy Boy – nationally acclaimed and one of the most prominent DJs in Philadelphia – advised Barqawi to do.
“I want to be able to have my own freedom so that just in case [my brother and I] can’t work together anymore I can still go off by myself,” Barqawi said.
“[Tommy Boy] told me, ‘You know, keep that little bit of distance.’ He said to keep that little bit of space for yourself so that in case you ever break up you still have that in. I don’t know if my brother’s really trying to make a career out of this – I am.”
Barqawi claims that techno is as much calming as it is stimulating. And to his credit, a recent performance at Lounge One 14 showcased his energizing, yet mildly relaxing spinning skills. The night’s mix was like a cup of Chai tea with a shot of Red Bull on the side.
But before hitting the turntables as a teenager, the rap and hip-hop fan paid little attention to techno and house music.
“It’s kind of the same reason people like country and I don’t know why,” he said. “[Techno] is just something that gets their attention. For some people house and trance make their head hurt … for me, it’s really calming.”
Don’t expect to sit around when Barqawi is at the booth. Barqawi never stops moving, only pausing to wave to his friends on the floor between tracks. His body moves to his own beat while he flips through cases of CDs and flicks switches and controls on the tables.
A note in the booth’s corner reads “DON’T PLAY PAST 2 A.M.” He admitted that he often breaks this cardinal rule, playing 20 minutes past on most nights.
Whether he spins an extra 20 minutes or not, a night with Barqawi at the booth is enough to prove that he isn’t the cocky type. At each show he strives to engage with the crowd, feeling out the club-goers to set the tone for the night’s beat.
“I’m constantly looking at the crowd, putting my hands out to the people. I like to be part of the crowd, almost,” he said. “[Other DJs] don’t even wave to the crowd. They go out there to get their money and leave. I hate that, it’s so disgusting.”
Barqawi knows what he has to do to make it big.
“I have to start making my own music,” he said. “As a DJ, there’s only so far you can go without producing your own music.”
And while the finance major agrees that getting his degree is just as important, he ultimately hopes that his DJing – and its therapeutic effects – will be the right prescription for success.
Sammy Davis can be reached at email@example.com.