Much like Jack Black’s School of Rock, Erik Laar’s Off Centre DJ School is devoted strictly to music (except they don’t have to hide it from the principal). Its mandate is simple: Have fun with records and electronics.
“It’s about building the art form,” said Laar when asked about his two-storey school at 201 Coxwell Ave., south of Gerrard Street East.
In a world where electronics seem to be taking over, DJing (or disk jockeying) seems to be following suit. Festivals all around the world celebrate the most renowned DJs, and EDM/house music is one of the most popular genres.
A DJ himself, Laar knows both the industry and the music well. He has worked in many down-tempo clubs in Toronto, toured across Canada, and was also a part of the group called iNSiDEaMiND.
Although the DJ life is fast and fun, it often leads to burnout.
After travelling for music and doing side jobs here and there, Laar decided it was time to settle down, make some real money and start a career. Without venturing too far from his passion for DJing, he decided to start his own DJ school.
Off Centre began with one-on-one lessons and grew organically. The staff then created different courses for separate lanes of the art (production and standard DJ) and the business started to really expand.
After a year or two, the space was torn down by a developer and they had to relocate. The school was forced to relocate two or three times more but has stayed in business for 14 years.
“The first five years were definitely a struggle,” Laar said. “There was never anything like this before us, so there was never a business model to build off. We were just trying to figure it all out.”
Although the beginning had its tough times, Laar and his partners stuck with their vision and developed a business like nothing else.
The goal of the school is to keep the esthetic of intimacy in the classroom. Laar doesn’t strive for large classrooms, but instead a very personal experience. He wants to be within “arm’s reach” of his students, and wants to create a connection with every student who enters his doors.
The school’s hours are currently very evening-based, so Laar hopes to create more daytime classes for people who can’t come at night. He’d also like to offer more courses during the weekend.
“We’re working onto a more full-time approach,” he explains.
Jack Black would be proud.