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Mr. DJ 

Now that school’s out, junior high teacher Devin Roberts can take to the decks full-time as Devin D. Johnston Farrow talks to him about his new record.

By day, he’s Mr. Roberts, teaching social studies and gym to Fairview Junior High students. When night falls, he’s Devin D, a promoter and DJ spinning high-octane house tracks to the night-clubbing masses. It’s an alter ego Devin Roberts takes seriously, as he sets off on a multi-city US tour after the release of his first record, House MVP, this Friday at SubRosa.

“It’s literally night and day, right?” Roberts says over a beer at Tribeca. “The day job is my career and future and the DJ has always been a hobby, but a really neat hobby. I’ve got to meet a lot of neat people and go to a lot of great places.”

It’s pretty easy to understand the allure of the nightclub lifestyle that attracted Roberts to DJing. The Canso native first experienced local dance culture as a Dalhousie student. He worked for the dance promotion company Massive Productions and formed his own entity, Courageous Productions, in 2001. The company now boasts a roster of 14 DJs, as well as singer Menina and a support staff of booking agents and co-promoters.

“My friend Percy Redhead and I started doing shows at the Grawood to fill one of their slow nights,” Roberts says. “Believe it or not, it was a Saturday. It actually started working and making money. It was like, ‘Wow, we should start bringing in headliners.’ We started bringing in Canadian DJs and it just got bigger from there.”

His friendships with artists who played his shows fueled a desire to learn the DJ craft in 2004. Things weren’t as easy for the rookie DJ as he soon discovered that spinning records was a much different challenge than organizing club nights.

“Being a promoter, it’s easy to get gigs because people want to book you,” Roberts recalls. “I’d play early at shows and I didn’t really have the ear for it right away—I didn’t know how bad it was. Luckily, I had some good friends around me to say, ‘That was a bad set, it’s OK. It was early on in the night, no one was really there. Keep going at it and don’t get discouraged.’”

Roberts helped his cause by forming a partnership with the Waterfront Warehouse in January 2005, where he started to book events. The position allowed him to play every week in front of large crowds. As a testament to his efforts, Roberts recorded his debut mix-album live from the turntable booth at Revolution Records.

“That’s the really cool thing about it,” Roberts says. “If there’s a mistake, then you know it’s purely me. Even when I started playing at the Warehouse, I never thought I’d be good enough to record a live CD. It’s hard to put your name on anything, so it’s definitely satisfying to say that this is good enough to put out there, and hopefully people will dig it.”

After he finished recording and pressing the record, Roberts took a step rarely taken by Halifax electronic DJs. He sent off preview copies to the connections he had made as a promoter. He soon had shows in New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago and Toronto lined up for July and August.

“It’s a really big opportunity and I try not to think too hard about it and put the cart before the horse,” he says. “I used to play basketball pretty competitively and I used to have a bad game if I thought too much about it beforehand. I look at it that way: don’t think about it too much and let things fall where they may.”

Throughout the interview, Roberts refers to the effect that his day job has on his alternate lifestyle. While he might feel like a rock star on his summer vacation, when the autumn comes he’ll be back in the classroom, in front of a much different audience.

“The cool thing is it keeps my ego in check,” he says. “I can play in front of hundreds of people and you do get a little full of yourself. On Monday morning, I walk in there and I’m an everyday teacher, I’m not that special. The kids look up to you, but they really don’t care what happened on the weekend.”

Devin D CD release, June 30 at SubRosa, 5680 Spring Garden, 2am, $11.50.

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