By Bill Rah
Turn the tables. The initiative getting people off the streets and behind the decks by teaching homeless people how to DJ.
Robbie Tolson, the 27-year-old founder of Turn the Tables is using his platform to help the homeless. The Edinburgh based initiative is expanding to Glasgow. It might be doing more work than our government. “I want to be helping thousands of people.” Before he invested his time in philanthropy, he was chasing the DJ dream.
Born in Glasgow, raised in Stirling and educated in Edinburgh, Robbie is a classically trained violinist. He listened to indie and electro before moving to Edinburgh for university. Robbie was a FLY Club Resident in Room 2 at Cabaret Voltaire for 5 years.
He had a release lined up with a record label before they failed to honor the agreement. After the label dropped the EP, he was left in a precarious position. This left him devastated. “My own mental health deteriorated because of that. I wanted to do something more positive. Started volunteering for social bite.”
He anticipated he would only be there to clean up. Little did he realize his trajectory would be forever altered. After revealing to other volunteers, he was a DJ, they requested he do a workshop for society’s less fortunate. That spiraled into Turn the Tables.
It is critical that the men he trained performed in a safe environment. He had liaison with bar staff to ensure they were not given alcohol or drugs. There was one individual who stood out. Ryan, a homeless man whom Robbie took under his wing has evolved as a DJ. He learned to mix Vinyl, a notoriously difficult endeavor before going on to support Shapeshifters at La Belle Angelle.
“Everyone I’ve met doing this had family issues, or issues with alcoholism and addiction.” There is clear demand for Mental Health support for individuals with substance abuse issues. It is one of the harsh realities of life. When you do something in excess, it can have a catastrophic effect on your state of mind.
Turn The Tables is supported by Red Bull. “We do gigs with Red Bull and the proceeds go straight back to Thunder Project.” However, they are very selective of where they perform as Robbie commented. “We can’t be inside some sweaty nightclub full of drugs.”
It has also attracted support from legendary House DJ Bushwacka. “He is a therapist which is perfect for us.” Having a multifaceted talent and prolific DJ on board has helped raise the brands profile.
The scope of this initiative is limitless. “Anywhere that’s got a banging music scene and a homeless problem.” That is the criteria for a city where they will consider expansion. It will be expanding to Glasgow this year and Sub Club have signed up as Ambassadors for the brand.
“We are changing the public’s perception of homelessness. The DJ’ing has its own social status. Young people look up to DJs. Then you see someone who was once an alcoholic achieve that, It’s quite powerful.” Music can be a robust weapon that shifts the public’s view on issues. With Robbie’s leadership the programme has the potential to change the lives of thousands.