DJing with a Disability: 2 Inspiring Stories

DJ Hookie

A few days ago, Ken Taylor wrote a greatly inspiring article on DJ Tech Tools about several DJs with disabilities. I immediately thought of the film, It’s All Gone Pete Tong, where the main character, Frankie Wilde becomes deaf and is forced to learn to DJ again. While the film takes the form of a “mockumentry,” it is nice to see that there are real people overcoming actual disabilities in pursuit of a DJ career. The following has been reblogged from DJ Tech Tools. Enjoy!

The 1996 film Vibrations is maybe one of the worst movies you’ll ever see about the world of dance music. Its plot revolves around a guitarist who loses his hands in a car crash, only to find himself, after numerous twists, transformed into a leading figure on the US rave circuit when his friends create robotic hands for him to produce/perform electronic music. With James Marshall and Christina Applegate in the lead roles, the film is the epitome of ’90s cyberpunk cheese but for its acting and writing, not necessarily its message. At its core, it aims to illustrate that when it comes to expressing yourself (particularly as a DJ), where there’s a will, there’s a way. In that spirit, today we look at a few DJs who have adapted their DJ environs to suit their disabilities, proving that indeed anyone can DJ if you surmount a few obstacles and put your mind to it.

WILDE AT HEART

Robbie Wilde

New York-based DJ Robbie Wilde makes no bones about his disability—in fact, he uses the handle “That Deaf DJ” for all of his social media. He lost most of his hearing as a child (he has 0% hearing in his right ear, and 20% in his left), but, when he was 18, he was inspired by to take up DJing. “So I hit up DJ Shiftee at Dubspot and asked him, ‘You seem to love challenges—here is one. Teach a deaf kid to scratch,’” he says. “The next day the journey began.” That journey, which is still ongoing, first consisted of two four-hour classes per week, for about two years. “Since then, I’m still learning and growing,” he adds, “trying to get more creative in any way possible. I am now back at Dubspot to further my music production skills and to get certified!”

Since he still has 20% of the hearing in his right ear, Wilde is able to use a special in-ear monitor to amplify sound, but naturally, there were still a lot of hurdles for him to tackle. “The biggest struggle at first was beatmatching,” he says. “I started off using strictly CDs, so beatmatching was all in the feeling. Unlike today, with programs to make it easier visually, and sync buttons, I still keep to the roots of doing things the right way. Now with all the options that are available, I use them, not to ‘cheat’ but to get more creative, quicker, and keep the art of turntablism alive.” The onscreen waveforms and their color differentiation allow him to more easily mark cue points for vocals, bridges, etc.

But when it came to learning scratching, there were a host of other skills he had to develop in tandem. “Shiftee taught me about muscle memory,” he says in a video produced on him by Dubspot. “So when it comes to scratching patterns, that’s just from practicing and consistency of doing the same thing for two hours in class.”

“The key to success for the first level of turntablism is training your body to do things. It’s all muscle memory,” echoes Shiftee in the film. “The difference with Robbie and someone else is just how you get those muscles to practice the right thing, so we took this kind of visual waveform approach. But as long as the muscles are doing what they need to be doing, you’re going to build up the correct habits and get good.”

Wilde’s technical setup is pretty simple and traditional, with two Technics turntables, a Rane mixer, an X1 controller, a customized Starkey Hearing Ear Monitor, and, to help amplify his music intake, “the biggest speaker I can find,” he says with a laugh.

The key to success… is training your body to do things. It’s all muscle memory. — DJ Shiftee

“With me being hearing impaired and deaf, I’m very physical with my hands, and [it's with] actually touching and working on the equipment that I learn the full detail of it,” says Wilde. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that that’s a very huge part of it—aside from hearing what you’re doing, little details are very important.”

SubPac

Robbie Wilde’s signature SubPac

To help hear and feel those tiny expressions, Wilde has been working with the creators of the tactile audio device SubPac, providing the developers with feedback and using the SubPac in the studio. “I’m looking forward to the progress of their next-level technology and how it will continue to shape the way not only DJs and producers interact with sound, but shape the lives of individuals in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community,” he says. “Headphones for the deaf, in a sense.”

Read more about the SubPac.

Any advice for other DJs in a similar position? “Look into the technologies I use, and don’t give a shit about the public criticisms, because I’ve been in this game for a long time, and have ‘heard’ it all”

HOOKED UP

Australia’s DJ Hookie has pretty similar motivational advice: “Disregard your disability and get on with it.” When he was 18, Hookie (real name Tom Nash) suffered a severe attack of meningococcal septicemia, a bacterial infection that caused him to have two heart attacks, a threefold weight gain, restricted circulation to his extremeties, and left him in a coma for 18 days. It also resulted in the need to amputate parts of both of his arms and legs. Once Nash recovered, though, and was outfitted with prosthetics (including the tools that provided him his DJ moniker), he was committed to living life as normally as he could, and part of that meant starting the DJ crew and club night Starfuckers in Sydney.

Disregard your disability and get on with it. — DJ Hookie

Nash says his start to DJing was awkward—but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. “We only really had access to the decks when we were at the club. I didn’t own a pair at home for quite a while, really, so my only time to practice was in front of people,” he says. “It definitely made me learn faster, but on the flipside I guess I took less risks. Taking risks is a really good way to improve your skills and confidence. It’s also a fantastic vessel for humiliation when things don’t work out—which in itself is humbling.”

When it comes to the tools that make DJing possible for him, Nash claims he’s “always felt it was more beneficial to adapt to what’s around rather than looking to how the tools could be improved.” That means avoiding using anything other than his bare prosthetics whenever possible. “The better I get at using my hooks to perform tasks, the less I need to rely on other forms of technology (which, in addition, evolve faster than you’d have time to adapt to them anyway),” he opines. “I like the knowledge that I can be faced with a setup that any able-bodied DJ is given and perform better than them.”

And to keep that DJ setup simple, he relies on just two CDJ-2000s and a DJM-900 mixer, with his tracks load onto a USB key and processed through Rekordbox prior to showtime. “Most clubs have this setup, so I’d rather stick to the simplicity of it, and just try to work on a good set with the least amount of junk or superfluous gear cluttering my life/DJ booth.”

There’s little different in his studio as well. He has some special “input peripherals” for his computer, but not much more than that. “It’s pretty hard for me to use a traditional mouse on a computer so I use a trackball, and map buttons to click and hold,” he says. “I’ve found the keyboard that best responds to my hooks, rubber faders, and knobs, etc., but nothing too ‘MacGyver’ is going down in our studio.” But because of his unique experience as a DJ, surely he’s developed some type of special club-land skills, right? Just “the ability to pretend I’m listening intently to mundane conversations in nightclubs,” he jokes.

Of course, Nash and Wilde are not alone in their pursuit of DJing and producing while smashing preconceived notions of what’s possible. Check out what folks like Philadelphia’s DJ TouchTone and France’s Pascal Kleiman are doing to circumvent their disabilities while still rocking the decks.

Moby Interviewed By His Remixers

Moby+DJing

Richard Melville, the electronic singer-songwriter, musician, DJ, photographer, social advocate and bon vivant known as Moby, has made an indelible mark on dance music since the ’90s. Responsible for producing too many great songs, albums and soundtracks to mention, his astounding professional success — which includes selling over 20 million records and playing over 3,000 shows — hasn’t diminished his passion for music and creativity.

Earlier in the year Moby presented his well-received Innocents photo exhibition at Project Gallery in Hollywood, which followed his photography exhibition Destroyed presented in 2011. In July, he issued Moby and Darth & Vader “Death Star,” a hot dance floor collaboration with Brazilian electro-house producer Hugo Castellan, on Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak imprint. There’s simply no stopping this guy!

Articulate, funny and always a great subject to interview (Moby guest edited our one-year anniversary back in the day), we decided to switch things up and got producers who’ve remixed Moby in the past to collectively interview the master.

Below Moby fields their questions about a range of subjects, including nerdy studio talk about synthesizers (natch), why he meditates and unforgettable interactions with fans.

Moby and Darth & Vader “Death Star” is out now on Dim Mak.

I’ve experienced going on tour with you on the Area: One tour. I caught you several times dancing behind the speakers and loved that so much!! Are you still a raver or more a retired pop star?
— Timo Maas (remixed “We Are All Made Of Stars”)

Moby: I think I’m a raver and a recovering pop star. Being a raver seems healthy and worth doing enthusiastically for one’s whole life. Being a pop star just engenders entitlement and narcissism, so I’m happy to be more of a raver than a pop star. Also raving involves dancing whereas being a pop star involves throwing phones at people.

When in your career did the “OK, I have to be a frontman for this thing” realization happen?
— Big Black Delta (remixed “After”)

Probably in my basement when I was 15 years old. I was playing with a hardcore band, Vatican Commandos, and I liked the other musicians but I got tired of waiting around for them. So I never thought ‘I’ll be a frontman,’ but rather ‘I’ll make music on my own and stand on stage if need be.’ It’s kind of empowering being a frontman when you don’t care about being a frontman.

“A woman stopped me on the street recently and told me that my music helped her to get through the death of her sister. She started crying on the street and then I started crying on the street.”

What is your most used synthesizer of all-time? Not necessarily your favorite one. Why? Also, where is your favorite hideaway, your place to relax when on vacation?
— Mixhell (remixed “Isolate”)

My favorite synthesizer would be the Roland Juno 106. It’s not very fancy, but it does pretty much everything, from bass sounds to strings to leads. My favorite hideaway is my pool house, which sounds much more bourgeoisie than it actually is. I live in L.A., the land of pool houses.

How important it is for you to have another passion such as photography and how does it help in the composition of music?
— Mr. Dendo (remixed “Almost Home” and “The Perfect Life”)

Hmm, I’m not sure photography and music are all that related, but I love doing both of them. I just believe that life is relatively short and I’d rather spend my time making things than worrying too much about making things. If I focus on the enjoyment I get from making things I don’t worry too much about whether other people will like them or not, which is nice.

Meeting you well over 20 years ago, I wonder what you miss most about those early ’90s rave parties. Do you think we will ever see that feeling come back around now that our music has hit the mainstream?
— Tommie Sunshine (remixed “Ooh Yeah”)

I think I miss the provincial naiveté of the early ’90s. You’d show up at a rave in Milwaukee and the promoter would be stealing electricity from a light pole and his mom would be selling tickets and his girlfriend would be DJing and the whole thing felt completely DIY so I miss that — the smallness and innocence of the early rave days. And that we were all in the same boat, professionally, socio-economically, etc. — there was no stratification.

Moby+DJ+Hakkasan

I read that you do transcendental meditation — I learned years ago but fell out of the habit — and was wondering how if at all you think this might have helped you over the years, especially creatively?
— D/R/U/G/S (remixed “Lie Down In Darkness”)

Oh, I do lots of different types of meditation: TM, Metta, Vipassana, etc. Honestly they’re all good. I can’t say one is better than the other. Meditation shouldn’t be hard work — it should be a relaxed practice that lowers stress and increases a sense of calm perspective. Because of meditating I spend less time worrying about stupid things, or so I believe.

Hello there, Moby. I wonder what you enjoy most about remixing other people? Also, do you have a favorite synth?
— Maps (remixed “Slow Light”)

My favorite thing about remixing other people is seeing how they construct tracks and songs. My favorite person to work with was Quincy Jones on the tracks from Thriller. I did a remix of “Beat It” and being able to open up the multi-tracks was a revelation. I was never a big Michael Jackson fan, but the way that Quincy recorded and produced the instruments on “Beat It” was really inspiring.

How can it be that you can’t be pigeonholed in a certain category of dance, but at the same time get the biggest respect from all the different scenes?
— Funkerman (remixed “The Day”)

Maybe because I’m old? It’s easier to respect people as they start wearing adult diapers. Although i’m sure there are lots of people in lots of different scenes who have absolutely no respect for me. My approach all along is to cluelessly just keep making music and not be too concerned with how it fits into what other people are doing. It doesn’t mean I’m a maverick — it just means that I happily have no idea what I’m doing but I wake up every day and keep working. P.S.: I don’t actually wear adult diapers. Just to be clear.

“I work hard on albums and I love making albums, but I never expect them to sell very much or to get much attention.”

I saw you in Beachwood but I didn’t want to creep up and bug you. What’s the most common question you get from strangers in the streets?
— Style of Eye (remixed “I Love To Move In Here”)

Most common question: How do I get to the Hollywood sign? And then I feel like an old Maine farmer. “Well, you can’t get there from here” as you probably know….

I have a vegan friend who comes round regularly for dinner. I cooked vegan chili too many times! Any favorite dishes you would recommend?
— Ben Hoo (remixed “Lie Down In Darkness”)

My favorite meal: quinoa and black beans with some olive oil and really good kimchi. It’s so simple and good and will help you live to be 8,000 years old.

What track would you consider your most significant accomplishment to date?
— Kris Menace (remixed “Ooh Yeah”)

Probably “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters.” Of all the music I’ve made it’s the one that I’m most proud of. When I first wrote it I ended up sitting on the floor of my studio crying. If a musician is never moved to tears by something they’re working on then they need to re-think what they’re doing, and how.

Hi Richard, I had the honor to be chosen to remix you two times, and I feel really lucky for that. There is a question I always wanted to ask you. I’ve followed your releases since your first record, “Go,” and I was really wondering if you would one day release a new club album, as I really think this is one side of your music that has been forgotten.
— Lifelike (remixed “Mistake” and “The Day”)

I hope so. The nice thing about making and releasing albums now is that no one buys albums. So there’s a new purity in making an album, as you can focus on the creativity and not worry about people actually buying it or paying attention. So I work hard on albums and I love making albums, but I never expect them to sell very much or to get much attention.

Your music is the soundtrack of many people’s lives and special moments. Do you remember any particular grateful message from somebody that really tugged at your heartstrings?
— Ramiro Lopez (remixed “The Last Day”)

Yes. A woman stopped me on the street recently and told me that my music helped her to get through the death of her sister. She started crying on the street and then I started crying on the street. There’s no better result from making music and putting it out in the world than knowing that you’ve reached people on a deep emotional level. I’d rather have one moment like that than sell 100,000 records.

“Feeling So Real” and “Every Time We Touch” were basically the tracks that got me into dance music! I remember listening to them and thinking the sounds were a cut above anything I’d ever heard before. What equipment did you mainly use on this early productions?
— Sharooz (remixed “One Time We Lived”)

Ha, thanks! But I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Basically: Yamaha SY 85, Roland Juno 106, Oberheim Matrix 1000, Akai S950, Akai S1000, a Soundcraft Spirit mixer, and a Yamaha SPX 1000 effects processor. Oh, and my super classy Alessis MMT 8 8-track sequencer, NS 10s and complete and utter cluelessness.

Moby-DJ-Hakkasan-2

I watched a documentary about your drum machine collection. Are you aware of the old Vermona DRM machines from East German times (that’s where I was born)?
— Matthias Tanzmann (remixed “Porcelain”)

Oh yes, I have one. I very presumptuously think that I have the largest collection of drum machines pre-1983. I’m up to about 300 analog and early digital drum machines. Also I don’t think anyone else collects pre-1983 drum machines…so it’s easy to win a competition when no one else is competing.

How did you discover my music?​
— Coyu (remixed “The Last Day”)

Hmm, good question. It’s an obvious answer, but probably Beatport. Back in the days of vinyl it cost $10 to buy an import 12″. So now that tracks are so cheap ($1.99) I just buy a lot of them and then see what I like. So I’m sure I bought one of your tracks and played it in my basement disco and loved it.

I enjoyed your photobook from all your travelling. Are you working on a sequel to that or do you have any other plans for a new photo project?
— Kasper Bjørke (remixed “Lie Down in Darkness”)

I just had a show in L.A. called Innocents. The idea being that the apocalypse has happened, we’re living in a post apocalyptic age, and there are new post apocalyptic cults. So I took pictures of the apocalypse and then invented a cult of innocents as the world’s first post apocalyptic cult. Deep down I want to be a cult leader, but I think I’d be a pretty crappy cult leader ‘cos I might not have the level of mental illness or charisma necessary
to effectively get people to wear track suits and kill themselves.

How would you like to be remembered and why? A dance artist? A musician? An eclectic composer? What do you hope to be your musical legacy?
— Basto! (remixed “The Day”)

As someone who made music that a few people loved. It might sound overly simple, but it’s true. Or maybe as someone who made music that a few people seemed to like — that seems more achievable. Or as someone who occasionally made music that sometimes made people cry in their cars and kitchens.

My Son The DJ: Laidback Luke

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 9.43.23 AM

Check out this eye opening look at the family life of one of the world’s greatest electronic music DJs, Laidback Luke. In this wonderful documentary series produced by Vice for Jäger Music NL, we are given a look inside the families of some of the biggest names in Dutch dance music. This episode has subtitles but a few others that I watched did not. They are still a great watch. I especially enjoyed watching Luke and his Dad play “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles at their home in Holland. Enjoy!

Why didn’t he just become a dentist? In the video series ‘My Son The DJ’, DJ’s talk with their parents about the (night)life behind the decks.
In the 12th episode: Laidback Luke.

(Please watch video HD and full screen)

Luke lives in airports, uses Skype when he wants to see his wife, and brings his kung fu teacher along on tour. It’s the life of one of the world’s most famous DJ’s. In this video you will see Luke spending some time with his parents, find out where his musicality came from and learn how he managed to keep both feet on the ground.

Waarom is ‘ie niet gewoon tandarts geworden? In de videoserie ‘My Son The DJ’ spreken we DJ’s en hun ouders over het (nacht)leven achter de draaitafels. In deze twaalfde aflevering: Laidback Luke.

Additional music: BenZel – Fallin’ Love

Produced by: VICE
Script and director: Mirla Klijn
1st Camera: Thijmen Doornik
2nd Camera: Martin Sinkgraven
Sound: Martin Sinkgraven
Color: Fernando Rodrigues
Edit: Martin Sinkgraven

Tracks:
01:52 Oliver Twizt – Let Me See You Do It (Trap Remix)
06:38 Steve Aoki & Laidback Luke ft. Lil Jon – Turbulence
07:43 Laidback Luke — Rocking With The Best
12:15 Bart B More — Jack
14:19 BenZel — Fallin’ Love
21:37 Zeds Dead & Omar Linx – Cowboy (Congorock Remix)
24:24 Laidback Luke vs. Example – Natural Disaster
24:59 BenZel — Fallin’ Love