Deaf DJ Achieves The ‘Impossible’ Through Tech

Deaf DJ Achieves The ‘Impossible’ Through Tech

As part of our Creative Technology series with Intel iQ, PSFK is interviewing unique artists and how they use technology to enhance creativity and push the boundaries of their art.

Robbie Wilde is a deaf DJ. He has been working on his craft for about 10 years, and mostly plays ‘open format’ which is an eclectic, difficult combination of different genres. He lost hearing at the age of 7 due to ear infections and is completely deaf in his right ear, while 80% deaf in his left. Now the Starkey Hearing Foundation sponsors a hearing aid in his left ear, and he communicates mostly through reading lips. PSFK spoke with him about his love of music, how he remained resolute despite his disability, and how he uses technology to stand out of the crowd.

When did you love of music begin? How did you surmount the huge odds against you?

Music has always been in my life, starting with my father’s love of the beat. Going to sleep, waking up, music always there at home. Even after losing my hearing, I was always trying to hear everything…it wasn’t easy!

My parents really inspired me. They taught me to always give 110%, and gave me my start in DJing by offering my dad’s restaurant to host a party for my 18th birthday party. It was packed! It attracted enough local attention that I began playing around town, so I kept mixing and trying new techniques.

How do you interact with the music you can’t hear?

Well, there’s all the music in my head from my childhood, before I lost my hearing. That’s why you’ll hear a lot of tunes from ‘95 and older in my sets. But when it comes to new music, I feel the bass frequencies that come out of the subwoofers. The bigger the bass, the better for me!

I actually have a partnership with SubPac, a backpack-like device that sends out just bass frequencies into your back without all the other noise. You can really get a perfect feel for a song with it, all my hearing buddies love to use it. It’s like headphones for the deaf community, and when hearing people use it without headphones they get to experience music as I do all the time.

When mixing and performing, I use a program called Serrato (pictured above) because the waveforms, the images of the sound, are colored. This allows me to separate the vocals, which I cannot hear, from the bass and instrumental parts. These visuals substitute my hearing, and I don’t use it as a shortcut – I use it to be more creative. Technology definitely helps me get more advanced with my techniques, but I don’t ever use it as a ‘cheat,’ to substitute a real DJing method.

How do you use technology in new ways, differently than other djs?

I use it to be more creative and be the best I can be. Specifically, it helps me confirm that the mixes I make are properly done after I’ve set them up. No one can say, “now DJ technology even lets a deaf guy throw a party,” because that’s not how I use the tech; I can still mix and do my thing using just vinyl records. Software and peripherals and all that is just there to let me do more, create more, and go beyond the usual to mix many different genres of music together.

What are your creative goals? How do you want to make an impact in the hearing impaired community?

I always dream big. I want to spread the love of music and spread the message that there’s no excuse to stop living life. If you love something, you gotta go after it even if people say it’s impossible. Just because I can’t hear doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy music, doesn’t mean I can’t be creative. I just have to find other ways of doing it.

Just the small amount of exposure my work is getting has already made an impact, and I’m really happy about that. Especially with parents, they tell me, “you’ve changed something that I thought was a negative, my child’s disability, and given us a lot of hope. You’ve shown that my child can do something.” There’s always a positive with every negative, and it makes me very happy to spread that message and spread the hope of creativity.

What’s next for you?

Time will have to tell what will change how I DJ. The HP touchscreen computers help out with timing a lot, and it’s great to be really hands-on with the effects buttons. But as tech advances, it’s important to remember to not overly rely on it. Technology is here to enhance creativity, not to just make it easier.

My philosophy is, with whatever new gadgets and software that come out, think outside the box and go beyond what it was built for. Find out what more can it do for you, what you can use it for, what you can make with it that’s your own. That’s how you stand out and be truly creative with technology.