Words: Rene Shellis
After the release of our feature article with Jonathan I received a message from Will who mentioned that he is hearing impaired and an active member of the electronic music community. This interview acts as an expansion on the topic and aims to shed light on disability (or ability rather) within the scene and explores deeper what it means to be deaf in an industry surrounded by sound.
NR: So Will, tell me a bit about yourself.
W: My name is Will Kroger, known as “Defwill.” I was born without the ability to hear until the age of two which is when I received hearing aids. I lived in silence for those years and came from rough background. I started the beginning of my education at a special school before going on to higher academic levels from year three to University. I am currently studying a Bachelor of Entertainment Industries at the Queensland University of Technology.
I started mixing 9 years ago and met Tony Harvey or “Harvey Aus” at Lightsound who taught me the way of a DJ, which took about 3 months of harsh feedback and practice. Now I am a part of the scene both DJ’ing and managing events for the last few years since completing my double Diploma of Event Management & Travel Tourism at TAFE QLD. I have worked at Manifest and did some artist management for Dark Forest Festival. Recently I spoke about accessibility at the Global After Dark for Electronic Music Conference and have just booked my first international artist BEC (Second State) which will proceed in January.
NR: Tell us about your process of learning to mix, my friend Jonathan mentioned he would like to start so could you shed some light on how someone with impaired hearing would go about this, do you have any tips or tricks?
W: The process of learning to DJ was twice as hard than the average Joe, due to the lack of hearing I had to feel the full emotional elements track by track and pick up keys and so on. So really we just feel it, I know this sound crazy but feeling it has another side of emotional engagement. It comes to understanding the depths of the producers work and the musical theory that goes into it for the narrative to be authentic.
The best way to learn is to recognise the tracks beat or genre structure, it has gears like an engine in a car which moves the pins to make the fuel burn. Each engine has groove slots in the gears to move and make things go into motion, that’s how you feel the mixing of two tracks to make script in a set and showcase your artistic emotional journey for hours.
So being deaf or blind isn’t a stop point or end game to DJ or to produce music, it’s just another test and that teaches you to restructure your minds “CPU” or “web map” to visually see something in your mind and bring your expression out into the music.
Plus, reading the names of the track can be useful too, because every name you layer together can turn into a sort of scriptwriting for the set and helps to progress the energy. I just starting writing a script when I start playing.
NR: What music do you like to mix? What do you look out for in your track selection?
W: I enjoy mixing house and techno, however I enjoy different subgenres of techno and blending them all together to make something special. But every producer is great and I have been enjoying that “special touch” from the females producers as of late. Because some tracks just make you feel like you have been hugged by your mother. Which you can tell by listening to tracks and understanding how much work and care the producer puts in.
NR: I have to agree with you there… I have found that Bec Grenfell’s mixes has this sort of motherly embrace for example.
W: Indeed, as well as Mha Iri!
NR: Ah yes her vocals are divine!
NR: When it comes to playing out at a venue, what are some of the difficulties you encounter? Is there anything that venues could do better ?
W: Well the easy part is that I can’t hear customers asking for song request and they just walk away or I just show them my hearing aids. But I got to say the hardest part is overloading on stress from worrying about my mixing (because it is alot harder) and understanding the audiences movement.
NR: What do you look out for when you are reading the crowd?
W: How empty the dance floor is and trying find the grooves of the music that resonate with the audience. Most of my sets have all been a luck of the draw, getting people out of bed from tent to dance floor, leaving to go to the bar to get a drink, there are alot of factors to keep the punters engaged and every set is different and sometimes it works or it doesn’t.
NR: You are running a collective… what are some of the projects you are working on and have accomplished?
W: I’ve been running La Vibrations for 4 years now as a middleman promoter and trying to help out the scene. Our focus is on accepting people with challenges to come and enjoy themselves. It gives them a taste of electronic music in hopes that they will return and check out other events, helping the industry as a whole. As well as giving venues experience when it comes to customer service. There are still a lot of issues when it comes to people with challenges and they don’t get accepted into the venue or party because some are scared to take on the risk. Which where I step in and help out to reduce that and give equality for those missing out.
NR: You were talking about this at the Global After Dark for Electronic Music Conference what else did you touch on at that event?
W: Risk management was a big issue, followed by venue management behaviour, access and doing the small things to make a big difference and I also talking about the statistics of population growth, which very real and we need start preparing for the full swing of disabilities into the future. However, I also stated that when a disability is in a venue, the surrounding customers become more implosive on their behaviour through out the night. Which is a good thing, because there are less chances of conflict happening, they start thinking, if that was my family member, then how I would feel?
NR: Where can we find you playing next?
I’m working on few gigs for Sydney and Melbourne early next year, not locked in yet but its in the process, and also our international gig in January featuring BEC!
NR: Awesome, any last words?
W: But any promoters are welcome to hit me up. I’m just a human who is like everyone but with a special talent. Just be yourself, us people with challenges are just trying to be a human.