Deaf Rave: Interview with Troi Lee

Troi Lee ‘DJ Chinaman’ has been organising Deaf Rave since 2003. I interviewed him about the barriers Deaf musicians can face and about his plans for a Deaf Festival. If you want to help him organise this, email him at

How did you get into organising Deaf Rave?

Well basically, growing up in London, Hackney born and bred, it was normal for me to grow up in a multicultural environment. I’m half English, quarter Chinese and a quarter Vietnamese, I grew up in a West Indian community. My cousins are professional DJs, so growing up I wanted to be like them. When I was 17 or 18 I went raving, music was my passion. I got my first turntable when I was 22, started collecting records and getting into UK garage music.

Being in the Deaf community was a different ballgame. You’d go to the pub once a month to drink and chat, I’d keep asking everyone ‘come on, let’s go raving’ but none of them were interested, so I’d go with my hearing friends, that’s how I know about music in raves.

How old were you when you lost your hearing and did you learn to sign or talk first?

I was born Deaf, I wear hearing aids. I’m proper Deaf mate, it’s just lucky I can talk on the phone. My mum was my speech therapist, we practiced two hours a day from the age of 2-11. I’ve been to mainstream schools and to a Deaf school in Brighton when I was 14, I preferred Deaf school. My mum had to fight to send me there because I wasn’t learning anything. When I arrived they asked me what GCSEs you want to take and I didn’t know what GCSE meant. In my primary school in Camden I had one Deaf friend and we just got stuck mate.

What are the differences between a Deaf rave and a normal rave?

Well obviously our events are with Deaf people. Basically, everyone’s signing away, communication’s never a problem no matter how loud the music is, the hearing community obviously can’t hear what the hell’s going on. We put extra bass on the sound systems. We very seldom have violence, it’s a different ballgame from your everyday usual cup of tea. We like to keep it unique. Obviously the performers are all Deaf, it’s Deaf led with a Deaf lineup. It’s a new thing, a new fashion, a new explosion. That’s what we’ll be doing for all these events. We’ve got a Deaf Rave in Newcastle, I’ve got a festival to go to in Wales, two more in the summer.

Do you have speakers that people can put their hands on so they can feel the music?

No because the sound system’s loud. There’s no need to worry about that because the vibrations travel all around the room via the floor or a hard surface. It’s my job to try and find a venue with a proper sound system.

Did Facebook and social media make things easier to organise?

Yeah of course, connection with people, networking, it’s much easier to spread the word, we can advertise way in advance. It’’s much easier to inform Deaf people now because they’re an isolated and marginalised group. We can do sign language vlogs for the adverts and basically I have a team to back me up, to bring the people in and make it work. It can’t do it by itself. About 50% of the audience come for the music, about 50% come to socialise.

I presume that the bigger the city, the bigger the turnout?

Yeah, we perform in all different platforms. The Sign Song Rap is the biggest explosion right now. We’ve got a Sign rapper, he’s completely Deaf, makes his own music: Kevin Signkid. He’s my prodigy, he writes his own music, lyrics and he performed at the Wireless festival last year for 8,000 people. We’re going big man, we’re trying to go in the mainstream, creating more Deaf Awareness and Sign Awareness.

Do non-signing Deaf people go to these events to practice signing?

Yeah, but most come simply to meet other Deaf people, they come from all over the country, all over the world to see our show and meet new Deaf people. That’s another unique selling point, that’s why we’ve been around so long. About 15% of the people who come are hearing.

Do you find that hearing people are dismissive of Deaf musicians?

I would say 50:50, the majority of the time they’re cool with me because I can talk but for people like Signkid it would be very difficult, he’d need an interpreter. Even I find it difficult at times, if I go to meet hearing people it takes time for me to adjust, I have to really concentrate, it takes a lot of energy man.

Does the music have to be very deep?

No, any music works: R&B, reggae, pop etc. Nowadays I’m focusing on the festival because that’s the ultimate, ultimate, ultimate dream. I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I just want to pull this one off and basically, this festival I’m organising is going to be the most diverse, all spectrum, from all walks of life to experience this festival.

What’s been your best and worst experiences as a Deaf Rave organiser?

Oh boy, so many responsibilities, communication’s so difficult with my team at times, communicating across the room is crazy man, crazy. Trying to get the message across to do this, do that, it’s hard work for me man, hard work.

The happiest experience is seeing the community together as one, it’s all about community. The foremost aim of Deaf Rave is to show empathy of our community. It’s not about making money at the party, it’s not about doing this for fun, it’s about getting the Deaf community together as one. That’s what makes me happiest.

Edmund West is an autistic freelance journalist who has been writing articles since 2007. He also works with Autistic adults and has an MA in history. He has written for several magazines: Press Gazette, Wired, Military History Monthly, History Today, etc.