At first glance, Brisbane DJ DefWill appears to be going from strength to strength, balancing university studies, events management roles for festivals like Splendour in the Grass, Rabbits Eat Lettuce and Live Large, DJing some of the deepest techno rhythms at some of the primest techno parties on the east coast of Oz and also that he has never let the fact that he is deaf hold him back. Though if one takes the time to look (and talk) a little deeper it becomes clear that he, like many of us, carries burdens that are well beyond his control and the weight of which has been known to bring even the strongest of us down.
New OzClubbers writer Dastardly Kuts gets deep with DefWill.
Dastardly Kuts: Now you truly are a well-known person in the Brisbane Electronic music scene, whether as a DJ, events manager or punter but what a lot of our readers may not know is that you are the only industry DJ in Australia that also has the word “deaf” in their bio. Can you give us your thoughts on how it is possible for someone who can’t hear to be a successful DJ?
DefWill: First of the key elements of being a successful artist (Generally) is how you market yourself and where you fit yourself in the competition positioning map to other business models or genres, which is the same deal for winemakers or coffee beans. That’s why Starbucks failed! However, in relation to DJing, it’s all about how you position yourself to educate the audience, from the music you play thru to the experiences you provide and for me personally, is about telling a narrative to express my internal love of music and share that with others by taking them on an emotional journey.
From a disabilities perspective…. It is a lot harder than people think, behind closed doors and having all the mental and physiological challenges of peer pressure, as well as the internal and external negative gearing within the communication barriers, it can sometimes be very difficult. These kinds of issues were established as a growing concern recently at the Ibiza Music Summit 2018 and it was a topic that was spoken about at length.
DK: I’m sure most of our readers would agree that issues of mental health being discussed at places like IMS 2018 by high profile artists such as Pete Tong and a plethora of others in the dance music scene is a positive thing. From your unique perspective, how do you think it relates to people with disabilities?
DW: In many ways to be honest and it’s a growing concern among families and friends, however, this epidemic is affecting everyone, from both the mainstream and disabilities demographic. I actually just handed in a case study to Jane Slingo (EMC Organiser) addressing how people with disabilities are more susceptible and infused with mental health challenges, and that there is growing evidence to suggest that people may actually suffer from the mental battle scares (Genetically) of our ancestry, passed down thru generations. So, if one of your descendants was a victim of violence, or worse still executed, any time from B.C. to 1800 A.D. then you could very well be more prone to mental illness, potentially thousands of years later.
Take me for example, I grew up with a mother who also had a high degree of disabilities that she suffered because of the physical damage of brain injuries and which resulted in her being harshly bullied, not only by the people around her but also by her family. I believe that this damage control was infused in me and I, therefore, had to deal with these genetic challenges that were further exacerbated by rejection throughout my life and the fact that I was removed from my family by the “old fashion” government – DOC’s, during the early period of my life. Though in 2018, society is much more aware of the challenges faced by people with disabilities and mental health problems, it was not that long ago when decisions regarding parents who had disabilities or who had worked in combat being unfit to raise children could likely be considered reasonable grounds for tearing families apart, which in truth may have unknown consequences for generations to come.
DK: You have taken on a lot of important management roles within a number of high profile festivals over the last couple of years, in your opinion what are the current challenges faced in the management of disabilities, for artists, venues, and customers that want to enhance the nightlife or festival scene in their community?
DW: I’m just glad that disabilities festivals are becoming more of a demographic hub these days because they are a great way to help educate people from many different cultures and demographics. Festivals such as AccessFest in Melbourne (run by the Dylan Alcott Foundation) and the Live Large Festival here in Brisbane (organized by CPL and the Treasury Casino) really helped open up my eyes to the large scale of the live and electronic music loving community here in Australia.
With these festivals showcasing accessibility in all areas and that cater for all physical requirements by using business management techniques that reflect an inclusiveness for EVERYBODY, it’s not that hard to imagine translating this to smaller venues and clubs. With small adjustments, these businesses could cater to the growing population of people with disabilities, not only into the future but right now, today.
There have been major callouts in the London electronic scene of late, with the need for re-education of all stakeholders and staff (security, venue management, promoters, artist management and so on) that deals with customer service roles within events management. This highlights that though things are improving, there is still a lot of work to be done and I’m not saying completely overhaul things, just re-adjustments on how we manage things like risk assessment and management as well as communication, because people with challenges don’t want to be seen as third-class citizens or victims of everyone’s problems. Like everyone else they just want to have a good time.
DK: Having supported some stellar talent from the electronic music scene such as Bass Kleph, Steve Ward, Jamie Stevens, Dylan Griffith, Makumba/Darkshire, and Hefty, you have obviously been a part of some epic shows both as a DJ and behind the scenes with your event brand La Vibrations, what has been some of the highlights for you?
DW: My experience in events management has brought me a deep level of satisfaction as I know I have helped to change perceptions on how people with challenges are viewed in taking on these higher roles. I have really enjoyed working as Artist manager with James Anderson (Dark Forest Festival), as well as playing my part at Rabbits Eat Lettuce (All-rounder/Stage Management) and Splendour in the Grass (All Rounder) not only due to them being top quality festivals, but also because I was given the chance to see my influence on the events crew and how it made people work more professionally and calmer, to find other ways to communicate and get the task done.
As for the DJ side of my life, I just recently warmed up for RAXON at Le Froth and I’m still helping out with Dragonfruit (Capulet) and Bass Swag Entertainment, but my highlight has to be…………… too many, they all have their own unique emotional vibes and engagement.
However, with the love of being authentic and seeing the techno scene getting supported by IWTFA, Lemon & Lime, Le Froth, Bass Swag Ent, SHADES and Flux here in Brissy, whilst Melbourne (The city that never sleeps or known as city of benders of the ARTS) and Sydney both hosting a strong and diverse mix of genres, my biggest highlight would be that it appears the Australian techno scene is growing into a peaceful musical hub akin to that of the European scene.
DK: As well as DJing and event production you are also currently studying at the Queensland University of Technology and majoring in Entertainment Industries, what are your thoughts on university life and the challenges people with disabilities may face to achieve success in both the entertainment and university fields?
DW: I THINK IT F****N GREAT! Seriously, it is due to a number of reasons like Steph Dower, who did a master’s degree in Script Writing at QUT and countless others that are doing what they love to achieve their dreams. In this way, universities are putting more weight behind the less abled individuals and are supporting in the rise of role models for people with disabilities, which is sure to have a big import on future generations.
I would also like to mention that this been an interesting year for the whole disabilities world, which I see as a strong turning point on how people see us as human beings and not just third-class objects from the history of scars and conflict within (like the cold war inflicted on people’s psyche). Due to more artist and high-profile people speaking about the unbreakable silence and the conflict within ourselves, it is clear that we as a society need to stop and educate people, to make it clear that everyone suffering thru these kinds of challenges just want to lead a normal life as well, and to learn. Even though it may take us a long time to acknowledge the task of requirements and how we are going to grow our creative ideas, the results are often times worth the wait.
DK: In relation to the last question, do you have any personal experiences you’d like to share?
DW: Well there is one experience that I hope others can get inspiration from and it is that even with my primary education being at Special School and that after attending two high schools, I dropped out in year 11 (mainstream after 14 schools) but I still went on to do studies at TAFE and am now in the end stages of completing a university degree. A degree that has seen me having an influence on the whole entertainment department of QUT and given me the knowledge to achieve success in this industry. If I can do it, you can do it too! If you believe in yourself and are willing to take a few risks.
DK: How do you manage to juggle university life with that of a career in the entertainment industry, especially considering your disability?
DW: Basically, just living on the edge of a sword but keeping motivations going with a flexibility of time management.
DK: In the knowledge that nearly everyone that reads this interview will likely have the ability to listen to music, how would you best describe your approach and method of DJing to people that have no idea what it is like to be deaf?
DW: Everyone refers to me as the guy in the movie “Its All Gone Pete Tong” or compare me to Robbie Wild (Scratch DJ/USA). In all honesty, you can take it either way.
1/ Fill your ear with wool and try to DJ with them in your ear,
2/ use the coin perspective, where everyone is on heads because they can hear and for people like me, we are on tails because we are more in depths of vibrations from all parts of the body where the information channels.
DK: I have heard that you would like to see “It’s All Gone Pete Tong” remade, what’s that all about?
DW: Yes, that is true, I have actually been talking to a lot of people about doing it here in Australia but there is still no movement at the moment. I got hold of Pete Tong and the director to put in the pitch proposal, however even though the movie has most of the elements and challenges we face, I think that it’s a bit of a laugh overall as it is still fictional and I’m of the opinion that it’s time for a realistic version to be made.
DK: With science and technology so rapidly improving, do you think that the majority of people with disabilities who choose a life in the entertainment sector will be helped or hindered by the meteoric rise of tech?
DW: It can be a huge help, but it is dependent on how we all socialize and communicate on the topic, due to some high-profile people with disabilities being addicted to greed, wanting more things for free and being catered to by the mainstream who find them complex. I believe things are getting better but that it’s only a matter of time before we see how the cards play out towards the river card, that hopefully shifts things from a political to economic perspective.
DK: To finish things off, tell us what’s in store for Defwill fans over the next few months?
DW: Well I have two gigs in Melbourne on the 3rd and 4th of August, playing at Renegade (Top Floor) at My Aeon on Friday and Eat The Beat on Saturday at New Guernica, which sees me on closing duties both nights and means I will be bringing out the raw material for what will be an emotional journey. This will be my fourth time playing in Melbourne and I have loved every moment down there.
I’ve also got a special event coming up with an interstate headliner that recently did a collaboration track with Citizen Kain and that a lot of people who caught the set at Elements music festival last year will definitely remember. Then early next year we are taking things to another level, showcasing equality and diversity for large and long going project planning but at the moment things are still a little “hush-hush” so stay tuned!