Disabled DJs on the decks
13th February 2005
"He lifts the needle onto the record, throws the record down and up to mix it into the next record using his chin, and then manipulates the controls using his mouth - it's gobsmacking. The women just love him!"
Miss Crip2nite is keen to enlist DJ Ectic - known to his friends as Chris - for a new club night she is starting, the first in Manchester to feature disabled DJs.
Virtual Itch, named after the virtual DJ-ing technology which is bringing a new generation of disabled people to the tabletop artform, follows the success of Virtual Storm, the club night also organised by Gemma for last year's DaDaFest.
Although a similar evening has been running in London, organised by the charity Attitude is Everything, Virtual Itch will be the first to showcase the growing body of disabled DJ-ing talent Up North.
"When Attitude first started out there weren't many disabled DJs around, but now they seem to have more and more in London and there's a real community," says Gemma.
"Here, we're just beginning to create that kind of community. It's great, because for people like Chris, DaDaFest was the first time he'd ever DJ-ed with other disabled people. He thought he was the only one doing it!"
But with DJ-ing traditionally being the preserve of young blokes with alphabetized record collections and too much time on their hands, getting a diverse line up in terms of gender has not been so easy.
"It's still very male-dominated and you get the double discrimination for being a woman," says Gemma. "A lot of female DJs I know are really good, but they're non-disabled and stunning-looking. The club culture's very into the body beautiful, and if you don't fit into the image of really young, trendy, perfect figure, people don't want to know."
Disabled people have also had to fight off the accusation that, by using different methods to DJ, they are somehow "cheating".
"There is this perception it's not really you doing it, someone else is doing it for you," she says. "For people like me, who use a computer, that was really looked down upon until a couple of years ago, when it started to become more trendy among non-disabled people.
"There's one guy called Richard West who's deaf and he apparently sits on the speaker to DJ because he needs to feel the vibrations. I find it funny because he gets a lot of people saying: 'I don't get that, how can he DJ, he's deaf!' But they don't realise if you can feel the bass that's all you need."
Gemma learnt her craft at the Drake Music Project in Manchester, which teaches disabled people music technology. The project ran a short course in DJ-ing, and organised a showcase in a local bar. While it was a good springboard, Gemma wanted to avoid "the charity thing".
She became convinced that the best way to show mainstream clubs that she was worth taking a chance on was to organise her own night. The success of a night run by black lesbians at the Contact Theatre in Manchester provided the inspiration.
"They were called BlackAngel, and I watched them create this amazing night which was held by black lesbians but which anyone could go to. I wanted to create something similar, but run by disabled people. I had a chat with the Contact's manager and he said: 'Why don't you do a night here?'"
With a venue which holds 500 to fill, Gemma now has the task of thinking about how to promote the event. On the one hand, eye-catching headliners like DJ Ectic are a big draw, but on the other she says she doesn't want it to become a "modern day freakshow".
"Last time round, we didn't promote it as a disability art event, just a club night. A lot of people did want to see how Chris DJ-ed with his tongue - he was a real selling point, and I have to admit we did a separate flyer promoting him - but on the main flier we didn't mention that at all.
"I think we'll get quite a lot of people in anyway, because we're right in the centre of studentville. I don't know what their reactions will be - it will be very interesting to find out. Some of us have more obvious impairments than others. But hopefully people will be quite drunk so they won't even think about it after five minutes."
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