09 September 2015

Interview with Deaf DJ Robbie Wilde

I was a little nervous to interview Robbie Wilde. I had seen his name around and knew peripherally of his work as "the deaf DJ," but what I could find of him on the internet was only the usual hearing-powered drivel: an "inspirational" character who triumphed over his "handicap" to harness the power and beauty of music. Not that this is Wilde's fault—perhaps borne of genuine curiosity, perhaps brain-damaged by Mr. Holland's Opus, people who can hear just cannot resist a deaf person showing even the vaguest interest in music, so you can imagine the clich├ęd frenzy around Wilde's making a whole career out of it.

Still, I saw repeated mention of Wilde's "normal-sounding" speech, and couldn't find any evidence that he knew sign language. What if, where I saw deafness as a part of my cultural identity, something that enriched my worldview, Wilde really did see it as a defect to be conquered on the road to music-making? And how were he and I—two deaf people—supposed to communicate if we couldn't hear one another and he didn't know sign language?
In the end, we spoke to one another in English the way I wish I got to speak English every day: with a laid-back patience in repeating things for one another, sans tests of—"can you understand me if I do this? How about this?" and above all, without that most dreaded backhanded compliment: "Oh, but you speak so well!" At our table in the corner of a Korean bar in the Flatiron, at least for a few moments, Wilde and I reconfigured speech and sound and deafness for a new normal. And as it turns out, that's what Wilde's been doing with his music all along. Read more on vice.com>

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