Ben Westbeech talks to DJB about the perils of success and his new life in Amsterdam.
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Monday 24 June, 2013.
Turn it Up: DJing with Tinnitus
When you come home from a club with ringing in your ears it can be pretty annoying. For most of us who are regulars on the club scene, this noise is a bearable after-taste of clubbing that soon dissipates and is easily forgotten. For other, it evolves into an incessant, debilitating condition known as tinnitus.
The noise in a sufferer's ears becomes something that cannot be ignored; it becomes oppressive and affects every aspect of the individual's life including concentration levels, sleep patterns and mental state. Many sufferers end up with serious depression unable to escape the persistent sound within their ears, plaguing the sufferer like nature's own form of Chinese water torture and, worst of all, there is no cure, only treatment and prevention. It's said that over 12 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, with 10% of British citizens unable to sleep because of the condition.
Life as a DJ and producer exposes the individual to a constant barrage of sound and puts them at a very high risk of picking up tinnitus. Years of exposure to the club environment, the DJ booth, headphones, screaming crowds and badly EQ'd systems are factors that have a direct effect on a DJ's hearing. Then add in the fact that they may spend their spare time in the studio exposed to high volumes in an enclosed space, creating little respite for one's ears.
“You have to find
a way to deal with it,
because that's your life
and you have
to live through it”There isn't much point laying the blame at club owners or the DJs themselves, both are equally responsible. In terms of clubs, there should be a concerted effort to make sure that the system and monitors emit a warmer sound with less 'slap;’ the violent sound that damages an individual's ears. We've all left clubs with ringing ears, but it shouldn't be something we accept as normal. Club owners have a duty to work with sound engineers to ensure their system causes minimal damage to its clientele. Likewise, DJs should always wear earplugs even when DJing, which is when the ears are most at risk from damage.
The DJ Sufferers
We spoke to several high-profile artists who have suffered from the condition and who have taken steps to treat it in order to be able to maintain their careers. Matthew Styles, who has released music via Crosstown Rebels, Tsuba, Visionquest and many more, had problems that began with an ear infection that exacerbated a pre-existing condition. “I was never officially diagnosed with tinnitus, but about 12 years ago I severely damaged my eardrums with an ear infection which resulted in my eardrums bursting.”
As you might expect this had a direct effect on Matthew's working life, resulting in a sabbatical to to alleviate his problem. “At the time I took 18 months off DJing, but in the last few years it hasn't affected my career. The best thing is to give up smoking, drinking too much and take up acupuncture. I had treatment every couple of weeks and it reduced the effects quite considerably.”
As well as the acupuncture and reduction in drinking and smoking, Matthew also took steps to reduce the volume of his monitors while performing and now uses earplugs even when he's not playing in order to protect his hearing.
It's a similar technique to that which is used by one of techno’s leading legends, Carl Craig. The Detroit-born producer is widely regarded as one of the scene's most forward-thinking musicians and someone with a good ear for detail. During the second of his ‘Bar Talk’ sessions (an intimate arranged gathering between Carl and select journalists) Carl spoke about his affliction and methods of dealing with it. “I have a brother who is nine years older than I am and he used to listen to P-Funk as loud as he could. Tinnitus, I think of as being system noise. Anything that you listen to has a natural vibration, if you turn on a power amp there's gonna be a hum, on leads or whatever outlet. Our body has this natural tone that resonates [from within].”
“80% or more of the
people I know in the
industry suffer from
some form of tinnitus.”When asked about remedies and how he copes with the condition Carl's response was typically assured and calm. “You'll never get rid of it, so you have to train your brain to ignore it. I have these foam earplugs that I get from the drug store and they're like 25/35db and I wear the shit out of these things; I try to have conversations with them on, I go to the club with them on, I drive with them on, I listen to music with them on.”