Hip Hop through deaf ears
By Zac Daroesman
Music was an integral part of growing up. Hip Hop quickly became the soundtrack to my life.
The moment I heard it I knew it was the one. I became engrossed with the Hip-Hop culture: DJ’ing, breakdancing, graffiti and most importantly rap music; my head was nodding long before I heard the emcee start spitting their verse. “What was that? I’ve heard this song before, my Dad used to play this jazz record, but it sounds… different.”
It was sampling. Taking something and re-interpreting it into something else. I’d played instruments before and I knew that rock bands would write their songs from scratch; starting with an idea; some simple guitar chords and letting it build from there or maybe it would start as a jam between members. But Hip-Hop production? That was different. It blew my mind. It wasn’t creating something from nothing. It was creating something from something.
When I was 19, I began my production journey. I would wait for close to half a day for a copy of Fruity Loopsto download on what was even slower internet than we have now just to see what would happen. I locked myself in my parent’s study until I had figured it out. A day or so later I’d mastered it, and then went back for more.
The next few years were a blur.
I moved to Sydney, graduated as a Sound Engineer, DJ’d around the place, started rapping, produced for artists, then moved to Melbourne, released a 7” vinyl, mixed tracks for other people and decided it was time to release my own debut EP. Making the EP was tonnes of work so I hired someone else to handle the mixing side. The night before listening to the final mix, I went through my list of to-dos:
album – check, artwork – check, film clip – check.
I woke up the next morning with a sharp pain in my ears. It felt like my ear drums were being stabbed with needles. Looking back, I don’t know why, or how, but decided I’d just truck on and go to work. It was near to midday when I looked around the office and realised something didn’t feel right. You know that sound mechanical keyboards make when you type? It sounded different. Dull. The office chatter wasn’t as loud as it should have been. The phone was ringing? I was under water.
From work I went straight to an audiologist. The verdict was that I had lost a considerable chunk of my hearing (mainly mid and higher frequencies for those sonically trained). I could hear perfectly fine the night before, and the day before, and the days and weeks, years and months before that. So what’s up with that? They had no idea. “Maybe it’s nerve damage from your wisdom teeth” they told me. “So, let’s get them all taken out and oh yeah, you’ll need to get hearing aids if you don’t want things to get worse.”
You can imagine the sort of emotions this would unearth. This wasn’t a rollercoaster, this was more like The Tower of Terrorat Dreamworld. Down, down, down and fast. I got hearing aids but nothing sounded the same.
I was tired trying to concentrate during simple conversations, everything was just… loud. And music? I tried a few times and it literally hurt to listen to it, and it hurt even more knowing I could never actively be a part it.
I had always looked after my ears. Sure, I had a few nights at loud gigs and parties, but I never experienced tinnitus. I alwaystook mixing breaks. Losing my hearing was something that never even crossed my mind as something that could happen to me, but here I was. If there was ever a peak of my “career”, this was the time. I had dedicated nearly 20 years to being a fan and 10 years trying to perfect my craft and at this point I felt that all of that was wasted. What was I meant to do now? This thing I loved had been taken away from me. Why me? I thought.
It took me a while, but I came to realise that life is too short to ask “why me? I was beginning to get fed-up living a life without music. As the late Aaliyah famously says in her song, “Try Again”, “if at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again”. So, I did. I’d try to listen to a quarter of a song, and a month later I’d try to listen to half a song and after eight months, I could handle a whole song. I fired up my MPC (that’s a sampler for those at home) and played with drums for a few minutes. A few months later I started chopping samples and within a year I could make music for around half an hour. Suddenly, a year and a half had passed and I could finally listen to a whole album in one sitting; actuallylisten and appreciate it. Around this time, I produced a 7 track EP for a fellow artist and that’s when I knew those 20 years weren’t wasted.
It was a long and terrifying journey but I learnt to accept the card I had been dealt. I started to embrace my hearing aids and would show them to people, rather than do everything to hide them and feel ashamed. I realised it’s just like people who need to wear glasses to help them see: there’s no difference. Man, glasses are even cool now. I found support online and educated myself and now I’m trying to help and educate others.
I finally got to properly hear my album as well, a year after its release. Since then I’ve produced an instrumental album with another on the way. I’m still doing production for artists, I’m going out to gigs, listening to music, being social and loving every moment of it. I’m loving life, thanks to my hearing aids.
Title image by When Saturn Returns