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Interviewing Troi Lee, Deaf DJ & Founder of Deaf Rave

Updated 12/09/2023
Interviewing Troi Lee


London-Based Deaf DJ, Performer, Events Organiser & Founder of Deaf Rave

Troi hosts raves and produces online streamed showcases in sign-songs, dance, comedy, VV (Visual Vernacular) and other visual performances made by and for Deaf communities worldwide.

Deaf Rave provides workshops in Event Management, DJing, VJing and British Sign Language (BSL) as well as Deaf Awareness taster workshops for government and council organisations and festivals. 

They have also collaborated with numerous artists across the music, theatre and performance spectrum, working with charities, organisations and collaborators overs.

Troi is just the tonic on a Wednesday morning.  The night before our Zoom meet, I did a spot of online research to find out what it means to be Troi Lee, AKA DJ Chinaman, and the offerings of the Deaf Rave organisation.  It turns out, that amongst the Deaf community and the music scene in general -  Troi is a pretty big deal.

From the moment our chat started, Troi talked and held himself with such ease and comfort, I'm not sure the mood could have been any more chilled.  I'm suddenly struck by how confident he is and can understand how he continues to be a solid role model for instigating the culture-shifting and stigma-squashing needed to make a difference.

"Sorry, it's been one of those mornings", he starts as he jumps over to shut his apartment window and the East London culture is instantly muted.  He follows with, "I'm also still eating my breakfast, got to keep the energy going", and lifts his cereal bowl.  I nod and raise my coffee mug in understanding and we begin.  Like with most interviews of this ilk, it's refreshing to start where it all began and Troi and I are both zapped back to the mixing tables and clubs of his youth.


"I was born and raised in Hackney, London, which had a very strong multi-diverse community - especially the black culture of the time.  At this point, there was some really great music to be had.  I grew up with my twin brother, who was a drummer for a rock band and my older cousins were professional DJs and MCs.  I had a very strong musical influence early on.  I was very lucky.  It was as if I always had the knowledge of music there, it was just in me"

 Dear Rave Events

I discover that, for Troi, music was never something he would have stumbled upon.  It was everywhere around him, it was in his DNA - an unavoidable path.  His deafness never stood in his way, in fact, it only served to make him more fascinated with the sounds and vibrations of music.  Even when lyrics were indistinguishable, it's these vibrations, sounds, rhythms and frequencies that helped him connect to the music and his love of raving began.

He pauses mid-cereal-munch when asked of his first DJ experience, "At the age of eighteen, I started going to raves.  I was captivated by the DJ's fluency and how people embraced the music.  I watched my cousins perform and one of my friends was heavily into playing Jamaican music and reggae.  He just knew music and I was introduced to mixing decks for the first time".


"By the time I was twenty-two, I had saved up enough money to buy my own and my vinyl collection began.  It quickly became my passion and hobby.  That's how I got into DJing and how I had the opportunity to experience different rave scenes and venues.  I'm forty-eight now.  I've mellowed, but they'd be times when I'd travel outside London to a Norfolk rave in an airport hanger.  If there was music, I was there"

Troi Lee DJ Chinaman

We start to talk about Deaf Rave and the main trigger that paved the way for this organisation.  It slowly emerges that in his twenties, parties for the deaf community were very rare.  There were sporadic sports days, discos and the odd social event at pubs. 

This usually abruptly ended with tipsy and free-spirited deaf people with staff who couldn't communicate crowd control.  There were many frustrations and limitations.  But, there was an incident in a club queue that undoubtedly sparked the need for change and voila - in 2003 Deaf Rave was born off the back of an experience that Troi will never forget.

"I was in a club queue with my friends and using sign language. I soon realised that we were the only ones in the queue and still waiting to go in. I went to the bouncer and asked what was the problem and he said that we are deaf and can't come in. This was the first time I had experienced discrimination in my life. It was the waking point.

I didn't want to face this stigma ever again, I had to do something about it and that's when I set up Deaf Rave"

And when asked about how his first Deaf Rave event went? 


"It was the most mind-blowing thing I've ever done in my life.  I wasn't expecting to pull in 700 people in two months.  There were 200 international deaf people there too.  I also never expected that I would have a deaf-led line-up, especially deaf DJs and performers.  I was lucky that my deaf network was huge and everyone knew me as DJ Chinaman, they've always known me as "the music one" because I've always got music in my ears.

People at the venue were hugging and smiling all night.  It brought the community together and reunited people who hadn't seen each other for years.  For deaf people to experience a rave for the first time, it was a shock to the system - but they loved it!  It put Deaf Rave on the map"


As many perceive clubbing to be strongly reliant on sound, we go on to discuss how music is enjoyed within the deaf community.  Deaf people experience, relate and appreciate music differently due to the variations of types and levels of deafness.  They can feel the beat and bass within the waves of vibration from the music in their ears, bodies and feet. 

Troi confirms this and as he sets the scene, I can almost envision the bright lights, the smokey mist and the heavy bass of the sound system rippling through the crowd.  "Yes, for deaf people to appreciate music, it has to be visual.  There is a mix of music, vocals and sign language.  You can't use a hearing person because they don't use sign language.  Something extraordinary happens when music and deaf culture comes together. I like to think that Deaf Rave is kind of waving the deaf culture flag. Every time we play and perform, we are representing the deaf culture to mainstream society. We are here to send a message that deaf people can enjoy music"

I can understand now, how deaf DJs and raves are revolutionalising the clubber's experience.  For many deaf people, music is a way to express themselves, as expression is lost in simple conversation.  With this kind of rave, there's no pressure to understand lyrics.  Just a sense of community, belonging and a great way to mix with society - as in many ways the spoken word is useless and rendered irrelevant.  Music is what sticks, it's an international language.  

Deaf Rave DJ Taster Workshops

And it's not just about music and Troi's skills on the decks, but his inspirational workshops too. Transforming lives within the deaf community through safe spaces for creativity and to experience music and performance.  In fact, he and his team have started DJ taster workshops within education, which has been Troi's dream for a while. "It's for all ages who would like to try a little spin and use the vibration backpack.  We simply want to inspire the young deaf generation or any generation actually.  Anyone can be a DJ now.  We [Deaf Rave] are in a happy place".  

With all this goodness, inclusivity and fight for change - I'm left wondering why Deaf Rave is the only organisation in Europe that provides such services.  


"Deaf Rave has broken so many barriers.  It's all about trying different things out and going forward with it.  It's also having an inner belief, passion, dedication and commitment - these are the most important things you need to focus your energy on.  If you don't, it just becomes aimless.  

I'm very fortunate, I've got a great crew around me.  We do our research.  The workshops are a unique offering from us and we were the first people to offer an online rave for the deaf when COVID came.  So, that was another ground-breaking moment and then everybody followed suit.  We are, I guess,  the trendsetters for change".

DJ Chinaman

Troi himself was born deaf and he believes this to be from a lack of oxygen in his mother's womb before he was delivered.  What is extraordinary is that this hasn't been a roadblock to his ambition.  During his career, Troi has seen and experienced the value of hearing aid and music technology advancements to overcome the industry's obstacles.  Solidifying that music technology is key to music equality.

"I wear hearing aids, it's odd though because I wear an analog in one ear which is my DJ ear and digital in the other.  I find the digital hearing aid distorts music in some way.  The analog one is precise, even though it might miss certain frequencies compared to the digital.  It's important that I know each instrumental sound and analog kills it for me every time.  I would find it difficult to let go of that.

Back in the day, when I first started DJing, there were only vinyl records.  It was all about listening.  There were no computers giving you the exact musical arrangement.  Now, with the latest technology and software, it's a game-changer.  For example, the Woojer vibration backpacks are flexible with DJ equipment.  Allowing a deaf person who couldn't hear or feel music to do just that - it's the perfect remedy".

So, where is he taking Deaf Rave next?  What's on the cards in the future?  "I have applied for arts council NPO, I can only give it a shot.  NPO is the National Portfolio Organisation - that would be a really big jump for us if we do succeed in getting the funding.  It's a safety net at the end of the day - everything has a cost.  If we get it - great.  If we don't, we'll just carry on with what we've always done".

As we wrap up the interview it is clear that Troi has many facets and professional strings to his bow, and he shows no signs of slowing down.  There is huge relativity here that kick-starts such enthusiasm and dedication, but it does require a certain persona to remain consistent with the effort needed to pull off events of this size and creativity.  Though, as ever it seems, Troi has a level of precision, thought and sensitivity that is off the charts.  But, there is humbleness too. 


"I follow the will of life.  You meet and greet, you give and good things happen.  I've been very lucky that Deaf Rave has had a very good run so far.  I'd love to see my crew achieving their own projects.  Everyone's got to fly.  For instance, deaf performers need to start creating their own ideas and producing their own music instead of doing cover songs.  That's what people really want to see more of - the organic. 

But, I get it - you've got to start somewhere.  A lot of deaf kids I grew up with didn't have music as part of their childhood.  It wasn't in their culture.  Focus was on English and Maths in school, music was sort of excluded from them".


Troi and his team are set to deliver more Deaf Rave events in the future – each one as unique as the one before.  Offering a safe space for deaf people to move, express themselves, socialise and fall in love with music, as the dancefloor welcomes the first beats of sound.  Undeniably Deaf Rave will evolve over time, but the focus will always be the same - to unite all through music and spread awareness about deaf culture. 

I want to personally thank Troi for the time and opportunity to delve into his world and to hear about the beauty of deaf culture.  I wish him continued success as he prepares to release a raft of new inclusive experiences for the deaf and hard of hearing community.  

Interview With Troi Lee AKA DJ Chinaman

Interview Update February 2023:  Deaf Rave has won funding from the NPO Arts Council.  So, what did Troi have to say about it?


"Gaining Arts Council NPO status means that Deaf Rave can enter a new era of growth and development. Empowering the Deaf & Disabled communities with new and exciting opportunities is not just a major boost, it's a life-changing moment. We are very much looking forward to the next Deaf Rave chapter".

Interviewed by Kimberley Bradshaw

Meet Kimberley Bradshaw , Head of Customer Content Experience

By working closely with the Hearing Aid UK audiologists, experts and advisers, she develops the online content, so that the customer's experience is the best it can be. 

Kimberley's medical representation has allowed her to focus on the importance of hearing healthcare and explore the many ways in which hearing loss and its awareness can be improved.

She has collaborated and written about hearing healthcare for several online publications.

Watch Deaf Rave Festival 2021

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