How many times have you been at a party where the DJ, in an attempt to hype up the crowd yells into the mic “Are you ready to party,” or something similar? The crowd replies in a manner the DJ deems too meek and again he yells into the mic, “I can’t hear you.” The crowd raises its collective voice and lets out an even bigger and louder yell. This is a common and very effective tactic to properly amp up a crowd but, what if the one who couldn’t hear is the DJ himself? Or in the case of DJ Lori, herself.
Lori Lucas-Martinez is a veteran DJ from Chicago with an extensive resume of rocking parties for close to 25 years. And she is partially deaf. Originally, I thought she had a slight hearing problem in one ear but it turns out to be a significant hearing loss in both ears. How can a DJ survive with such a serious hearing problem?
I quickly began researching DJ Lori and it wasn’t long before I found out about her various accomplishments, her entrepreneurial achievements, and her various awards for DJing. But no mention of her hearing. I needed to know how she managed to survive all these years in the aural playground that is the music business so, I contacted her and after some scheduling issues, DJs are busy people, we managed to pull off the following interview via email.
1200Dreams: People might be surprised to find out that you, a DJ and someone who depends greatly on their hearing, have a slight hearing loss in one ear. Can you tell us about that, how it has affected you?
Lori: Actually, I have more than that. I have a hearing deficit of 65% in both ears, from birth (not from the DJ career itself). It has greatly affected my life in many ways. Growing up with a major disability like that greatly inhibits and delays personal and social growths. I‘ve had to learn the basics of social skills later in life when I gained more confidence, making it doubly hard as a maturing adult.
As a young child, although I knew my own self-worth and capabilities, I grew up with no self-confidence and very low esteem, due to the endless amount of cruel bullies and their jokes and teasing from other kids. With that, none of the kids wanted to be my friend because I was classified “stupid,” thus adding to my feelings of not being able to belong to a group. So, because of the pain, I ended up sheltering myself in my house and could not expose myself to the social scenes. Besides dealing with a hearing disability, at the same time, I also had to deal with more, with my inherited skin pigmentation condition called Vitiligo (extreme amounts of white patches all over the body). With these, I was considered “not normal” and kids, at the age, do not know how to comprehend differences in others. With time, the Vitiligo went away, due to the endless amounts of sun exposure, but there is still some visible.
Regardless, I was actively involved with sports (again, this is from my own knowledge of [my] own capabilities), I can still remember hearing kids say cruel things while I would stand at the softball diamond, saying terrible things like, “She’s so stupid, she’s gonna strike out”. It actually motivated me to do better for myself and I ended up setting school records for swimming, softball, and gym class activities. On top of that, I would literally almost hit a home run every game! No kidding. Long story on that one but you get my point. So for that, it helped me to focus on proving myself to me, as well as others (at the time, I felt that need). Nowadays, they are called haters. Even now, the repercussions come back and unfortunately, I’m much more sensitive. My feelings get hurt very easily by the haters who criticize my DJ career or personal choices in life, but I do the best I can.
What made the whole scenario worse in my childhood, even the teachers in school were very impatient and cruel. I remember being spanked often by the grade school teachers because they thought I was ignoring them, when in fact, I was not able to hear them. I have to say, my mother was really the one of the only two persons in my childhood who was there for me. When I came home crying from school, my mother would place me often, in front of my mirror, to remind me that I had self worth, despite how everyone treated me so negatively. When it was later confirmed that my allergies further aggravated the hearing ability (closing of my ear tubes), my allergy doctor, Dr. Allegretti (how ironic, eh?) was the most compassionate man who really made me feel like I was special. I’ll always be grateful to him because he was the only non-family member who was an angel to understand my pain. It was not until I was a bit older when it was discovered I had a major problem with hearing. I did not receive my first hearing aids until I was 16, after convincing my parents that I needed them.
1200Dreams: So, how have you learned to overcome your hearing loss?
Lori: In the clubs? It does not affect my career because the music is loud enough and as you may have noticed, people naturally speak louder because of the music volume. So, needless to say, I found the “perfect” career for me. So that’s why it’s hard for peeps to comprehend when they talk to me afterhours or during the day, as it is more noticeable when there is no music playing.
But in life, I believe no one ever really recovers: they simply adjust to finding ways to deal with it, especially with the impatience and lack of compassion from others. Most people equate quickness of responses for intelligence, so when people speak with me and I have to make them repeat themselves, or I’m slow to answer their questions because I have to think about trying to catch all their words, they assume I’m stupid and/or not knowledgeable enough about a subject. It’s a frustrating and constant daily battle to have to deal with not being able to fully comprehend simple conversations, and especially in the industry. As a result, I have more compassion, especially for disabled people, but unfortunately, this is a selfish world that does not. I can only do the best I can and pray that others will be more patient.
1200Dreams: When did you first get interested in DJing?
Lori: After one year of constant coaxing from a girlfriend to check out the local club scene, I reluctantly decided to check a popular local nightclub with her. While there, I saw the new scene of club-heads dancing to the sounds of House music spun by the DJ and decided that this was the new lifestyle I, somehow, wanted to be a part of. I had decided I did not just want to be part of the crowd scene, as drinking was really not my style, but to try my hand at being a DJ.
I asked a lot of questions from local DJs and found that a girl I worked with (@ Chicago‘s Northern Trust bank) was selling her DJ equipment. I bought all her vinyl, her two Technic 1200 turntables, and her Gemini mixer and brought it all home. After a few months of my mom yelling at me to turn down the music from the basement, I decided to rent my own apartment and moved all my stuff out. From thereafter, I actively practiced solidly for approximately a year.
One day, while visiting a local record store, two male DJ’s heard me talking about spinning as a DJ to the owner and were interested in listening to my skills as a DJ: they couldn’t “comprehend that a female could spin/mix 2 songs together!” Yes, those were their exact words. I was not offended, as I knew females DJ’s were not even in the picture yet. They eventually came over to my apartment, I threw down and mixed two vinyls together: they looked at each other with their mouths open and I was hired on the spot. That was how I got my first gig at Pepe’s restaurant in Calumet City, IL. (still standing today!) in June 1986, where they had their residency at the time.
1200Dreams: Chicago is synonymous with House music, what is the current state of the Chicago scene? And the Chicago club scene in general?
Lori: Thankfully, House music seems to manage to stay alive but overall, it needs to be more appreciated by the public. That can only be done by introducing it to the mainstream media more, such as commercial radio stations and such. I feel it is struggling because with the economy having a major effect on the nightclub scene and with the genre of Hip-hop that has really dominated the radio scene, House music has greatly been pushed underground more. Plus, the crackdown of the scenes in the 2000’s with the usage of the drug Ecstasy and the breakdowns of underground raves, really hurt the music and club industries.
In order for the nightclub scene and club industry to be more appreciated and because people only identify music through mainstream radio and these are the same people who attend the bars and clubs we DJs work at, it’s up to us House DJs to incorporate House while mixing in the mainstream. Slowly, I see people accepting House but again we need more effective and faster promotional methods.
1200Dreams: What club in any country would you most like to DJ at?
Lori: Ultimately in Ibiza, of course!
1200Dreams: Who’s your favorite DJ out there right now?
Lori: Based on my House genre pick, Chicago’s Mixin’ Marc, Super-producer David Aude and above all, Juicy’s Robbie Rivera. His Tribal House producing skills are what I would call unique and soulful to me: truly my inspirations.
1200Dreams: What can we expect from DJ LORI, any projects, big gigs we should know about?
Lori: Oh, yes. I’m been pushing myself to learn about remixing and producing. A must to really get my name out there, the next steps to this crazy career.
My next gig is scheduled for “Hot Import Nights“, being held at Soldier Field in
Chicago, IL on Saturday July 11 (thanks to promoter Kendall Productions). With last year’s attendance of 30,000+ peeps, I’m hoping this will be the next small, but important groundbreaker for me.
1200Dreams: Where can party people currently find out where DJ Lori spinning on a regular basis?
Lori: To date (June 2009), club heads can find me doing guest spots in Chicago on a timely basis. My residencies are Thursdays at Tiger Lounge in Bridgeview, IL (8500 S. Harlem Avenue). Friday at Martinis-In-Valpo, in Valparaiso, IN (10045 Calumet Ave). Plus I’m always looking for more. They can also check out my mixes on www.Soundcloud.com/djlori and my website at www.DJLORI.com.
Turns out Lori found the perfect career, one in which her hearing problem though significant is not a hindrance. She managed to make a potential handicap into a positive and that we all hear loud and clear.