‘We do turn up the bass’: deaf ravers party at first Edinburgh deaf festival

Festival organisers say 2022 has been an exciting year for deaf culture but more opportunities are needed

In 2003, Troi Lee was queueing for a club with a group of friends when he noticed that others were being let in ahead of them. He approached security to ask what was going on, and was told: “You lot are deaf, you aren’t coming in.”

Lee had never before experienced discrimination, despite having been a regular raver for a decade. He channelled his anger into setting up the UK’s first deaf rave, to “avoid all that nonsense”.

Fast-forward nearly 20 years and deaf rave has gone from being a niche event to the star attraction at the first Edinburgh deaf festival, which kicks off on Friday.

“People do ask me what’s the difference – our deaf community is inside the place, the music is loud as fuck and we do turn up the bass a bit more. It’s a rave with everybody happy, high as a kite without taking drugs,” he says.

The rave will have laser lights, deaf DJs and British Sign Language (BSL) performers. Lee says the event is targeted at people who have some hearing, but completely deaf people can enjoy the visceral experience of the bass vibrations and performers emceeing and rapping in BSL, with lyrics that tap into deaf culture. “There aren’t many deaf role models in the music industry,” Lee says.

Troi Lee
Troi Lee: ‘There aren’t many deaf role models in the music industry’ Photograph: supplied

He has been inundated with bookings this summer, including for the Commonwealth Games and at All Points East festival in east London, which he believes reflects changing attitudes towards accessibility and inclusion.

Philip Gerrard, the chief executive of Deaf Action and one of the organisers of the festival, agrees. “We’ve seen a huge shift in societal attitudes and increased deaf awareness recently.”

He says access for deaf people to Edinburgh’s festivals has historically been “patchy and uncoordinated”, but the focus on promoting deaf culture in the Scottish government’s 2015 BSL Act paved the way for “a week of deaf culturally specific events alongside an accessible festival season”.

He says 2022 has been “an incredibly exciting year for deaf culture”, with Troy Kotsur becoming the first deaf man to win an Oscar, Rose Ayling-Ellis winning Strictly Come Dancing, and Tasha Ghouri becoming the first deaf Love Island contestant, all of which he says are “normalising sign languages, deaf voices and hearing devices”.

But he says that for progress to continue, there needs to be more investment in creating opportunities for deaf performers.

Revellers at a deaf rave
Revellers at a deaf rave Photograph: supplied

Fringe venues say they would like to work more closely with the deaf festival in future, and their programming this year reflects growing interest in deaf culture. The Pleasance is putting on its first entirely BSL show, Made in Britain, about the south Asian deaf community.

Its creator, Rinkoo Barpaga, says he started his career in the US because he found being Asian and deaf was “a door I just [couldn’t] break through” in the UK, which he feels lags behind some other countries in recognising deaf creativity.

He says that at the fringe, out of more than 3,000 shows, he found only 100 that were accessible, because “theatre is very behind on adding captions for accessibility and offering interpreters”.

Nadia Nadarajah, a BSL actor who has helped to shape the deaf festival and is starring in several events, says it is important that work reaches hearing people as well as the deaf community, to prevent it from becoming “insular” and to tackle the “ableism that is still rampant online”.

She says: “Our community has a rich heritage, we have so many stories to tell, and we want to share them with everyone. I’d love to see a time where it’s normal for hearing audiences to attend performances by deaf artists.”


Rachel Hall

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Nicola Benedetti becomes first woman and first Scot to lead Edinburgh international festival
Grammy and Brit-award-winning violinist will take over from Fergus Linehan after this year’s 75th anniversary event

Severin Carrell and Nadia Khomami

01, Mar, 2022 @3:37 PM

Article image
Edinburgh festival sets contemporary tone amid 'darker' political themes
Director says 2019 lineup reveals artists’ attempts ‘not to go mad in the world at the moment’

Severin Carrell Scotland editor

27, Mar, 2019 @10:00 AM

Article image
Edinburgh festival offers refunds for controversial opera before opening
Christophe Honoré’s Così fan tutte has been described as a ‘provocative and sexually explicit’ adaptation Mozart’s opera

Chris Johnston

27, Jul, 2016 @8:57 PM

Article image
Edinburgh festival fringe sets stage for summer of online shows
Organisers prepare for ‘weird’ visitor-free season including weekly variety performance

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

13, Jul, 2020 @12:49 PM

Article image
Edinburgh international festival to feature tales of refugees and migration
Festival’s 75th anniversary will include stage reimagining of The Jungle Book following Mowgli’s journey as a climate refugee

Nadia Khomami Arts and culture correspondent

30, Mar, 2022 @12:00 PM

Article image
Edinburgh festival fringe to 'break records for internationalism'
Artists from 63 countries will perform 3,841 shows in 323 venues across Scottish capital

Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent

05, Jun, 2019 @12:57 PM

Article image
Edinburgh suffragist statue put on hold after bitter row over sculptor
Anger erupts after open contest to design statue of Elsie Inglis scrapped and royal sculptor commissioned

Severin Carrell Scotland editor

21, Oct, 2022 @2:44 PM

Article image
Edinburgh fringe: plans unveiled for far smaller ‘joyous’ festival
Venues include beaches, city squares and pedestrianised streets as organisers adapt to Covid rules

Severin Carrell Scotland editor

01, Jul, 2021 @9:15 AM

Article image
Edinburgh international children’s festival review – a riot of colour and emotion
Animation and street dancing power Mixed Up, a film about validating feelings, while The Super Special Disability Roadshow gives voice to a young audience

Mark Fisher

30, May, 2021 @11:01 PM

Article image
Feel the beat: deaf fans fight for access to live music
The myth that deafness impedes appreciation of music is gradually being debunked – and new technology is helping. But marginalised deaf fans say attitudes are still a huge problem

Ammar Kalia

16, May, 2018 @3:23 PM