Think of your favorite music DJ, mixing beats while sporting giant studio headphones and a tight, black sleeveless t-shirt. Picture them in your mind. Now flip that perception on its head, and you’ll have Hana Sheala Grygarová. This progressive trance DJ from the Czech Republic is many things one might not expect of the average DJ: Female, an internet radio show host, psychology student, cat lover, and disabled. Her mixing and beatmatching ability is flawless. Her strength and spirit are unstoppable.
AXIS: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your disability?
Hana (dj.sheala): "Why do you identify as disabled?“ Someone asked me once. Woman who listens to same music as me, woman who I know from outdoor parties and share friends with. I get this a lot. People have difficulty to process the concept of disability. I am not angry at them, they have a lifetime to learn. What I am angry at though, are the media, print and television, where writers are too lazy to do a research, who still use the poor cripple narrative. The situation is changing, but still not fast enough.
I live (not suffer) with muscular dystrophy, probably limb girdle type. Medically it means I have difficulty climbing stairs, standing up from a chair, breathing. I can't run, or can't walk longer that 800 meters, there are fatigue and breathing problems, I am significantly weaker and this condition progresses. I have problems to resist common cold.
I have no problems in cognitive area, my illness does not affect social cognition. My body looks normative at the first sight or to untrained eye, until I climb stairs. I currently study at Masaryk University, though I dropped out before several times. Worked in education, social work, IT and human resources, I can read and write in my native language and English and translate it. I was good with computers, I can't code, but I had Linux on desktop, and configured iptables (Linux firewall). This was something unusual for humanities oriented woman that time. I like geek ladies, but I am afraid they are dying breed, there were much more women in IT when I was younger, and I am not getting technologically any better. I am losing my geek status.
I attended “normal” classroom, not special ed. Even though I survived bullying, both beating and name calling, I am glad to be mainstreamed. Mainstreaming gave me opportunity to make wast social network of people. Until 2008, I have to admit I was self hating crip, but I got better. Someone not knowing social model of disability could see a paradox, how I am getting more happier even my condition is medically worse. I have created isles of positive deviation, where people at least sometimes get the whole thing that disability is different that they think, but most of the work was done by disability activists in the whole world.
Can you explain a little bit more about your job as a DJ?
My responsibility as a DJ is to keep the crowd entertained, dancing, having fun, socially interacting, and do so by selection of tracks and mixing. Mixing means to transit seamlessly from one track to other, beatmatching it and equalizing the whole transition. Beatmatching is the most tricky part, there exist software options that do it for you, but I like to do it by ear. When you take two songs and let them play together, the beat mismatch sounds horrible. By beatmatching, I manipulate an upcoming track to match its tempo to that of the currently playing track, and adjust the track such that the beats (and, usually, the bars) are synchronized — i.e., the kicks and snares in two trance records hit at the same time when both records are played simultaneously. This is from technical point of view. Lots of being a DJ is not technical. It depends on social skills. Talking to people, supporting the other DJs, writing promo materials, being a member of trancefamily, maintaining social media. Even self care like getting rest, getting the walks I need – let yourself burnout is not a good thing for a DJ.
How do you manage your disability while being a DJ?
Poorly. I had to call two gigs off, because I was sick. I manage the social stuff, prejudice, I ask for help on stairs, or I manage to get PCA when I need to use a wheelchair, I am not afraid to ask how many stairs on stage, ask for more acceptance of disabled people, explain, explain, explain, and not to care that people might say I have attitude problem. They actually don't. They did when I was a kid though... it still can trigger me. But as I said, I study psychology, I had some training about speaking in crowds, and good psychotherapist. Fatigue or getting frequent common cold, there is not much ways to manage it, just to explain people what is happening. My mouth saves a lot.
What is your favorite type of music to play?
It depends. The good question is what music you like to play when. I usually get ending time of the party – and this means I can play Binary Finary -1998, PPK – Ressurection, old trance classics by Push, Nu – Nrg, Kai Tracid. I mix it with tech trance John O Callaghan, Bryan Kearney, Angry Man, psy trance, Ace Ventura, Lish, Astrix, or Vini Vici. I love hard trance, this stuff is powerful, so I use it carefully... the early morning crowd loves it.
I have to be more careful in main time – this crowd needs something to sing to. Aly & Fila – Fireisland or Paul van Dyk feat Numb - I don't deserve you makes good vibe. Long time I eschewed warm up times. Now I know what my responsibility as a warm up DJ is and what to play, not the big hits, but start slow. For me that means progressive house – not Coldharbour progressive, not even Martin Garrix progressive. Look for stuff done by Airwave, Michael & Levan, Kay D.
I have a weekly radio show on internet radio. Its a Hungarian radio www.homeradio.com. I have all the artistic freedom I ever wanted. I tried minimal there. Early rave. My last radio show had lots of Doctor Who influence. It is fantastic! I think it will be hard for me to make a radio show for AH.FM as they want only uplifting trance. My relationship with uplifting is a love hate rollercoaster, lots of it is cheesy but there are amazing tracks. My friend DJ, Joe Cormack, taught me how to tackle uplifting trance, I can't live on uplifting alone though.
What inspires you?
My musical roots date back to the sixties. Mind you, I was not alive in the sixties. I was a teenager in the nineties, and there were two musical tribes. One going to the disco, the second to the rock clubs. By disco I don't mean disco music per se. Disco was mostly pop, 80-90, people there were shallow. The rock scene people valued creativity, independence, as it was influenced by revival of the hippie scene. It was still dancing crowd, but lacked the anti-intellectual streak of disco music. I struggled to fit in – disability was not so big stigma like it was in socialist regime – but still there was some lack of social capital. Anyway, I infiltrated the rock scene. Made contacts, friends, got romantically involved for a short time, lost my love, all the usual stuff, although I was the person who does not care who will be in a club. I was there just for the music, interested in the band. I loved Doors Revival band and never missed a gig. I have seen the film “the Doors” 17 times, mostly to let my friends watch. I loved dancing. In year 1993 I realized the sound of rock music is not enough. Something was missing. Jim Morrison had said that rock is dead. And then I heard Nitzer Ebb. Industrial groups like Nitzer Ebb were my bridge to the world of electronic music. What I am trying to say... I already knew early rave music, but dismissed it as disco. The big hit from Jam and Spoon – disco. Cheap. Boring. I was a bit socially lacking behind, so I missed the early rave scene, what is hard to admit for someone who wants to be a DJ and is born in 1975, but never mind. I went to my first rave in 1997 and I fell in love with the music again... but the people were... weird. Not as shallow as disco crowd, but not so smart like my old rock friends. Never mind, I was here for the music, so I have infiltrated the scene again. I went to interesting places. First heard trance in 1998, in a back room on big open air festival. Full of sand, almost no light. When I am dancing, there on the dance floor, nothing else matters. This is my inspiration; I want people to be there, to get overwhelmed in the music, to share the feeling I experienced. No drugs needed, just the music. It’s not an easy task, but I am not scared of challenges. John Askew can do this to people, so it’s definitely something I can learn.
If you could be any animal on a carousel, what would you be, and why?
I love cats, so I think I want to be a giant, fluffy maine coon cat even with the coat and stuff, soft to sit on. Cats also love sleep a lot – that’s definitely me, they are socially independent – me again. You can't really own a cat. It’s more like cat owns you, so great is their level of their independence, and no human should be really owned.
Maybe you want to keep in touch with my work as a DJ and see how I tackle the social management, you can add me on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dj.sheala
If you are there only for the music, go to my mixcloud: https://www.mixcloud.com/sheala/
I also have a twitter, and you can follow me: https://twitter.com/ShealaCZ