You could say DJ AYA is living the dream.
They’re living many dreams, in fact, all at once. The lurid yellow dream of HÖR Berlin’s iconic tiled session room. The dream of being booked, busy and in demand for mixes from the likes of Tel-Avivian record label Tofistock, Munich-based Radio 80000 and beyond. They spent the winter racing from Barcelona to Prague, Munich to Paris – not to mention their Japan debut. They even had time to form a secondary alias – DJ Therapist – for their more ambient, remedial musical output.
In short, this Switzerland born, Berlin-hailing self-professed hypegirl is doing the seemingly impossible for many emerging artists – they're living from their skills, as a full-time DJ.
But there’s a buried cost. Their hearing.
“I’m exposed to loud noise at least 2-3 times per week,” they recount. “All in all, in the last year that I’ve been regularly exposed to the club scene, I’ve noticed that my hearing has gotten worse.”
AYA has suffered from some hearing issues since they were a child, and experiences crashing sounds in their ears when they feel stressed. But they have noticed that those symptoms have dramatically worsened as they began to fill weekends with DJ sets. “I guess that’s the sheer damage that I’ve done in less than a year,” they add.
For AYA and many others in their position, a lack of quality control at venues booking them has sometimes exacerbated the problem. “When I’d tour more, some booths are really terrible. Some sound systems are awful,” they explains. “It will hurt your ears to be working with bad sound set-ups.”
This manifests for AYA as ear fatigue at best, and excruciating pain at worst. “I would always go and ask for earplugs to protect my ears because it's just unbearable. It starts hurting, or your ears just get really really tired.”
"People are suffering – a lot of people can’t really hear properly any more"
Issues with physical health don’t exist in a vacuum – and for AYA, the weekly cycle of temporary hearing loss after sets, followed by a short-lived recovery, began to negatively affect their mental health - stuck in loops of damage and repair, causing a sense of stress and helplessness. “On Monday or Tuesday, everything is a little bit muted or muffled,” they tell me. “I would recover, thankfully – but then I’d be exposed again to loud music the next weekend – so, it was this constant thing of being anxious, like being really, really worried about my ears.”
People working in the music industry are almost twice as likely to develop tinnitus as people working in quieter occupations, according to a study by The University of Manchester – and AYA’s spotting the effects of that hearing loss epidemic in their field.
“Seeing loads of my friends who are also DJs, musicians, artists – [hearing loss] is not a foreign topic to them… People are suffering – a lot of people can’t really hear properly any more. I always think when I’m in these spaces and the music is so loud, I worry about my health. Because I know with hearing, once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Investing in good quality earplugs was one of the first steps they took towards protecting their hearing on the job. They chose custom molds with Hörluchs, and tells me they were inspired to do so by a friend, also a DJ, who suffers from tinnitus. Now AYA’s seeing the results of protecting their ears in loud environments, they're hell-bent on raising awareness about the issue in their scene.
To read about the earplugs DJ AYA wears, check out our guide to the best earplugs
“I just don't really think there’s that big of an awareness – at least, in my bubble. I don't see as many people as I would love to see wearing earplugs,” they add. “This is your hearing you're working with – your tool, one that you need in order to work. I’ve been pushing my friends to get [custom earplugs] done.”
DJs as role models
It becomes clear in our conversation that there’s another solution to be explored: using the fans' idolisation of DJs to spread awareness about hearing health. And for AYA, that link begins with DJs setting a good example. “When I see an artist putting in earplugs I’m always like… ‘good for you, very smart’. It’s just professional,” they say.
And the next step? Getting everyone in the club to wear earplugs, no matter what.
“I think it’s definitely time to normalize earplugs for everyone in the club... every single person." AYA continues.
"Because otherwise? it's just not sustainable."
For information about sonic safety, head to the Don’t Miss A Beat Hub.