The audiologist who doesn’t miss a beat
Matthew Alexander has always loved music. When he was just 18 years old, he became increasingly interested in house music and DJing, a hobby which has followed him for over two decades.
He says: ‘When I was at university I really got into DJing, and would travel from Chester to Wales every weekend to do a radio show there. It was great, they paid for all the vinyl records and let me get on with it.’
Simplistic beats, repetitive sequences and subdued melodies mean house music is an acquired taste, so what is it about the genre which appeals to Alexander? He says: ‘I’ve always liked it, the music I mix is quite specific, and I like that house music is minimal nowadays. I take a lot of inspiration from DJ Sasha, he’s my hero. But not everyone shares his passion for the genre. ‘My wife doesn’t like it at all as she thinks it’s repetitive, which it is. It’s all down to personal taste, she’s more of a Beyoncé fan.’
Although his mixes are specialised, Alexander’s music taste is much more broad. ‘As long as it’s good music I’ll listen to all genres. I like all sorts – be it rock or classical music. If it’s a good song and it’s well made I’ll listen to it,’ he adds.
Alexander has reduced the number of gigs he plays since the birth of his son Heath seven years ago. He says: ‘I usually just do small gigs for friends and my mixes usually last about an hour but I was on for about two-and-a-half hours on the last gig I did. I just don’t find it tiring, it flies by and I get such a buzz off it, it’s euphoric the whole time you’re doing it.’
Now Heath is older, Alexander has begun spending more time on his hobby, using spare time on the weekend to work on the mixes. ‘My wife will go out and my son will go to bed, that’s when I mix. I’d rather do it than go out which sounds sad, but each to their own, it’s what I love.’
Putting it into practice
The irony of splitting time between working as an audiologist and playing as a DJ is not lost on Alexander, yet he rarely tells patients about his hobby unless they are fellow musicians or DJs. ‘I do treat lots of DJs which means I can use my own personal experience to help them in what they need and make them custom protection,’ he says.
He uses his unique position to relate to the DJs on a personal level as well as offer them professional advice. ‘I give them a little hearing test and try to give them advice on what I know about hearing loss. There’s been a couple of DJs who I’ve treated who have very severe issues with their hearing, most have damaged their hearing so much that it’s not going to get any better.’
Inevitably the day job does make Alexander more cautious when mixing. He says: ‘I don’t go to gigs without hearing protection, it scares me when I see young DJs coming to me complaining of hearing issues, but at least they’re doing something about it.’ Following his own professional advice, Alexander uses sound levels to avoid playing over a certain level. ‘Besides, I’ve got my son sleeping next door and as any parent would know, I wouldn’t want to wake him up,’ he adds.
A modern mix
Alexander has begun uploading his music onto Mixcloud, a website which hosts podcasts and DJ mixes, where his followers are gradually increasing. ‘My followers are mainly just friends; we live in an age of uploading mixes online so I’m working on that. I get positive responses but I play what I want to play.’
He has always used photographs of Heath to illustrate the mixes online, and plans to carry on this trend as he gets older. There’s also high hopes Heath may follow in his father’s footsteps. Alexander says: ‘I’m hoping my son gets involved with DJing. I have been playing him my mixes from the day he was born so he loves house music. He went into nursery when he was nine months old and I would always play them to him in the car on the way in.’
Over the past 20 years, Alexander has built up a collection of more than 10,000 vinyl records. To make one mix, he typically buys between 10 and 14 vinyl records and with an average record price of £8, DJing is far from a cheap hobby. He says: ‘In total the equipment I use is probably worth £3,000 to £4,000, although it was about £7,000 to 8,000 when I first bought it but I guess it’s vintage now.’
Would it not be cheaper to mix tracks using digital? ‘To buy digital is £1, so it’s a lot cheaper and digital discs are so good now, all of the big DJs use them. But I like using my hands to speed up and slow down in a very gentle way, and the use of vinyl can make very slow changes subtly,’ he adds.
Overall Alexander believes musicians are getting better at caring for their hearing. He says: ‘It’s a different time now, and more are coming for hearing protection than they used to be. Hear care is much less of a taboo, and usually you can only spot hearing protection if you look directly in the ear.’
House music and hear care may seem at odds, but at least Alexander’s career in audiology means he will never miss a beat.