Legally Blind DJ Lance Blaise is An Inspiration to Us All
Advances in technology paired with unbridled passion for the music have given him the tools to keep doing what he loves.
Lance Blaise is a 37-year-old, New Jersey-based DJ and producer. On paper, he has a lot going for him, including tracks on numerous Carl Cox compilations ("Il Salto Fuori" became one of Ibiza's DJ anthems in 2008), a slot at Ultra Music Festival in 2012, and gigs in Oslo, London, Puerto Rico and Miami. His passion for electronic music has given him an outlet to express himself, and greatly improved his quality of life—one that he lives almost completely in the dark. See, Lance Blaise is almost completely blind in both eyes.
However, during his younger years, Lance (who also appears under the monikers Monix, Tattoo Detectives, and Tacopimp) was not affected by the condition that eventually took away his vision. Growing up in Philadelphia, he was a talented athlete, playing hockey through college and even a year of junior pro. Lance was introduced to a pair of turntables by a fellow fraternity mate in college. Inspired by local heroes like Josh Wink as well as weekend trips to New York to see techno pioneers like Danny Tenaglia, Lance quickly caught the DJ bug and started spinning his own vinyl sets.
During this time, he was also afflicted with early health issues—specifically, a case of diabetes. This required treatment and preventive measures, but Blaise admits that he did not fully understand the extent of his illness during his younger years.
Around 2001, Lance began noticing problems with his vision. "I started having trouble reading street signs, and certain areas of my eyes began blocking out. I knew it wasn't the kind of trouble that people who need glasses would experience," Lance tells me. What Lance would soon learn is that his vision was beginning to be affected by something called Diabetic Macular Edema—caused by a loss of blood flow to the eye. This is a common result of poor circulation due to diabetes.
While dealing with the side-effects of his increasingly deteriorating eyesight, Lance began to make larger leaps into honing his craft as a DJ, eventually making the transition from vinyl to digital, and joining forces with another aspiring DJ/producer, Gabriel Ben. After a few releases, the guys achieved one of the most sought-after accolades in the world of dance music—they were noticed by Carl Cox, and eventually got records signed to his label. "[Carl] played a birthday party for Josh Wink in Philly at a small club called Fluid, so we waited until the end of the night to hand him one of our tracks. He said 'thanks' and we figured he would never listen to it… a few months later we got a phone call from England about him wanting to sign some of the tunes—it was surreal," he recalls.
During these earlier days Lance's vision had not fully deteriorated, and he was able to use what sight he did have to educate himself on various forms of production software. "I was fortunate enough back then to be able to see clearly and really learn the programs. Now I have to sit about an inch away from the computer to really see things," Lance says. "There's been so many changes in software. I'm lucky to have had most of my vision when I did because now it would be almost impossible to learn."
Today, Lance has about 5% vision in his left eye and 15% in his right. He hasn't gone completely blind thanks to a vitrectomy—a procedure in which doctors take the gel out of the back of your retina and replace with a gas oil solution—something which acts as a protectant against the exposure of blood to the eye.
I ask Lance whether he feared for his growing career as a DJ when these surgeries started to pick up in frequency. He replies, "When [Carl Cox] started signing music from Gabe and I, and I was able to start touring at certain gigs, I realized that if I didn't try to save my sight, this could potentially be the end of me doing this."
In addition to surgeries that have helped maintain parts of his vision, Lance, who's now 37 years old and runs techno label Teggno, has utilized improvements in technology to continue honing his craft. While some scoff at the convenience that come along with digital DJing, Traktor gear like the NI Kontrol X1 and Midifighter Twister have allowed Blaise to keep doing what he loves. "I utilize controllers now. Back when I was DJing mainly off CDs in vinyl mode, there would be hiccups because I couldn't see half of what I was doing, whereas now it's touch memory which has helped me reinvent being able to DJ again," he says.
Although Lance is quite open about his ailments now, it wasn't always the case. "In 2008, it started getting to the point where I needed some assistance walking through clubs—the dark lights and strobes can make it hard—but I was more elusive about why I couldn't see in the dark," Lance tells me. Around 2010 he decided to open up to Carl Cox about his growing ailment. Cox was immediately receptive, telling him, "Man, I wish you had told me sooner." Lance credits Cox with telling him that there's no reason to feel ashamed about his condition, and that if he let people know, it might even inspire others. "That's when I really started to let people know about it," Lance says.
With a newborn baby on the way and a new EP in production, Lance has been taking time off from touring. But he says that being able to sit down at his desk, feel all the equipment, and utilize it to create something people love helps to keep him going.
Still, he strives to not let his blindness come off as a gimmick. "I don't want people to be like, 'Here comes this blind DJ,' or 'He can't really DJ but he's blind so let's let him play.' I want people to look at me and say 'he's a really awesome producer and DJ who just happens to have a struggle he deals with everyday," he says. He also hopes to be an inspiration for other DJs dealing with similar issues. "I was contacted once by another blind DJ who wanted to learn about how I DJ using Traktor and what controllers I use," he recalls warmly, adding, "I want people to look up to me."