In today’s musical landscape, Electronic Dance Music artists are the new rock stars, but that doesn’t come without its own consequences.
If alcohol is the social lubrication at clubs, bars and festivals, then music is the sticky glue holding the intricate operation together.
Sleep deprivation, a culture that overtly glorifies excess drug and alcohol consumption, and a high-pressured competitive career – music publication Thump called it a lifestyle “held together by fast food, lack of exercise and too much drinking and drug-taking.
“You’ve got all the ingredients for despair,” they concluded.
And yet it’s something that’s all too easily swept under the rug with a seven-word hook and a catchy beat.
But behind the lifestyle is the gruelling regime, packed touring schedule and inevitable burnout – something that multiple DJs have publicly expressed, from Moby, 52, Above & Beyond’s Tony McGuinness, 48, and Avicii, who passed away, age 28.
While we don’t know the cause of death, we do know that in 2016, almost two years ago to the day, he quit performing live music. Previously, he had been hospitalised for acute pancreatitis and had his gallbladder removed, due to excessive alcohol consumption.
We also know that in 2017, seven months before his death, Avicii – whose real name is Tim Bergling, told Rolling Stone he “needed to figure out [his] life.”
“The whole thing was about success for the sake of success. I wasn’t getting any happiness anymore,” he said.
“Parties can be amazing, but it’s very easy to become too attached to partying in places like Ibiza. You become lonely and get anxieties. It becomes toxic.”
But the thing is that when you compare his words to other world-famous EDM artists and DJs, there’s a very worrying pattern.
Watch music insiders talk about Avicii’s phenomenal rise to fame and quitting it all at age 26.
Multi-platinum musician, DJ and record producer Moby spoke to The Guardian in 2016 about the impact of loneliness and the isolation of the industry – something that due to worldwide festivals and global touring is constant for EDM artists.
“You’re by yourself in your hotel room, then you get in a car with your tour manager and drive to the venue, maybe do some interviews, and you see someone from the record company, and you stand on stage in front of 50,000 people a night, and you go back to your empty dressing room and empty hotel room,” he explains.
“You can spend quite literally months without having comforting, human contact,” Moby explains.
Other performers cite sleep deprivation as a central issue that ends up exacerbating any other existing health issues, both mental and physical – like insomnia, depression, and anxiety.
One third of UK Trance group Above & Beyond, Tony McGuinness said it is a key concern for any performer, but especially for EDM artists who frequently finish their shows in the early morning.
“Jet lag and being unable to sleep when you need it, this is the single biggest danger in our job,” he told The Guardian.
And when it comes to Avicci, his meteoric rise to the top, also perhaps accounted for his sudden ‘early retirement,’ something that shocked the industry.
Speaking about the late artist in the documentary Why We DJ – Slaves To The Rhythm – that explored the mental and physical health of professional DJs – UK BBC Radio 1 DJ, Pete Tong said that after Avicii’s 2013 hit Levels was released, he quickly became the “biggest pop star on the planet.”
“He mopped up the world for three of four years,” he said.
Despite this, Harley Luna – the founder of artist and tour management firm Lunartron (whose client list includes the likes of Ruby Rose, Kelis and Tiga) says the pressure would have been intense.
“You’ve got management on your back, you’ve got agents on your back, you’ve got labels on your back and they all want you to tour because you’ll make them all money,” says Luna.
Tong agrees, and assumes that his management would have tried to capitalise on that – something that Avicii alluded to Rolling Stone was a factor in him quitting.
“I think there was an attitude in the camp that was like we know this is not going to last forever, so we’re going to milk it right now for all that we can as quickly as possible, but you hit a wall with that,” he said.
Need a mental health checkup? Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and Kate de Brito talk about the simple rituals that can perk you up when you’re having a shit time. Post continues after audio.
However, when we look at the evident mental health issues among EDM artists and DJs, perhaps the pressure to curate their perfect public image is also to blame, after all, part of the exciting and exclusive club facade is inevitably damaged when you realise the person telling you to “put your hands up” is sleep deprived and possibly on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
And for international touring artists, it’s not an easy realisation to make.
However, for legacy artists like Steve Aioki and Moby, 20 or 30 years plus into their career, self care is their priority.
“In the early days, it seemed like a small price to pay. But at this point in my life, I can’t in good conscience punish myself and my body and my mental health out of obligation to go on tour,” says Moby.
“No one should ever be criticised for taking legitimate steps for self-care.
“I simply am not willing to sacrifice health and well-being because ultimately, that’s all we have.”
If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.
If you, or a young person you know, is struggling with symptoms of mental illness please contact your local headspace centre here or chat to them online, here. If you are over the age of 25 and suffering from symptoms of mental illness please contact your local GP for a Mental Health Assessment Plan.