DJs are the new rock stars, and they work to grueling schedules that mean back-to-back gigs across the globe and back again. The ramifications of such a life on an EDM artist's mental health is at the forefront of the industry's mind after a challenging year, with Swedish producer Avicii taking his own life in April, and Dutch star Hardwell recently deciding to take an indefinite break from performing due to the "roller coaster life" of a DJ.
Burnout and mental health were the centre of discussion on the opening day of the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), which is held annually in the Dutch capital. The four-day event began on Wednesday and is the world’s largest dance music industry gathering, with a string of in-house conferences, music launches and live shows.
When artists are pushed too far
The onus to pay attention to mental health shouldn’t be on the artists alone, as Clare Scivier, a behavioural psychologist and former artist manager pointed out.
“We have seen recent cases where there should have been more awareness from managers who pushed some of their artists too far. And that comes down to a lack of education,” she said. “We may now need to discuss a longer term plan for an artist instead of focusing on looking for whatever money is available at this moment.”
With a large number of dance music artists in their teens and early twenties, Scivier said that families need to be more involved. “Many artists and DJs that I work with are on the autism and Asperger’s spectrum. Now, these are developmental conditions and for some reason a lot of these people are drawn to dance music,” she said. “Parents should be aware that some people’s motivation for becoming famous comes from being bullied, and that can come from the result of having that kind of condition. So we need more involvement from the parents, particularly for these kind of young artists.”
Scivier said artists should treat their health as an important business asset, and this was a talking point explored at the following panel session on physical well-being.
Ear protections a must for DJs
A DJ’s work place is a high volume environment, and so artists are being encouraged to take precautionary measures before stepping on the decks. Dutch veteran DJ Jooris Voorn stated that he has been performing with ear protection for the best part of two decades. “That was something I was aware of quite early,” he said.
“When I was DJing in the 90s, the clubs only had one sound monitor on the side of stage and I would come home and one of my ears would be blocked. It was affecting me so I went to the store and bought myself a set of ear plugs. I thought to myself that at least I was saving my ears.”
One of Latin America's most successful dance music promoters, Ecuador's Kami Tadayon, said clubs also have a duty of care to its patrons. "We did run into some trouble with some international DJs, but I let the team know that we shouldn’t expose people to a sound level that is too dangerous and if someone is getting too loud to let them know.”
The family life of a DJ
But what about the issues DJs face in the relative quiet of home? That was the subject of a packed panel session on work-life balance that featured Dutch trance music star Ferry Corsten.
A father to a 10-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, Corsten paid tribute to all the wives and partners of DJs for withstanding their unstable lifestyle. “My wife is such a trooper and I really have to say this out loud,” he said. “We have two kids going to school and building a house at the same time and she had all that on her plate. She really holds the fort, but that is a mindset that should ultimately be shared by both of you.”
Corsten said fatherhood affects the way he plans his tours. “You get to that stage when you actually spend more time flying: before I would spend a week in South America if I was playing back to back weekends, now I fly in and back home after three days and fly again the next weekend back to South America” he said. “That’s one of the sacrifices.”
Corsten said DJs often have to grin and bear it on stage. “When something like [an argument at home] happens, that’s when you really need to focus and realise you are doing a job,” he said. “For the two hours on stage I switch my mind off. It is about trying to get the job done.
More dance music stars to attend ADE over the weekend
Today will see disco legend and David Bowie-collaborator legend Nile Rodgers discuss his celebrated career, while Friday will be all about big-selling French DJ David Guetta taking part in an intimate In Conversation session that will trace his rise from underground talent to the top of the pop charts. The event concludes on a Sunday with a massive arena concert where the world’s number one DJ will be crowned by DJ Mag.
Go to Arts and Culture for further coverage from Amsterdam Dance Event