While no one can perfectly put the pieces of the puzzle together – and it needs no scrutiny, only remembrance and reaction so that it is never repeated, Avicii‘s death has unfortunately led to a brief controversy and hearsay in the last few weeks. With too much focus on what has happened and the beautiful music that Avicii made, few have grasped the root of the talented Swede’s decline in the past few years – a phenomena from which he was steadily recovering after having quit touring in 2016. But if anyone can speak with certain authority on the topic, it is the iconic British DJ and BBC Radio 1 host Pete Tong. Tong, while delivering his key note speech at the 11th edition of the International Music Summit in Ibiza, talked at length about the question of Mental Health in light of Avicii’s demise.
Recalling how the Swede was an unparalleled talent of his generation – the first to make the absurdly quick change from the bedroom to the greenroom amidst the rise of EDM – Tong emphasized that Tim did not have the same training (‘the proverbial 10000 hours’) as the veterans such as Above & Beyond and Swedish House Mafia, to deal with the pressures of the DJ life. Pete then charts how a DJ’s lifestyle changes with the fame and as it builds up, obligations to perform replace the need for self care and preservation.
Talking about Avicii in particular, Pete Tong said:
“In Tim’s case his body did start to breakdown and after multiple medical interventions his health deteriorated to such a point that he announced his retirement in 2016. His last show was here in Ibiza at Ushuaïa at the end of that summer. Last year Tim slowly started to release music again and when I interviewed him for Radio 1 he seemed in a really good place and talked with real passion about how making music, not touring, was what really mattered to him. We might never know what happened in the end, what led him to taking his own life. What demons he was still dealing with or how much the anxiety played its part.”
Tong then summarized the lifestyle troubles in harrowing detail:
“I used to liken being a DJ, to that of a lone stage actor, in the same play, night after night – but I have re-calibrated that. Its more often being like a court jester at a medieval feast.
As Moby (who’s ten years sober) said in his recent Lefsetz podcast – even without the drugs and alcohol touring is unhealthy. If your a musician on tour you do your gig get on the bus and leave and even if there is a certain amount of degenerate behaviour its got nothing compared to the life of a celebrity DJ with private planes/Ibiza/Las Vegas and palatial hotel suits. You do your show and normally its back to the room for endless partying which is great to a point but so corrosive and destructive.
For most – the reality is very different – the constant lack of sleep – the airports – the flights – your exotic tourist experiences are often limited to the view from the back of a cab. Most DJ’s will go will go though their whole career having to play clubs and festivals to make a living. It’s only the select few that will make money when there asleep through the success of their music.”
Pete Tong’s speech adds to the recent letter addressed to Avicii and written by Kaskade on the topic of anxiety and depression. With Tong’s speech, we take a step further towards what the folks at IMS and other organizations aim to do to improve and make the lives of DJs, performers, managers etc. more equitable and less stressful. In words which do justice to the whole conundrum, he reminded all those present that ‘DJs weren’t supposed to die chasing their dream‘.
Ending the keynote speech in the memory of Avicii, Tong remarked with solemn hope:
“10 years ago when we started IMS all the talk was about how electronic dance music was going to break in America and conquer the world. To a large extent that all happened and is still happening… but people were not supposed to die chasing the dream. I don’t come here today to say the party’s over – but this is a wake up call to ALL those involved, to start looking around and see who might need help.
..What I hope for and encourage during the next few days at the IMS and beyond – is that we get more of these issues out in the open and that the DJ’s and those around them feel less shame and more encouraged to speak up and seek help when they are struggling. “
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