From back-to-back travel and navigating unknown places, to the thrill of peak time raving and the low of the next day, touring DJs lead lives that can feel extraordinary and mundane. Away from the glamour of social media, what does a touring DJ really think of their hectic lifestyle? Below, Rebekah, Man Power, and Cinthie share their stories
My previous DJing career took me all over the world in the early ’00s. Back then, I would always go to the after party — to be honest, the after party would start five minutes before the end of my set. I would call out, “Right, who’s got the drugs?” and I would take something before I even got off the decks. It was that kind of mentality – leave the after party, pack my bags at the hotel, then fly somewhere else.
I remember this one time I was in Hong Kong airport, crying my eyes out because I was on a comedown and just wanted to go home. It was right in the middle of a tour and I was trying to change my flight. “Can I get a flight to England?” The check-in lady said, “No, you’re flying to Indonesia.” I said, “No, I don’t want to go, I just want to go home,” having a breakdown.
When I finally got on the flight to Indonesia I found myself sat between two sweet girls, who just held my hands while I cried. It was absolutely ridiculous — and that’s the sort of stuff I did quite regularly.
Another time, I had to be wheelchaired through customs because my hangover was so severe. But the worst were the hotel room comedowns — they were so depressing, you would really start to question your own sanity.
You get so many drugs given to you while you’re DJing. Promoters can hook you up way before you even get to the hotel. It’s a normal question — “What do you want tonight? Do you just want drinks?” It always starts out as innocent and fun. Your inner voice tells you, “This is going to be a great time,” but I didn’t have an “off button”. I could never could say no and that got me in a lot of trouble.
There’s also the peer pressure of not wanting to disappoint a promoter because they’re all partying, or people who want you to hang out with them after the gig, so I saw partying as an easy way to knock down the barriers between myself and others. I felt like you had to socialise to get more bookings, and it’s a lot of pressure in that sense.
Delivering a great set and creating a great atmosphere in the club should be the priority, not spending hours talking bullshit to hopefully get another gig.
I come from the UK, where most DJs were clubbers before they were DJs, and it becomes a habit. Your “place of work” becomes a recreational experience and when you put those two together, you are fighting a losing battle. I had to work really hard to separate that association.
I’ve met many a DJ who can stay up all weekend — play the main party, the after party, play wherever — and then still function in the week, go to the studio and be inspired. But for me, it wasn’t like that. I’ve toured a lot in South America. In Bolivia, you can buy a huge amount of cocaine off the street, which is probably the strongest I have ever taken.
I managed to do the gig but I can’t remember anything about it. On the way to the hotel I remember seeing a sign advertising a message for Narcotics Anonymous. The signs were already there. You know: please, you need help.
I woke up one day and had that conversation with myself: “Do you really not love DJing and music enough to do it without drugs?” I did some cognitive behavioral therapy and Narcotics Anonymous, which is very much based in spirituality and, in the end, worked for me.
But I also need to intellectualise everything, so I studied psychology and learned about my own behaviour, and having this understanding is what has kept me clean.
My first sober gig came about six weeks into my sobriety. I must have drank five cans of Red Bull as an alcohol substitute to calm my nerves (and obviously, Red Bull is not a good choice to help with anxiety). The next day, after I had successfully played without using alcohol and drugs, and managed to get some sleep,
I remember waking up with the sunshine coming through the windows, and I had this lightbulb moment — you do not have to do take drugs ever again. You are free. And since then, I truly have been.