While many may envisage the life of a touring musician to be that of a glorified jetsetter, the reality is far from idyllic. The travails of life on the road is acute in dance music, as Above & Beyond’s Tony McGuinness, Steve Aoki and Moby reveal to The Guardian.
“Partying with people back at your hotel for three hours compared to getting some sleep: there’s just no competition,” McGuinness says. “Jet lag and being unable to sleep when you need it, this is the single biggest danger in our job.”
For touring musicians, sleep is often found in buses and planes, usually the only spots that offer space for rest. “I have friends who can’t sleep on planes, but I don’t know if I could tour if I couldn’t do that because that’s where I sleep,” says electro-house producer Steve Aoki. “But being on planes and in hotel rooms all the time can be very difficult on the body and brain,” Aoki notes. But sleep at artificially created spaces takes its toll on the human body over time, as you are constantly adjusting yourself to new environments and places someone else has designed. can lead to a compromised immune system, increased levels of anxiety and depression, memory and cognitive impairment, and, in extreme cases, a disassociation from reality.
Moby, the platinum-selling producer behind 1999’s Play, no longer wishes to tour. “I’ve never gone on a tour and not experienced anxiety, depression and insomnia,” says Moby. “In the early days, it seemed like a small price to pay. But at this point in my life, I can’t in good conscious punish myself and my body and my mental health out of obligation to go on tour.”
More shows mean more stress on the human body. “The way that the body and the brain respond to discomfort is with stress,” Moby explains. “When we are in subtly stressful environments, the stress builds up and the consequences on a more benign level are irritability and a diminished immune system, but over time it can be mental illness and physical illness.”
It also means increased isolation, one of touring’s most damaging aspects: “If you are alone [as a DJ], you are the band,” says Aoki. Isolation is further seen in another form; isolation from nature. “You can also spend months without having any contact with the natural world,” says Moby. Sunlight increases levels of serotonin, a mood-lifting chemical in the brain, and a lack of exposure can turn into or influence mental illness. “I try to avoid dark places – I don’t mean figuratively dark, I mean literally dark. The seasonal affecting disorder that comes from touring northern Europe in the wintertime can be pretty intense.”
Given the above, it is no surprise EDM superstar Avicii decided to stop touring at the age of 26. Writing a letter to his fans, he said –
“I have too little left for the life of a real person behind the artist.”
Avicii’s decision is a very real reminder of fame’s darker side. An issue that plagues the best of our producers in the EDM business.