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Friday, Dec 13, 2019

Caught in the undertow: Does the ‘D’ in EDM stand for Dance or Depression?

After 28-year-old Swedish DJ Tim Bergling aka Avicii, who opened up about battling depression, died recently, electronic musicians from the country discuss whether mental health issues are more common in their world.

music Updated: Apr 26, 2018 17:07 IST
Samarth Goyal
Samarth Goyal
Hindustan Times
According to a survey conducted by UK charity Help Musicians, 60 percent of electronic artists had admitted to be suffering from mental health issues.
According to a survey conducted by UK charity Help Musicians, 60 percent of electronic artists had admitted to be suffering from mental health issues.
         

Flying from one country to another, playing to millions of crazy fans night after night across the globe, and earning a fortune to do it all — what would one not give to live the life of a popular electronic artist? But few know that this is just the kind of routine that has pushed over the edge, some of the biggest artists in the genre, letting them tumble into the world of loneliness, anxiety, and depression.

The 28-year-old Swedish musician Avicii, who died last week, had earlier spoken to the Rolling Stone magazine about his battle with depression. Even though the exact cause of death for the Wake Me Up hitmaker has not been revealed, one cannot stop thinking about his struggle with deteriorating mental health.

“The whole thing was about success for the sake of success. I wasn’t getting any happiness anymore. Parties can be amazing, but it’s very easy to become too attached to partying in places like Ibiza (Spain). You become lonely and get anxieties. It becomes toxic,” Avicii told the magazine, adding that he “stopped touring” because of the same reason. “It’s about consciousness. None of us today, can f***ing handle our emotions. Most of us are running around being reactive. That’s why I had to stop touring, because I couldn’t read my emotions the right way,” he added. Two years back, the musician retired from dance music, relinquishing lucrative deals and a flourishing career, after five years of frequent touring and hard-drinking.

DJ Avicii, who died at the age of 28 in Oman last week, had spoken about suffering from depression and anxiety.
DJ Avicii, who died at the age of 28 in Oman last week, had spoken about suffering from depression and anxiety.

And yet, Avicii, whose real name is Tim Bergling, isn’t the only electronic musician to have spoken about it. In 2016, British DJ Ben Pearce called off all of his shows for that year due to depression. Canadian record producer Deadmau5 discussed it, and so did Erick Morillo. DJ Nikhil Chinapa, credited with kick-starting an electronic music revolution in India, says DJing often gets lonely.

“I wouldn’t say that only electronic musicians are the ones affected by mental health issues. They can happen to anyone. But yes, DJing, at times, can be extremely lonely business,” says Chinapa. “You are constantly under pressure. Travelling non-stop, you get to sleep very little. I know a lot of musicians here in India, who do not talk about the fact that they are suffering from mental health issues,” the 44-year-old explains.

While mental health problems aren’t strictly limited to electronic music artists, the numbers within the industry are quite high. A survey by UK charity Help Musicians says that 60 percent of electronic artists had admitted to be suffering from mental health issues. Indian electronic musicians, too, have borne the brunt of excessive touring and partying. Sahej Bakshi, the man behind the popular electronic project Dualist Enquiry, has started doing “fewer gigs”, and doesn’t think he’s any longer the active performer that he used to be at the beginning of his career.

“I’ve experienced immense change in myself, as my career has progressed. That’s why, after seven or eight years of being a musician, I decided to do fewer gigs. I have realised I can’t be on the road for 20-25 days touring. I don’t think I can do that anymore. I need to have the right amount of sleep, eat healthy food, keep my loved ones close to me, so that I can stay safe from such issues,” says Bakshi.

Sahej Bakshi  has started doing “fewer gigs” to ensure he stays mentally healthy.
Sahej Bakshi has started doing “fewer gigs” to ensure he stays mentally healthy.

Electronic artist Akshay Johar says that he discovered only recently that he had anxiety. “I have strong anxiety issues which I was unaware of until recently. Only after self-evaluation I realised that there was something to tackle,” he says. “Personally, it’s the pressure before a musical release or a video or anything that I’ve put a lot of effort into, how it’s going to be perceived and received by audiences. That really gets to me and affects my entire life’s functioning,” he adds. Johar says he has realised that the passion an artist puts into his profession, could be a double-edged sword. “You need to take the highs and the lows with a pinch of salt, otherwise they really hit you hard,” he says.

However, it isn’t always performance pressure or the lifestyle artists are forced to adopt — it could be personal problems, including criticism and opposition. Ask DJ Sumit Sethi about the tough time he faced after his family would have none of his attempts at pursuing a career in music. “I was nearly thrown out of my house as my parents felt that I was throwing away my professional life on a whim. It was very difficult to follow my passion without any support from home initially,” he says, adding, “It’s a lonely battle to the top… You are a one-man army, and only you can keep yourself focused and motivated.”

Interact with the author on Twitter/@sammysamarth