Kristan Caryl explores the downsides of life on the road, discovering how touring DJs keep themselves balanced.
Being a globetrotting DJ is a hugely coveted lifestyle. It’s just a series of high-earning, high-profile gigs where everyone worships at your feet, you can drink until the sun comes up and get whisked away in a luxury taxi, right? Well, not quite.
We asked a selection of DJs from around the world about how they fit in writing music on the road, what restrictions they (or their agents) place on their timetable and for any insider info on how they stay fit and healthy when nice food and long sleeps are often out of reach.
How much does travel and partying take its toll on your health? How can you stay fit and healthy? Is it even possible to make music on the road?
The answers seem to suggest many take their job much more seriously that you might think. Most stay relatively sober throughout their work, are keen to get some shut eye before the next gig and will happily say no to whatever party prescriptions are offered to them all in order to be at their best.
Kim Ann Foxman
Long-standing New York house producer and vocalist runs her own Firehouse Recordings. Her It’s You That Drives Me Wild EP is out now.
People expect me to party all the time, but I have learned to be good at saying no nicely. Sometimes, they think I’m being conservative or a prude, or they think because I’m not participating that way that I’m judging them. That’s stupid. Why would I be a DJ in the first place if I felt that way? I’ve been there and done all of that. I’m mature enough to make good decisions and I just don’t wanna be at the next gig super grumpy and tired, wishing I was in my hotel room sleeping instead. I love when people get wild. It’s fun! I wanna enjoy the parties, and if I wanna join in the fun, I will if I feel like it but I also know I don’t need it in order to have fun. Partying should be fun, not dark. It’s also great for some, but also not for everyone. Listen to what your body needs.
There have been many times when I have really felt more daring and more free in a party state, but I don’t like to go wild over the weekend often these days, especially if I have to travel the next day. I can’t handle travelling and being hungover on no sleep back to back all the time. It can be a cycle that leaves you way too worn out.
I personally think altered states can be very inspiring for creativity. I’m still inspired by my days where I was partying like crazy all the time. It still influences the music I make today.
On two occasions I’ve landed in a city on no sleep to find my luggage had been lost, and I had to play in my pyjamas. Luckily I wear cute pyjamas on the plane and I always dress in something I can sleep in, as sometimes that is a very crucial chance to sleep. Once during that volcano eruption in Iceland that stopped all air travel for a while, I had to suddenly try to make it from Slovenia to Brussels by train to my last gig of a tour.
All the trains were also on strike so I had to take alternative routes and a zillion transfers on not much sleep from the night before. I couldn’t sleep much because I had to pay attention to the travel, which kept being diverted. I was on a train for 14 hours. It took me about five or six trains and a two-hour car ride. I literally made it to my hotel with only enough time to stop and drop things off, brush my teeth and put on a bra and go to the club. I made my set time with about two minutes to spare and it turned out to be a really great night actually. We all celebrated that it all worked out.
If I have the time, I can get some work done on the road. I personally like to get back to my studio to replace some sounds or run it through some gear, and hear things on the monitor speakers. I use the road more for sketching out ideas or arranging existing projects. It’s harder in the summer to get work done as the travel is so full on. I personally think altered states can be very inspiring for studio or any creativity. I’m still inspired by my days where I was on the other side of it all, and really partying like crazy all the time. It still influences the music I make today.
The French veteran runs Deeply Rooted and this month puts out the latest in his New Horizons EP series.
My job and my goal is to play good music and hopefully inspire a few people. What does getting fucked have to do with that? Would that mean in today’s world getting fucked is the ‘correct’ way to behave with promoters or the audience? What sort of respect to the promoter or audience does this sort of attitude show? To me, house and techno is not a soundtrack to drugs. It’s a movement – a culture – and I focus on loving and sharing this music.
Enjoying music has nothing to do with getting trashed – It makes me so sad to read that this could be the case for so many people. Music made me travel to so many magical places, so I never felt the need for anything else. My imagination is filled with so many intense and amazing musical moments. I never felt the need for drugs or anything else in order to feel great about music.
To me, house and techno is not a soundtrack to drugs. It's a movement – a culture – and I focus on loving and sharing this music.
I try and have a healthy life during the week. Almost every weekend I’m skipping a complete night of sleep, but somehow I try and keep a healthy balance between weekdays and weekends. For me it goes by cycles – most of the time I’ll read on planes and trains as I find it’s the best place for it, because I can control how much time I will allow for doing so. At other times, I’m able to write a few sketches [of tracks] at hotels or whilst I’m travelling. I find it’s easier to control my time when I know I’m stuck in a hotel for X hours, so then I challenge myself to complete a sketch of an idea in the time I’m there.
In the early days I would stay at the club the whole night so I could check out all the DJs and musicians, but nowadays I’ll focus on saving energy by sleeping before and after the gig when I can. Of course, though, I still love checking friends and musicians or DJs I admire when they’re on the same bill. To be completely honest, I need the time to reset after my gigs, mostly because I love music very deeply. For instance, hearing a DJ who plays (in my opinion) crap music really upsets me. Ignorance in general gets on my nerves and I get moody, especially with lack of sleep. I have to watch my temper a bit and so through the years I have learnt to protect myself a little.
Laura recently started her own label, Sensoramic, after key releases on the likes of Crosstown Rebels, Leftroom and Visionquest.
I have quite a few things I swear by: Bounce balls, vitamin C supplements, milk thistle supplements, melatonin, a sleep mask and my Bose in-ear noise-cancelling earphones. After being in smoky, cigarette-infused environments for hours on end also tanning a lot of alcohol, it can take its toll on your system and I was once told by a dietitian that if I wanted to neutralise any harmful effects on an eye condition I have, I should take a vitamin C when getting back from the club before going to sleep so it can be anti-oxidising all the free radicals whilst you sleep.
I swear by Bounce balls, vitamin C supplements, milk thistle supplements, melatonin, a sleep mask and my Bose in-ear noise-cancelling earphones.
So I carry around a fishing tackle box filled with different supplements in different compartments, including a 1500mg vitamin C, milk thistle and melatonin. Milk thistle is great when you’ve been drinking to excess as it cleanses the liver so you can ease the fuzzy head the next morning (if you’ve actually made it to bed). Melatonin is great for jet lag so I tend to keep that with me when playing anywhere further afield. You should try and take them with food so that’s where Bounce balls come in, which are small balls of cereal and protein. They’re also just great for satisfying any hunger pangs when you get back to the hotel and it’s been hours since you’ve eaten dinner.
Grzegorz (Catz ’N Dogz)
Playful Polish pair run their own Pets label and recently remixed Marquis Hawkes on fabric’s Houndstooth.
We have no rules. They never work in the DJ life. Even if you plan something like “I’m not drinking tonight” or “just one beer and we will go to sleep because we have a flight in three hours”, it can finish the opposite. Actually we do have some routines. We try to stay fit, do sports, go to the gym. I have my two dogs so I walk with them to the forest, and Voitek is doing a lot of exercises. Trying to keep the balance is definitely key as it’s not like we are 20 anymore. Hangovers hurt more now.
Trying to keep the balance is definitely key as it’s not like we are 20 anymore. Hangovers hurt more now.
Some fruits for the long trips definitely help… nuts, some healthy snacks. We use sleeping pills for long flights if we need to get some rest after the party and than go straight to another one. This is a life saver sometimes.
We don’t have any special needs on the rider, just some alcohol, After more than 10 years of travelling, packing and selecting the stuff you’re gonna need on the road, we could pack with closed eyes. We try to travel as light as possible as it saved us many times to make sure we didn’t miss a party or connection.
Bath born Sam’s In The House compilation is out now on Defected.
I find it hard to say no. One drink leads to a bottle. I’m not very good at just having one drink then leaving the club, but I have such a busy workload this has actually slowed me down heaps in that perspective. Work is work and playtime is playtime. After the gig, do what the hell you want, but you will never see me clanging mixes or causing havoc whilst I’m playing. People pay good money to see you play so you have to give it 100%.
DJing is the same as any profession: at the start you have to give it your all, which in my experience meant I sacrificed a lot. I’ve missed friends’ birthdays and family holidays. A lot of relationships of mine have suffered because I felt I had to be selfish and put my work first.
I will always make sure when I can I’ll have a little mid-week vino. It’s important that a DJ gets a weekend too.
I don’t think any less of a DJ that can get messed up and still play. Hats off to them but that’s not my vibe anymore. I don’t really go out very much anymore, and I’m really over getting on a plane still drunk or hungover, so I will always make sure when I can I’ll have a little mid-week vino. It’s important that a DJ gets a weekend too.
I was burning the candle at both ends for many years; it’s hard not to when you are surrounded by it every weekend, plus partying has been such a big part of my life for so many years it had become completely normal to get on a flight stinking of sambuca, but now I choose my moments. If I’m ever leaving a party early, it’s because I’ve got an early flight the next day.
I tend to work on all my projects on the flight. It’s the only time I get peace and quiet and I can totally concentrate with no distractions. I’ve become an absolute pro at falling asleep just about anywhere nowadays, unless screaming babies are involved, then that’s a whole new level of tiredness.
Now I spend time whilst travelling doing A&R for my label, preparing for sets, writing interviews – anything that can be done without wi-fi, otherwise I find myself with 10 tabs open and before I know it I’ve bought two new pairs of trainers, booked three flights and ordered a takeaway.
LA artist Lauren released on Saved and headlines the likes of DC10, BPM Festival and Coachella.
I try not to overthink how much or how little I party or sleep and just do what I feel. I definitely believe in a “sleep bank” and as long as I have a little saved up I can go a while without it. I was just at Burning Man for six days and I played seven sets. I sleep less and party more there than I would during a ‘normal’ week. Everything went really well but on the last night I had to rest before going to my last set of the week on Sunday morning. I just hit a wall and for me if I don’t feel good, I can’t play well so it was time for a disco nap.
I just started asking for a dog walker because I bring my dog with me sometimes, but no one has offered yet..
During the week I try to exercise in one way or another, but depending where I am in the world my routine changes. Sometimes I go to yoga or a class but I really like to do outdoor activities like hiking or swimming in the ocean. I take my dog, Bijou, on walks and to play in the park. I read frequently as well. On tour I bring to-go packs of Green Vibrance and mix it with water. It’s really easy to travel with and I swear it is the best supplement for energy and recovery. I also drink a lot of water with lemon.
The worst thing about being on the road all the time is packing and unpacking constantly and sometimes losing stuff. My rider is not so complicated… red wine, beer and tequila. Also coconut water and regular water to stay hydrated and avoid hangovers. I also ask for vegan bars in case I haven’t had a chance to eat dinner. I just started asking for a dog walker because I bring my dog with me sometimes, but no one has offered yet..