Belgian DJs talk about chronic sleep problems
Belgian DJs talk about chronic sleep problems
By Eline Van Audenaerde
8 October 2019
1 in 9 Belgians take antidepressants and about 6 people take their life in our country every day - the 5th highest number in Europe. Especially young people are sensitive to mental health issues. In light of World Mental Health Day, Vice is focusing on mental health this week.
DJing is not a 9 to 5 gig. You’ll find DJs doing their thing mostly in the dead of night or traveling long distances to grace like-minded souls with their sets. Irregular sleep cycles, lots of adrenaline and playing sets at all hours is part of the job. There is talk in the music industry about regularisation in terms of the maximum number of gigs or working days a DJ can work per year, but at the same time, it is that same music industry that upholds a rock’n’roll image of the DJ lifestyle.
What do DJs themselves think of their chronic lack of sleep and how do they cope? Vice spoke to 4 Belgian DJs - San Soda, Jonas Lion, TRiXY and Zoey Hasselbank.
DJ with no rhythm
“I play 3 nights a week - mostly prime time between 1 am and 3 am. DJing is my full-time job. I don’t have anything else,” says Zoey Hasselbank. “Sometimes it’s hard to say no to a gig. I have to put food on the table. And when I am home, I’m just tired and spend all day in bed, doing nothing. Taking a nap during the day is much easier for me than sleeping at night. I really don’t have a rhythm.”
Nicolas Geysens (San Soda), is also a full-time DJ. He went through a few of the busiest years in his career up until 2 years ago. He played 3 times a week, about 120-130 gigs per year. “Lately, that number has decreased to 80-100 gigs per year. I do have about 2-3 weekends off now.”
Jonas Lion combines his DJ existence with a full-time job as Editor-In-Chief at Red Bull Elektropedia. “I praise myself lucky that I now have a job with flexible hours and more freedom. I choose when I work. That used to be different. I had an office job and commuted from Antwerp to Brussels every day. I also DJed in the weekend so come Monday, I had to be at work on time. I didn’t really have much of a weekend.”
Lindsay Goethals (TRiXY) also works full-time and is DJing on the side. “In the beginning I thought of it as a hobby that got out of hand, until I took up a residency at Decadance in Ghent. I worked part-time and played every week. At that moment I really started to see it as a serious side gig. When Deca had to close up shop, I went back to working full-time. Now I play 2-3 times a month.”
Every Dj prepares for a set in a different way, and that goes along with a certain amount of stress. San Soda manages to contain it pretty well - it mostly pops up the day before. “In the past it was different - I’d listen to records until the wee hours on Thursdays, in preparation of upcoming sets. Sometimes it was never ending. Those last records I had bought and that were delivered to my house just in time, had to be included into my sets no matter what.”
According to San Soda, experience and a specific approach play a great role in the search for a peaceful preparation process. He doesn’t limit himself musically and his sets will last up to 3-4 hours each, or more. It offers a wide range of possibilities but it also makes preparing more labour intensive. He needs to bring all the right records to ensure smooth transitions from slow to fast, jazz to electro, and so on. “It’s all about whether or not you have peace of mind, or chaos in your head,” he says, “but after all these years, I know “my sound” so well and my music collection is wide and diverse, it now has become easier for me to put togeter a set.”
Adrenaline after a set
Going to sleep right after a set doesn’t always happen that easily. All DJs admit that adrenaline plays a huge role here.
TRiXY feels so hyped after a set that it’s hard to stop. she’d prefer to just keep going, for hours. “I usually sleep a couple of hours after a set. I find it very hard to fall asleep on Sunday nights as well and on Monday the work week starts again.”
“I have 2 nights with 2-5 hours of sleep. On Sundays, I can really sleep, because that’s when the weekend is over,” says San Soda. “Then I can easily sleep for 8 hours.”
For Jonas Lion it’s less of a hassle to fall asleep. “It’s easy for me to fall asleep after a set or just in general. It’s the waking up part that’s a drag. I just can’t seem to get my wheels in motion mentally. When I need to catch a flight, that’s fine, but when I have to go to work, that feels horrible.”
Zoey on the other hand is easily overstimulated. “When I finish a set, I immediately disappear. I find it hard to make conversation with people, for example. I just can’t make that switch. When I go to bed, I lay awake for hours until I finally fall asleep around 6 or 7 in the morning.”
Burn-outs lurking around the corner
Even though burn-out is complex, all DJs mention a feeling that leans towards it. But they’d rather not call it that.
“At some point, when I started a new day job, I crashed,” says TRiXY. “I’m not calling it a burn-out, but it was a low for me. I didn’t feel like doing anything. And when I played sets, I felt really bad. I couldn’t find balance - not in my job and not in music. I wasn’t happy with my sets because I was too stressed out. In general, I’m such a positive person and I have a lot of energy. But sometimes, you just need to find yourself.”
Zoey says she recognises burn-out symptoms. On a free day she’ll only sleep and do nothing. At the moment, she also feels that way when she has a gig. “It’s hard to get out of bed and I sometimes have to drag myself out to go play a set. When that’s the case, I’ll literally stay in bed until the very last minute, and I’ll only get up when it’s time to leave.”
San Soda went hard the first 5 years of his career, but he prefers not to use the term burn-out. “Years of intensive mental and physical efforts will have consequences, that’s logical.” He struggled with sleep problems for about 2 years. “I really give it my all during a set. Besides physically - mainly due to travel - it’s a mental journey, you go deep, multiple times and hours on end, every weekend. That takes a toll.”
Jonas Lion used to be so tired sometimes, that he dreaded upcoming gigs. “That dreadful feeling can be so tough. I coped with my situation for 2 years and then I realised I had to make a choice. My DJing was suffering and everything else was just swallowed up. Weekends flew by and there was no time to rest. I had to be back at the office on Monday.”
How do DJs cope with sleep problems and insomnia?
For San Soda it’s about putting things into perspective. “The career pressure you experience is high. Suddenly, you find yourself climbing up the ladder and being confronted with all kinds of expectations - from yourself, social media, family, friends. And, in a more broader sense, from society that puts pressure on you in areas outside of the music industry as well. Listening to myself carefully in order to put things in perspective is key for me to find balance.”
Jonas Lion took DJing a bit too seriously. “I’d sacrifice my free time and rest and as a consequence, it became mentally overwhelming. I’ve let go of that a little bit. Making the decision that this is no longer THE most important thing in my life, allows me to actually enjoy it a lot more.”
Zoey points out that exercise is important. “I work out, but lately, less frequently. Perhaps I should pick that up again.”
“It benefits you when you have more stamina, especially for a DJ who has to play an allnighter, because you’re standing up the whole time,” says Jonas. “I have come to realise that a healthy lifestyle has to be a priority.”
TRiXY is not a full-time DJ, but if she would be, she’d work out more and focus on a healthier lifestyle in general. She has prioritised work/life balance since she went back to working full-time. “Otherwise, it’s too hard to combine. In the past I would have said yes to smaller gigs quicker, but now I’ve become more selective.”
They all recognise the importance of a healthy lifestyle, work/life balance and the ability to cope with pressure. It’s a responsibility that lies both with the DJs themselves, as well as the music industry.