face the music

Examining Mental Illness and Addiction in the EDM Community

4 January 2019

For many, the suicide of world-renowned DJ and producer Avicii this past April was an unexpected tragedy and shock. Avicii’s death highlighted that, regardless of fame and income, a person can be struggling with co-occurring disorders like substance use disorder and depression. His death also sparked a conversation about the overall wellbeing of artists, as well as the prevalence of drug abuse and misuse in in electronic dance music (EDM) culture. EDM culture has been consistently stigmatized and associated with substance abuse and escapism, trends that have been passed down from the underground rave culture to mainstream dance festivals.

Almost everyone in the music industry will be able to account a time when they have seen artists too wasted or high to be able to play their set. A big part of this problem is that artists and individuals that need help are not able to receive it while touring or are discouraged from seeking help by unscrupulous management more focused on profit than the health of the artist. According to an interview by Mixmag, DJ the Black Madonna admits that her drinking went down by over 85 percent once she signed with a management company that didn’t push her to take on excessive afterparties or gigs. After signing with Nerve Artist Management, she was encouraged to take breaks to help herself reset after touring instead of burning herself out. Too often, artists and DJs have ruined their careers because of one incident involving substance abuse that got too out of hand. Not only do these instances ruin the likelihood of these artists excelling in the industry, but they also create impressions on the festival-going community that afterparty culture out to emulated and celebrated, when that isn’t the case.

The biggest reason why people flock to dance music festivals is the overwhelming and palpable sense of liberation and community at these events. Molly or ecstasy are often ingested in order to exacerbate these feelings of euphoria and communal empathy, and to enhance the perception of music. This, however, has led to festivals being increasingly characterized by higher numbers drug-related incident and deaths, and the numbers don’t seem to be going down anytime soon. People are constantly seeking to feel more comfortable in their own skin at EDM festivals, resulting in the rate of drug abuse skyrocketing and an overall increase in drug-related fatalities at music events. It also doesn’t help when many of these concert- and festival-goers are aware that many of the DJs they admire are also most likely under the influence of drugs while performing, regardless of the reasoning behind the substance use.

The truth of the matter is that tackling the drug and alcohol culture so closely linked with EDM will likely take years due to how deeply-rooted it has become in the culture. Although there has been more talk than ever about substance and alcohol abuse in the EDM community and its impact on the mental health of DJs after Avicii’s passing, there is still more work to be done and action to be taken. Substance abuse disorder and other co-occurring mental disorders have led to the deaths of far too many performing artists and festival-goers to remain passive or inactive. Although talking helps empower others enough to come forward about their own issues, structural and systemic changes need to be willed into existence for any true and long-lasting changes to occur. We must de-stigmatize the reality of mental illnesses and substance use disorder while educating and spreading awareness about the dangers of drug abuse in order to save lives before the music stops for others too.