Beyond the Booth 009: Steve Lawler
Beyond the Booth is a feature dedicated to the hidden side of artists that exists outside electronic music— a side rarely discussed with those outside their immediate circle. We venture “beyond the booth,” so to speak, and dive into their deepest passions that tie into their unique personalities. After some self-introspection, each participant then returns to the booth, providing an exclusive mix for the Dancing Astronaut audience.
Becoming a professional musician is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding career paths. However, with the fulfillment of manifesting such a “dream” reality comes sacrifice — primarily in the mental health region. Touring has become a primary pillar of artist life in today’s climate, driven by being a prime source of income and also increased international demand. Thus, lack of routine and time with loved ones paired with fatigue from constant travelling can often lead to a quick burnout caused by anxiety and depression.
Steve Lawler is one who has lived through the changing music market landscape and through years of intense tour schedules, yet is still going strong. His long and storied career that began in the acid house hey day has brought along milestones such as owning his own label and brand, a residency and the former Ibiza institution, Space, among others. Yet, he continues to follow his passion relentlessly, taking his life one step further in building a family.
After decades spent as a pillar of the underground arena, the British house veteran is no stranger to the hardships of a life as a music professional. Lawler opens up about his own encounters with anxiety, the pressure to tour around for various reasons, and other under-discussed hardships of his career, providing an intimate look into the life of an underground ‘Jack of all Trades’ that has found a way to balance self care and work over his years in the industry.
We tie off this episode of Beyond the Booth with a special two-hour mix he’s prepared, along with a preview of what’s currently in Lawler’s pipeline.
Why do you think mental health in the music industry continues to be such a stigmatized topic, especially when issues persist in the community?
People didn’t want to talk about it before, it just wasn’t ‘cool’ and usually if a DJ says literally anything negative about the job in the slightest it was frowned upon. Times have changed, we are living in a more open world now and the electronic music sector has become widely accepted as a main part of the music industry full stop. The issues persist, because being a busy worldwide touring act of any kind has many pit falls. The main one being the sleep deprivation and constant consumption of toxins. Which is usually needed for the constant late nights, the growling schedules. The feeling of having to deliver every single fucking night no matter how tired you feel no matter how low you may feel. You have to be seen smiling, seen as the main and centre of attraction. Its simply not normal.
Do you feel that ailments like anxiety and depression become inevitable when working in such a strenuous career in the music/entertainment industry?
I’m not sure if it is for everyone, but I believe it is for more than who confess it. Its not just about the late nights and the constant pressure or the growling schedules. Its also the race it self. The amount of work now that a DJ has to go through to secure their position in today’s business is insane. It’s not “just” about the music anymore, it’s more focused on social media and marketing all these things just add constant pressure and work load. When you should be relaxing after a heavy tour instead now your having meetings with social media companies! Or going through strategy meetings with management! Its all just constant and exhausting.
Has the shift to a more tour-heavy focus as a way of monetization led to an increase in suffering from mental health ailments?
Its not just the monetization, its the increased demand and the increased need to tour. The world is your market and the world is a big place. There are always regions you can’t ignore.I have completely ignored many regions across the world of late. Asia and Australia. I don’t really service them at all anymore, I don’t service the North & South Amercias as much I as used to, I mainly focus on Europe. And this is why. Otherwise you would literally being living out of a rimowa bag! Of which I did for years, but I choose not to anymore.
Are you able to tell us about a time you had an anxiety attack or a depressive episode, and what you did to get out of it?
I have had several, once I was booked to play a marathon 10 hour set at Stereo in Montreal, before the gig I wasn’t feeling right, but I felt the need to have to turn up as I had arrived in Montreal. I started to play and played for around 4 – 5 hours, then I started to feel very sick, cold sweats, chest pain, my left arm literally went numb, tingling left hand, of course I thought I was having a heart attack, and then it just got worse, until I felt as thought I was going to pass out. I was rushed outside, I wanted to go to the hospital, so I did. The organisers of the venue even took me. They were very helpful that day. I was in waiting rooms and seeing doctors for the next 5 hours I think. I was cleared with no scare of a heart attack. I then found out the week or so later the club was furious at my agent and demanding the fee back. I couldn’t actually believe it. I played for them longer than most anyway. Needless to say I haven’t worked with that club again.
What self care habits do you think are key to adopt as an artist, or someone working in the industry?
I like to use spas as much as possible & get massages while on the road when I can and have time, eating well, although that is almost impossible on the road but I like to eat as well as I can at home. water, water water. Lots and lost of water.
In particular, what sorts of mental health exercises do you do throughout the year to maintain peace of mind? For example, some DJs do panchakarma treatments, others take off a weekend here and there, etc.
I am starting to take more time off, it is sooo needed. I have tried things like meditation, yoga but its just not me. My therapy is hydropherepy. This is what works for me.
What are the best ways (in your opinion) that one can help and support someone who is suffering from depression, anxiety, or other related illnesses suffered in such an intense work environment?
To start off people need to stop judging people incorrectly before thinking about their situation. People just need to understand the life of a touring act is incredibly difficult and taxing on both the mind and body. The support for people who suffer needs to start with just simply understanding.
Drug abuse often becomes a side effect of poor mental health within the industry. How do yourself and others avoid the constant temptation of overdoing substance indulgence and potential addiction?
Abuse of anything, too much of anything isn’t good for you. I believe this all just comes down to keeping an eye on yourself, keep your morals in tact and keep your soul and intelligence at the forefront at all times. Simply don’t allow yourself to go too far.
Going “back to the booth,” you have an upcoming El Row show in New York. How does it feel to help one of the biggest parties du jour break ground in NYC?
It was great, such a great gig, one of the best I have seen in NY for a long time. The Elrow family are such great people to work for. A real pleasure and I was happy to support them and help with their show in NY.
You also had a momentous summer season with the growth of your Warriors brand and your residency at Hï Ibiza. Will you be continuing your residency there? Do you have plans for further expansion of your own parties?
You will have to watch this space for more news on Ibiza 2018, not much I can say at this stage!