Moby and Others Discuss Life as Sober DJs

Moby and Others Discuss Life as Sober DJs

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Tommie Sunshine, Rebekah, and more explain how they keep themselves clear-headed in the club.

Drinking and drugs are often synonymous with club and rave culture, and THUMP spends a lot of time exploring the role of intoxicants in our scene. For many clubbers and producers, getting wrecked can be a complementary part of nightlife. If pushed too far, however, having a good time can become unhealthy. What happens when the music becomes secondary to partying?

Inspired by THUMP colleague Michelle Lhooq's eye-opening journey into sober clubbing, we decided to talk to several electronic artists—including Moby, Tommie Sunshine, and Kill Frenzy—about why they have chosen to live free of the substances that so many of their peers and fans consider an integral part of the club experience.

There's a common refrain in the club scene that "it's all about the music." For these folks, it really is.

Photo courtesy of Philip Boegle

Rebekah

7 years sober
Birmingham, UK

THUMP: What are your thoughts on sobriety in the club scene?
Rebekah: For anyone struggling with drinks or drugs, you are not alone. If you are battling with this, there are some great support groups out there who only want the best for you. Surround yourself with other sober people and trust me, I have gone out and danced more and been more passionate about music during my sober years than all of my partying ones. It is possible. And when you get sober and remove the darkness from your life some magical things can really happen.

What are some advantages to touring and playing out sober?
A clearer head all round. To be able to tour and not have hangovers is the best, especially after years of causing myself so much pain. It keeps me positive and in a good head space when I meet new people. Playing out sober allows me to be able to read the crowd a little better. I can channel an energy which I believe is purer and more spiritual than if I had been using alcohol or drugs.

Any tips on staying sober?
I drink coffee before leaving the hotel. As soon as I get on the stage I get energized from the club environment, and the fact I am constantly mixing or using effects when playing keeps me busy. I had to change myself, work on my confidence behind the decks without that sneaky shot or line to "get in the mood" to play. Early on people would still offer me drugs but now it rarely happens as people seem to sense or know I'm not about that anymore. Learning to understand the original reasons of why I wanted to drink and take drugs in the first place gave me the freedom to be sober. In the end, the choice was probably the best one I ever made.

Photo courtesy of Melissa Danis

New York, NY
8 ½ years sober

THUMP: Is it challenging to your sobriety being in environments that are so heavily influenced by alcohol/drug use?
Moby: In the early part of the night when everyone's on their second drink, sometimes. But by the end of the night when everyone's feral and on their 10th or 20th drink, sobriety seems like the best decision I've ever made.

What are some advantages to touring and playing out sober?
Almost too many to list: no crippling hangovers, no unspeakably terrible 3 AM decisions, no missed flights, no hotel room misery, no 7 AM teeth grinding insomnia.

What keeps you on track with your sobriety?
By thinking of the few thousand times I wasn't sober and ended up hungover and wanting to die.

GENG

New York, NY
Two years sober

THUMP: What are your thoughts on getting sober?
GENG: There are people who really are struggling with the disease of addiction. Not to get too preachy or hard line, but this old 'destroy yourself, and be better for it' ideology—whether injected into the framework of nightlife or pop and youth culture—is really about folks capitalizing off of illness. It's all reinforced through this consumer culture filter, down to the celebration of self-abuse by those canonized as 'tortured souls,' whether you're talking Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love or Future and Chief Keef. Sending strength and light to those who have dealt with or who are currently dealing with the struggle of constantly bouncing back and maintaining their sobriety. I hope you find your power and are able to live beyond the shackles of chemical dependency.

What are some advantages to touring and playing out sober?
Looking out for your health. It's bad enough you're grinding your system down by doing a string of long nights, you're then pumping your body full of toxins after depriving it of the things it needs most to stay functioning: eating well, sleep, and the sun.

How do you stay sober while touring or playing out?
By choosing to. By loving myself and being thankful for another day. It's real when you're able to wake up early and function to the point of productivity.

Photo courtesy of the artist

Brooklyn, N.Y.
12 years sober

THUMP: What are the challenges of being sober in today's electronic music scene?
Tommie Sunshine: I've seen some of these kids who came up fast, who are headliners at the biggest festivals, and I've seen their tour managers have to literally carry them because they're so legless drunk. And they're not even old enough to drink. I was just a crazy party kid who grew up worshipping Warhol and Hunter Thompson and Ken Kesey and wanted to live the life. But being famous was not part of the equation. Now, there's an element of fame involved in that intoxication. Add that to drugs and alcohol and that's a seriously dangerous intoxication. You're just in a tidal wave of serotonin highs. A lot of these guys in EDM now who are riding the crest of a wave, when their careers run out and their festival plays start to fade, and the attention falls away, they're going to have some tough times. There's going to be some real tough roads ahead for a lot of these artists.

What made you decide to get sober?
The pivotal moment was after I spent five days in Austin at South By Southwest, followed by seven straight days at Winter Music Conference in Miami. It was 12 nights of gin and cocaine every single night. At that point, my rider was a bottle of gin in a bucket on ice. Within the first 20 minutes of my set that was gone. I didn't even bother to mix a drink. I drank it straight.

After 12 nights of that, I was toast. The following weekend, I flew to Lima, Peru. Not a good place for someone who does cocaine. You can get a gram of coke for five bucks. It's stupid. They would just give me a baseball sized pack of coke. I took a look at myself in the mirror after doing a disgusting amount of cocaine and I didn't like what I saw. I looked old, I looked tired, and I looked fucking scary. In that singular moment, it was over.

What are the advantages to your sober lifestyle?
There's a hell of a lot more focus. When I'm DJing now, 100% of my focus is on the music. It's not about pouring myself a drink or smoking a cigarette or socializing. When I play, that's the high. The high is looking out at the room and twisting it in knots and having everyone go bonkers. If I can get that in a room, I walk out elated. That's a successful night.

There was a point early in my career when I started to internationally travel and I'd look at my passport and say "Moscow? When the hell was I in Moscow?" I'd have no recollection of going to a country. I'd drink at the airport, go to the gig and get wasted, and go home and nurse a hangover. That was pretty normal. Now when I go to cities I get to enjoy the city.

Any tips for staying sober?
You have to come to this conclusion yourself. For me, I was suffering. I think that's what it is for a lot of people. Inside, they're having a really tough time. I was self-medicating, suffering from depression. It's not a battle for me. It was such a serious decision that it just didn't take anything for me other than deciding to stop. That is how you become successful in quitting something. I'm very lucky that my wisdom and intelligence were stronger than my disease.

Photo courtesy of the artist

Boston, MA
15 years sober

THUMP: What do you like about sobriety?
Joe Bermudez: It's one of the best decisions I've ever made. Life on the road is hard. You DJ until at least 2 AM and 9 out of 10 times you have a 6 AM flight to the next city. That alone takes a toll on your body, so I don't need to help run it down any more than it already is.

How do you stay sober while touring or playing out?
It's pretty easy. I treat playing out like a real job because to me it most certainly is, and I want to be able to give it my best. If I were a banker or a doctor and showed up to work with a cocktail I'd be fired on the spot.

Is it challenging being in environments that are so heavily influenced by alcohol and drug use?
Not really. There used to be a stigma about it when I first started, but now people are quite impressed that I can be around so much alcohol and not have the slightest urge to drink any of it. And it will make the lighting guy your best friend because all of a sudden he gets all the free drinks that people are giving you.

Los Angeles (via Belgium)
8 years sober

THUMP: How did you get sober?
Kill Frenzy: I decided that I wanted to see if I could go out without drinking. I think I was bored out of my brain the first few times but I stuck with it to give it a chance. I ended up liking it a lot. It may sound counter-intuitive but it actually helped me get more confident and less introverted. Without the alcohol to help you not give a fuck it was way harder to go up to girls, dance or even DJ. The first times I played I always needed a few drinks to calm my nerves because my hands would shake so hard. So I had to learn DJing the hard way, and then you actually gain this skill for real instead of drinking that liquid luck for a night.

What are the advantages to touring and playing out sober?
Personally I have more focused attention on what I'm doing—I'm able to plan out three to four tracks ahead of time and where I'm going musically. I have a better feeling with the crowd too. If you're tipsy you might think you got it all made and everybody is feeling exactly what you're doing but that might not be reality. But I would say the most obvious advantage is that you don't end up going to bed with some dragon who robs you when you wake up in the hotel room.

Bristol, U.K.
4 years sober

THUMP: Why did you choose sobriety?
Will Clarke: I personally think this is a subject that needs to be discussed more in the industry, as it is definitely a massive issue for some and I think people hide behind it. The one thing I would say is, if someone wants to get help, there are so many ways to do it. Speak about it, be open and be honest with your real friends around you. Ask for support, get a therapist, go to rehab, take a personal time out. I can assure you it will make you stronger in life and will help you become more creative.

My parents owned their own rehabilitation center, so I kind of grew up in this environment. Subconsciously, being around addicts most of my life kind of put me off. I have met so many people over the years that have been super talented—whether it's athletes, musicians, or designers—whose whole lives have just been crushed by addiction.

What are some advantages to touring and playing out sober?
Everything. First off, I always remember the night. I can read the crowd better, interact with people and remember familiar faces from past gigs, etc. Also a huge thing is the next day; I like to wake up and either go to the gym or at least have some down time before my next flight. Personally, I think I'd want to jump off a cliff if I had to get on a flight hungover.

How do you stay sober while touring or playing out?
For me, I'm lucky, as it was never an issue for me to drink or do drugs. Its literally something that I dislike and see no gain in doing, so it's pretty easy. I totally understand why people drink and take drugs. I do get it. It just doesn't appeal to me. It does frustrate me sometimes when people try and push it onto me. I feel like I am lucky because I'm strong enough to say "no," but for someone early in recovery, that might put him or her in a super sticky situation. I just feel like some people need to chill a bit and understand that when someone says no, then it's a hard no.

Berlin (via Italy)
8 years sober
Is it challenging to stay sober for you?
Not at all. It's actually so much fun. As they say, "People are strange, when you're a stranger."

What are some advantages to touring and playing out sober?
The amount of energy, focus and concentration. And recovery time. And you have a deeper understanding of life happenings.

Any tips for staying sober while touring or playing out?
Drink coconut water and do a lot of yoga.


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