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ARTICLE
You're Killing It Mate
I’m sure we’ve all been there. It’s a great night, the dancefloor is full, everybody is singing, smiles abound the room, and someone comes over and says, “you’re killing it mate!” But could the job you love actually be killing you?

As part of your professional outlook toward your business, your equipment is lovingly cared for, you have the right PLI insurance, all your equipment is PAT tested. But what about you? Have you had your ‘human PAT test’? Have you got the relevant insurance in your life? All of this equipment, not to mention your hard-earned reputation, is great, but it’s worthless without the DJ that drives it.

There’s a lot of column inches in the press given to the mental pressures of doing the job we do, but these are generally reserved for the revered and God-like international DJs who travel the world playing to tens of thousands of adoring fans each night. Theirs is a world of many outside influences which take their toll, as personified by the sad loss of Avicii last year.
For the rest of us though, those that serve an equally important job playing weddings, birthdays, corporate events etc., are the health risks – both physical and mental - any lower because our profile isn’t as high? If anything, I would argue that the risks are higher.

When I started my DJing journey in 1985, I began by getting experience ‘working’ for free with a guy who ran a mobile disco and just so happened to provide the disco at the roller rink in Coventry where I was a devotee of the wheeled feet. I was a 15-year-old lad who would do anything to be involved, so my first introduction was helping with the setup and break down. The equipment was cumbersome and heavy, the speakers were as tall as me and weighed twice as much (at least that’s what it felt like!), and then there were those record boxes jammed full with vinyl (none of these fancy MacBooks with a gazillion tracks back then!). I reckon at the time I could have given Geoff Capes a run for his money on ‘Britain’s Strongest Man’. Did I consider for one moment the strain I was putting my developing body under? Not for a single moment!

Heading into adulthood I moved away from mobile gigs and started travelling up and down the UK playing clubs. At one point in my early 20s I had eight gigs a week across all seven days, driving 50,000 miles a year and all of this whilst also working a 45 hour week in a distribution business. I was one of the lucky ones, I survived. But what of those amongst us that ignored the warning signs, were they as lucky as me?

For the older generation of DJs (of which I count myself one, although my radio age is 33!), they have “been there, done that, seen it all!” They’ve probably carried it all too, up flights of stairs into a smoke-filled room that didn’t have a limiter or decibel monitor (the DJ’s nemesis!). It’s a far cry from the relatively sanitized world of today. In addition to second degree smoke inhalation, we suffered over-exposure to excessive decibel levels over a prolonged period of time and the heavy duty lifting, all washed down with at least a couple of pints and possibly a packet of cigarettes too! Now think, how many truly old DJs do you know? Those that survived must have had the constitution of an ox, but what of the rest of us?

I spoke to David Thatcher, a time-served DJ. “I started in 1996 playing underground music. I worked through until around 2013 without issue. I would wake most mornings with gritty feeling eyes which I assumed was down to smoke machines and continuous very late nights for several years. I would get itchy eyes and not the best vision but it would clear after a couple of hours.”

But what of those that didn’t listen to their body? I spoke to Rob Lawes. To many, Rob needs no introduction as a DJ. In 2005 he was at the absolute top of his game, winning the accolade of BEDA DJ of the year. He told me, “I had a small stroke in 2014 due to DJing every night with loud music for 20 years. I was the BEDA DJ of the year in 2005 and worked my ass off since. All hell broke loose as I was driving back from a gig in Cambridge one night when a blood vessel exploded in my brain. My arms froze, I couldn’t see properly, the pain was excruciating!”

Suddenly your world as you know it has changed. The things you take for granted are out of reach, and if, like me, music and DJing is everything, your whole world is out of kilter and changed forever. So faced with this, what happened next for Rob?

“I had to take a year off and change my life completely. I’m still suffering with terrible symptoms every day that prevent me from doing the job I’m well known for and love. DJing from that day on was completely off the menu. Due to my broken brain I also suffer every imbalance going: anxiety, tinnitus and burning headaches, but I just get on with it somehow.”

If a passion like this is taken away from you, there has to be another route surely? Every river has been forced to take a different path from time to time.

Rob continued, “I had to still be involved somehow, it was all that I knew, and I knew I could do well. After much thought, and as much planning as I could manage, I set my plans for the future with no guarantee of success other than the reputation that I had built up from being a performing DJ myself. I now run a wedding DJ company providing DJs and amazing setups, putting every energy into getting it right, using my knowledge and experience to help other DJs improve and deliver the best experience to my clients so that they can fully enjoy their special occasion. Even now I cannot attend any of these functions I organise for more than 20 minutes as I suffer enormously from over-stimulation, I literally have to shut off from the world afterwards to reboot.”

One of the greatest battles facing any DJ is the one against tiredness. Legendary soul DJ Des Grant told me, “After my marriage broke up I was working full time in the day, then DJing at night in order to keep up with the bills. I reached for a well-known energy drink as a crutch to lean on in order to combat tiredness. Eventually, I started feeling more and more lethargic, so I drank more of it. It was an endless cycle. I went to the doctor eventually, and it turned out that I had developed Type 2 Diabetes as a result of what I had been doing, which I now have under control, thankfully.”
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 97, Pages 54-56.
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