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Carl Cox told us how to survive on tour

DJs: this one's for you

  • Words & interview: Dave Turner | Illustrations: Lawrence Abbott
  • 29 May 2018

From the outside looking in, the touring lifestyle looks like a breeze, visiting cities all around the world, playing outrageous parties and being treated to world-class food by promoters.

What people don't think about, though, is the strain of being away from home for a lengthy period of time, away from loved ones, home comforts and moving from hotel room to hotel room. It can be a testing experience and one that can have a devastating effect on mental health, as highlighted by the recent death of Avicii. It may even boost your ego too much, change you as a person or hinder creativity.

That said, it's important for DJs to find a balance when they're on the road, rather than going HAM non-stop.

Who better than Carl Cox, 30 years into his career, to lay out some guidelines on surviving on tour? Below he outlines what works best for him and offers advice for his fellow DJs.

Stay hydrated and get enough sleep

I’ve always said the best way to get through touring is to try and drink as much water as possible, try to stay off the alcohol and obviously try to stay off the drugs or you’re not going to make it. Sleep is also paramount. If you can get as much sleep as you can at any point, that’s the thing that’ll help you through anything. The thing is, once you get deprivation, and you’re immune system goes down, you’ve got no chance.

Less is more

Over my time I’ve learnt trying to do more parties is probably the worse thing you can do. By the time you get to a point in your career where you just cannot keep up, then you start letting people down, you start letting yourself down and you end up in hospital through abusing your body. Your body does not have a chance to catch up with yourself at any point and something is going to happen to you at some point. No one is immune to it. Nobody is a robot. Eventually you start to despise doing what you’re doing because you’re not actually living a life based on how much you’re touring. That really messes with your head. You’ve got to have something else to do that gives your body and your mind another way of balancing your career over having a life. I try to do that by living in Australia because once I’m there, I’m not DJing. I’m there racing my cars, travelling or meeting new people.

Eventually when I come back into the industry, I’m ready to go full force into whatever I’ve chosen to do. Two years ago I probably had about 150 gigs. This year I have 35. I’m still having to travel more or less the same to do these events, but when I do go into them I’m there to kick arse. I’m there 100 per cent. If you do them after coming straight off a plane, you can feel your energy draining. If you see any of my performances, most of the time you’ll see me sweating, smiling, jumping and having a good time. I don’t think a 56-year-old man should be doing what I’m doing. I should be having a pipe in my slippers saying ‘You know what? I’ve done it.’ If I carried on the way I was by doing 150 gigs, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be six-feet under. At the end of the day we can’t push ourselves inhumanely to do what we do in the way that we do it. That’s impossible.

Eat well

I try to eat as light as possible to give my stomach an opportunity to divulge all the food. Some DJs, before they go out, have a massive steak meal with red wine and a big pudding. After, you’re jumping around and the first thing that happens is that you want to go to the toilet because your stomach doesn’t know what’s going on. When you go to South American venues and people want to take you out for a meal, all they want to do is feed you meat and potatoes. I say ‘No, I need some salad and fish.’ They look at me as if I’ve just killed their first-born baby. Afterwards I’ll have something big because I know my body can divulge it the next day. When you’re DJing or on the move, it’s very difficult. No one wants to sleep on a full stomach, either, so you don’t want to be eating that and going to sleep. You have to have some sort of self preservation on knowing you’re own body and knowing what it can do and what it doesn’t like to do.

Take someone that really cares for you

It’s really important to have someone that cares for you. I’ve always had a mate with me. If he sees things going on around me he’s not happy about, he doesn’t even bring it to my attention. He just gets it done. We’ve had a long relationship over 20 years. Most marriages don’t last that long. We’ve understood each other from day one and how we take care of each other. I look after him as much as he looks after me. If you’ve got someone around you that’s just going mad and kicking it the whole time or not thinking about where you’re going next, or whether the promoter knows what your rider needs to be, this is where the stress starts. Once you have that, there’s no way going back from it unless you get rid of that person. An old school mate or something that goes all the way back is best. If you hire someone now, they’re your acquaintance, not your mate. A mate already knows what you want.

Try not to stress

Less stress is the key to travelling in the way that we [DJs] do. There’s no point in stressing. It means your blood pressure is low. If the monitors aren’t quite right, rather than scream and shout, just work with what you have and make it the best you can. Also, just try to relax as much as you can in your surroundings. I like to give myself three days per gig. Say if I’m going to Prague, I try to get there the day before the event. Then I can have a nice meal with the promoters or whoever is around that day, on the event day I can have a look around where I am, then I can do the soundcheck and have a rest. Then I'll do the party, get back to the hotel and sleep a little bit more.

Dave Turner is Mixmag's Digital News Editor, follow him on Twitter

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