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Does touring kill creativity?

Artists are playing more shows than ever before and it could be keeping them out of the studio

  • Words: Joe Muggs | Illustration: Alex Jenkins
  • 28 July 2016

Carl Cox, talking about the secrets of his career longevity, recently said: “I can’t think of anything worse than making music on the plane. A lot of the DJs do that: I think that’s your time to rest, do something else – but they feel compelled to do it because they want to get to the other side and say ‘hey I just made this hit record’, and they’re chasing, chasing, chasing.”

It was a sobering thought. So often we talk to young DJ-producers, still riding the wave of their first international breakthrough release, still thrilled by the lifestyle, thrilled by the modernity of it all, buzzing off the fact that they can bounce from club to plane to club, catching inspiration as they go and banging out new grooves as easily as breathing. They're connecting to the dancefloors in the small hours, then they're channeling that vibe straight back into their laptops, ready to drop fresh-off-the-hardrive heat in another city the very next night. It's the utopia that nineties techno-optimists dreamed of: not even needing to rely on bedroom studios, the DJ is a completely portable creative unit, a world citizen who creates whenever they get a second.

"Drink or drugs can become the solution to performing to 2000 people" - Krystal Klear

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But as Cox points out, it generally doesn't work like that. For most producers now, DJing is the only way they can make a living – and relentless touring can take its toll fast. As Krystal Klear puts it: “Being a DJ or a producer is a confidence driven sport so in turn a lot of the time fronts are being put on, the truth is being masked and drink, drugs or whatever can become the immediate solution to being able to walk backstage at a big rave, hold your head up high, be Jack The Lad and then try perform to 2000 people – It's no joke.” In that cycle of hangover-plane-rave-repeat, the beats that came so easily can dry up fast and worse things still can happen too, as the well documented breakdown and slow return to music of Benga demonstrated only recently.

It's not just caning it and psychological troubles that affect inspiration, mind: far more mundane things can too. Nick Harriman from Dusky says: “Even just touring, without the partying, being away for extended periods of time can put a massive amount of pressure on personal relationships. You need a very understanding spouse!” The very mechanics of travelling can get very monotonous, very fast. “It's pretty strange how a delay in a flight can change your whole outlook on a day” as the Bicep boys put it. And sometimes the smallest things can become very serious, as Harriman winces: “I'm six foot seven, so planes with no legroom are stressful and painful.” None of this stuff will put you in the mood to let the creative juices flow.

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