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Fast and furious: Why Avicii had to retire

A cautionary tale for all DJs

  • Words: Marcus Dowling | Illustration: Patch Keyes
  • 5 April 2016

On March 29, Avicii announced that he was retiring from touring and live events after 2016. Stardom is psychologically and physically difficult for any artist, especially in the fast-paced and oft hedonistic world of dance music, and his retirement is the result of complete overwork. It's sad news – there's obviously something implicitly wrong if a musician has to step away from the circuit in such circumstances – but in hindsight, it was all too obviously going to happen.

It’s important to contemplate just how crowded Avicii's schedule was over the past five years. Between January 1, 2011 and January 1, 2016 alone, Avicii played somewhere in the vicinity of 220 DJ sets in 261 weeks, travelling back and forth across the globe, entering all number of different time zones. This period also saw the Swede undertake tour concepts like an American bus journey in January 2012 that saw him play 26 shows in 27 days. As well as that, he released two albums and three EPs. Two of the singles from those records – 'Levels' and 'Wake Me Up' – hit the Top 10 charts and crossed over to pop radio worldwide, giving the DJ/producer to certified pop star status. Then there was his work as the face of brands including Ralph Lauren. Even with a whole management and support team behind him, constantly working at that kind of level will have been insanely taxing.

And indeed it was. Avicii suffered from acute pancreatitis due to alcoholism in 2013, and had his gallbladder removed a year later. When it came to the release of his second studio album 'Stories' in 2015, the producer told FuseTV that he was pushing for a “perfect” sound on the album, which obviously requires a level of focus that, given his plethora of health concerns, will have caused a great deal of stress. He told GQ Magazine that playing high-pressure live sets made him "so nervous," and that drinking gave him the “encouragement and self-confidence” to play live. A 2012 Austin Times interview revealed that he was “so busy,” had “no time off,” and oftentimes “forgot what city or country he was in." And a more recent quote for Dubai’s The National had Avicii admitting that he’s “very intense,” and has “no problem being [in the studio] for 60 hours without sleep." The evidence is clear: Avicii's working environment drove him to the edge and eventually pushed him over it.

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