The passing of Avicii, whose real name was Tim Bergling, took the world by surprise last month. He appeared to have the world at his feet: a young, handsome, talented multi-millionaire with seemingly everything going for him.
In his keynote speech at the 11th annual International Music Summit in Ibiza (an event he founded), Pete Tong asked how this had happened, that this global superstar had, by all indication, chosen to end his life.
“How could this have come to be?” he asked. “How could Tim, one of the most talented and successful artists of his generation, go from making music in his bedroom in 2008 to taking his own life in a hotel room in 2018?
“I believe we can find some of the answers when we examine what it’s like to be a successful DJ/artist/producer and relentless globetrotting live performer in the present day.”
Bergling had retired from live performing in 2016 struggling with health issues including anxiety and alcoholism, both of which he attributed to the pressure and relentlessness of touring.
“From the start Tim was clearly a very special talent” said Tong.
“His innate sense of melody, combined with his gift for arrangement and production set him apart, but what was truly unique about Tim in 2008 was that he was so young. He was the first teenager of the EDM era to make music inspired by his peers and then join them all within a matter of 12 months.
“The warp factor speed of his breakthrough fueled by the adrenalin rush and global connectivity of social media ensured that Tim’s feet never touched the ground. […] All of [his contemporaries] had been in the game for at least 10 years, they had done the proverbial 10,000 hours and they had honed their skills and managed to work out a modus operandi, as their popularity grew and their diaries filled.
“They were certainly more prepared for what was about to happen to them over the next five years than Tim.”
Tong, no stranger to the touring lifestyle himself, described how Avicii’s enormous success and meteoric rise would have come with a massive price.
“The first few years are pretty straightforward – you travel around the world at an insane pace. You collect all the money. You lap up the adulation and drink the free champagne and everything else that goes with it.
“After a couple of years, the anxiety builds as the schedule and demands get more and more intense. The entourage grows and there are now vast numbers of people and companies relying on your business. The bar is constantly being raised. You now rely on the alcohol, the drugs, and the pills, just to get you through each day. You’re tired, constantly tired and sick, but you can’t stop.”
There was a documentary released in 2017, True Stories, that showed the hectic nature of Avicii’s lifestyle.
Tong spoke about other DJs and the struggles they faced, as well as the stigma surrounding a lot of them, and the reluctance of a lot of people involved to come forward with their problems. Drugs are obviously a big issue in that world, with Tong saying, “Being a DJ doesn’t make you an addict but if you have those issues it’s a huge challenge.
“Ten years ago all the talk was about how electronic dance music was going to conquer the world. To a large extent that all happened and is still happening, but people were not supposed to die chasing the dream.
“I don’t come here today to say the party’s over, but this is a wake-up call to all those involved, to start looking around and see who might need help. What I hope for is that we get more of these issues out in the open. The more we can share our experiences and educate the more we can help those suffering in silence.
“I ask – Is its time to establish a support group or fellowship for those in the electronic music industry? In memory of Avicii, that is something to talk about.”