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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Avicii dies in Oman at 28: Dance pioneer rejigged life after touring took its toll on his health

Swedish DJ's passing may provoke a wider discussion about the physical and mental strain of world-renowned dance musicians

Swedish musician, DJ, remixer and record producer Avicii (Tim Bergling) takes a selfie on Table Mountain, South Africa in this picture obtained from social media January 11, 2018. Instagram / Avicii via Reuters
Swedish musician, DJ, remixer and record producer Avicii (Tim Bergling) takes a selfie on Table Mountain, South Africa in this picture obtained from social media January 11, 2018. Instagram / Avicii via Reuters

Avicii's last performance was an heroic send-off gig in Ibiza in August 2016, after which he largely remained out of the spotlight, with the exception of popping into the studio to collaborate with the likes of rapper Will.i.am and funk legend Nile Rodgers. The announcement of his death on Friday in Oman has provoked an outpouring of grief and emotion from his colleagues and friends.

“This industry can be rough and from afar I saw it take a toll on him,” Canadian DJ Skrillex posted on social media. “I just wish I could have hugged him more and told him it would be okay.”

US producer and Spinner Diplo concurred: “I know you had your demons and maybe this wasn't the right place for you sometimes, but we need to protect true artists like you at all costs because there are not enough left and we are losing too many.”

Indeed, Avicii’s passing not only marks a DJ superstar taken away from us too soon, but may provoke a wider discussion about fame.

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Swedish superstar DJ and producer Avicii dead in Oman at 28

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There is no doubt that DJs are the new rock stars.

Artists like Avicii, whose real name was Tim Bergling, the UK’s Calvin Harris and Dutchman Hardwell regularly perform to mass audiences through a mixture of festival appearances, club shows and exclusive residencies.

With the explosion of international dance clubs, high profile DJs are a promoter's dream as they can clock up to four gigs a week with destinations ranging from the Gulf to Europe and North America.

However, no matter how attractive the millionaire's lifestyle appears to be – in 2016, Avicii's estimated fortune of $75million (Dh275m) made him the third-richest DJ in the world at the time – the physical and mental strain of the business is enough for many DJs to suffer from stress and fatigue.

Avicii performing at the Summerburst music festival at Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg, Sweden in May 2015. Bjorn Larsson Rosvall / TT News agency / AFP Photo
Avicii performing at the Summerburst music festival at Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg, Sweden in May 2015. Bjorn Larsson Rosvall / TT News agency / AFP Photo

In an interview with The National in 2016, Dutch DJ Hardwell described his own “crash” six years prior and how he had rejigged his life since that time.

“At a certain level you have some kind of meltdown,” he said.

“I had mine around 2010 and I have not felt that tired or depressed since. It is about finding that balance between studio time, touring and rest.”

His fellow Dutchmen Laidback Luke was even more candid. In the 2013 documentary My Son The DJ, he recalls that when he broke into the mainstream in 2010 he performed 150 shows in that year alone.

It would result in the dissolution of his marriage and suffering burn out by the age of 30. “I was in the bus enjoying my time off and I all I wanted to do was scream ... because I was just getting crazy.”

The revealing documentary showcased how Laidback Luke changed his lifestyle – going on a cleaner and caffeine-free diet and getting involved in martial arts – to maintain his career.

However, for British DJ Benga, the mental strain caused him to halt his touring commitments completely in 2014.

After going silent for a year, he took to social media to explain that the gruelling nature of life on the road had exacerbated his health issues: “I might as well explain it on here. My bipolar was brought on by drugs and the schizophrenia was the result of excessive touring.”

What makes Avicii’s death so tragic and unexpected was that he had reached a similar realisation.

It came after he was forced into the emergency room in a Miami hospital in 2015 where his gall bladder and appendix were removed. This came nearly five years after he was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, as a 21-year-old, which was caused by alcohol abuse.

When he spoke to The National at the Mawazine Festival in 2015, he had returned refreshed from a six-month break and took his best friends on the road with him, one of which is a personal trainer, to keep him positive.

Read more: Avicii talks about taking time out to overcome recent health scares

“I had all those health issues and I really never gave myself a proper break. I went back to playing shows again and then my dad, family, manager and friends all started seeing me just begin losing weight and generally not being on my A-game, so I just decided to take six months off and give myself the rest that I had needed for the past five years.”

Swedish DJ-producer, Avicii poses for a portrait in New York in 2013. Amy Sussman / Invision /  AP Photo
Swedish DJ-producer, Avicii poses for a portrait in New York in 2013. Amy Sussman / Invision / AP Photo

That mini-break went on to be a permanent one when a year later he announced he was retiring from touring.

With details yet to emerge on how Avicii spent his final 19 months away from the public eye, it is hoped his passing will galvanise the EDM scene into addressing the broader wellbeing of its stars.

With the genre renowned for its openness and viewing fans as one large and eclectic family, the industry is well placed to have this discussion, but this conversation needs to be had sooner rather than later.