Laidback Luke – “I Thought I Had It Under Control”
Break the silence
If there’s been one particularly prominent and positive theme in dance music and DJ culture throughout 2018 it’s been the awareness and openness about mental health. Make that a particularly prominent and necessary theme…
Mental health has always notoriously dogged creative individuals. In 2013 research published by the UK Office for National Statistics suggested musicians can be three times more likely to suffer from depression compared to the general public. It’s not hard to understand why; any role where you prise a piece of your soul and put it out into the public ether will inevitably come with its own series of acute anxieties.
But, for once, it feels like there’s much more openness to talk about mental health. Within a matter of years, the toxic ‘man up’ silence that’s been endemic in the music industry has been broken down and eroded as more high-profile acts from Benga to Blasterjaxx’s Idir Makhlaf have openly discussed their experiences. There’s much more of a sense of empathy and understanding as a result, wellness festivals such as Getahead and Remedy State have launched this year and organisations and bodies such as Music Minds Matter are being highlighted more and more.
“This is what we need. We can’t lose more artists and think people are crazy,” agrees Laidback Luke. A friend and mentor to Avicii who tragically took his own life this year after years of excruciating industry pressure, mental health is a subject very close to Luke’s heart. In more ways than one; a matter of weeks before we interviewed him at Amsterdam Dance Event, Luke had experienced a series of severe anxiety attacks himself. They’ve since caused him to completely reconsider his lifestyle, his professional schedule and the pace he lives his life.
“It was odd. I was feeling strong, working hard and loving it,” he explains. “I’ve had two burn outs in my career before, so I knew that feeling and I knew which boundaries I could work up against. But this one totally surprised me.” Luke makes a vital point: the black dog can pounce when you least expect it. You could feel on top of your game and be confident you know what symptoms to look out for, but if you’re not considering all aspects of your health or taking essential time out of your work and offline then you’re at risk of compromising your health. For Luke, arguably one of the physically healthiest DJs in EDM as a world champion kung fu master, it was the intensity of his schedule and the fact he never took a day off.
“I felt super human for a decade,” he admits. “I was Laidback Luke pretty much 24/7. I was that Laidback Luke who said ‘hey guys you can email me on vacation, I’m always contactable.’ I thought I had it under control. The mediation and the zen life. But you keep on doing that until you hit a brick wall.” Luke hit his own personal brick wall the same week Hardwell announced his retirement this September; a Monday morning, driving to the mall with his daughter.
“I was coming back from a five-gig weekend. I took the night flight to New York, spent five hours sleeping on the plane and going into my daddy day,” he explains. “I was seeing these emails coming in from the office. I was gasping. My body began to tingle and first thing I did was call my manager. I said ‘I’m not doing it, I can’t handle it, I’m going to check out and see you in a few days.’ Luckily she’s very understanding, she asked if two days was all I needed.”
After two days of total rest and sleep, Luke made a decision: to take one day every week out of his schedule and keep it free for himself. Regardless of tours, releases, schedules and commitments, one day in the week he’s just regular Lucas van Scheppingen. He’s answerable only to his family and his phone is turned off. This might not seem like such a drastic measure, most of us regularly take weekends off. But when your career ranges from DJing and production to mentoring and creating videos via A&Ring and running your label, your schedule is planned down to the last minute and you’re regularly in four of five countries per week, a full day out every week is a bold and positive move.
“The frustrating thing is I know all the meditation, I know all the breathing methods, I know how to look into the future. I know how to say to myself you know what you’re experiencing right now is literally between your ears but it doesn’t help. It’s frustrating. The one thing that’s helped is bluntly stepping away from it,” Luke explains. When he says ‘it’, he means everything. Including social media.
“But a day off a week?” he continues. “I can really feel it in my body and brain. Absolutely being off social media has been refreshing and relieving because I do feel, and this is human nature, I feel that whole sense of comparison kicks us in the face. Especially on Instagram. Or artists getting comments on Youtube or Twitter. It affects your motivation for things. Even being a day off seeing these DJs doing these amazing shows and I’m here worrying about my career. That doesn’t help. It helps to check out and take care of yourself for a minute.”
It sounds strange to hear a man with a career as successful as Luke’s talk like that, but it’s proof that the dreaded FOMO and painful self-critique and comparison that comes from social media’s exaggerated echo chamber and distorted vanity parade happen to all of us. No matter what level you’re at as an artist, or what role you play in the industry.
“I get it now!”
“It’s not just artists, but the people behind the scenes and in the industry,” agrees Luke. “Right now we’re here at ADE, I see the hours my manager makes, my team makes, your team makes. Everyone is working their butts off. I never understood why people wanted two days off for the week. I’d always be like ‘bring it on! I don’t need that time off!’ But finally, at 42, I get it now.”
Within a matter of weeks, Luke explains how his new approach to his lifestyle and career has left him feeling more refreshed, energised and focused. From suffering multiple anxiety attacks a day where he’d feel intense pressure that he’s missing deadlines or an interview or should be somewhere else, at the time of the interview he’d hadn’t experienced any symptoms for six days.
“We’re all just human beings and it’s good to realise that,” he notes. “It’s good to go harder and push yourself but you need the balance and we need this. With the loss of Avicii this was an important message to open ourselves up, to be able to talk about it. What struck me was the amount of positive comments under Hardwell’s Instagram post. That’s beautiful.”
Progress is being made.
For more details or advice on mental health in the music industry visit: https://www.musicmindsmatter.org.uk/
Follow Laidback Luke: https://www.facebook.com/OfficialLaidbackluke/