mental health

The Stress and Loneliness of Being a DJ

It's not all euphoric festival gigs and nights that never end.
dj mental health - collage of three photos of djs. Left: a woman with long dark hair stands in red and blue club lights. Centre: a woman with long dark hair is playing records in a spotlight. Right: photo taken from the back of a man playing in a dj booth
First two photos: courtesy of the interviewees. Right: photo by Leroy Verbeet.

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

Dance music is booming. According to the International Music Summit (IMS) 2023 Business Report, the global electronic music industry has grown by about 34 per cent in 2022 to reach $10.2 billion, a 16 percent increase as compared to the pre-pandemic period.


On social media, the life of a DJ is thrilling: the euphoria of a gig in Paris on a Saturday morning, ice cream in sunny Rome on a Sunday, a set at an iconic Berlin club that same night. What you don’t see is the tiredness, loneliness or stress that comes with this career.

In a competitive industry with lots of money involved, successful DJs often have an entire team behind them. Booking and PR agents, career strategists and tour managers make sure they keep up the pace and keep growing, but can also add to the pressure. At the height of his fame and ten years into his career, DJ and producer Avicii – who spoke openly about his years-long struggle with depression and an alcohol – decided to stop performing. He took his own life only two years later, at the age of 28.

And if you’re an emerging DJ, you’re on your own and have to work much harder to be seen. That often leads to busy schedules, weekends with gigs in multiple countries, and long night shifts. We asked DJs Laure Croft, Kimmah and Moody Mehran about how they deal with these challenges.


Laure Croft, 28

dj mental health - a woman plays record in a dark club with a spotlight in the background, she has long dark haid and wears a black bra and headphones

Laura Croft

Laure Dirven (Croft’s real name) first touched a record three years ago and has been playing major international clubs and parties ever since. Her career picked up quickly, and with that came great pressures, online hate, and new temptations. 

When Dirven moved to Berlin, she realised that the scene had a huge problem with addiction. “The line between work and going out is blurred,” she tells VICE. In the beginning, she was getting high during sets, but slowly came to question if that was a good idea. “I thought I could read the audience, but I was too busy with my own buzz,” she says. “I also realised the audience wasn’t listening to me, but to a lot of drugs.” Eventually, she gave up drugs while performing, and later also stopped drinking.

Dirven thinks her colleagues get on it because of the job’s many stressful aspects: performing in front of a large audience, fear of failure, the stress of preparing a set, the social pressure of networking with other artists. All of these stressors are exacerbated by exhausting tour schedules, logistical problems and messy sleep times. “If you don't feel well, you still have to play, unless you are really sick,” she says. “It's pretty intense and overwhelming sometimes.”

Dirven has got professional help, but is yet to find an artist coach who knows the industry well and can support her. Social media and online hate is also a source of worry. After one performance, she once got so much hate from an anonymous account on Instagram that she immediately left to hole up in her hotel room. “The negative side of this ‘star status’ is that you get a lot of criticism,” she says. “People react as if I had no feelings, but I’m actually very sensitive.”


Kimmah, 26

photo of a girl standing next to a yellow door, she wears black sneakers, a black tote bag and a skirt and an orange crop top. There are club lights in the background

dj Kimmah by Marieke Struijk

Rotterdam-based Kim Nguyen, also known as DJ Kimmah, is an emerging artist in the electronic music scene. Nguyen thinks that female DJs are particularly vulnerable in the nightlife sector, as clubs are “places that attracts predators,” she explains.

Once, at a gig in Switzerland, Nguyen was harassed seven times both before, during and after her set. “From unwanted touching when I walked through the crowd before my performance, to men touching my hands during my set, to a group waiting for me at the exit of the DJ booth afterwards,” she lists. “There was also a man who harassed me and followed me everywhere in the club. I fled backstage and sat there shaking. The management took half an hour to react, they were too busy 'finding the courage' to speak to him.”

Nguyen had already had bad experiences at previous gigs, but felt she was too fresh on the scene to do something about it out of fear she would be perceived as difficult and miss out on gigs. “I thought: ‘It’s a part of it, this is normal in nightlife’,” she says. “It caused me a lot of anxiety, especially because after these incidents, you still have to go back to your hotel alone in a city you don’t even know. Who knows if someone is waiting for you outside?"

This incident left such a mark on Nguyen she developed PTSD symptoms. “After Switzerland, I had a mental breakdown,” she remembers. “Something had to change, or I was going to quit. Then I started thinking about what I needed to do my job safely.”


To regain control, Nguyen wrote a safety rider, based on the rider that DJs send to clubs detailing their terms and conditions, as well as technical and hospitality needs. Nguyen’s is purely about safety. She also has a WhatsApp support group where she and other female performers talk about their experiences, share advice, and discuss practical matters, like finding accommodation after a gig.

After publishing her safety rider on Instagram, Nguyen was contacted by other female and queer artists who’d had similar experiences. “They were happy the topic was finally being discussed,” she explains. “I also got messages from older female DJs who have been playing for 10- 15 years. Some of them told me they only realised now how much it had hurt them. They had turned a blind eye to everything because it was so normalised or they didn't know any better.”

Moody Mehran, 33

photo of a young man sitting on a folding bike in the sun. He wears blue jeans, a white shirt and and bag at the back of his bike. In the background there's a bike parking lot

dj Moody Mehran

Amsterdam-based Moody Mehran, whose real name is Mehran Palad, is an old hand in the Dutch scene. Besides playing clubs and festivals, he also organises events and co-hosts Disapora Radio, a radio show about the diaspora from South & West Asia and North Africa. 

Palad says he feels at home in the nightlife industry but has been struggling with depression for years. “I’ve been going to the club every Friday or Saturday ever since I was 16,” he explains. “Nightlife is a place where I’m not discriminated against, where I’ve built social connections and found community. But it’s also been a place to escape past traumas. I used to do that with drugs and alcohol, and when I started playing and organising my own parties, escapism also became part of my work.”


Over the years, Palad found it harder and harder to work at night. Even after quitting booze and drugs, he still feels depressed at times and needs more and more time to recover after a long night shift.

“Playing feels euphoric and fulfilling: I have a lot of people around me and get a lot of appreciation,” he says. “But I only go home when other people get up. And when I’m home, it feels quite lonely and empty.” As you get older and people around you stick to a nine-to-five, the contrast in your social circle can be huge: “That has always been intense for me, and something I still struggle with.”

Something Palad also struggles with is the challenge of staying relevant throughout the years. “Being an artist is a popularity contest,” he explains. “Just because things are going well now, doesn't mean it will still be the case in two years.”

This means Palad almost never takes weekends off or goes on real holidays. “Otherwise, I'll miss out on gigs, I won’t grow,” he says. “The idea that your career could end just like that makes you want to always keep going. If I look at myself very honestly, it would be better if I stopped for a while. I also hear from other DJs around me that they long for that.”

Unlike traditional workplaces, the nightlife sector doesn’t exactly have HR or mental health support, which means artists just have to find solutions on their own. “It would be nice,” Palad suggests, “if agencies and bookers didn't just handle bookings, but also paid more attention to the artist, whether they are in good shape and can handle the work.”

He finds that therapy and sticking to a strict sleep schedule during the week is helpful. Palad also lives in a residential community, which helps him feel less lonely, and remains optimistic about his future in DJing: “Being able to make other people forget about their struggles on the dance floor make up for all the bad moments.”