January 31: A day when many people will be celebrating a month of abstinence as Dry January comes to an end. Quite right, too. There are various positives to celebrate… Anyone who’s successfully quit alcohol for the month is likely to be enjoying various benefits such as better sleep, potentially a little weight loss and a decrease in blood pressure and diabetes risk. Possibly a few extra quid in the pocket, too (maybe not with the current cost of living)
There’s no doubt that spending a month cutting down or cutting out unhealthy habits is a refreshing and empowering way to start a new year, boosting up energy levels, increasing clarity of thought and helping to set new goals. But is a month really enough time to recalibrate your relationship with a substance that’s so deeply entrenched and tightly woven into so many aspects of life? Especially when you’re working, living and raving in an industry marinated right through with booze, frosted in white powder and liberally sprinkled with multi-coloured hundreds and thousands for good measure.
The music industry: literally the only sector in the world where performers are offered booze by their employer. Sometimes in nice shiny buckets. It’s a place where drugs are rife yet seldom talked about. And when they are, it’s often in a glamourized sense rather than a mature and responsible way.
“For me it’s been drink and cocaine, which are two drugs that are too prevalent on the drum & bass scene,” explained Energy, the Overview Music boss in a recent interview on this site. “No one really discusses this, it’s the unspoken side of rave culture and drum & bass culture but it’s unbelievably rife. Especially booze. People don’t see it as a hard drug but it is. Alcohol can destroy people and when you start touring and playing shows it’s so abundant and almost expected of you and it’s so easy to get carried away.”
Energy is one of a few artists who’s spoken about dance music’s ‘elephant in the room’ on this site recently. Last month Dub Phizix touched upon his sobriety and how he’s been t-total for six years in this video interview. It’s a topic tackled in a video interview with London label Militant Music that’s coming up on the channel soon, too. While each case is acutely unique, the message is consistent: cutting down or quitting the popular dance music-related substances has had positive effects on creative output, mental health, wellness and many lifestyle factors in between.
Easier to say than do when you’re in this industry. Super-charged by the boundary-breaking effects of MDMA from the off, dance music culture is frequently characterized, both musically and visually, by the influence of stimulants and psychedelics and is awash with a million ganja samples. It’s where most venues and large-scale events and festivals are financially possible because of the sales of alcohol and where many revellers enjoy immense escapism from the challenges of their daily grind for a few hours as they complement the music with recreational drugs in a sensible and sustainable way.
Just as this is the only sector where intoxication is widely accepted, it’s arguably one of the hardest sectors to apply moderation and abstinence, especially when you compound this with the pressures of social media.
“I would say it’s harder to avoid things now than ever before,” says PS1, one of third of the anonymous gold-masked banger merchants CLIQUES. PS1 is a recovered cocaine addict. In a mercifully distant chapter of his life things got as dark as you could possibly imagine, as he reveals in this article. “Cocaine brings confidence and we’re in this social media world where people are putting their lives on display and want to appear confident and on top of their shit and having the best life. Social media is creating even bigger gaps in what people are feeling and the reality of what their life is and I fear many are filling that gap with the cocaine.”
For PS1 the reason why one might drink or take drugs is key to this conversation. “It’s okay to take drugs…but don’t let them take you,” he says. “If you’re taking them to fix something missing inside of you, it won’t fix it. Instead it will take more and more parts away from you so that gap between you and the core problem you’re avoiding becomes bigger and bigger.”
Moderation, responsible use and being true to yourself are at the heart of this discussion. Whether it’s booze, coke, weed or any other substance that’s rife in this culture and prone to causing prolonged dependency. Not putting a little cocktail umbrella in it and making it look pretty, or sweeping it under the carpet and pretending it doesn’t exist. The culture, language and dialogue needs to change in order to normalise sobriety and moderation.
It’s already changing. Artists like Camo MC and Mozey are openly talking about their own journey into sobriety and setting an inspiring benchmark, setting a refreshing example to his followers and offering advice, thoughts and support.
Artists such as Mozey and Camo MC are certainly not alone. The How To Dance Sober podcast series is full of insightful perspectives from artists across the whole dance spectrum and a new generation of headliners have been able to cut through the consistent themes of booze and bumps and been successful in exploring sobriety and sharing their insight with their supporters.
“The amount of messages I got from people who could relate or said they were inspired to try the same was mind blowing,” says Frenetic about the time she’d posted about being sober after six booze-free months. “The reaction I had was mad and really made me realise how many people want to change their lifestyle but haven’t been able to yet. It’s not something I expected but a very nice feeling to know if you’ve been part of helping someone make a positive change.”
A more positive slant on the influence of social media, the dialogue artists are having with their supporters about their sobriety marks the start of a new, more responsible exchange which will hopefully lead to a much more progressive approach to all forms of substances and how they’re used.
The so called ‘war on drugs’ isn’t working. Most drug laws, and the implementation of them, only serve to criminalise working class, low income and marginalised groups, and only a handful of countries such as Portugal have progressive policies in place where substances and be controlled and contaminant-free. It’s down to us as a community to try to encourage the changes we want to see across nightlife, raving and the industry and talk openly and honestly about our lifestyles, celebrate and normalise sobriety and moderation, and be able to identify in ourselves and others when recreational use has turned into dependency and know what to do and how to help.
To get an insight into sobriety and how to maintain a lifestyle in the industry and rave culture, 1 More Thing spoke to three individual artists who have had successful journeys in this way. All at very different ages and career stages, and all with very different relationships with drink or drugs, Frenetic, Billy Daniel Bunter and PS1 from CLIQUES take the time to share their experience and insight…
Renowned for her hyper-technical mixes and super-tight triple and quadruple drops, Frenetic’s high energy style requires a sober mind. “There’s zero room for error,” she nods. “For me I couldn’t do what I do drunk or even on a couple of drinks.”
For Frenetic (AKA Lottie Aldridge) the decision to go sober for a year in June 2021 wasn’t down to the DJ lifestyle but rather the times when she wasn’t booked to DJ.
“When I first started DJing I was a student and back then I was a proper drinker and party head, out all weekend every weekend,” Lottie explains. “Then in 2019 the DJing really started to take off and I started drinking less and partying way less in general. It was feeling really good about it. Then lockdown happened, I was living in a shared house and started drinking a lot more. It wasn’t out of control but I was getting blackout drunk quite a lot. That’s not okay.”
The anxiety-ridden hangovers Lottie was experiencing the following day weren’t okay either. As we came out of lockdown, she made the decision to quit alcohol for a year. “I thought, ‘Okay I’m turning 26, let’s see what I can achieve being sober.’ I waited four or so months before I went out socially because I wanted to get used to it. But in general it was amazing, I loved it.”
During her year of abstinence Lottie found inspiration from David Boyle’s I’m Quitting Alcohol podcast and Gill Stark’s book High Sobriety. “That was really insightful and she suggests how you need to do at least six months sober to really realign your relationship with it and not fall back into bad habits,” Lottie explains.
Stark’s suggestion is backed up by this study that compares alcohol sales with Dry January statistics and finds little evidence to suggest one month off drink leading to sustained decline or long-term changes in drinking behaviour. It takes a lot longer to truly change a lifestyle and de-code bad habits. In Lottie’s case a year was enough and her whole outlook on booze has changed.
“When my year was over I experimented and saw if I could have a few drinks after my set,” she explains. “But every time I’ve tried the next day I’ve had the most awful hangover and worried about embarrassing myself. It’s like why did I bother?”
“Since my sober year has been over, the hardest part has been having the option to drink again,” Lottie continues. “I have that association of going to raves and getting really wrecked. So if I’ve had a few drinks, I go back into that mode again. It’s not worth doing it at all. Plus it’s such reassuring feeling DJing sober. I know I’m going to do the best job I can, I’m not going to make an idiot of myself or get too messy and say or do something stupid and I’m going to get a decent night sleep and wake up without a hangover!”
With a packed schedule every weekend and major bookings such as Hospitality On The Beach this summer, Frenetic is striding into what’s shaping up to be her busiest year so far. Her year of sobriety now seeming lightyears away, it’s left a long-lasting effect on how she works, lives and raves. “I want to be a role model and show people you can have an amazing time sober,” she states. “If the tunes are sick and the company is fun what else do you need?”
“I just woke up and thought, ‘I’ve had enough of this. I was ballooning and ballooning in weight. I’d pushed the excess; everything involved getting on the piss. Going for meetings? Getting on the piss. Going on holiday? Getting on the piss. Got a driver for my gigs? Let’s get on the piss then! Get into the club and someone pays you money to DJ and gives you loads of booze? Go on then! But the excess of the fun was no longer fun and was becoming problematic…”
Now entering his 33rd year as a working DJ, Billy Daniel Bunter celebrated five years of complete sobriety this month. He explains how he’s been though various phases; his teens were rife with drug use, his 20s were pretty sober and professional but his 30s were awash with booze and pub culture where he’d easily drop £500 on alcohol a week.
“Was I an alcoholic? No one’s posed that question to me. I’d say no, but I’d definitely say I was a binge drinker,” he considers. “I didn’t wake up and reach for a bottle every morning, but every day I drank. Every single day. Sometimes from 11am, sometimes from 4pm but it was daily.”
Various factors led to Bunter’s change of lifestyle. Chronic hangover anxiety was a major element. “I was still high functioning, I’d get up and still struggle through it and put on raves, write a book, release a record, do all these things. But the anxiety was getting worse and worse. Basically it’s fun until it stops being fun.”
That’s fun with a capital FUN: Bunter’s yarns are a rich weave of dangerous, reactionary and hilarious behaviour.
“I’ve definitely been that character at different points,” says Billy. “It’s like, ‘Oi oi! Let’s book Bunter, he’s gonna be a laugh, he might break into a lorry full of booze or fall over tramlines or do some stupid shit. Let’s give him some money and see what type fun he’ll get us into!”
But when the fun stopped, so did he. A self-described ‘all or nothing at all’ type of guy, he threw himself into sobriety as eagerly as he applied himself to drinking and has since lost seven stone and put a lot of the money he’s saved on not drinking into founding and running a mental health charity Safe Space Movement.
“The first thing I noticed, though, was that my moods were actually my moods, my feelings were my feelings,” he explains of his journey into sobriety. “Not being pissed or hungover, you become in control of your moods. It wasn’t like that before. Pre-covid I was putting on 30 – 50 events a year. I was booking 100s of DJs, expecting thousands of people to come to the events. When you’re on that scale you’re going to come across issues and disagreements or situations. Standard. Depending on my mood this will go one of two ways. I’ll either be down the pub and pissed up and be like, ‘Ah mate, don’t worry about it.’ Or I could be very hungover or pissed and aggressive and all hell breaks loose because I think you’re mugging me off. That doesn’t happen anymore. Thankfully.”
Operating at an even higher output since the hangovers are no longer an issue, he explains how he’s got no regrets about his boozing but is enjoying this sober chapter of his career. “Just waking up without a hangover is enough for me appreciate this,” laughs Bunter who understand the pressure for the new generation of artists and industry figures coming through.
“The buzz of the music and my love for this whole culture thing defines me but I know It’s easy for me to say that because I’ve been through every emotion, been on the top of the flyers, been dropped off the flyers. All of it. So my experience is different to a 25 year old DJ coming through in this modern world that’s defined by likes and numbers and streams. There’s so much pressure piled on top and on top and on top and on top that in the end the fun is squeezed out of it. You forget why you even wanted to become a DJ or a promoter or whatever. My advice? Take your time, focus on yourself, always keep your sights set on why you got into this and reach out to old bastards like me for support and advice!”
Our final contributor to this article is a member a masked trio of dancefloor D&B heavyweights who have taken the scene storm with an endless stream of precision-produced sledgehammers . They also run a fine line in tongue-in-cheek videos featuring cult figure Barry from Eastenders. With their tunes being played by some of the biggest DJs in the game, it’s a whole other universe compared to where PS1 was in another chapter of his life.
“I went to my first rave when I was 14 years old and fully immersed myself into the culture of raving from the music to the drugs and everything in between. I have always been an all-out person and as the years passed the carnage aspect of the lifestyle evolved into full-scale addiction. My life was fully out of control and so many aspects of it were hidden from everyone. Threats, debts and never ending stress were part of everyday life.”
“By the time I was 27 things had got so bad I thought, ‘There’s no other way out of this, you’re just going to have to kill yourself,’” PS1 continues. “They say that you can only really start to recover when you hit rock bottom and with a rope purchased and plans in place I was flat out. In a moment for which I am forever thankful for, I decided to go to see my family one last time and show them the nice side or “the old me” so when I killed myself the next day they would have that memory. This is raw as hell to talk about but it’s where addiction took me”
His vice of choice was largely cocaine and other similar stimulants. “To begin with I wasn’t interested in shutting the world out or zoning out or anything,” PS1 explains. “I wanted to be the life and soul of the party. So coke, pills, speed and of course the relentless drink that came with that. As my life continued to take turn after turn for the worst, all I wanted to do was block everything out. The worst moments for me were when the rave or the after party ended, as I had to go back to the reality of what my life was. I would do everything I could to avoid that.”
PS1’s story is raw and brutal and might seem extreme in comparison with Frenetic’s or Bunter’s. But understanding how he got into this situation and how vast and widespread cocaine use is now, chances are you know someone who is in danger of following a similar path.
“To begin with it was the confidence thing for me,” he explains. “I come from an amazing and supportive family. I had no issues growing up. But drugs made me feel a confidence that was so out of my grasp in every day reality that I took more and more. Before I knew it I was living a very dark lifestyle in a world of absolute all out chaos. Addiction, if you let it, will put you in places and in association with people that you need to be at your most mentally strong to deal with, at a time when you are your weakest. It’s a Jekyll and Hyde existence and the best way to describe it is that you petrol bomb your life.”
“If there is one thing I want to say in this interview, it’s that if you have that mate who’s taking the most drugs and always looking like the party animal, always pushing the party on… Check in on them. Some people like that are actually party animals and they do it because they love it and have a healthy balance on it. But there are others who are running away from whatever their feelings or life experiences truly are. You’re never going to out run them, it’s like a never ending marathon where you can only stimulate yourself into avoidance to a certain point before you drop”
Eventually he stopped running. His trip to his family led to an intervention and he found himself in rehab days later where he received a terrifying wake-up call. “Our counsellor, who was an ex-bank robber with two fingers missing, saved my life,” he recalls. “There were 15 of us in the room, he looked at us and said, ‘At best one of you will recover and the rest of you will end up in prison or dead.’ Sadly 12 of the guys have passed away since.”
While the physical rehab didn’t take PS1 very long to complete, it was the mental and soulful recalibration that took years. Finding peace of mind and peace of self through meditation, daily exercise and supportive family members and friends, he is now in a place in life he never could have dreamt of during the dark times.
“I’ve now got the most amazing relationship with my family and friends who were on that journey and that’s something really important for me to get across,” he explains. “If you’re feeling isolated and completely disconnected from everyone because of addiction then please know that all is not lost. When people see you’re working on yourself and you’re doing everything you can then they’ll back you more than you could ever appreciate. It’s beautiful when you get to a point when you’ve got people’s trust and love back.”
Now part of a formidable and unique drum & bass act and a new chapter as a father awaiting him this year, PS1 has never been more at peace with his life and fulfilled by his output, but he’ll never be complacent about it. “I know I’m not always going to feel confident or always feel happy,” he offers.
“No one’s life is like that anyway. It’s about an inner peace and an acceptance that, ‘This is who I am and when problems come along I’m not going to try and fix them with drugs or take drugs to ignore the problems. You have to understand the boundaries in which you can live well and live by those self set rules militantly. Everyone’s recovery is different, I know the things I can and can’t do now and the situations I can put myself in and the others that I can’t.
“Learning to be kind to myself and only do things for the right reasons in every aspect of life has helped beyond words. Some people need to completely abstain from drugs and alcohol to live the life they want. Other people need to focus more on the life experiences or trauma that made them take excessive drugs and if they can find peace with that, they can take a different path. The most important thing is to be aware of what is driving your decisions in that lifestyle. Put yourself and your health first always, you deserve it”
Wherever you’re at with substance use and sobriety, that’s golden advice full stop. Huge love and respect to PS1 for reclaiming his own life and rebuilding it in the way he has.
1 More Thing wants to thank PS1, Frenetic and Billy Daniel Bunter for taking the time to share their experiences and thoughts and honesty. These type of trappings of the industry aren’t an easy topic but as many sober artists have shown, and have become increasingly vocal about, is that rave culture is just as much fun without drink or drugs and that support is there for anyone looking to rebalance their rave lifestyle.
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the issues addressed in this article, Mind have collated a comprehensive list of support and emergency sites in the UK. Find out more.
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