Four years ago, Hardwell did the unthinkable.
Ranked number 4 on DJ Mag A 2018 Top 100 hit and headlining major dance music festivals, the Dutch spinner and producer has announced he is going on an indefinite hiatus.
While the move was unprecedented for a DJ of his fame and caliber, it wasn’t entirely surprising.
That year, 2018, the world of dance music was in mourning over the death of Avicii, the Swedish DJ who took his own life in Muscat, Oman.
His physical and mental struggles were documented in an unflinching documentary Avicii: True Stories and his death sparked some much-needed industry conversations around the well-being of DJs in the intense and competitive world of dance music.
For Hardwell, who by then was 30 and 16 years old in his career, it was time to give his mind and body the rest it wanted.
In the exclusive interview with The nationalhe describes his return to regular appearances since March as refreshing as it is calibrated.
“Now I really enjoy being on the road and I’ve set myself a limit of doing a maximum of 40 shows a year because it gives me time to work in the studio and spend time with family and friends,” he says.
“I really feel like I enjoy life the most and it makes me a happier person and I think people see that on stage.”
A much needed conversation
This is a far cry from previous years, when the pure adrenaline of the shows could not offset the growing fatigue of constant travel and more than 100 shows in 12 months.
Hardwell understands how the glamorous life many DJs portray online makes such complaints ring hollow.
“That’s the point, we have to talk about this without people thinking we’re bragging,” he says.
“Listen, people know that I appreciate everything that I have in my life and I love what I do, but when you get to a certain point where you’re so tired that you’re not looking forward to the next tour, that you don’t want to make music in the studio anymore, then this is the biggest sign of exhaustion.
“When I got to that point, I realized I needed a break.”
The benefits have led to a revitalized Hardwell dropping his stellar new album Rebels never die in September and performed a blistering set at the Soundstorm festival in Saudi Arabia in December.
Hardwell now wants to help experienced and aspiring DJs find their own sense of balance.
In December, he appeared in a provocative session on mental health as part of the XP Music Futures conference in Riyadh.
The remixer and record producer says such discussions are needed to inspire the wider dance music industry to build an effective framework and initiatives to deal with the mental health experienced by artists, who are predominantly young.
“There are no right guidelines when it comes to DJs. For example, if you are a professional athlete, you have a whole team that cares about your health.
“Even for [non-EDM] singers, they can go on tour and come back and take time off to work on their album,” says Hardwell.
“For some reason, we DJs work to our limits. There is pressure to play the shows, to do social media, to make music, to prepare DJ sets and now with many DJs having their own radio show, it has to be done as well.
“The workload is crazy and you have to ask if this is the way we have to do it because it’s like working five full-time jobs at the same time.”
Help between friends
Hardwell disagrees with the idea of DJs unionizing to demand better working conditions.
Effective change, he says, begins when sectors of the industry abandon the zero-sum attitude that is prevalent in the scene.
“It’s hard to ask for something like this, and I don’t think it should be done through an organization, but by the DJs themselves,” he says.
“It’s just not necessary to do 200 shows a year. You can be good doing 30 shows a year because it can make you financially stable and give you more time to work on your music and be with your family.
“Now I know that at first all these shows seem fun because you work so hard to achieve them.
“Ten gigs become 40 gigs a month and you just want to go and play everywhere because you’re living your dream.
“But after two years of this, you realize you’re tired and it’s not as much fun. We need managers and booking agencies to be more aware of artists’ physical and mental health.”
Meanwhile, while we hope the EDM scene will eventually dance to a different tune when it comes to mental health, Hardwell — real name Robert van de Korput — is content to build his career to his own beat.
His re-entry into DJ Mag Top 100 at No. 43 this year is a far cry from his No. 1 in 2013, but he really sounds above it all.
Updated: January 02, 2023, 03:01 am