DJ culture has long been synonymous with a lively hedonistic lifestyle: late boozy nights, early mornings, days and weeks touring on the road — a world of decadent temptation that has been known to spawn a plethora of unhinged, unhealthy specimens whose love of the rave has left them with expanding waistlines and a smoker's cough that make them appear more suited to carrying around a pack of darts rather than a bag of vinyl. So what might happen if key players in the global DJ field decide to pack their trainers or their yoga mat in the record bag alongside their hot new limited-edition clear vinyl and AKG headphones? Is it possible to embrace the world of fitness alongside a nocturnal professional lifestyle, with positive effect? DJ mag investigates the latest trend burning up dancefloors across the globe, and we're not talking the latest mixing software or a new strain of M-cat. DJs and dance music producers are fast-becoming fitter than ever before…
GILLES PETERSON, 47, DJ AND RECORD LABEL CEO
You ran the London Marathon in 2011 for the Steve Reid Foundation, what made you do this?
“I’d been searching for a reason to do something motivational for fitness, so when Steve passed away I wanted to support a cause and celebrate a great man. Crossing the finish line was the best feeling I’ve ever had. I love my wife and kids obviously, but I will never forget running past Buckingham Palace. Incredible.”
Had you done much running before taking this on?
“I was very sporty up until I was 18 when my DJ career kicked off. I played football for the county, rugby for south England. Then it all fell apart! Apart from playing a bit of lazy football I didn’t do any proper exercise until I was 37. I was getting really bad hangovers so decided to do something about it. “
How has being fit again over the last decade made you feel?
“Fitness is an addiction. If I don’t feel fit now I feel sad and can’t enjoy my life. At the end of every day now I feel great, blood pumping around my body. I can’t live without it. I wake up and go to work feeling happy.”
You had to cut back on DJ gigs during the run up to the London Marathon, was this a welcome break?
“Giving up DJing for three months was amazing. I’d not stopped DJing since I was 16. Now I want to have this break every year. I love DJing of course, but I do drink, smoke a bit. Taking time off and training helped me focus on eating well, sleeping well and living clean.”
Are you going to do another marathon?
“I certainly am: Berlin this October! The day after my birthday, so wish me luck! I’d better not have a hangover that day!”
Anna Greenwood, 30, DJ and Performer
You look fit tell us about your weekly routine?
“Running is my main thing, but I also go to the gym on the days I don’t run. This is when I do masochistic routines involving skipping, kettle bells, plyometrics and weights that make me feel like my arms and legs are going to fall off.”
How important is being fit to you?
“ I enjoy the release it brings and the fact I can probably allow myself an extra slice of cake at times. I do like cake. And cheese. And crisps.”
Why did you first get into it?
“I split up with someone and decided I needed something positive to focus on. I’d tried drinking and smoking loads, but that wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Waking up in my clothes from the night before was getting a little bit repetitive.”
How has the discipline of fitness changed you as a person?
“I’ve got quite a lot of nervous energy so it helps get rid of some of that, as I can be quite unbearable otherwise.”
Do you think there is a synergy between fitness and music? Especially with your style of DJing?
“I realised at a young age by learning Janet Jackson’s ‘Rhythm Nation’ dance in front of the TV that you’ve got to be fit to sing and dance at the same time. Even more so on the stage at [London club/venue] Koko than in the front room at my parent's house. As the performance aspect of what I do has become a bigger part of the 'act', I do have to be in pretty good shape.”
How many calories do you think you burn during a set?
“I usually do four-hour sets and I am on the move for the whole of that time. I haven’t a clue how much I burn off, but by the time I finish I am starving. Five minutes after I’ve usually necked a bag of Doritos, a Magnum and am eyeing up some chips.”
There's quite a clash between nightlife and fitness culture — is there anything similar between the two?
“Sweat! There is plenty of that in both — I think the feeling of release is the connection. Clubs and dancing are about fun and giving up your inhibitions and letting your hair down. Exercise gives you that in a different way. And them endorphins aren’t half bad, either.”
Do you find it isolating when you are playing out with others getting hammered around you?
“Not really. Besides, with me whirling around on stage everyone thinks I’m off my head anyway. They never believe me when I say I’ve only had some water and a packet of Maltesers.”
Catch Anna at Friday Night Disco at the Social, London Friday 20th July; Razzmatazz, Barcelona 27th July; Guilty Pleasures, KOKO, London Saturday 28th July.
Cedric Lassonde, 35, DJ and Producer
We hear you are an extreme sportsperson! What have you participated in recently?
“Yes, guess I am! A couple of off-road duathlons in the winter, and some back-to-back racing every weekend in March in South-East Asia: three XTERRA (off-road triathlons) and one middle distance road triathlon.”
Show off. So how did you first get into such hardcore fitness?
“I have always been a runner, competing at national level for many years. I turned to triathlons in 2007 after spending a few years away from competitive racing. I do love being fit and healthy. Guess I'm addicted!”
What has fitness given you that was missing before?
“Coming back to competitive sport after a few years spent on the party scene has given me back a healthy body and soul. And a lot more respect for my general health.”
When you are approaching competitive events, do you have to cut back on DJ gigs and partying?
“I have to when the race season comes, otherwise I won't perform well. I give myself a couple more years of competing at a high level, whereas I will for sure be DJing most of my life, so the sacrifice is not that hard. If I'm not competing and only exercise for fitness, then there’s no problem.”
Has the discipline of training affected you as a professional in any way?
“I've always had the need to free myself through running, it is the best way to unwind or even meditate when you do get in the zone. And the discipline required to train for an Ironman obviously transfers over to other aspects in life. Nothing comes without hard work and dedication.”
You also produce music — does being fit spark inspiration?
“It can be a good tool during the process of finalising a track. Sneak out for a run and come back with fresh ears to finish the tune. It works.”
Do you think there is a synergy between fitness and music?
“When you're doing a high intensity workout with the right music in your headphones, there is definitely some kind of synergy. The right tune can alleviate the pain and make you last longer.”
Have your epic fitness levels had any impact on your approach to DJing?
“I've always been known for my marathon sets (sometimes 12 hours +), so there has to be a link with my love for endurance sports. It's all about the journey, not how fast you start.”
Catch Cedric at Beauty & The Beat, 14th July. houseparty.org.uk
Conrad McDonnell (idjut boys), 46, DJ and Producer
How did you first get into exercise?
“I first started running because my friend was doing the Race for Life, and the training programme looked like something I could handle. I remember doing the first session with my girlfriend and thinking it would be a miracle if I could run for 20 minutes. Then I got knocked off my bike — many broken bones and a collapsed lung. Swimming started as part of my rehab. Now my favourite thing is to run to the Hackney Lido and then go for a swim.”
How has being fit impacted on your working/social life?
“I feel way better in my 40s than I ever did in my 30s. I find the exercise I do helps clear my head and gives me perspective when I’m really busy. I highly recommend it!”
Has this turn towards fitness changed your nightlife activity as a DJ?
“One of the reasons I started running was that I was finding touring harder, especially in Japan where you would play night after night up to 12 or 14-hour sets with no downtime. Whiskey works for a while, but running is better. If I’m really exhausted, I’ll go for a run before a gig to energise myself, half an hour is enough to make a difference.”
Has fitness changed the way you approach making music?
“Yes, definitely. Maybe if I was a blues artist, having a constant hangover would help enable me to stay 'blue', but I try and have a range of emotion in the music I’m involved in and feeling good is definitely part of that.”
Since running and swimming, have you been surprised when you've come across other music people/DJs who are also into it? Do you find there is a 'connection'?
“Yes there is a connection, but I don’t like to admit it. It’s just another thing to nerd on about, like ‘have you got the latest doorknob single?’ I bump into Giles Smith from secretsundaze at my gym and we both man up, suck the belly in and employ a deep voice.”
What do you think of artists such as LCD Soundsystem collaborating with Nike to create running- inspired tracks? Something you would be interested in doing also?
“I think it’s totally brilliant, James, if you’d put a word in for me that’d be grand.”
The Idjut Boys new album 'Cellar Door' is out now on Smalltown Supersound
Felix Dickinson, 40, DJ and Producer
You recently ran the Reading half marathon,why did you do it and how was it?
“My brother died last year from a rare disease called Vasculitis, so to help deal with my grief I wanted to do something positive that could help other people going through the same thing.”
Tell us about the experience?
“It was an amazing day. I ran with a team of 11 family and friends and had a load of other friends and family come down to support us. I ran alongside my brother’s 17-year-old son Casper, who wore a t-shirt with the Vasculitis UK logo on the front and a picture of his dad on the back, so anytime he got ahead of me I was reminded what I was doing it for, and it gave me another burst of energy.”
Had you done much running before taking this on?
“When I first decided to run I headed out to the park, put a mix on my iPhone, and ran until it finished. The next day my legs were completely buggered. I then started reading up about training programmes. As my training went on, I started getting 'runner's knee', which was pretty worrying. I was then told about this book ‘Born to Run’ which is all about barefoot running, which can eliminate all the regular running injuries. I read it, got the shoes, and started adjusting my running technique, which instantly sorted out my injuries.”
Have you become a running geek, as well as a record geek then?
“Definitely yes! As the months drew on, I got even more geeked out on technique and discovered this other practice called ‘Chi Running’ which uses the principles of Tai Chi in running, and being mindful in your body as a form of meditation.“
Did the training impact on your working/social life?
“I was running five days a week, and talking about it seven days a week. All it would take was someone to ask how the running was going and I’d be whipping out my ‘Run Keeper’ app and showing them the miles I’d clocked up. I sobered up as well, as running on a hangover sucks.”
Juan Maclean, DJ and Producer
You have been into fitness for a long time, as a runner before you got into Yoga, can you tell us about how you got into fitness in the beginning?
“I was addicted to heroin when I was younger. When I got clean, I was a wreck physically and emotionally. I started running, which helped restore my endorphin response in my brain, as well as giving me something to focus on that wouldn't kill me.”
How did running change your approach to making music?
“It is quite useful for writing dance music. The rhythm is perfect for clearing my head of the craziness that goes on in there. I would go out on a run with a loop of something I had been working on playing in my head, and write parts in sync with my running. It's sort of like dancing, except you are moving in a linear manner.”
How did you find the training for long distance races?
“When I was training for a marathon, it definitely took a toll on my personal life. I remember my girlfriend at the time becoming annoyed that I would leave the apartment on a Saturday afternoon and run for five hours. I became consumed with training. However, I was and remain in amazing physical health, and the emotional stability it brings should not be overlooked.”
You are now into Ashtanga Yoga, how did this transition come about?
“I had become burned out from running to the point of developing something called 'exercise intolerance.' It was quite debilitating. If I ran a couple of miles I would be wiped out for a couple of weeks. I had dabbled in various forms of yoga before discovering Ashtanga. Ashtanga is not for dabblers. After my first class, I realised that it was an all-or-nothing proposition, and so I was hooked.”
You have just spent time studying Ashtanga in Mysore, India. How was it?
“Mysore is a mecca for Ashtanga practitioners and studying there is very intense. In Ashtanga, you practice six days a week, except for moon days, which are days off. When I registered upon arrival, I was given a start time of 4:30am. When I'm on the road DJing, I usually go to bed at like 5 or 6am! So my schedule was to wake up every morning at 3.30am and go to bed at 7pm. I did this for six weeks, and then immediately went to play festivals in Australia. It totally reset my head in many ways. It was especially helpful in starting to write a new album.”
How has yoga now improved your working life as a DJ?
“I practice six days a week no matter where I am or what I've done the night before. It has been enormously helpful in keeping my body functioning while maintaining an insane travel schedule. Sitting on planes has become a major job hazard. The yoga gets my blood flowing again, stretches out all those tightened muscles, relieves inflammation, and helps with jet lag.”
How has yoga changed you as a person?
“It's a little embarrassing but I had a bad anger problem, I would get totally out of control. There were a couple of incidents that were well documented on the internet, much to the dismay of my mother, where I had physically assaulted people while DJing. Whether my actions were justified or not, beating someone up in the middle of a DJ set is completely ridiculous. Since practicing Ashtanga, I've calmed down immensely. It's also made me a generally nicer person.”
Have you ever considered creating a yoga-inspired soundtrack?
“Though I love a lot of deeply meditative music like Brian Eno's 'Music For Airports,' and I've made more ambient music like this before, I would never specifically label it as a soundtrack for yoga. I like to keep it out of the music in that sort of overt way. However, when I reach a certain age and transform myself into a maker of New Age hippy music, I'll definitely milk it for all its worth.”
Lynda Phoenix, 34, DJ and digital manager for Defected Records
Has a DJ and music industry lifestyle conflicted with your love of running?
“Yes, often. I am running the Amsterdam Half Marathon this October which falls on the same weekend as ADE (Amsterdam Dance Event). So it will be a lethal combination of lots of meetings for Defected, partying by night, running 13 miles and DJing at the Amsterdam Marathon after-party! My worlds will truly collide that weekend.”
Are people in the music industry generally surprised when they find out you are so sporty?
“ I get some people commenting on my running, but it’s always positive. I spill my guts out on Twitter and Facebook about running and music, so it’s really ‘out there’ that I run. I also have a few other industry guys who have come up and asked for tips on running, as they are just starting out.”
Has running changed you as a person?
“It's changed by life. My life is more balanced and I’m more focused. I also realised that I can achieve so much more, but it’s your mind that holds you back, not ability. Running helps break those barriers down.”
Are you more productive in the workplace because of this?
“Definitely. Running has had a very positive effect on both my day job at Defected and my DJ work. The stresses of the week can easily be run off, I get better sleep and use the time on the road to clear my head and escape from laptops, TV, phone calls and social media. It’s amazing how fresh air and running outside can relax you, it’s like moving mediation.”
How has being fit influenced the creative process when working with music?
“It’s amazing how many creative ideas flow after clearing a whole heap of brain fog. When you have loads of deadlines during the week and gigs at the weekend, running resets you, energises you and gives you headspace.”
Do you approach selecting music for a run in a different way to playing out?
“I create a playlist of tracks that I just love and may not necessarily ever play out. That’s what I love about running with music; it’s just me on the road listening to all kinds of stuff.”
There is obviously a market for music and running, Ministry have recently released a running compilation, what do you think about labels capitalising on this?
“Defected have also created a fitness compilation series called ‘Body Music’ which covers the whole spectrum of fitness activities including warm up, stretching and working out. The music is perfectly programmed with the mix kept at a certain BPM — it can only improve how young people perceive fitness.”
Catch Lynda at Broadcite party at Hospital Club, London, Arenal Sound Festival in Spain and? Lockside Lounge Camden, London
Mr Felix Dickinson, has been kind enough to provide us with a mix check it out here!
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