The Club DJ Scene | By Stacy Fitzpatrick
Mental health problems are prevalent in today’s society. Almost everybody will know a person who has been affected in some way. Nobody is immune to mental health illness/struggles. In this four-part series, we explore the dark side of the entertainment industry; the pressures, trauma and devastating experiences that can impact the lives of those involved. Beyond the confident masks lies a dark side to the glamour of being in the public eye.
This issue tells the story of Warriors of The Dsytotheque founder Jonny McAllister’s experience. How working as a prominent DJ descended into a dark world of drugs, depression and tragedy and how he has rebuilt his life; returning to his love of making music in a fresh form.
Following the death of his mother at the age of 11, Jonny discovered a love for music. Attending a Depeche Mode concert, he knew music was his future. He began by experimenting with instruments and making his own music until the dance music scene emerged leading to his life as a DJ. Jonny explained:
“Around 1990 when the dance scene started coming in, I got into going out clubbing like everybody did. In 1992 I bought a set of decks and started DJing. I moved to England in 1998, started promoting and DJing and studied Music Production Technology in Coventry.”
Jonny’s talent and passion for DJing led to him working with some of the biggest names in the club scene of the time, catapulting him into the centre of the industry:
“We booked Leroy from The Prodigy for his first ever DJ set after he left the Prodigy. We got on really well. Leroy said to me ‘If you could put any more of these together that would be really good.’ So I put together a tour and that continued on for three years. We became good friends and DJ’d together all across the world doing festivals.”
“On the very last night of our last gig, I had booked Phil from Orbital. Orbital had just split up and this was his first solo gig. And strangely, me and Phil got on really well that night. He said ‘You’ve worked a lot with Leroy … do you think we could do what you both have done?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’m sure we could!’ And that went on for two and a half years to three years. In between that, we had toured with the Happy Mondays. So it was pretty crazy and a bit of a whirlwind.”
It would appear that the DJ life was perfect for Jonny yet the shadow side of the glamour began taking its toll:
“Being out Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and sometimes in two cities a night, two or three different countries a weekend maybe. No sleep and a bit of excessive partying obviously. Then you realise it’s Monday, and you’re home and … you’re in a mess. And that’s when the darkness kicks in. The real world isn’t a world you know much of because you don’t see it. It’s just dark.”
Continuing he explains:
“You’re in a dark place because you’ve just went from a high to a low. You haven’t had the greatest of sleep and you’re not doing well in general. You’re just a mess and you’ve got to be back on form in two days time. You’ve got to be back out there doing it again. Loads of partying and excessive drugs. And life just starts to slip away from you.”
Illustrating an example of Jonny’s DJ work schedule highlights the lack of reality in the club DJ life, showing how easy the escalation of recreational party drug use to functional necessity occurs:
“Fly to Ibiza on a Tuesday, play Ibiza on a Wednesday; fly home on Thursday, arrive in England at 2am Friday morning, driving for an hour to your house, grab a pack of new records and clean clothes, get on a train to the airport and then fly to Germany to DJ there. Then to Italy the following day. Arrive back home in England on the Sunday. Then back to Ibiza on the Tuesday. That continued for 15 weeks.”
Explaining the need for drugs he continues:
“That then became a necessity. You arrive in Germany, Italy or somewhere like that and you have got to go onstage. You’re getting paid money to go onstage. They [the audience] don’t care if you have had no sleep, they have been stacking shelves, they have paid to come and see you. You’ve got a job to do. You can’t be standing looking bored, or unhappy; so the cocaine comes out or the MDMA.”
“It becomes then that it’s barely even working and it’s just there for a reason, you’re doing more and more and more … and it’s a slippery slope. And that is the bottom line.”
From needing drugs to bring the ‘ups’ to perform, when rest time was essential, counter-effect drugs were needed:
“I was coming home on a Monday and just started doing Ketamine … literally about an ounce a week to try and come down from everything that was going on around me.”
Over time the drug use became a way of dealing with life:
“And then it became blocking things out because of relationships … because you couldn’t hold anything down whatsoever, it was a case of ‘I just don’t want to know. It was a vicious circle. It’s a wheel you can’t get off.”
An absence of genuine relationships and friendships makes the life of a DJ lonely. Jonny explains:
“You see nobody except those that want something from you. You don’t have any real friends; you realise that, I realised that. You would have a group of friends but they were not really your friends, it was a messy group that you were involved with. It’s hard to maintain real relationships of any form.”
However, Jonny did have one genuine friendship, a fellow promoter caught in the destructive cycle:
“We shared a house together. He was my best friend, the same age as me. And he was in the exact same place as me. We both hated everything that we had done. We had went from loving it to absolutely hating it.”
Jonny’s experience is certainly not isolated in the club music industry. Although there are individuals who can and do resist drug use, an example to the extent of this problem is telling; throughout his whole time in the industry environment in England from 1998 to 2011, Jonny knows of only one DJ who did not use drugs of any form.
He clearly identifies when things took a turn for the worse:
“Around 2007 until 2011, the DJ and promoting side of it … that started to slip away. I was starting to lose interest and it was starting to feel like a job. It started to get really bad then. Drugs were taking a real grip … like major addiction problem then. For those next four years, I was doing less and less and less work and more and more and more drugs. I started not going out at all and barely moving around.”
Revealing his thoughts at the darkest period he said:
“If I die now I don’t care. And actually, I wish that I would because I want this to stop. It was painful. It wasn’t enjoyable. I hated myself and I hated what I had become.”
“It just all came to a head in 2010. I decided I was coming home to Northern Ireland. I’d had enough. I was taking a break to reassess things. I really had to get off drugs because they had taken control. So that had to change. The Christmas of 2010, I said to my friend, I’m going home and I’m putting in place something where I’m moving back in January to sort my life out. I booked a trip to take all my stuff back home for the end of January.”
As positive plans were in place, tragedy occurred:
“On 06 January, we [his friend] watched football at home. I was going to go to bed early and my friend said, ‘Right I’m having a bath. See you in a bit’. About an hour and a half had passed and I hadn’t heard from him. I shouted on him and he never answered the door. I shouted again and he didn’t answer. I ran down to the kitchen and there was water dripping through the roof of the kitchen. I just ran up the stairs again and smashed the door down. I pulled him out the bath, tried to resuscitate him and called an ambulance … and that was it. He was gone. He’d had a heart attack in the bath and died.”
Recalling the aftermath he continues:
“Two days later he was buried. I packed a bag, lifted my laptop and flew home. I left everything behind; studio equipment, decks – everything. And I have never been back in England since.”
Afterwards, Jonny, as well as dealing with the death of his best friend also had to face dealing with his own addictions, rebuilding his life and health:
“I spoke to a friend and said ‘I need a job, I’m coming home.’ He said ‘But can you work?’ I said, ‘I’m going to have to or I’m going to end up killing myself, or something’s going to happen. He got me and interview and I just worked for six months.Then I knew I needed to stop and take time out. It sort of helped me get through the first six months of what was happening.”
“But I never took another drug from the day I came home, and I’m home six years now. From doing drugs every five minutes for seven years, to doing none at all … I just knocked it on the head and found some strength.”
On the process of recovery he says:
“It took three years of solid torture. I’ve had a lot of therapy. I have been treated for PTSD, severe anxiety, depression and there are still days when it’s hard. But what I have learned about myself, is that I have never gave in at all. I’m back into the music now and I’m doing it more for a love of doing it now. There’s no pressure on me, I can do it at my own pace and with people who can’t influence me.”
He founded his band Warriors Of The Dystotheque after a lot of self healing and avoidance of music:
“I didn’t listen to music for about two years. I didn’t even have the radio on. I just blocked it all out because I had this thing in my head where I related music to my downfall. But one day I opened up my computer and just started messing about with a couple of beats – doing more and more. I started to remember this is how it was in the beginning, not how it turned out. I thought to myself, ‘You have to look at this clearly now; you took the choice to do what you did, not the music.’ Although the environment didn’t help, it was a key factor in the downfall.”
WotD are certainly a unique band. The four members compose their music described as ‘down tempo electronica with a serious jazz influence’ from different sides of the Atlantic; between Derry, Coventry, Toulon and New York City, they collaborate solely online and have never even been in the same studio.
“Everything’s going really well. We’ve now had four EP’s released and the album is coming out in January. Now it’s coming to the point where everyone is saying ‘ Are you going to play live? So, after the album is released we are going to think about planning the New York guys to come here and have a six week tour.”
Their upcoming new album featuring two collaborations with indie heavyweights Pop Will Eat Itself already has been receiving major support on BBC 6 Music , Radio 1, RTE 2, ATL, Electric Mainline, KEXP. With life moving forward positively, Jonny reflects:
“Nothing changes what happened in the past. As much as I pretend it’s all alright, it’s not alright, it never will be alright. But it happened and there’s nothing I can do to change it, only to better myself. And for the likes of people like my friend … the best thing I can do is honour his name. He would be happy now for what I am doing.”
“I’m still here. And I’m doing what I love. And I’m doing it now because I love it more than anything. My eyes are wide open this time. Things can only get better and don’t get me wrong I was very lucky to be doing what I loved. I’m truly grateful for life giving me the opportunity to have done what I have done in the past and really thankful for getting another crack at it with WotD but without preaching, anyone who’s getting involved in the scene just be aware of the signs and be careful.”
WotD’s new album Madness In The Method is available on vinyl from 26 January ‘18 in all major UK record stores and digitally worldwide, with pre-orders now available now via their pages: Click here Facebook / bandcamp page Warriors Of The Dystotheque.
Issue 12 is out in print. Please see the e-zine version below.