The headlines surrounding Bergling’s untimely passing hit just a little too close to home here in Ibiza, where a very large part of the year revolves around dance music, clubbing and indeed, partying for so many people. Hearing that someone so young, who had publicly struggled with issues related to the pressures of the industry in which he worked for so long, has lost his life really forces you to sit up and take stock of what’s around you. Whether you were a lover or a hater of his music (and the social media circus is showing there are so many of both), there’s no denying that Avicii was one of the most influential artists in electronic dance music (EDM) and that his music touched the lives of many. Many people in Ibiza argue that EDM was the ‘death of dance music’ as we (and when I say ‘we’, I mean those who were in Ibiza decades before Avicii even touched a mixer) know it, but perhaps the evolution of clubbing into what it’s become today was simply inevitable. He just took it to the next level. Personally, I liked humming (ok, very poorly singing) along on the radio to his tracks, which I guess shows the level of commercialism it had reached. But I’m ok with that. I am comfortable with going to DC-10 on a Monday and listening to Kylie or Taylor Swift on a Tuesday. Maybe even a little Dolly Parton on a Wednesday. But anyway, I digress…
What occurred to me, the moment I discovered Avicii had died (scrolling through Instagram and reading the news on Madonna’s post) is that for millions of fans (much younger than I), this will be a point in their life that they’ll always remember. The way I will always remember where I was when I heard Kurt Cobain had died (yes I’m also partial to grunge). And the way the generation before me will always remember where they were when John Lennon was killed. While these three artists may not have very much in common musically, what they do all share is the fact that they were considered creative geniuses and their talent was taken from the world far too soon. It seems pretty clear judging from the press statements that we, the general public, are never going to find out the official cause of Avicii’s death. And I think that’s totally acceptable for his family to want to guard his and their privacy. Just because he was in the public eye doesn’t give us the right to disrespectfully dissect and judge his decisions, choices or circumstances. This, however, leads to a lot of public speculation – was it chronic alcoholism? Was it an illness? Was it suicide? Was it an overdose? – when what we really should be focusing on (in my humble opinion) is the immense sadness of the whole thing. And perhaps looking at ways to prevent things like this from happening to others who are under the same pressure or living a similar lifestyle. [EDITOR’S NOTE: UPDATE – Since the original time of publishing, Tim Bergling’s family have issued a statement that very heavily implies that, sadly, he took his own life.]
Again, like millions of others, I watched the BBC Avicii: True Stories documentary on Netflix straight after I heard the news. It had been on my radar for a few weeks but I never quite got around to it. Until now. And as I watched the entire film unfold, it was with a heavy heart and a huge sense of sadness, because I KNEW from the opening credit that this story did not have a happy ending. It’s quite spooky in fact, as many of the people interviewed speak about Avicii in past tense… if you simply changed the post script at the end, it would serve as a tribute to the troubled life the young superstar had led. What bothered me the most about the film – and I mean, it made me cringe and cry – was that the poor kid was constantly telling those around him it was too much. He was asking for help. He was speaking up. “I have said, ‘Like, I’m going to die,’ so many times,” he says at a stage in the documentary when it is suggested he perform another show. And no one was listening to him. It’s heartbreaking to watch. When he is hospitalised, he is questioning why he’s being put on addictive medication that isn’t working. He’s open about his troubles with drinking too much to help escape the pressure of performing and to help fight exhaustion. And yet it didn’t ever feel like anyone looked at him holistically and tried to help. He was Avicii the money making machine, Avicii in the hospital bed who just needed to be well enough to get through the next gig, Avicii the genius, Avicii the performer… but I didn’t ever get a sense that those around him were looking at Tim Bergling, the human being.
Another thing that struck me about the documentary was that every single step of Avicii’s career had been caught on film. From the days of submitting tracks to music bloggers to the point where he was writing his retirement statement and his final gig here in Ibiza at Ushuaia. It was all captured on film. At the very beginning, his friends talk about how they were all heavily influenced by the television show Entourage – that they all dreamed of moving to LA and making it big. They come from a different generation than Cobain and Lennon. The musical talent is unquestionably within him, but so too is the desire to be heard by the world and seen across all these new-ish channels and platforms. But was that the desire of Tim Bergling, or those around him? “I was running after an ideal of happiness that wasn’t mine,” he says at one point, possessing everything he’d ever wanted, and yet feeling the intense desire to retreat from it all. Be careful what you wish for I suppose… I’m sure when he was a pimply faced teenager in his messy bedroom in Stockholm, the idea that he could develop mental and physical health issues caused by the pressure to perform, maintain success and generate money would have been very far from Bergling’s mind. The music industry can be a cruel world. Constant touring, late nights, lack of sleep, the loneliness that comes from so much time spent on planes or in hotel rooms, constantly being surrounded by strangers and party people, alcohol, drugs, other vices… it’s a destructive lifestyle, even for those at a level much lower than Avicii had reached.
Sadly, here in Ibiza and around the world, DJs and other people working in the industry such as agents, managers, club managers and promoters (the list goes on) suffer in silence because it’s ‘not cool’ to say you’re not doing well, or worse, as is evidenced by Avicii’s documentary, there’s the risk that no one will listen or take you seriously. It’s about time the community and industry came together and opened a discussion about these issues before any further tragedies take place. In just a few weeks here in Ibiza, an all-new wellness platform is launching with the aim to do just that. While it is obviously too late to save one of EDM’s brightest shining stars, it’s not too late to reach others – please click here to read more about Remedy State. If any twisted kind of good at all can come from a situation as tragic as Avicii’s death, it may be that artists around the world finally feel they have the power to reach out, speak up and say no when they need to. I could write about this topic for hours, having seen first hand just how destructive these lifestyles can become. What happened it Avicii is just so fucking sad. There’s really no other way to say it politely. Barely more than a child when he became famous, he lived life in the fast lane, that is for sure. He didn’t have the opportunity to grow into the person he wanted to be, like most of us do in our 20s. He was just moulded and shaped and pushed and pushed and pushed into an Avicii-shaped person, on stage, on the road and in the studio. While he did eventually stand up for himself and retire from touring altogether in 2016 (by which time he had become a shell of his former self), preferring to focus on his passion for making music, I’m sure his friends, peers, family and fans all thought he would recover. And it looked like he was definitely trying.
To me, it looked like he was flirting with the subject of spirituality. Once again, like all those millions of other people around the world, I did some poking around into Avicii’s public persona after he passed away. He’d been in the jungle trying Ayahuasca. It looked like he was sampling yoga and meditation. He looked fit and healthy. He looked happy. He looked like he was connecting with nature, with friends, with animals (there are a lot of cool animal pics on his Instagram!). His posts were all tinged with positivity. But I guess it goes to show you never know what’s going on behind closed doors, or behind the lens, as with those all too perfect Instagram lives. While he’ll never be wiser or older, as one of his most popular song lyrics (from Wake Me Up) indicated he wanted to be, all I can say is that I hope, even if just for a little while, that the happiness Avicii was projecting in the last few months was authentic. I find it so heartbreaking that someone so young and so talented, who seemed to be crying out for help, could lose the battle with their demons when they had the world at their feet. Tim Bergling’s was a life we will remember, to quote yet another one of his tracks (The Nights), for both his talent and tragedy.