The touring life of a world-class DJ is an exhausting endeavor, often fueled by alcohol and other substances you might find in a night club. When they’re not performing, they’re usually traveling on their own or holed up in a hotel room.
While the lifestyle can be glamorous, it can also be taxing, stressful and unhealthy. Especially in dance music, there’s pressure to constantly churn out singles rather than take one’s time with an album. Then, you have to tour to promote those singles. Weekends are for performing, and weekdays are for producing. The cycle continues.
For many years, that was no different for British DJ Hannah Wants (real name: Hannah Smith), who rode her bouncy take on garage house music to wide acclaim.
“I’d go to America and tour 10 dates in a row, and some of the nights I wouldn’t be sleeping,” Smith told AOL. “And I’m one of those determined people where I’d just plow through anything, because work came first.”
That is until she got the wake-up call of a lifetime.
Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2017 at age 30.
It was a shock to the system for the Birmingham native, a former England women’s national soccer team player who felt she was relatively fit. It changed her outlook on just about every aspect of her life.
“I was one of those people who thought it’d never happen to me,” Smith said. “I thought I was healthy, I was living my dream and I was happy. So as you can imagine, it sort of turned my world upside down.”
Despite the diagnosis, Smith didn’t feel ill. So, after she underwent surgery, she decided to take a more holistic approach to her treatment instead of undergoing recommended chemotherapy treatments that would have likely kept her bedridden for long periods.
Smith hired a private nutritionist who frequently tests her blood and urine to examine her hormones, cortisol levels, kidney and liver function, glucose metabolism and other critical health information. Those measurements are used to adjust the 15 or so daily supplements she takes.
She also now (mostly) adheres to an organic, plant-based diet and has incorporated acupuncture, yoga, meditation, CBD oil, thermography and an alternative method of “energy healing” called reiki into her routine.
“The diagnosis sent me on a more spiritual path,” Smith said. “It’s actually been a tap on the shoulder to say I couldn’t have kept doing what I was doing … Sometimes you need something shocking to make you re-evaluate your life, and that's exactly what it did.”
One of the most drastic changes to the former workaholic’s lifestyle is her touring schedule. Smith, who is currently doing shows in the U.S. for the first time since her diagnosis, no longer performs on more than 3 consecutive nights. It’s a radical step in a business that relies on profits from live shows now more than ever, but Smith also feels it’s a necessary one.
“I was obsessed with work and chronically stressed because of the pressure that I put on myself for years,” Smith said. “That’s what I actually believe was the main driver of the illness -- stress.”
It's a mindset that sounds distressingly similar to that of Avicii, the dance music icon who committed suicide in April 2018 after experiencing chronic stress and anxiety from nonstop touring. “There was never an end to the shows, even when I hit a wall,” the DJ said in "Avicii: True Stories," a documentary about his life that was released before his death. “My life is all about stress.”
Thankfully, Smith makes sure to kick back during the week while touring now, whether that’s staying in bed for a couple more hours, catching some poolside rays in Los Angeles or visiting the hotel spa for a massage.
No matter which parts of her altered regimen did the trick, Smith is now cancer-free -- and eager to continue her career’s upward trajectory.
Her new single “Love Somebody” samples the catchy hook from “Good Love” by Inner City and has the potential to pick up steam this summer in the dance music mecca of Ibiza, where she’s set to play seven weekends between July and September. After her last date there, she’ll return to Australia for the first time since her diagnosis to play several dates.
And by the end of the year, she’s hoping a track that’s in the works with American producer Kevin Knapp -- whom she calls her dream collaborator in the studio -- will be ready for release.
“It’s time to rebuild,” Smith said. “I’ve got lots of challenges and goals to work towards. So I’ll work hard, but rest hard as well.”
Here's to hoping that other DJs learn to do themselves a favor and follow that mantra, too.