Krystal Klear: ‘The mental health issues in my industry are through the roof’

Irish producer and DJ Dec Lennon on the stresses, strains and bullsh*t of trying to make it as an international DJ

 

Dec Lennon likes to talk. Though he has lived in Manchester and New York for much of the time he’s been developing his production and DJ career as Krystal Klear over the past 10 years, his accent is very much intact. And like many a Dubliner, his refreshing honesty about what it’s like to be an internationaltouring DJ is useful in understanding the DJ industry in 2017.

While you can catch him playing a five-hour set at District 8 in Dublin this weekend, Lennon hasn’t had much time for DJing of late, having got sick of the scene and the backslapping around the cult of the DJ.

They’re all backpatting each other online and everyone’s best mates and you’re just there thinking ‘this is the fakest shit I’ve ever seen’

“I found it had become like a schoolyard, it was almost fraternity-esque,” he says bluntly. “All of these people who claim to know the inside and outside of the music that I love when they really don’t. They’re all backpatting each other online and everyone’s best mates and you’re just there thinking ‘this is the fakest shit I’ve ever seen’. People are there walking around like they’re King of England and you’re there going ‘what are you talking about man?’ I got sick of people being full of shit.”

Dublin had nothing

Lennon came of age in Dublin in the nu-rave era of The Klaxons, music which he says was obviously “circumstantially disposable”. A lover of boogie funk and house music and with an eclectic record collection (Lennon’s dad was a pirate-radio DJ back in the day), he quickly realised he would need to go elsewhere.

“Dublin had nothing for guys like me when I was 19. Nothing, no opportunity for young producers. There was only a handful of lads who were cultivating a scene in Dublin.”

So he left. After time spent honing his craft at Red Bull Music Academy, as a resident DJ at Hoya:Hoya in Manchester, where he also studied, and New York, things began to take off for Lennon in 2013 as a new breed of UK-based DJs like Jackmaster, Ben UFO and Skream were gaining larger audiences.

“I don’t think any of us thought we’d make a living doing gigs. My fees were reaching money that I’d never ever dreamt of getting paid to do DJ sets. I was playing three or four times a week. There was a lot of boyhood stuff with the likes of Jack, Skream and acting the maggot, but I reached the point where I wasn’t getting what I wanted from all of this. It was great to make money and that some people might recognise me and think what I was doing is cool. That’s not why I came into this. I want to write the album I said I would 10 years ago and never have.”

Having been through the DJ ringer, Lennon can pinpoint the issues he sees in the industry and our chat touches on mental health, cynical marketing, tastemakers and “social-media nonsense”.

It was great to make money and that some people might recognise me and think what I was doing is cool

“It’s like ‘get your photo taken in front of Panorama Bar’, boost the post; record a mix at this famous spot and put it online and boost the post. All of these things can be strategically laid out which when I was coming up, just wasn’t a thing. I did a mix for Fact Magazine in 2011 and it got really big feedback and was featured in their the end of the year mix list. I farted the mix out in my bedroom in Manchester in an hour or two hours and when it happened, I just nodded and went along with it. Now, if that happened to me tomorrow, I’d have my management make more of a deal of it.”

Mental health

The trappings of trying to establish yourself as an international DJ in a scene of visible peers is amplified by social media now too. Your failure to advance in your own career is reflected in the perceived success of others.

“The mental health issues in my industry are through the roof,” says Lennon. “I see it with tons of my peers. It’s affected me dramatically. It’s entirely because we wake up and the first thing we do as professionals is check our email or social media and if you’re not in a good place with your career, you’re instantly blasted by other people who are doing those things.

“Whether they’re happy or not is irrelevant. They seem to be doing things and you’re not and that’s where you’re head goes and before you know it, you’re walking around with a gloom of cloud around your head all day.”

Despite these dangerous methods of self-promotion, Lennon believes quality ultimately breaks through, citing recent breakthroughs for Shanti Celeste and Leon Vynehall as examples. He suggests that, now more than ever, DJs and producers have to be recommended and played by an established tastemaker DJ to accelerate their career.

“If you have a really good track, that’s fantastic, congratulations but someone is going to have to play it. Somebody is going to have to co-sign it, to push it, to give it that platform so that people will think ‘wow, this is the one’. If you’ve a Gerd Janson or a Sven Vath playing it at Time Warp, then that makes people want to get it and play it.”

A producer or DJ getting that level attention should then focus on one thing, according to Lennon – consistency.

“If people know you, they know what you like, you don’t need to show up to a DJ set and get everyone to go on their honkers and jump up to the beat. You just got to be consistent.”

The right people

For a DJ career, having the right booking and press agents is key. Lennon has gone through five different ones over the years and says his career struggled because of bad booking agents but often the relationship is a tenuous one, particularly if a career isn’t going according to plan.

It’s like a car accident, no one really knows who to blame,” he says. “My advice is to be aware of every move you’re making. Don’t hurry or rush into any decision. Be aware of who your agent is and what they’re doing. A year passes like that and things get booked so far in advance now, if your agent isn’t in the mix, or isn’t savvy enough to be able to get you on the platform, you’ll be watching people pass you by.”

Having started as a producer first, Lennon always wanted to be Quincy Jones, to make albums. DJing was a distraction that occupy his main focus no longer. He’s currently focused on finally finishing his debut album which involves trying to whittle down 487 recorded songs of various styles into a cohesive whole. “If Larry Levan produced The Pet Shop Boys” is how he describes the album, which will likely be released in 2018.

Key to its development, is Lennon’s quest to maintain his authenticity, something he’s been confronted with when his remix for Sky Ferreira, which was unexpectedly popular.

“I did it because the pay check was good and I had a week of studio time to do it. The next thing I know, every mad hatter label is asking me to do ‘something like the Sky Ferreira thing on our label’. I saw through that. If I had kept doing that, I wouldn’t have been able to look at myself in the mirror.”

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