QUINTON CAMPBELL: ‘When shit wasn’t going right for me it was almost impossible to envisage ever being happy again’
It’s 5.30pm on a Wednesday evening and pretty clear that most people have banished all thoughts of tomorrow in favour of today’s summery pint. Quinton Campbell is squinting through the late May rays at a terrace table across from the National Concert Hall. At this point in the calendar, we’re (foolishly, in retrospect) assuming that this is one of those rare slivers of sunshine to be savoured, so it seems fitting that the unexpected heat spurs his first thought: “I think external factors, good or bad, really aren’t as important as they seem. What’s important is how we choose to process them.”
It’s 5.30pm on a Wednesday evening and pretty clear that most people have banished all thoughts of tomorrow in favour of today’s summery pint. Quinton Campbell is squinting through the late May rays at a terrace table across from the National Concert Hall. At this point in the calendar, we’re (foolishly, in retrospect) assuming that this is one of those rare slivers of sunshine to be savoured, so it seems fitting that the unexpected heat spurs his first thought: “I think external factors, good or bad, really aren’t as important as they seem. What’s important is how we choose to process them.” This comes with a weight of experience. Just over a week before our interview, Quinton used his platform as one of the country’s most in-demand DJ/Producers to take to social media and post a remarkably candid admission of his own mental health experiences, reaching thousands of people, delving into the past but most importantly reflecting his current state; “Things are far better now”. The post, shared on Facebook, came as a shock to many of his followers; even those who know him well. For a man who is warm, humble and easy-going in person, and whose online profile is drenched in music-related positivity, this was certainly a departure. “The reaction was overwhelming to be honest – minutes after it was posted the messages started coming in. So many people telling me they’d been in that place, or that their partner had been there, or someone they know. Mental health affects us all.” Social media offers an underused opportunity to engage with fans in a meaningful way, but what’s often overlooked is what happens after the courageous choice to open up about something so personal: “It hasn’t been easy – I feel invested in these people who have shared their stuff with me, and that can bring on its own stress… but on the whole it’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever been able to do, and I knew the time was right to do it. There is a direct link between starting conversation and reducing stigma – we need to be more open about these things.” Reaching this point has been a taxing journey, and over the course of an hour and a bit he speaks with a fresh confidence about times in his life when he was in danger of being derailed completely. Quinton’s eagerness to share his experiences, and the enthusiastic advice he’s willing to give come only as a result of what was a tortuous burden on his health for some time. He describes at various points: wild mood swings, emotional volatility, substance abuse and a tendency to mask his own personal concerns in social situations – often being completely drained after spending time out and about. Photography: Elaine Ellis Seemingly endless sequences of mental anguish collided at one particularly low point; an attempt to take his own life. As he describes this period, his words thud like a hammer blow and suddenly I’m acutely aware of the people at the tables either side of ours, but before I can process it I’m caught up in the comfortable flow of his catharsis; a reminder of just how natural this type of dialogue should be. It’s a stark landmark in a prolonged process of self-doubt and pain that he has battled. The ‘episode’, which he reluctantly dubs it, lasted years and he passionately advocates a number of therapies that have helped him deal with it – therapies and tools he developed after being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and being subsequently treated through Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. He explains how he still turns to these tools on a daily basis, but his passion makes the rituals sound much more a source of pleasure than chore. Despite a particularly negative experience when first seeking help in his early twenties, Quinton is keen to point out that he found comfort in finally being diagnosed years later through the HSE, even if the relief wasn’t obvious at the time. “It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I started feeling better, as those six months around that time were a major blur… but once there was something tangible to work with (the diagnosis), I could learn techniques and better equip myself. To be honest, I would say that I no longer fit the criteria, but I would also say that it does require a lot of effort to keep on top of. I think anyone who has suffered with their mental health understands that maintaining good habits and looking after yourself is key.” With a blissful grin he talks about how, earlier in the day, he went for a dander around the Botanic Gardens to clear the head. For him, finding the right work-life balance has been essential, and to achieve this he often looks to nature, creativity, or simply making some progress on anything that he’s started. If any of that sounds a bit vague, he also talks at length about meditatively savouring a cup of tea or even just taking the time to make a ‘savage’ dinner. Photography: Lewis McClay A few years back, while he was forging a successful career as a Sales Manager for a web-design company, he discovered that the 9 – 5 (and the rest…) grind that these types of jobs entail didn’t suit him, and so… he doesn’t work 9 – 5 anymore. This gives him the space to focus on music, and just one look at his gig calendar demonstrates how important that decision has proven to be. These realisations have dropped gradually, but this is a mind which is now clearly more comfortable in its own skull. This conversation seems more timely than usual and unsurprisingly, Quinton chose to share his message in the midst of a series of deeply saddening events in the world of music and the arts, with a number of well-known artists taking their own lives in a short space of time. It’s something that resonated with him, and when probed on whether there might be a connection between art and mental health, he speaks assuredly on what has become a divisive topic of late: “Artists think in the extreme, and great art connects with people on an emotional level. In order to make that connection you have to be emotionally vulnerable, which can take its own toll.” His relationship with music is very much linked to his own mental health, “I used to listen to heavy metal for a release when I was younger, and in my early teens it was hip hop. Now, I gravitate towards loop based electronic stuff – I love hypnotic, machine driven rhythms. They can be hugely therapeutic.” Given that much of his art involves standing in front of hundreds of party-goers week in week out, he explains that it is precisely there where great pleasure and anguish can sometimes collide, sometimes serving as a trigger to heightened anxiety: “The function of a DJ is to provide a space with a soundtrack. It’s weird to be considered the focal point – the dancers should be the focal point, but increasingly these days I’m noticing more and more phones recording me when I’m playing. It can give the impression that people aren’t really letting go, and are placing more emphasis on getting content for social media. This can make it difficult for everyone involved to access a state of flow, which is what dance music is all about.” It’s a complicated relationship, but one he seems to understand more and more. It’s clear that this self-awareness has emerged after a long and arduous process of analysis, prompted by a period of pain which mercilessly refused to reveal its origins for some time. What’s striking, however, is how knowledgeable Quinton is about his own mental state; his strengths and weaknesses; his emotions, and exactly where his head sits in the world. Conversations like these are pretty rare, and more’s the pity. With a bit of ironic reflection on the perils of social media and the dangers of alcohol, a glance at the watch confirms it’s time for Quinton to go earn his keep. Just before he heads off, we discuss the jam-packed summer of gigs he has ahead of him, including his (now much admired) Boiler Room debut at AVA Festival (see above). His excitement is pretty infectious and I take the long way home with an inspired pace in my step after he leaves me with this clinker… “That’s the thing; life is fucking tough! We’re all bound to suffer at some stage, it’s inevitable unfortunately. And at the time, it can be difficult to see how or when it all might change. When shit wasn’t going right for me it was almost impossible to envisage ever being happy again, never mind having a career doing what I love. But we can change how we feel when we change how we think. I really believe it’s all down to mindset. The bad times as well as the good times are going to happen regardless – just try and take them in your pace, remain non-judgmental and show yourself some compassion. I know that sounds basic but it’s easily forgotten.” Quinton is playing a rake of gigs around the place in the coming weeks. Check out his website and social channels for info.