When I was asked to be the tour blogger for Markus Schulz’s Scream bus tour this past spring, I was skeptical. I had been on a private jet with him once, and I had seen him play about a million gigs. I “grew up” with him in the Arizona scene, where he got his start in electronic dance music, but was at a distance when he blew up on the other side of the country and abroad.
Nevertheless, our history was what enabled my position on his star coach, visiting 17 U.S. cities in support of his artist album with two (later, three) busses bringing a full stage production, tour manager, stage manager, stage techs, visuals people, documentarians, merchandising and other artists. I envisioned hardships akin to camping and drama akin to The Jerry Springer Show, in addition to a world of spoils in which only mega DJs and rock stars live. (And indeed, I once did throw my shoes in response to a fight sparked by groupies.) Entrusted with writing about the headliner’s more intimate moments, while staying within the confines of a thorough confidentiality clause, “living the dream” also brought along some unanticipated nightmares related to toilets, the use of both hands, sleep, a sense of time and turbulence.
By design, DJs are more spoiled than rock stars, because the most they have to do is pack up their USB drive, hop on a plane, be escorted to their stage, play (mostly) other people’s music, then call it a night in their hotel room before hopping on the next plane. Markus decided to merge the rock-star life with EDM life by bringing a festival-style atmosphere to markets that typically don’t see it.
Markus slept on the bus while it was driving from city to city—like we all did—but had a full bedroom, shower and bathroom in the back, while everyone else slept in bunks, most of which came complete with TVs and DVD players. We rode a fine line between luxury and torture, as this brand-new, lightweight bus felt like the equivalent of attempting to sleep in a vibrator, and if I was dealing with insomnia and trying not to tumble several feet down into the hallway every night, Markus, in the bed at the back of the bus, was being thrown around even more so.
Upon arrival in each city, Markus directed the crew during setup and then typically disappeared to a hotel room until it was time for his meet-and-greet and/or subsequent performance, while the rest of us figured out where to shower, eat and poo. On the star coach, we at least had a shower and full kitchen. However, no bus allowed anything other than liquid in its toilets, and the star had definitely tested his coach on this point and got everyone in trouble with its driver early on.
On the road, every day was different. On occasion, the crew shared a hotel “shower room,” or the venue itself had a dressing room with a shower, or, when blessed with a night off, crew were given hotel rooms to share. That was heaven: to sleep in a full-size bed for a whole night, to take a long shower, to have the privacy of a bathroom, and not embarrassingly walk by an entire crew who knew what you were about to do, to brush one’s teeth without holding oneself up with the other hand. (Of course, after just a few days, even when we weren’t on the bus I felt like I was constantly moving and dealing with motion sickness.)
Tension inevitably built, and by the halfway point nerves were tested. Colds were spreading. Families were forming while others came apart. The videographers were missing the best parts of the drama as we fought behind the scenes. I blogged within the lines. And when it came to show time, none of this mattered.
At the end of the night, three or four of us headed back to the star coach once Markus had signed enough autographs. We checked out what “hospitality” had been loaded into our kitchen (Champagne, vodka, hummus, chips, bottled water) before tying up the fridge for the next bumpy ride, lest we wake up to a picnic on the floor, broken glass and homeless pickles. Sometimes we watched a movie in the living room, sometimes we listened to music, sometimes we bonded and laughed, and sometimes we fought and threw shoes. But always, we kept on a professional and positive face for the sake of the fans.
I went home with one bruise for every city we visited, and one of them was about the size of the bus. I went home with a sigh of relief that I could wake up knowing what time zone I was in, that I could make it through a night without wishing a sleep-belt had been invented, bumping into a TV if I turned over, or having anxiety that the object I was sleeping in might tumble off the side of a mountain. I went home missing the forced closeness with other people, but not their drama. And Markus, well, he went back to flying around the world with a laptop and USB drive.