OCD and mental health with DJ Swagger & Lukas Kommerz

5 Minute Read

In conjunction with Mental Health Awareness week. Diagnosed with OCD as a teenager, in an intimate conversation with Kommerz co-founder Lukas, DJ Swagger talks about his diagnosis, how it plays out and how he deals with it.

Over the years, DJ and producer DJ Swagger, a descendant of the first lo-fi house generation, has developed into a fully fleshed singer and songwriter (and jack of many, many other trades).

On March 22nd, he released his third solo album “Chemistry Forever” together with Berlin-based label Kommerz Records which showcases this. Swagger’s artistry and life has always been influenced and challenged by his mental condition. The artist was diagnosed with OCD as a teenager.


In an intimate conversation with Kommerz co-founder Lukas (Jonathan was on vacation) DJ Swagger talks about his diagnosis, how it plays out and how he deals with it. The interview took place in DJ Swagger’s studio in his hometown Bielefeld, Germany.


Lukas of Kommerz Records: I want to talk about your beginnings and the time when Jonathan and I first got in touch with your music, long before we started Kommerz Records. Let’s talk about the time when you were part of the lo-fi house hype as a young artist at only 16 years of age. How did it feel when you gained recognition around that time?

DJ Swagger: It felt pretty funny, actually. To those who don’t know, I started out making music under the name of Interstate. And around 2015/2016 there was a Facebook group called “Strictly LoFi”. And everybody we now know today from the scene – talking Mall Grab, DJ Seinfeld, Baltra, DJ Boring – they all kinda started out in that group. We were exchanging tunes on a daily. It was a fun time.    The DJ Swagger thing started out as a joke project for me to dump my stupid song ideas that I didn’t want to put out as Interstate or, so to say, in „serious“ manners. So it just kind of rolled from there. That was way before Instagram and all the other shenanigans. It was just SoundCloud, Facebook and a little bit of YouTube at the time. So it didn’t really feel like we were making success out of it. It was just fun.

Lukas:  Sounds like a perfect teenage dream. Even though we also know coming of age comes with its struggles – as we want to use this interview to address your mental situation.

DJ Swagger: Yeah, really! Most of the stuff that I’m dealing with today started out when I was 15, I think. It was kind of an outbreak, although maybe it was announcing itself before, but I hadn’t recognized it. This is also how and when I found music. The focus on making music helped me. Having something to do after school and not having to cope all the time.

Lukas:  So music came into your life as a remedy to deal with your mental condition?

DJ Swagger: Kind of. When I made music, I could just concentrate on that. And I was very happy that people picked it up and liked it. So that helped. Tremendously!

Lukas: I imagine having these kinds of problems can be quite hard for a teenager. How did you involve your surroundings into your personal situation?

DJ Swagger: I never had issues talking about it. I mean, it was a new situation for me and it was a little hard to be labeled as the weird kid in school. When it first hit me I was missing school for two months because I had to go to the clinic. That was something I didn’t speak about in school, but the people I was close with knew. I’m still very lucky to have a lot of people that I’m very close to surrounding me. In school I was in a special situation anyways. I skipped first grade and started off school in second grade. So I was a year younger than the other kids all the time. And when I got sick I voluntarily repeated a class to let go of some of the pressure. So I was back with my “normal” age group – but it still felt weird going back.

Lukas:  Now we’ve spoken a lot about how it feels and what it means to have a mental condition in your life. But not yet, what exactly we’re talking about.

DJ Swagger:  Yeah, I’m diagnosed with OCD, that is obsessive compulsive disorder. And what you would normally think of as OCD is someone washing their hands continuously or checking the stove 30 times before they can leave the house. But although these are also very, very draining outlets of the disease, it is much more than that. You usually have obsessions and you have compulsions. Both take up a lot of your time. So let’s strip it down to the example of washing hands. First and foremost, OCD can be categorized as an anxiety disorder. Therefore, somebody with OCD might come to the conclusion that „if I don’t wash my hands carefully enough, I have bacteria on me that could potentially lead to someone else’s (or my own) fatal infection and death“, so on and so forth. You have an obsessive, mostly existential fear that you cannot stop thinking about. Then you would develop a compulsion to relieve your anxiety, in this case, washing your hands. Compulsions not only demand constant attention, but also relieve your fears only for a very short time.

If you then start ruminating about whether you washed and disinfected your hands carefully enough, you’re already caught in the downward spiral and keep washing your hands even more, eventually disinfecting the doorknobs, the tables etc. etc. Given that all these actions take up a lot of effort, the tricky thing is, that you can never be completely sure if you really abandoned every possibility of your worst fear becoming reality. OCD and its anxiety seek for complete control and certainty, which, in our lives, is objectively impossible to achieve since life and its extent are just not completely controllable. So you would always ruminate about the next big disaster that is about to happen to you and try to circumvent it by ever recurring compulsions. OCD really is being stuck in the loophole of anxiety and temporary relief.

But obsessions and compulsions can also happen on a cognitive layer solely, and this is more of what I have. Carrying a lot of obsessive thoughts that I have to constantly think about with the compulsion to ruminate about them. Sometimes I have a couple very, very dense obsessive thoughts that I cannot stop ruminating about especially when OCD flares up. There are times when they don’t even reach me, but then at other points in time, I have to think about them 24/7.
It starts with waking up and ends with going to sleep. Sometimes even in my dreams, I circulate about those topics.

The annoying thing is that the obsession always strikes where you are the most vulnerable and so you would permanently be confronted with your worst fears and uncertainties around the clock.

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Lukas: Sounds like a lot of weight to carry. You mentioned earlier that you have a very good and close social environment here in your hometown, Bielefeld. How important are they for your music?

DJ Swagger:  I mean, as of now and until now the city has been my home, my family has been my home and my friends have been my home. And if you have a home to come back to, having a home you appreciate and feel safe at, is a resource so valuable, I can’t even put it into words. Having that home always helped me to get back on my feet. But at the same time I should be mindful of not sinking too deep into the comfort zone because then inflexibility might strike me. I’m planning to move somewhere for my master’s degree which would be a big step but also an achievement for me. That’s within my plans now.

Lukas: Before going somewhere else, let’s look back on the creative process for your upcoming album “Chemistry Forever”, which has a huge relation to the city. To me the record sounds like you’ve been leaving your comfort zone musically already while still being deeply rooted locally.

DJ Swagger: Yeah, well, where to start. I started working on the album before my previous album “Minor Major Grand Schemes” was released. And I knew I wanted to top that musically, because I was kinda unhappy with certain aspects of the previous album. Simultaneously I also started playing electric and double bass and started to pick up the guitar again. I studied theory and took singing lessons as I wanted to express myself in a new way, which I couldn’t really do on the previous album hence the lack of capabilities. Furthermore I involved more musicians from my hometown, especially since there are so many great musicians here. Also, being from an electronic music background, I just started to peek into other local music scenes. We got a jazz scene, a blues scene, a rock scene and many, many more, which is quite astonishing given the rather small size of Bielefeld.

Lukas: During the production process of the album we worked together closely as a team where I was able to see how you had to go through certain phases that really affected the progress in the making of the album. Though from my perspective, I always saw how you were working so intensely forward to come to the terms you wanted to with the project. Is there a song on the album which you would say reflects the dynamics of creating „Chemistry Forever“ the most?

DJ Swagger: So the thing with OCD or (most) mental health conditions in general is the impulse to get rid of your bad thoughts. May it be distraction, coping, sometimes even intoxicating or whatnot. In my case I would stuff myself with work to keep my mind busy and focused on other things than my obsessions.



I stuffed myself with so much work and responsibility and pressure that it got a hold of me eventually. That is a pattern I realized for myself, which I am constantly working on breaking, and it got a lot better with time. I’ve been to the clinic twice during my adulthood and achieved huge advances and knowledge over my disease and got to know some of my closest friends which I’m eternally grateful for. But yeah, during the first two weeks in clinic, which I think was in 2021, I wrote “Speith Keith”, a jazz tune and the closing song on “Chemistry Forever”. At the clinic they had a music room, where I was jamming on the piano. Inside of my capabilities, of course, as I’m a bad piano player. But I got to write down the song and liked it. It went through many, many different stages.  So altogether, from scribbling down the notes in the clinic to having the full record, there were eight musicians from Bielefeld involved in it. Seeing that song come alive is maybe the best thing for me from the entire album. It was made out of suffering and led into hope and happiness. To this day, “Speith Keith” is also my favorite song I’ve ever written.

Given the topic of this interview, being my mental condition OCD, I can say that I’m putting a lot of dedication into understanding my fears and overcoming them. Given all the struggle this brings with it, I can say that learning about yourself, the people you surround yourself with and how you adapt to situations is quite a chemistry, isn’t it? Also, OCD is highly treatable. If you find yourself in a situation where you consider having the disease and struggling with it, it is always worth gathering your resources and seeking help, eventually therapy. I’m having huge successes in therapy and I can say going back to a normal life is indeed possible, which sometimes could be unthinkable inside an OCD flare-up. Understanding how anxiety works and how to deal with it is a huge improvement of life quality and can lead into a more reliable and happy future (even without being diagnosed). For anybody who’s interested, feel free check out www.ocdland.com (the site is in German) for more precise information, reports and community around OCD. Take good care of yourself and don’t be too hard on you.

Lukas:  Thanks, Swagger, and to the rest: Go check out “Chemistry Forever”!

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