Reduced By Charlie Dark

The soundtrack to a reduced frame of mind and an expanding resource to encourage better self-careExplore the archive.

Students of early hip-hop may be aware of the small print on the back sleeve of LL Cool K’s 1985 album Radio: “Reduced by Rick Rubin”, in homage to his pioneering minimalist arrangement. It’s with Rick’s same approach to musical minimalism that this series emerges: stripping sound back to its most transcendental, restorative and atmospheric textures to block out the noise and aid focus, attunement and relaxation.

Discussions have come a long way in recent years, but there still remains a taboo around not being okay. To accompany each audio presentation, we’ll speak to the creator about their experiences with self-care and, if they’re comfortable sharing, mental health. We’ll unpack personal processes, explore the nuances of self-care across cultures and raise awareness of charities with a personal connection. We hope this will grow into an evolving resource of knowledge and experience to provide solace, inspiration, reassurance and company in difficult times.

Mindfulness and self-care sit at the intersection of Charlie Dark‘s work in both music and exercise. A man with many strings to his bow— as well as being a DJ, radio host, poet, public speaker and mentor, he’s also the founder of London’s Run Dem Crew and a qualified yoga teacher—in addition to balance being key, putting his health and happiness first has become increasingly important.

For his Reduced Mix he asks us to ‘submit to the sound’ and ‘engage the five senses’, leaving us to question how we feel and what we’ve learnt after listening. He describes the mix as “a combination of tracks that have soothed the soul during lockdown with the aim of taking people on a journey. An easy entry point for the newcomer to this world, not too challenging for the ear but intriguing enough for the veteran.”

Alongside a candid interview about his approach to self-care and his relationship with mental health, Charlie’s paired his mix with Black Minds Matter, a UK charity who provide free mental health services for the Black community, as well as working to break down the stigmas around mental health in those communities.

Charlie plays We Out Here Festival 2021 (19th-22nd Aug).

We now premiere all our mixes a week early on Mixcloud. Subscribe to our channel to listen first, download all mixes, and ensure that the artists included in each one gets paid. Read more about our decision here.

First a nice easy one: what does self-care mean to you?

Self-care in my world means making happiness and health a priority over everything else. If I don’t have those things in place then I can’t function in the other areas of my life. It means not burning the candle at both ends and making sure I’m spiritually centred in all of my actions and decisions. Learning not to say ‘Yes’’ to every request that comes my way has been a life saver especially over the last 12 months. Waking up in the morning and reminding myself that ‘I am enough’ despite what the world outside of my front door might make me think.

What does your daily or weekly self-care routine look like? 

I spend at least an hour a day playing my favourite records in my record room and making time to dance. I find dancing liberating and uplifting, I wouldn’t say that I’m the best dancer in the world but I do enjoy it and I can hold a groove. Taking time to move outside is also important, it could be a run, a walk or a cycle. I call it my thinking time and can often be found in full blown conversations with myself much to the amusement of my partner. Thinking on the run is where I create my best ideas. 

Another important part of my weekly self care routine is taking time to go record digging, I find it therapeutic for the brain and calming on the nerves and I love everything about it. I have a couple of shops that I like to check out as much for the records as the characters and people who frequent them. It’s something I’ve been doing for the best part of 37 years and it keeps me balanced and mentally sharp. Yoga also plays a big part in the weekly routine, I trained as a teacher two years ago and it’s been a life changing addition to the general maintenance of mind, body. and soul. 

Can you tell us about the self-care spot at home you’ve photographed and how you have made it an optimum spot?

My record room is where I go to recharge and unwind, it’s filled with objects and memories that make me smile and a killer sound system that brings out the finer details in the music. In some ways it’s the ultimate DJ box, as a teenager I spent a large amount of time in my bedroom learning to DJ and pretending I was spinning at some mega warehouse party. Every time I step into that room I’m taken back to those early days when I was just starting out, I’m convinced that spending time in that room keeps me young at heart. 

Can you tell us about the outdoor location you’ve photographed where you go to find tranquility.

I like finding hidden moments of nature deep within urban environments and this trail is one of the places where I like to visit. It’s like an artery of calmness running through a sea of concrete, gentrification and redevelopment. 

What benefits has self-care brought you over the years? 

It brought me back from a pretty dark place and has given me purpose, friendships and experiences that I definitely wouldn’t have had without the introduction of self-care and mindfulness into my life. Most importantly it’s introduced me to a supportive global community that I can call on when times get tough.

Are there any specific techniques you favour or come back to more frequently? 

Running, Meditation and Yoga play a big part in the daily routine. The ability to take time out of a busy day to shut down the mind and focus on self feels quite revolutionary during current times. Recently I’ve also been investigating a technique called ‘Way Of The Rope’ which is a great Instagram account to follow particularly if mobility and flexibility are one of your priorities. So simple but so rewarding. 

What advice would you have for anyone who is either sceptical about the benefits of self-care, or is new to it and feels intimidated by the wealth of options available? 

The Wellness world can be terribly intimidating particularly when you first start out. I definitely started my journey with a head full of preconceptions and fears but one thing I tell my students is there is no movement we are going to do in the class that they haven’t already tried as a child. Taking care of your mind and body is something I believe we are naturally born with but over time is eased out of our minds by the pressures of society.

My advice is to find a good teacher in whatever field you are interested in, one that you can relate to, who can break down the inner depths of the practice in a language you can understand. Absorb the bits that work for you, the rest will come in time. At the end of the day ‘Wealth is health’ and there is nothing wrong with investing in yourself. Most importantly don’t worry about what other people are thinking. In a Yoga studio no one is worried about the state of your feet or the shape of your pose, in fact in my classes falling out of poses is encouraged. It’s not about touching your toes, it’s what you learn about yourself on the way down. 

What was the idea behind your Reduced set?

Of all the mixes I’ve been asked to do over the years this was by far the hardest to put together. Rhythm is at the heart of everything I do so it was hard to not include too many rhythmical elements over the course of the journey. The version presented is the third attempt after two false starts but I’m really happy with how it came out. It’s a combination of tracks that have soothed the soul during lockdown with the aim of taking people on a journey. An easy entry point for the newcomer to this world, not too challenging for the ear but intriguing enough for the veteran. In some ways it’s a Dj set for the start of the night and reminds me of the sounds I’d hear in the chill out room at the warehouse parties I attended in my early clubbing days. I’d like the listeners to feel relaxed but energised by the final note almost as if they’ve been bathed in sound. 

How would you advise listening to your set?

I advise lying on the floor with headphones and submitting to the sound but I purposely tried to make something that you could listen to on the move, in the car and on the commute. My advice is to engage the five senses and to document how you feel after listening, what did you learn about yourself through the experience, who will you share those learnings with and what impact do you hope it to have? Music is to be shared so if one person listens to it and recommends it to another person then my mission is complete. 

What does good mental health mean to you?

Smiling for the majority of the day, walking with joy in the heart, a bop in the step and looking forward to what every day may bring. Keeping good daily practices that protect the brain such as not sleeping with my phone in the room, allowing time to myself in the morning before engaging with the world, limiting my engagement with social media platforms and being wise about who I follow. A big one for me has been the daily  use of positive affirmations and learning my triggers so I don’t place myself in situations or around people that are detrimental to my mood.  

Are there any experiences with mental health that you’d like to share to provide comforts or connections with others who are/have suffered? Dark times you’ve left behind you, or difficult moments you still struggle to overcome?

My time in the music industry has been pretty soul destroying at times and definitely impacted my mental health in a negative way. However, out of darkness comes light and my lowest point is what kickstarted my running career and the birth of Run Dem Crew so I’m actually very grateful for the experiences I’ve had. 

Anxiety is something that has been ever present in my life particularly during my Dj career but again I’ve learnt my triggers and how to manage the moments.

What advice would you give to people who are suffering from poor mental health and either can’t understand why or don’t know where to turn? 

If in doubt, talk it out. There is no shame in talking to an expert or seeking help. It’s definitely ok to admit that you don’t feel ok. 

Based on experiences where others have helped you, what advice would you give to those who are close to someone who’s suffering but doesn’t know how best to support them. 

How is mental health viewed in your own culture or immediate surroundings? Have you faced challenges getting support if/when you needed it from your community?

The  importance of positive mental health and discussions around trauma are not common place in the black community, In fact I’d go as far to say that in my experiences there is almost a shame associated with talking about mental health. However organisations like Black Minds Matter are doing great work in opening up the conversation and I’m optimistic about the future. 

Do you think being part of the music industries has had any implications for your mental health? If so, what have you done to cope with it?

As a Dj you are always thinking two or three records ahead, always chasing the next gig and navigating the highs and lows of being an entertainer. One thing I’ve learnt from my Yoga practice is to spend more time in the now, taking each moment as it comes and taking time to enjoy them. You can spend an incredible amount of time and energy focusing on a future that hasn’t happened whilst ignoring the good stuff happening right before your eyes.  

Are there any changes you’d like to see to help look after collective and individual mental health in the music industries?

Progress is definitely being made and there is still a way to go but I’m positive about the future and the conversations being had. 

Are there any initiatives or sources of knowledge doing important work in mental health that have benefited you, that others should check out?

Mind Journal is a cool resource and the work that Black Minds Matter do is life saving. 

Can you tell us more about your selected charity, the work it does and why it holds a personal significance? 

Black Minds Matter are doing great work in the Black community providing free mental health services and more importantly breaking down the stigmas around mental health in those communities. I love what they do and only wish there was an organisation like that around when I was in my teens. My life trajectory would have been very different if I’d had help much earlier in my life. Many people are influenced either subconsciously or unconsciously by Black Culture and it’s important to care as much for the minds of the creators as the work created. 

We now premiere all our mixes a week early on Mixcloud. Subscribe to our channel to listen first, download all mixes, and ensure that the artists included in each one gets paid. Read more about our decision here.

Charlie plays We Out Here Festival 2021 (19th-22nd Aug).

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