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.
There’s a deeply sincere and personal way in which Charles Olisanekwu connects with music. It’s a kind of therapy; a means of escapism; and a way of tapping into a wider spiritual energy. Operating under the guise of DJ Winggold, he’s the co-founder of party and mix series Unbound Events, which has played host to some of the most exciting DJs of the moment – DJs who are also harnessing a dynamism and transmitting a message of positivity through their sets, just like Charles does.
Though you’d normally find him dabbling in dark, grungy and percussive electronics, he’s also a lover of meditative, downtempo sounds – ones that help you to tune out and switch off. That’s partly down to Charles’ “normal” job – one that’s even more demanding than his musical endeavours. Day-to-day he’s a lawyer, a vocation that comes with its own wealth of challenges and pressures.
Juggling these two seemingly divergent parts of his life led to a particularly intense 2021 – his ‘Waking Dream In Bloom’ mix was recorded as a way to process his emotions as the year came to an end. Charles describes the mix as a ‘tapestry of sounds designed to act as an emotional balm’, which explores his fascination with the duality and dichotomy of dark and light, and how these multilayered, contrasting sounds juxtapose to create something emotive and soul-stirring.
Alongside a deeply candid interview, which discusses burning out, the importance of balance and how he’s still on the path to discovering the true meaning of good mental health, he’s chosen to pair his mix and interview with Black Minds Matter, a UK-based charity that help to connect Black individuals and families with a network of black therapists.
First a nice easy one: what does self-care mean to you?
Taking time out for yourself in our hectic, mad world to take part in soul-nourishing activities. Self-care is anything that gets you to reconnect with your self and that takes you out of the constant fray we’re part of in this crazy thing called life. For me, that includes meditation, yoga, warm baths, exercise, reading, listening to music and spending time with friends.
Self-care varies depending on the individual, but anything can count as self-care as long as it’s practised with the intention of prioritising your mental health.
What does your daily or weekly self-care routine look like?
I’m really bad at consistently practising self-care, but I do try and do a few things during the week. I practise daily meditation and try to have at least three at-home morning yoga sessions during the week as they keep me really grounded. I’m naturally predisposed to being in my head, so I find that yoga’s really good at bringing me back to my body.
I’ve been meditating on and off for around five years now and try to squeeze in at least 15 mins each morning, but a busy schedule often doesn’t allow for it. My mindfulness journey started shortly before I started Unbound Events (the night I run along with Aidan Ray) and I absolutely wouldn’t have been able to juggle it with life if I didn’t also have a meditation practice.
Listening to music and focusing on my breath used to be a go-to for me, but my relationship with music has changed a bit over the past few years. Before the pandemic, I didn’t have as much time to read as I’d have liked, so I’ve made a concerted effort to get back into it. The feeling of losing yourself in a book and opening your mind up to so many different avenues is so engrossing and allows you to step outside of yourself for a little while.
Can you tell us about the self-care spot at home you’ve photographed and how have you made it an optimum spot?
It’s me in front of the view where I spend my mornings before work, meditating and taking time to journal. After I meditate, I try to start off every morning with a cup of green tea and a coffee before jotting down any thoughts or trying to process emotions through writing, but again, I’m pretty bad at getting into a regular practice so often don’t leave enough time.
There’s something about looking out onto the London skyline that’s rejuvenating and allows some light to seep into my worn down, often desiccated husk of a self.
In our world where capitalism has made everyone a product and we’re judged by our ability to produce, it’s important to step out of the cycle, slow down and refocus. There’s so much that demands our attention and that’s even more the case when you’re involved in any creative practice or running passion projects. Taking a breath and honing in on the stillness within allows you to get in touch with the self that exists under all the distractions.
Can you tell us about the outdoor location you’ve photographed where you go to find tranquility.
When things are high tide for me and the pressures of a busy lifestyle get too overwhelming (which happens far too often…), I like to escape out to nature. I’ve included a pic from a lovely trip to the Lake District with one of my close pals Ben. We’re creatures that aren’t designed to spend all our time inside, with our ancestors spending virtually all their time outside. There’s something deeply grounding about being out in nature, like it reminds you that there’s a whole world out there and your problems are pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Taking a step back from the constant carousel of notifications, likes and constant hustling allows you to replenish what’s called soft attention. Social media companies have us in a grip and our brains have been rewired, so our stress responses are constantly triggered. I’m pretty sensitive emotionally and am fairly sure I’ve got ADHD brain, so constant connectivity alongside a never-ending to-do list often has my brain in a fritz. Being out in nature acts as a kind of light reboot for your mind.
Closer to home, I’ve also included a pic from the Olympic Park which is the closest park to my house. I don’t go so much now, but it was a nice haven during lockdown and it’s always nice to pass through during summer. London could be better when it comes to green spaces, but it’s nice to have an oasis of sorts in the concrete jungle.
What benefits has self-care brought you over the years?
Far too many 🙂 One of the main benefits of self-care, mindfulness or literally ANY kind of engaging activity is that it allows you to go into a state of flow, releasing dopamine and serotonin in your brain in the process. When you take the time to really hone in on something you love, entering that flow state causes everything to melt away, time seems to stop and you’re just able to go in deep.
Our attention has become increasingly commodified and, in our instant gratification culture, there’s a lot to be said for taking a step back and allowing yourself to make time for the things that you love outside of the daily grind.
The feeling of flow is the same feeling you get on a good night when you’re dancing for hours, the crowd’s on point and everything comes together perfectly. That being said – and this might sound boring lol – but I’m actually quite uncomfortable with the more reckless, hedonistic aspect of the industry. After quite a grim period trying to escape mental health problems by going out far too much, I’m a firm believer that there are other ways to experience that flow state. Obvs people should go out to a degree they feel comfortable with, but life’s about balance at the end of the day!
I constantly feel pulled in a lot of different directions and, pre-pandemic, I was a chronic people pleaser so never really left time to nourish myself. Self-care has meant moving with more intentionality and trying to save my energy to redirect it towards me. Still working on it tbh, but this way, I can try and be more present in the relationships in my life.
Are there any specific techniques you favour or come back to more frequently?
I’ve tried really hard to deepen my meditation practice – not in a soulless, corporate way but in a way where I can feel connected with my subconscious, knowing why I fall into certain negative patterns. Amidst all the noise of life, it’s so easy to feel disconnected, adrift and in misalignment with your inner compass.
object blue summed it up really well in her own Reduced interview where she really opened up, but there’s a tendency for self-care to be repackaged in a vacuous, capitalistic manner. Institutions bang on about mindfulness, but success is still measured by how hard we work. It’s basically co-opting the movement so they can pretend to care about workers, essentially hiding the fact that they don’t have deeper values beyond making profit.
Meditation allows you to get in touch with the flow state and step outside of time for a bit, stripping away everything extraneous. It’s not always this amazing flowy thing; even after a while meditating, it only recently clicked that the goal is to return to yourself rather than trying to silence meandering thoughts. Your mind will wander but the real power lies in being able to note the thoughts and bring it back to the subconscious.
Working out is also a great one. Tbh, any form of physical activity is great as it gets the endorphins flowing, gets your body moving and removes stress toxins from your body. It’s why dancing is such a release. I’ve only ever worked corporate jobs and we’re just not designed to be stuck in one place for 8+ hours a day. Anything that gets you up and moving is fab, which is why yoga is amazing. I try to hit the gym three times a week, but if anything, it’s more for the mental benefit – note how I said try!
Are there any self-care techniques that are native to your community or heritage and how are they viewed in the global context of the self-care movement?
Not so much with my heritage and community per se, but I’ve been raised Christian and definitely believe in the existence of some form of higher power. Ultimately, I believe there’s a universal energy running through every living thing in the world and this energy is reflected through everything on an atomic level. This is the underlying concept behind mindfulness; meditation and any activity that sees you tapping into that flow state is just a way of being attuned with that energy. It’s this basic concept that’s been co-opted by the watered-down mindfulness movement that’s ultimately a veneer for getting society to achieve maximum efficiency under the guise of ‘caring for your mind’.
As a counterpoint to this, listening to and playing music has – til recently – been a form of self-care for me. My relationship to it has kinda changed now that it’s become more like work, but my approach to DJ’ing is to imbue a sense of spirituality into it. It started as a way to channel energy after being depressed so, staying true to that, I try to reflect that energy when playing out.
My typical style is quite dark, grungy and tribalistic, but it’s all as a vehicle of spreading positivity; our bodies are hardwired to move, so this reflects the timeless, ritualistic connection that we as humans have had with music for millenia now. Tapping into that wider energy, music activates something primal in us, so when I play, I see it as channeling the spirit of ancestors and representing the long lineage of Black art.
What advice would you have for anyone who is either sceptical about the benefits of self-care, or is new to it and feels intimated by the wealth of options available.
Start by taking a few deep breaths. That’s always a good place to start. Then, have a think about if you’d like life to be more manageable – if the answer’s no, then good luck to you, you brave soul. If you actually do want to improve your quality of life, then consider the ways you could make time to slot in any activities that you feel would bring you joy.
There’s a misconception that self-care is all crossed leg, waving incense til the room is clouded with smoke, saying ohmmm, growing out dreadlocks and saying ‘Namaste’ at every opportunity, but that’s not the case at all. You could do all that, but self-care really can be anything that puts you into a relaxed state of mind.
Mindfulness is a great help, but you don’t even need to take up meditation or engage in the deeper, spiritual side of it – anything that gets you flowing and in touch with your inner self is a win. Don’t be hard on yourself if you pick something up and can’t keep a consistent flow. Make it something that you’d enjoy so it’s easy to do, try and get into an intentional habit with it, but don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t regularly do it. As long as you keep coming back to it, it’ll gradually become part of your routine.
What was the idea behind your Reduced set?
It’s a tapestry of sounds designed to act as an emotional balm. It’s lush and beautiful overall, but there are some dark, weird and abrasive moments since I’m fascinated by the concept of duality and the dichotomy of dark and light. We contain multitudes within so this reflects that.
I recorded it as a way to process my emotions after a particularly intense 2021 that was an emotional rollercoaster. I feel like I’ve quite suddenly been thrust into a pretty wild position, all whilst working a demanding job as a lawyer and working through mental health stuff. I basically dove into music as a way to avoid the mounting responsibilities, so used creating mixes as a way to manage tough emotions. Not really the best way to deal with them, especially when still recovering from emotional trauma…
Having gone from mainly playing at Unbound to playing bucket list gigs in a short timeframe, I put pressure on myself to create multilayered mixes that tell a story whilst also channeling my emotions into them. It’s pretty draining, and given that I’d said yes to a lot of things, there was a point when I went quite far down the rabbit hole. As such, this marks the closing of a chapter for me – it’s essentially the last time I use a mix/music as an emotional release valve. It’s a reset.
Everything I share adds to the wider narrative of Unbound which is all about minority representation and the actualization of self through music. With this mix, I took some deep breaths, kept things loose and let it flow; what came out was the core sounds and moods forming the palette that Unbound draws from. I used three decks to play around with textures and live instrumentation, evoking big emotions in a dramatic fashion. I think I subconsciously wanted to evoke what mental health and life can be like; it’s not always easy but things do get better. It’s the sound of embracing the present moment and tapping into gratitude. By the end, you should feel mentally revitalised, like your brain has just had a spritz.
How would you advise listening to your set?
On a walk, meditating, sitting down and quietly setting intentions, journaling, taking a bath or kicking back and relaxing. It’d be pretty nice to go out on a long walk somewhere in nature with it in the background, but it would work in any relaxing or laidback environment.
What does good mental health mean to you?
HA, I wish I knew :S I guess it’s when you’re in a relatively settled state, when things flow fairly easily and life isn’t a gnashing grind that constantly tears you up from inside. When everything’s in alignment, your relationships are in order, your energy’s balanced and the speed bumps of life don’t throw you off course spiralling into the abyss.
I wish I could say that was my state of mind most of the time, but unfortunately, I’ve been through and still experience some pretty psychologically challenging situations. It’s definitely better now and, after a long time directing my energy to Unbound but neglecting myself, I’m working on it and I’m seeing the benefits of actively focusing on self care. Unbound started as a direct result of being depressed working a job as a corporate lawyer and I’ve been through what are, in hindsight, some insane circumstances under crazy levels of pressure; when I look back, it’s pretty astounding that I’ve managed to push through with Unbound and remain semi-functioning (honestly, just about).
Been trying to claw my way to a state of feeling OK, but it’s not always easy. If you really want to prioritise self-care and good mental health then you learn that you’ve gotta keep chipping away. It thankfully gets easier the more you work on it, but it’s all a process. Good mental health is when you’re able to shrug off the debris that life throws your way and can dust yourself off and keep going. There are always gonna be tough moments in life – it’s not about ignoring that, but rather, picking yourself up and continuing to move forward.
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?
I’ve been through some pretty dark times. I used to minimise my suffering by rationalising it and telling myself that, in the grand scheme of things, what I was going through wasn’t that bad. It took a while to learn that your feelings are valid, no matter how trivial they may seem. You’re the only one experiencing the subjective feeling of pain that you’re going through so, if it stings, then it stings, regardless of if other people’s suffering appears to be of a greater magnitude.
Initially drawing from the rage and otherness inherent in the minority experience, the underlying purpose behind Unbound is to provide a space for minorities and to explore the values of Afrofuturism, which is all about crafting a new reality through art. From the start, I’ve made it my mission to uplift minorities (and talent from all background) in the industry – prior to June 2020 and even now, you’d see lineups without any PoCs on them.
Given these goals and the energy expended highlighting social issues, I’d previously neglected myself and burned out multiple times over by working myself into the ground pursuing them. Since there’s a continuous churn of stuff and in addition to relentless responsibilities in my day job, there’ve been points when I’ve been suicidal due to feeling low, overwhelmed and as if I’m unable to be there for myself. Rather than actually wanting to go through with it, it’s more ideation stemming from the idea that it’d be better to be dead rather than carrying the burden of life.
I didn’t work on my poor mental health before starting Unbound and dove right in, using it as an escape. I got sucked into a whirlwind, relied on it as an outlet and burrowed in deep as the things started to escalate, though I didn’t really clock that my responsibilities were steadily increasing. Given that I came in at a particularly low ebb, this was a recipe for disaster. I took a fairly scattershot approach and simultaneously tried to tentatively work on my mental health, but working all the time and spending downtime socialising with friends to stave away hurt meant there wasn’t really time to connect with myself.
I still struggle tbh but, as an optimist, I try to push forwards regardless/in the face of tough circumstances, even when it feels hopeless. I’ve always dabbled in a lot of different pursuits, so I’m used to being constantly busy, but this is definitely a new level of demanding. Being naturally quite disorganised, I’m trying to combat it by inserting some rigour and routine into my approach towards self-care.
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?
A good way of trying to overcome is by stepping away and attempting to disentangle yourself from the feelings. Our feelings don’t actually dictate how we live our lives; it’s how we choose to react that does. Obviously, if it’s cripplingly bad then you should definitely reach out for help and, if it’s particularly unbearable, then it should be of the professional variety. However, stepping back, examining and evaluating how you choose to approach the situation goes a long way. You of course can’t intellectualise or rationalise feelings, but getting some perspective is a good way of reducing the pain.
Tell a friend. However, friends only go so far as they’re connected to the situation. They’re your friend for a reason, so they’ll naturally agree with you and back you up – they may not be able to objectively see where you’re repeating a negative pattern.
It’s cliché, but stuff does get better. Stepping back lets you see that life’s a giant circle and what you’re going through is a little dot that’ll be a blip in the wider context. At the time, emotions feel so intense and immediate – especially when it’s been going for a long time – but if you think back to other hard times you’ve had, they eventually do fade. That ofc doesn’t help you in the moment, so take a breath, and take some time to try and gather the energy to tackle the problem.
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.
Make sure they know that you’re there for them and that anything they say will be received in a judgement-free zone. A big part of mental illness we don’t really talk about is the attendant shame. There’s often thought that you perhaps shouldn’t be experiencing the feelings that you’re going through, or that you’re weak for not being able to handle something. This leads to a rapid spiral where the negative feelings feed off each other, creating a whirlwind of toxicity. By allowing someone to freely express themselves and then giving them an outside perspective, you can dispel any internal misperceptions or anxious thoughts.
Don’t make it about you; listen carefully and don’t minimise the person by comparing it to your experiences in a way that may make them feel lesser than or insignificant. However, if you don’t feel emotionally equipped to deal with them or take on their problems, or if it starts to feel like they’re dumping on you or not listening to your suggestions, then make this clear. Honesty is always the best policy. You don’t want to feel resentment towards them, or they may be engaged in negative patterns and resistant to help.
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?
There’s a real problem with mental health in the black community. Not much discussion round it and it’s seen as weak, particularly for men. With black men, toxic masculinity comes into the mix in quite a damaging way, with the typical (often racistly based) notion being that black men should fit a specific, aggressive and domineering archetype.
Concept of manning up
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?
Yeppppppp. Feels like a constant hustle, but the reality is that it’s not a competition – the whole point is to make your own way through it and carve your own path. Social media’s an illusion and it can often seem like people are doing more than you, but you should really just focus on expressing yourself as authentically as possible.
The industry takes a lot from people and relies on them giving a lot predicated on their passion for music, in exchange for not that much – exploitation is rampant in the industry, with people regularly involved in multiple pursuits and just about scraping by. The inequality is real and the sad reality is that privilege allows many people to get ahead without much integrity, or to rely on a wealthy background and then co-opt identity politics in a disingenuous way. There’s also not much support on a wider scale + as an artist, there’s the reliance on the illusion of progressing up a ladder. Throw in ego, partying and people using drugs as a crutch and you’ve got a pretty toxic combo. Partying’s fun and all, but if it gets to a point where it’s affecting your life then do you really need to go to all those afters? If it works for you, then cool, but if not, people should also respect your choices.
There’s also an extra dimension coming in as a person of colour, where you witness so much BS and feel as if you need to work extra hard. Some people may project and say that minorities only excel in the industry due to tokenism; there’s defs an element of this at play, but myself and many artists of colour put pressure on themselves to be good enough so that argument can’t stand. It’s defs a chip on the shoulder, but black people and other minorities are trying to reclaim the industry. Constant micro (and macro) aggressions and trauma being in our blood means that non-POCs can’t fully comprehend the pain that a lot of minorities carry around.
That’s definitely weighed heavily on me but, over the pandemic, I’ve had to unlearn and let go of that since I’ve worn myself down trying to relentlessly fight for that cause. At the end of the day, this is all supposed to be fun, so I’ve continued to carry that message whilst making a point of prioritising mental stability.
Are there any changes you’d like to see to help look after collective and individual mental health in the music industries?
More people highlighting it, curating panels etc. Support on an industry-wide scale; it’s mindblowing that, despite the electronic music industry being so huge, there’s no industry-wide regulation or any industry body providing support to artists or workers. I know that Percolate work closely with Mind and Keep Hush have launched their Don’t Keep Hush initiative, but it would be nice to see even more widespread action. For an industry where people regularly struggle, there’s a surprising lack of resources for people to take advantage of.
Are there any initiatives or sources of knowledge doing important work in mental health that have benefited you, that others should check out? [websites, books, videos, charities, movements, or anything else that comes to mind]
‘The Art of Happiness’ by the Dalai Lama. Kickstarted my mindfulness journey that I embarked on alongside my journey with Unbound and was my gateway into all this stuff. It’ss a wonderful book that breaks down mindfulness into a digestible, easy to understand way.
‘Meditations’ by Marcus Aurelius literally saved my life. It’s a book of stoic sayings dating back to the Ancient Romans, but it’s amazing how endlessly enduring and applicable they are even today. Not only did it introduce me to the concept of stoicism, but it’s great at giving you perspective.
‘The Untethered Soul’ by Michael Alan Singer.
There’s a podcast called ‘How To Fail’ by Elizabeth Day where she interviews prominent figures and asks them about their three biggest failures. It highlights our capacity for resilience and our ability to overcome even the most difficult challenges. I highly recommend starting with the 2020 episode with Mo Gawdat – it’s incredibly moving and inspiring. I’ve listened to it twice and, both times it nearly brought me to tears.
There are a few YouTube channels I dove into before getting back into therapy (which, by the way, literally everyone should do if they can!). After Skool breaks down different philosophical/psychological ideas and is backed up by some lush animation, while Therapy in a Nutshell does what it says on the tin and is a series of vids from a trained psychologist.
Can you tell us more about your selected charity, the work it does and why it holds a personal significance?
Black Minds Matter UK is a charity hosting a network of black therapists, connecting them with black individuals and families. Again, everyone should do therapy but, given the stigma in the black community and the fact that, statistically speaking, black people are less likely to have the means to access therapy/the desire to prioritise it, I think the work they do is particularly important.