RA: Wellness and dance music

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You might’ve heard this one before: that dance music is just ancient ritual with a new skin, a manifestation of our age-old need to come together and be transported. “I always saw underground dance music culture as that,” says Luca Mortellaro, the DJ and producer better known as Lucy. “That’s what I think when I see a performer in charge of distributing energies in a certain way, and a group of people that [dance] to obsessive rhythms for hours and hours. I don’t see that many differences, just maybe in the tools used.”

Mortellaro’s contact with wellness culture began when his DJ career took off. “The shock was so big. Everyone around me [was saying], ‘Wow, this is a dream, you should be really happy.’ And I wasn’t at all, actually I was burning out quite fast.”

He began to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks before discovering a form of Hatha yoga. Unlike with Petkova, though, Mortellaro’s discovery didn’t lead him to reject dance music.

“[Yoga] became like a daily ritual. Wherever I was, in Tokyo, New York, San Francisco, Rome, Berlin, something was always the same. And at some point it started to become a very synergic part of my music career. In the weekend I was putting all my energies into one direction, during the week I was putting them into another, through the yoga practice. I started feeling how that was helping a lot in fighting a certain kind of alienation.”

Mortellaro isn’t the only DJ in search of coping strategies. Roman Flügel has described his yoga practice as “a nice counterpoint to the usual weekend madness.” Xosar, a licensed yoga instructor, recently told RA’s Mark Smith how her musician students “have physical problems from making art all day… my job lately has been to help people heal their bodies and to get them more in harmony with their craft so that they’re not abusing their bodies in their creative work.” In an RA Exchange, Monika Kruse revealed that she takes two months each year for a traditional Indian form of body detoxification called Panchakarma treatment. It “gives me the power for the rest of the year,” she said, noting that Sven Väth, Dubfire, Richie Hawtin and Magda have done something similar.

“You get up in the morning and you brush your teeth—it’s like that for me,” says Tony Child of his own yoga practice. As the DJ and producer Surgeon, he’s had two decades to get to grips with the touring lifestyle. His relationship with Ashtanga yoga started about ten years ago, after a health checkup revealed a risk of back problems. At first he was skeptical. “I’m not really a sporty person, shall we say. But the first session I did, I was instantly really interested in it, because it did far more to me on a psychological level than just a physical level.”

Child had had a “quite serious problem with insomnia,” and ground his teeth so much that “my dentist warned me that they were probably going to fall out.” Yoga quickly fixed both problems. “On a psychological level, I think it’s made me much calmer. You can never remove stress and crazy situations from your life, but I think it’s helped me to be able to deal with them better. And in terms of my gigs, it helps me to focus and concentrate for much longer periods of time than I ever could before. That’s really helped me enjoy and improve, I think, my performance.”

Yoga also helped him confront an ongoing drinking problem. “Doing what I do, there’s all kinds of drugs and alcohol around all the time. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just when it goes out of balance and something has more negative than positive effects—then I see it as a problem. I’ve not drunk alcohol for seven years now, and I feel a lot better for it. I definitely attribute yoga as the thing that gave me the inner strength to be able to deal with that.”

Child is hesitant to draw a direct line between yoga and his music, but Mortellaro has no such qualms. In 2014, alongside yoga teacher Amanda Morelli, he devised “a transcendent performance integrating traditional Eastern breathing techniques, field-recordings and the spatial dynamics of sound.” For the past few years he’s hosted a regular “sound bath meditation” session in Berlin.

I attend the first session after the summer break, at a community-supported yoga studio in a Neukölln apartment block. Shoes are taken off at the door, and regulars chat around the tea dispenser. The session, once it starts, is structured similarly to yoga classes I’ve attended. We get comfy on mats and cylindrical cushions, and begin and end with breathing exercises centring around “om.” (At points the rooms sounds like it’s full of angry insects.) Once we’re suitably in the zone, the sound bath meditation starts. The roomful of stylish 20- and 30-somethings lie back under colourful blankets, and Mortellaro teases rich, sometimes deafening roars out of a pair of enormous standing gongs.

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