The experience is a lot like Intrinsic: the clientèle, the cushions and blankets, the meditative sound. Only the focus has shifted: the “healing” activities have become the main event. A description of the session claims that “Sound has been used as a healing implement for centuries… Synchronizing body vibrations and consequently brain waves to specific sound frequencies, it is possible to achieve profound states of relaxation to restore disharmonies. As illness could be regarded as a manifestation of disharmony in the body, rebalancing by bathing deeply in sound is the key to opening the deepest doors of our self-perception.”
There’s no denying that those involved in dance music are in need of healing. A 2016 British study found that musicians could be up to three times more likely than average to suffer from anxiety or depression. DJs, with their disrupted sleep patterns and constant exposure to alcohol and drugs, are surely high on the at-risk list, along with many other people involved in dance music culture.
Yoga and meditation are not quack cures, either. A survey in the Harvard Mental Health Letter found that they “can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and depression.” Yoga fits the DJ lifestyle, too. As Child says, “I just put a towel on the floor in the hotel room and I can do it.”
But wellness culture often trades in blurry lines. It’s a world where aesthetic and social preferences merge with the medical, the pseudo-medical and the mystical. How literal is Mortellaro being when, at the end of the session, he advises that we sleep with a pen and paper close by tonight, since the full moon means that our dreams may offer useful advice? And how seriously does E/Tape believe that the resonant frequency of the earth is relevant to humans’ health? (This claim, regarding the “Schumann resonance,” is popular in alternative medicine). Or that gong bath meditation works because the gong “has a certain vibration that goes really deep into your DNA memories” opening “a portal that links the finite and the infinite experience of the self” and has “a healing effect on the deepest level of your cells”?
In some instances, taking these sorts of ideas seriously may be the opposite of healthy, leading people to make ill-informed decisions, perhaps even to go against medical advice. At the very least, discussions around these issues often seem to lack a critical element. Western democracies—the cradles of dance music culture—have experienced a widespread collapse of trust in this century. A rejection of the authority of governments, the media and academia informs political and social movements across the spectrum. Wellness culture might be one facet of this search for a new truth, but it doesn’t always look in the right places.
This hints at something: that wellness culture, like dance music, isn’t just about how we relate to our bodies, but also about our relationship with the society around us.
“We had been a part of a scene with no barriers, where everyone danced together regardless of race or class, which was revolutionary at this time of deep rooted Thatcherism. And our experiences in the techno scene over nearly 30 years have shown us that just because you are in the scene doesn’t necessarily mean that you think in an openminded way.”
Debbie Griffith, AKA Pheen X, is more qualified than most to talk about dance music’s social aspect. She is a founding member of Spiral Tribe, a British soundsystem at the forefront of ’90s free party culture. The crew was present at the Castlemorton Common Festival, and was driven out of the UK by the subsequent Criminal Justice Act. They travelled Europe keeping the rave spirit alive, but things got harder as the years went by.
“At the beginning of the new century the traveling had become almost impossible due to stricter policing and many of us moved into more settled living situations. But then there was a massive feeling of dissatisfaction amongst many of us. We had been a part of so many fantastic adventures, now where was the mission?”
After dabbling in yoga, in 2002 Griffith went on a ten-day silent meditation retreat in the “Vipassana” Buddhist tradition. It was “the start of a massive shift deep down in my consciousness.” But she soon found herself split between the hedonistic party scene and the ascetic world of silent retreats. So, alongside yoga instructor Denis Robberechts, she devised Dharma Techno.