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U K, G?: the electronic music collectives opening up conversations around mental health

Sticky Tapes, eott and Don’t Keep Hush tell Jack Ramage how they’re helping to shift perceptions around wellbeing in dance music

The stigma surrounding mental health has drastically changed over the last decade, with people beginning to realise how important it is to talk about their issues. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has fuelled the fire, with loneliness and isolation rates soaring and NHS services stretched razor-thin. In the music industry, nine in 10 musicians reported their mental health has deteriorated since the pandemic began in the spring of 2020. As a reaction to this, some dance music collectives are working to raise funds for mental health support, and awareness of how people’s lives have been impacted.  

Hey, do you need someone to talk to?

‘Hey, do you need someone to talk to?’ is the seventh compilation mix from the label Sticky Tapes, a physical mix series with all proceeds going to charity. Explaining the influence behind the name, Theo Giles, founder of Sticky Tapes, who DJs as Theo Everyday, says the compilation was “born from a place of suffering from mental health issues”. Theo wanted to make a project which would “provoke reflection” and “open up” the conversation surrounding mental health. 

Released in October 2021, the digital-only six-track compilation features Elle Murphy, Picasso, IN2STELLAR, Kitsta, PRAYER, Tim Reaper and Theo Everyday. It’s being sold on Bandcamp, with proceeds split between The Samaritans, SANEline and Switchboard. A run of 500 posters was put up across London to advertise the compilation, featuring rip tickets with the phone numbers of the charity helplines. The posters also featured a QR code that directed people to the NHS website, where they could get support. 

“This was a nice personal touch for me,” Theo continues, “because although I’ve dealt with mental health problems since I was 16 years old, it was only in the last year that I was convinced by a friend to go on that site and get help for my anxiety.” So far, the project has raised over £300, which Theo admits “isn’t a massive amount of money”, but he hopes it will bring awareness to the charities for those in the dance music scene.

U K, G?

Another community group making waves is eott, which is working to normalise mental health through “music, media and words”. Founded by Morgan Lethbridge and Isaac Quine in October 2019, it’s best known for its ‘u k, g?’ campaign, a series of clothing drops and events that raises money for charities and mental health awareness. 

“In essence, it’s inspiring people to open up to their mates,” Isaac explains. “We hope the name acts as a reminder to check up on not only our g’s, but our brothers, our sisters, our bredrins, our lovers and so on. We want to create a community: something that people see and really resonate with, something that people want to be a part of.”

They’ve been doing well in their mission, raising over £5,000 through a number of drops. So far, this has supported Brighton food banks; the LGBTQ+ mental health charity, MindOut; Brighton-based music charity, Audio Active; and the Music4Minds project, which supports marginalised young creatives through workshops and events. 

The campaign has also collaborated with clothing brand KRUDD, with the help of MC Bru-C, to raise £1,199 for the NHS, and partnered with the events company Beastwang, co-hosting a Keep Hush party, which raised £568 for MusicMindsMatter. 

Don’t Keep Hush

Taking influence from eott is Don’t Keep Hush. It’s run by Fred Conybeare — founder of UK music event and livestream Keep Hush, who DJs as FredCC — and Vanessa Maria, a DJ and psychology graduate. They created the platform in May 2021 to raise mental health awareness through music. 

“We haven’t quite nailed down what Don’t Keep Hush is yet, it took me seven years and a team to do that with Keep Hush,” FredCC says frankly. “But basically, it’s an initiative to normalise and open up conversations around mental health. That doesn’t mean speaking publicly on social media. It means opening up to a friend, family member or even a stranger.”

FredCC remembers how mentally challenging his school years were, struggling to fit in with his peers and experiencing low self-esteem. This eventually developed into anxiety and depression.  “Fifteen years later, I eventually built up the courage to talk, and from then onwards, I began growing stronger,” he tells us.

Vanessa mentions how, at times, her anxiety and depression have stunted her creatively. “Since getting into the music industry, I’ve always wanted to merge the two together,” she says.

To do this, Don’t Keep Hush has been community building and fundraising through events and non-profit merch drops. Its recent campaign raised £1,300 for Black Minds Matter, a charity that connects Black individuals and families with free mental health services through Black therapists. 

This past October, Don’t Keep Hush also threw its first party at Peckham venue Tola, with a stacked lineup featuring Nia Archives, Mal, Helana Star, NIKS, Lousie Chen, Oneman, Toshiki Ohta and Freddy Masters, alongside FredCC and Vanessa Maria. Don’t Keep Hush also sold tees and hoodies at the event, with proceeds going towards Black Minds Matter.

The impact of the pandemic

“The NHS has been over-saturated because of Covid-19,” says Morgan. “It’s stretched the healthcare system massively.” In August 2021, The Guardian reported that an estimated eight million people in England were not considered “sick enough” to receive mental health care, due to new measures brought in to save NHS resources. This is on top of the official waiting list for NHS mental health care, which stood at 1.6 million people in August 2021. 

These projects aren’t able to ease the stress put on the NHS, but emphasising the need to check in with your mates — as well as raising money for charities that support those in crisis — is just as important.
“The lockdowns restricted people, especially in the music industry,” Theo highlights. “People weren’t able to socialise, network, make friends and talk about new releases. These are things people live for. When that was taken away, it really impacted a lot of people’s mental wellbeing. 

“It’s something I believe everyone struggles with, but is often afraid to talk about,” he continues. “It’s a really supportive industry and community, but when you’re on your own because of lockdown, lost in your own thoughts and constantly having to back your own ideas, it can be tough.”

But to what extent can these projects make a difference? And do they offer a tangible solution to the problem? Theo argues that to ask such a question would be missing the point of these projects entirely: they’re just a cog in the machine, trying to make a small yet meaningful difference, in a multi-layered, massive problem. 

“The word ‘difference’ is hard to categorise,” Theo says. “Of course, with the amount of money we’re raising, we’re not going to be able to fix the problem ourselves, but that doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful. Even if one person sees the posters we’ve put up and reflects on their own situation, rips a number from the bottom of the poster and calls a helpline, that makes a difference in itself. Even if we’re letting people know the names of the charity, giving them exposure, that’s important too.”

Morgan points to how the ‘u k, g?’ campaign is “focused on individual action — whether that be asking your mate how they are, or just taking some time to reflect on yourself. I think that’s something attainable for a small brand like ourselves.” 

Vanessa agrees: Don’t Keep Hush are trying to change the culture around mental health — at least within dance music — to make it more accessible. “We hope to build a supportive, open, safe community for people in music,” she says. “Education, honesty and shifting the culture is key. Music brings people together, it’s healing and unifying.”

Issac argues that even selling merchandise can be an important part of that process. “It’s a tangible item that makes you feel part of a community,” he notes, likening the merch to wearing a football shirt to a game. “The tone and language used is crucial,” Morgan says; the campaign was designed to sound “as if you’ve just been texted by a mate”. He draws attention to how mental health-minded crews are cutting into a new demographic. “No disrespect to any other large mental health charities, like MIND or CALM, they’re doing an amazing, incredible job. I just think what we’re doing reaches this particular crowd, the dance music crowd.”

Practical help

What help do these groups offer in practical terms? Vanessa argues that these mental health-focused collectives are rooted in community, trusted by the people they work with. Although they don’t offer clinical support — and those experiencing mental health issues should contact professional healthcare — that doesn’t mean to say that these types of organisations don’t have a role in supporting mental health. 

“User-led interventions, which typically exist outside of clinical environments, are able to offer significant and effective levels of support,” Vanessa explains. “We hope to build a supportive, open and safe community for people in music, and in doing so change the narrative surrounding mental health.”

“It’s an easy trap to fall into,” Theo admits, reflecting on how best to provide meaningful support for an audience — not just mental health buzzwords that possess little substance. “It’s multifaceted. The bottom line is that we don’t consider our project to offer that kind of support. While we’re here anytime for anyone who wants to chat, we’re focused on raising money for, and drawing attention to, people who can offer professional support.”

Theo notes that it was equally important to be “mindful” when planning the project and not “just ride on the fact that it’s a mental health campaign”. To address this, he tried to “promote their self-image and branding as little as possible” during the campaign — with just a small logo and emphasis being placed on the helplines available.

What is next for them all? Theo has big plans for his non-profit label, continuing to release the successful cassette mix series and sample packs for charity. Don’t Keep Hush aims to expand into workshops, fundraising activities and a walking club. Following a recent collaboration with UKF, eott has ambitious goals to expand into a mental health education multimedia platform — “kind of like VICE, but for mental health”. Similar to how mental health discourse is evolving, so too is this pocket of the dance music community.

Jack Ramage is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @jck_rmg

Last year, UK mental health charity Mind shared a number of resources focused on the electronic music industry. You can find out more about these here