Letter #53

Good morning / afternoon / evening,

I hope you’ve had a lovely week. I had so many lovely messages about last week’s letter, I’m really glad you liked it. Let’s get started with the next 52, shall we? 😊

🌪 TL;DR section 🌪
Stuff to do: buy Rave On – it’s an excellent short history of dance music from around the world; look at these amazing photos of Ibiza over time; listen to this mix from Kamaal Williams for ID; get hold of a copy of the new Carhartt WIPmagazine; read this great piece on the rise of people using Frida Kahlo to culture signal; get in line for the new North Face record bags coming soon; learn more about how William Burroughs’ adventures helped develop modern neurology research; look through these previously unseen paintings by Miles Davis; and finally, watch Anthony Bourdain talk to Ellen Allien about Berlin (more on Bourdain below).
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📚 The notes 📚

You might notice the music is a little different this week. I think it’s probably a little ‘deeper’ than usual, and there’s a little more focus on lyrics and feelings, rather than rhythm and groove (don’t get me wrong, there’s still dance floor material). I’ve mentioned it before, I’m sure, but I seem to flick between being quite extroverted, and quite introverted (often called being an ambivert). It can be difficult to manage – especially given my career. I try to carefully balance my time being ‘on’ and having time to be quiet. This sounds super dramatic, I’m sure, but it’s really important. If I’m not careful, I get pretty emotionally exhausted – and I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot this week.

It started with Kanye’s new album, Ye. I think I’ve probably listened to that album five times front to back now (well, it is only 25 minutes long), and I still can’t figure it out properly. I don’t really like it, if I’m honest, but there’s something that keeps drawing me back. It’s not the music, it’s the lyrics and the tone. Tyler, the Creator’s Goblin album is most definitely a character portrait, and that allows him to explore different (and often extreme – to the point of him being banned from the UK) perspectives, but as a listener you always have it in the back of your mind that it’s a character portrait. Ye doesn’t feel like that. It feels part-confessional, and part-cry for help. Certain tracks (thinking about Wouldn’t Leave in particular) left me aghast. The whole experience had me feeling pretty sorry for Kanye. Over the past few months he’s been really vocal about his personal mental health experiences (mentioned here in this interview most explicitly), so maybe this is his way of opening up a broader dialogue about mental health.

The connection between mental health and creativity is well documented, and undoubtedly pressure, exhaustion, and always being ‘on’ plays a massive role in that. Jackmaster (RAs #2 DJ in the world) has discussed this at length (the excellent new RA Art of DJing feature on him touches on it too). The untimely and tragic death of Avicii last month is another sad example.

This week also bought the passing of Anthony Bourdain. I cannot claim to have known much about Bourdain before this week – I knew of him, but didn’t know anything of any depth. Reading this touching post from David Simon (one of his closet collaborators) bought a tear to my eye. It probably sounds crass and arrogant, but I’ve always wanted to be one of those people that people are drawn to. His exploration of the world and honest and frank approach to showing the truth about people and culture, his passion for his craft, and his dedication to authenticity – these are things that I aspire to, and make his death hit home more than it probably should.

With all of this swirling around in my head, I heard three songs (and specific lyrics) this week that felt really pertinent;

Don’t Call My Name, by Skinshape
“we can step to the sun, just be true to yourself, you’ve got nothing to hide”

Out of Time, by Blur
“watch the world spinning gently out of time”

Don’t Miss It, by James Blake
“when you stop being a ghost in a shell, and everybody keeps saying you look well”

After a number of reviewers referred to Don’t Miss It as ‘sad boy’ music, Blake actually took to Twitter to criticise those types of comments, and I felt like he really nailed why it’s so important to be honest and open whenever we can; “please don’t allow people who fear their own feelings to ever subliminally shame you out of getting anything off your chest, or identifying with music that helps you. There is no great victory in machismo and bravado in the end. The road to mental health and happiness is paved with honesty”. Brilliant.

Everyone has their own mental health experiences – at least one in four 25-35 year olds exhibit signs of anxiety or depression. For me, it’s never a ‘big thing’ that triggers feeling blue, instead it’s a cumulation of lots of little things. Sleep, pressure, learning about people like Anthony Bourdain, internal anxieties, watching films like The Perks of Being A Wallflower, trying to understand Kanye’s album – it doesn’t have to be a traumatic ‘big thing’. This makes it really hard to predict, though. What I’ve tried to do on this week’s mixtape is show how it feels to me; so you’ll be listening to Kids See Ghosts, and Tyler, feeling on top of the world, with an air of couldn’t-give-a-fuck-ness to you, and then the beautiful but haunting Nils Frahm track lands – giving you an extreme contrast, and knocking the wind from your sails. To me, this is what a blue mood feels like.

What I find most reassuring though, is that this works both ways. The bump from elation to blue can be pretty fierce, but the switch from blue notes to feeling on top of the world is just as emotional. When that switch happens, I feel like I’m stronger, and I might be wearing the marks of a battle, but I can feel the strength of overcoming it.

I always try to remember two brilliant thoughts; the first was from Bukowski (go to bed for three days), and Picasso; “art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”.

So this week’s mixtape is different – instead of using the three bardos to try and build you to a point of elation, I’m trying to use music to convey the ups and downs of how I can feel, drawing you deep, and then flipping the mood and building back to where we all feel happiest. On top of the world ❤.

As always, if you’ve read to here, thanks for indulging me ♥️.

See you on the dance floor.
Love Will Save the Day

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