Mind State Vol 1 (out today – 8th June) is a new compilation from the drum & bass world, compiled and arranged by Ben Verse, former MC in Pendulum.
Released by Getahead Records/AEI Group, it is designed to raise money for, an awareness of, Help Musicians UK (HMUK) and get the dance community to eradicate the stigma around mental health issues as well as offer help, support and advice for those in need.
Alongside the 18-track compilation – featuring new material from major acts such as Chase & Status, Prodigy and Sub Focus, with all royalties waived to ensure all revenues go straight to the cause – there is the linked Getahead Festival (described as “the first ever 24-hour festival on mental health, wellbeing & music”) at Omera in London on 13th June.
This is the first compilation and festival in what is intended as a long-running series, updated twice a year, that will focus on a different genre or sub-genre in electronic and dance music in each new iteration. Verse says the idea for the series was prompted by both personal experience and personal connections.
“For me it was a little bit of a hard period to get through, as you can imagine,” he says of his departure from Pendulum at the start of this year. “I was in limbo where I wasn’t doing any gigs, but I was interested in getting back into the drum & bass scene as an MC. At the same time I was very wary that I had all these amazing contacts that I had made over the past 22 years of being in music and 12 years of being in Pendulum.”
He spoke to AEI about possibly doing some work with them – toying with moving into artist management – and it was their planned Getahead Festival that sparked the compilation series idea.
“It is to do with mental well-being, advising you on how to avoid getting to the point where you end up losing it – drinking and doing drugs,” he says of the festival’s goals. “It is about well-being in the music industry and letting musicians know that there are pitfalls to this and, if you don’t watch out, you will end up in trouble.”
This all chimed with unfortunate events close to home, allowing him to find a way to channel all that into something beneficial. “Literally at that moment, my brother-in-law was sectioned for paranoid schizophrenia,” he says of the time when the idea for the compilation started to formulate in his head.
“Issues of mental health were really dawning on me. It was all around me. Personally, the whole thing with Pendulum, I am not going to lie, did have an effect on me and I was having a bit of a hard time transitioning […] Everyone I spoke to said that they were facing similar pressures. Everybody is struggling. It’s just at varying levels.”
He asked AEI if the music scene had collectively made an album to raise money and awareness about this – but they said no. The bit now firmly between his teeth, Verse said he would do it.
“They told me if that if I could get 10 tunes from 10 known artists then that would be an amazing achievement,” he says of those early talks with AEI. “So I was like, ‘Right, you fuckers – watch this!’ I got on the phone because you can’t do this kind of thing over email. One of the first people I approached was Prodigy. I explained the situation to Liam [Howlett] and that we were making money for Music Minds Matter, which is HMUK’s 24-hour helpline for musicians and essentially offers free therapy if they are having a bad time.”
He continues, “Liam said he was in 100%. So that was the first one and I went around the rest of the scene, going to people’s studios and meeting up with them. On email, it doesn’t translate; it’s just another charity. In three weeks, I managed to get 17 tunes from 17 different artists. They are all exclusive tracks and they were all donated for free.”
The first festival might be happening in the UK but there are international ambitions for it. “Getahead is going to be a 25-year thing that we want to do globally,” he reveals. “It is going to raise global awareness of mental health issues in dance music.”
A second instalment in the compilation series – with artists from the house world – is currently being sketched out, with plans for a release and tie-in festival just ahead of Christmas. The next one after that is probably going to focus on grime.
“We have to keep it active, but not saturate one genre,” he says of his plan. “We have to keep it moving. And we also have to go abroad. I’m really into the idea of doing an EDM one in LA with Skrillex, Kill The Noise and all of those guys. It would be good to do it over there to keep the global awareness going […] I have a list of 50 people, so this summer in Ibiza I will be going there and showing them this [first] compilation and telling them that I will be approaching them to do a house version. I am going to get them while they are on that Ibiza summer vibe! That’s the plan.”
He is acutely aware that working in music is putting far too many people at risk – with growing pressure on their time and a lifestyle that blurs the social and the professional in a highly detrimental manner. The music business is, in many ways, a perfect storm for mental health issues primarily as there is no ‘off’ switch.
“Back in the day, you would all go into the studio and make your music there,” he says of how tracks used to be made at the start of his career. “But nowadays you have your laptop and so the studio doesn’t leave you. When you are on tour, you get picked up and go to the airport, you sit in the lounge and there is alcohol there. Or you go to the hotel and there is a party there. You go to the gig and there’s a party after that. It is very hard to escape that. Drinking is a gateway to a lot of different things.”
He adds that acts, when they are in the eye of the storm, are often unaware of just how much pressure they are putting themselves under (or being put under by the team around them). It is only when you step back that you can see just how punishing “normal” schedules are.
“With Pendulum, I looked at my diary the other week and the longest run we did was 34 gigs in a row [admittedly with a few nights off during the run],” he says, still reeling from the shock of this. “In between that, Rob [Swire, Pendulum founder and leader] would be making tunes on his laptop backstage or at the hotel. There is no escaping it now with the technology that is out there. People often think that they can’t not be working. And you become a workaholic.”
He also talks of seeing how Pendulum’s former manager, Jho Oakely, was working around the clock, putting himself under unbelievable pressure.
“It actually consumes you if you are at that level,” he says of the impossible workloads those around him were taking on. “But even at the lower levels, everybody needs help. And everybody needs to be made aware that there is a breaking point – but you might not actually realise when that breaking point has happened […] When you’re drinking or taking drugs, you’re only doing that because of something else that has gone wrong and you’re just trying to escape it.”
He believes the electronic scene is perhaps the most risky and unhealthy of all for those grappling with mental health concerns, which is why the genre-specific series of compilations is being planned.
“In our genres – underground bass music and repetitive loop music – it is being made in dark rooms, it’s late nights, early flights,” he says of the normalised working and creative conditions here for his peers. “It’s really a series of ingredients set up to make you ill. Humans aren’t designed to go through that. But when you get obsessively into that cycle, it becomes a complete and utter norm. But at some point something has to give.”
Verse is also worried that mental health is a fashionable cause du jour within the music industry and could be dropped as easily as it has been picked up.
“That is why we’re going to continue the compilation series and go into different genres,” he says of the need to keep this conversation going. “I’ve used up all my favours in the drum & bass world now! That is why we are going into house. And it’s not going to just be house – it’ll be tech house, deep house, happy house, all the different subgenres […] We have got to keep on it and do one every six months. We have to keep the awareness going. This is a problem that is only going to get bigger.”