Clean raving: how club culture went wild for wellnessClick here to view original web page at www.theguardian.com
The stench of dead flesh and discarded bones wafts through a chattering crowd dressed in sequins, wacky wigs and neon Lycra. It’s 7am, and hundreds of ticket holders are waiting near Brixton’s meat market to enter a “rooftop beach” venue in south London.
They’re here for the fourth birthday of Morning Gloryville, an event that pitches itself as “a non-alcoholic rave”. The crowd here includes everyone from young families to yuppies, Instagramming teens, and Ibiza casualties who have traded in booze and drugs for protein bars and bikram. The rave is held in a big open plan space, decked out with posters that read: “I am in charge of how I feel and today I’m choosing happiness”. As the morning unfolds, the scene becomes increasingly bizarre. Couples kiss as if it were New Year’s Eve; a grown woman holds a bucket and spade; there are impromptu yoga sessions, head massages, and a polyamorous collective appears, dressed as glittery unicorns. All the while, Fatboy Slim DJs in a Lucha libre mask.
Extroverts are everywhere, and I have the lurching feeling that if I lock eyes with anyone long enough they might rope me into something I don’t want to do: dancing on stage to Balearic house, for instance, while holding an inflatable slice of watermelon. Everyone is, of course, stone cold sober.
The heaving crowd is a sign of something bigger: the current appetite for combining music events and healthy living. Morning Gloryville was set up by Samantha Moyo who, having left hedonistic days behind her, wanted to keep seeking the communal thrills and escapism of raving. Her parties soon went from passion project to a fully functioning empire, often attracting big-name DJs who have abandoned the excessive lifestyle that can come with being a touring musician, including Roger Sanchez and Fatboy Slim.
The absence of bar profits might have represented an impossible financial hit for Moyo’s parties, had the stars not aligned in other areas. The popularity of the events has rocketed as the trend for clean living has grown – a trend that is captured on Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram, with images of Morning Gloryville’s parties spreading out across social media.
The unexpected relationship between clubbing and clean living has been building for a few years now. In 2014, for example, there was a craze for voga, a fitness class combining yoga and voguing. Then there is Ministry of Sound’s role. Eric Prydz’s notoriously raunchy aerobic video for the song Call On Me led to Ministry creating a series of wildly successful workout compilations, and this year it even opened its own workout space in south London, with a club-standard sound system. But the latest wave is more bohemian. It includes the club Awakening, a “conscious rave” where cacao and smoothies are served, there are classes in hip-hop hot yoga, and meditation sessions are accompanied by expert gong practitioner Mona Ruijs of Sound Interventions. In the last few weeks alone I have been alerted to an event that combines “guided group meditation” with “classic album listening parties”; a music festival that boasts a pop-up eco spa; another with a “deep listening, meditation and laughter” class; and an album by a singer who is also described as a “sound therapist”. The party picture website The Cobrasnake – once a photo stream of It girls and fashion freaks at clubs and gigs – recently turned its attention away from hedonism to concentrate instead on its Cobra Fitness hiking club.
The pairing of wellness and music is now mainstream, and highly profitable. In the wake of the digital boom, the music industry found itself in a state of flux – at the start of the 21st century there were numerous record shop and label closures and a 40% decline in revenue as piracy took its toll. Festivals and live events have shrewdly merged with the £3tn global wellness market to help them stay afloat. It also helps that we are in the age of “experience as currency” – where a Snapchat story of your best mate hula hooping to Basement Jaxx’s Bingo Bango at a wellness event may have more online capital than a video of them showcasing their Black Friday haul of beauty products.
Of course, there are also actual health benefits to be gained from some of these events. I attended one hosted by Secret Yoga Club, during which Simone Salvatici, an ambient and experimental composer, played an assortment of Tibetan bowls and shamanic percussion instruments (and at one point, it seemed, a bunch of twigs). His immersive performances are designed to be therapeutic, and recall both stirring whale song and the work of doom metal group Sunn O))). As I looked around the room, I had the feeling that many who were there wouldn’t have been seen dead murmuring “om” in a renovated asylum on a Wednesday night five years ago, but now seemed to welcome a chance to escape Twitter feeds full of snark and grim news (while also toning their biceps).
The wellness trend is perhaps most obvious at some of the festivals taking place this summer. This weekend you can do voga at the London festival Citadel, which will also host SwingTrain, a fitness session set to swing music, and Lovercise, a workout class for single people set to tragic love songs and “bump and grind” tracks. Green Man in the Brecon Beacons has “Nature Nurture”, a health and holistic rejuvenation area, as well as a “shamanic hideaway”, and Isle of Wight now has a Yogassential Deck where you can get a massage or a fresh juice, as well as working out. Glastonbury is a veteran of the wellness trend with its Healing Fields, and this year Radio 1 Breakfast Show DJ Nick Grimshaw described it as “probably the most vegan-friendly place on earth” (perhaps forgetting, as some pointed out, that Glastonbury is located on a dairy farm).
Wilderness festival in Oxfordshire was an early adopter of the trend and this year hosts spa treatments, mindfulness and exercise classes and a yoga session set to the most hedonistic of all musical genres, psytrance. Tessa Clarfelt, a programmer for the event, believes that before parties such as Morning Gloryville, there was “a spiritual absence” in some music lovers’ lives.
“I think that the coming together and the community aspect of [events like Morning Gloryville] is a really large part of it,” says Clarfelt. “Once a month at 6am, which is quite a ceremonial moment, the sun is coming up, you group together with people who are friends or people you don’t know, and you get this new connection.” She suspects people are getting tired of “fun” meaning going out and getting drunk, and are instead “warming up to the more Californian approach to wellbeing.”
While Morning Gloryville’s Moyo says she favours dance music that gives you a “big rush”, the increasing links between club culture and spirituality are bringing more ancient sounds to the fore. Moyo believes there is much more appreciation of “gongs and chimes and didgeridoos,” at the moment, for example, because “everyone left, right and centre is trying ayahuasca or going to see a shaman”. Chillout music is growing in popularity, with the types of sounds you might hear in a yoga session being listened to now more than ever. One musician who has been exploring ambient sound for decades is Laraaji, discovered by Brian Eno on the streets of 1970s New York. He has released a string of acclaimed albums, and is behind the aforementioned meditation and laughter workshop where, without any jokes being told, people force themselves to laugh together until they feel genuinely happy. He has run the sessions for years, but says that in the age of 24-hour news cycles full of Trump and terror, people need this kind of healing and music more than ever. “Ambient music can provide [an] escape,” he says, “even if it’s temporary, without feeling like you’re abandoning your duty and responsibility as a planetary being.”
It’s this kind of musical quest that a generation of Instagrammers and yoga enthusiasts has embarked upon – and, of course, commercialised. And just like any trend co-opted by commerce, there is a sense that the link between music and clean living may soon start to pall, and to seem quite unhealthy. Many of us are tired of the pseudoscience peddled in this area, and the excesses of websites such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop (with its $30 pots of “Spirit Dust” and $66 “yoni eggs”), and are questioning those who profit from our health-based paranoia. The high costs of many of these luxury events – it’s not unusual for a hot yoga session to cost £20 or more – will also ensure they remain the preserve of the wealthy. As a newly politicised generation grows up, it seems likely that Instagram health gurus will soon seem like vacuous relics of the past. But while the more commercial strands of the music-mindfulness movement may disappear, the marriage of spirituality and sound will endure.
“Since the beginning of time music has been a spiritual experience,” says Moyo. Laraaji agrees. He says that music reminds us “there is still beauty, equilibrium, and a consciousness that isn’t perturbed by what’s going on in this fleeting global moment. If you’re trapped in the inner city, or a stressful relationship, ambient music can offer a fast way out.”
As can Fatboy Slim playing anthems before breakfast. As the clock reaches 10am, and the morning rave continues, I start to wonder what these people do for a living. But it’s difficult to deny the confidence of Gloryville’s audience – there is something oddly rebellious about sober people dancing their way to ecstatic joy. At least until they are flung back into Brixton’s pungent meat market.