Name: Matthew Benjamin aka Bushwacka
Occupation: Producer, DJ, psychotherapeutic counselor at Listen Up Therapy
Current release: Darius Syrossian & Bushwacka's Return To Jericho is out June 25th on Crosstown Rebels.
If these thoughts by Bushwacka piqued your interest, visit his therapy website.
The Listen Up introduction says: "Our founders truly understand some of the unique challenges that come from working in these industries." In which way did the music business make you and many other producers and DJs mentally and physically ill?
I spent 32 years DJing regularly, starting at the age of 15. In the beginning, like most things, it was amazing, fun, exciting, an adventure. Over the decades, along with success, came more shows, less sleep, more travel, more jet lag, relentless interviews, parties after parties, and it started to take its toll.
The consequences were multi-layered. Working as a performer as well as being in the studio up to 80 hours a week, affected my health, my relationships, my ability to think clearly, my structure (there was almost no regular structure other than weeks were for studio and weekends for DJing). Lifestyle choices affected all of these vocational aspects too. Mood swings, exhaustion, and unhealthy diet were all regular occurrences from being on the road so much.
What, specifically, was it that caused your own problems?
It depends how far back you want to go with this question. Knowing what I know now, as a psychotherapist, I could trace this back to early development, arguably to pre birth. At the time of those specific problems occuring related to DJing though, from the late 80s, I just didn’t stop, and even if I wanted to I didn’t know when to stop. Sleep rarely happens on weekends. In the last decade my life has changed immeasurably, and sleep is up there in my top 3 most important self-care tools.
In a way, I think I believed I was chasing the original buzz of what I discovered with the early Rave scene in 1988 for about 30 years, but perhaps what was happening was that I was too afraid to grow up, and feel my real feelings. There are a lot of factors that affect how we think, feel and behave, and how we experience ourselves, the world, and others, and working in music, in creative industries, can be full of joy, but can also be experienced as incredibly lonely and introverted.
You've spoken about functional addiction in one of your helpful videos. Could one even say that the music industry and even some musicians pretend as though psychological issues are simply part of being an artist? As an example, a DJ friend of mine suffers from tinnitus but refuses to wear headphones during his DJ sets because the risk "comes with the job".
There is a sense of bravado that many feel they need to exhibit, the need to be seen to be doing well, successful, happy, social, bulletproof. Someone who works on a building site wouldn’t not wear a protective helmet because it “came with the job”, nor would they be allowed to. The ego tells us we need to be a certain way, and fear of being judged or of being weak can encourage people to make decisions that are not always good for them.
However this example isn’t representative of a functioning addict. The functioning addict is someone who can perform, show up, hold it together, pass themselves off as being ok, when in reality, they are struggling with their addition, whether it be drink, drugs, sex, porn, gambling, whatever the addiction may be. The covert behaviours are often what lead people into big problems, as they can go largely undetected, sometimes for years, before the red flags show up.
Are there psychological issues which are specific to the music business? Or does the fast pace, intensity and emotional involvement of this line of work merely boost underlying tendencies?
Imposter Syndrome is not specific to only music, but is very common indeed, as are social anxiety, depression, addiction, and fear of financial insecurities which often tie in with low self-esteem and self-worth. Again, this often ties in with the need to be seen to be doing well, making amazing music, money, and being the centre of the social scene.
There is a huge amount of pressure on people to be “that guy”, largely from the conditioning and beliefs that they have to be strong.
You now have your own practise. What will clients come see you for – and what will you discuss in the sessions with them?
Clients come in for a multitude of reasons, including all of the above in your last question. Without going into specific details, the goal of the therapy, broadly speaking, is to facilitate the client to make the changes they desire, increase their window of tolerance, and resilience, and accept their vulnerability, and parts of themselves that they currently and previously disallowed.
Often, in fact almost always, the way we feel when we react to something in the present is not about the present, but is a result of self limiting beliefs we have implemented in early childhood, and continued into adulthood with. Those beliefs no longer serve us now, and often the work in therapy is to become more aware of this until we are ready to embrace the change.
Saying all of this, sometimes clients just need someone to talk to, and creating a safe space for them to do this, without being judged, is where the therapy occurs.
From your point of view, is it possible to keep up the pace and workload of the business and simply learn to cope with it better? Or will solutions necessarily include slowing down and setting new priorities?
I think it is all manageable as long as self-care is taken seriously. Taking time off is really important, and often people don’t realise this. Even when they take holidays they are still working. I also believe, from my own personal experience over the last 16 years, that talking to someone professional regularly is a really beneficial commitment, potentially life changing. Sometimes we can’t see the warning signs, when we are so consumed with the lifestyle and workload, and people around us don’t see them either. Coping mechanisms often get left by the wayside if the potential pitfalls are not highlighted often enough.
None of this has to mean that the work and lifestyle can’t be fun and exciting. It's about looking after ourselves, mentally, physically and spiritually.
From what I'm seeing, more and more techno artists are turning towards healing music and switching gears towards softer and warmer sounds as well as more relaxed tempos in their music. Besides all the great things that it has brought us, is working with exceedingly loud electronic club music an issue in general, do you feel?
It's only an issue if your hearing is damaged, or becoming damaged, and if you don’t like the music anymore. I don’t believe there is any good reason to change the gears of the music you love, if you truly love it. Look at Carl Cox, Sven Väth, older techno DJs – they still love it and play all the time, and why not?
Do you think that music in itself has healing properties? Do you make use of music in your therapy as well?
I don’t think so. I know it. Some might say that music is the ultimate healing, and the combination of music, dancing, and connecting with others is the elixir of life. I personally don’t use music in my therapy, but my partner in Listen Up Therapy Ltd, Belinda, uses lots of music and frequency based methods in and with her mediation, and mentoring classes and courses. Her Electronic Music Meditation classes are incredible.
Has working in psychotherapy possible had an effect on the music you make and how you make it, the way you DJ?
I have not made so much music since I started practicing as a psychotherapist, and I think this is because I have really valued the quiet time, and the nature time more than ever. Taking some space to just be, to be still, to slow down, is really important for me to keep my potency high and give my clients my full presence and attention.
The way I DJ will probably never change. I am all about the energy. My mission is to make people dance. I live and breathe this when I am working as a DJ.
Could you imagine suitable new approaches for appreciating music – from concerts to albums and new forms of listening – which could support a healthier life work balance?
I don’t see the answer to a healthier work life balance being in how we appreciate music. This is subjective to the listener. What I believe needs to happen to keep enjoyment at its optimum, is not to overdo it. Know your limits. Sleep. Rest. And party, but party in a way that isn’t damaging you or others. If you notice it's no longer about the music, maybe you need to tune into what it is about, and whether that serves you in a healthy way.
Your work as a counselor started with your own therapy. How do you deal with potential issues today?
I talked to my therapist. I recognise that most of my issues today are the same as the issues I have always had, but that by being aware of them, and learning to be compassionate to myself when I am having hard days, times, moments, and to take some time out, can be enough. Like all things, no matter what I am feeling, I know it will change.
Books, websites, articles or other sources of information recommended by Bushwacka:
There is a great book called “Your Brain On Music – understanding a human obsession” by Daniel Levitin.
Also, “How Music Works” by David Byrne is very interesting.
Please feel free to visit our website www.listenuptherapy.com and email us with any questions.