Written by Katie Thomas - as part of Commission Mission.
There was a point, a couple of weeks into lockdown (who knows which week, seeing as time is but a construct at this point), when the expectation on creatives to create did an extreme U-turn. “We have time at our disposal so we should be producing our best work” shifted quickly to, “we’re in the midst of a pandemic, we shouldn’t put pressure on ourselves.”
When I sat down to chat to India Jordan recently (over Zoom, of course), they hit the nail on the head; there might be infinite time, but when you’re stuck in your house with only yourself and the cat for company, there’s a marked absence of external stimuli.
And so, how best to stay motivated? How do you balance the weight of a global health crisis with this week’s To Do list? How do you get yourself out of bed in the morning for another day at your desk, when your current desk might actually be your bed? How do you find joy in the music that is made to be heard on a sweaty dance floor surrounded by your mates, when you have to listen to it alone in your living room?
To all of the above I say, with difficulty. For one, I hadn’t realised how much I used going to the club as a form of therapy until I couldn’t go to the club anymore. Yes, I have conquered the Couch to 5k programme and yes, I do get some sense of release after I’ve exercised, but nothing comes anywhere close to the respite I get from dancing until the sun comes up with my best pals by my side.
So until we can return to the dance floor, home listening will have to do. And if you’re feeling unmotivated, uninspired or weighed down by the gravity of it all, there’s comfort and inspiration to be found not just in nailing the perfect banana bread, but also in your lockdown soundtrack.
For me, the initial shock of lockdown life was eased by Charlie Bones’ Do!! You!! Breakfast Show on NTS, and the group of friends who locked into the show with me each morning. There’s a real sense of closeness to be found in a shared listening experience, even, as it turns out, when you are physically separated. Knowing we were all beginning our days with the same soundtrack helped bring some normalcy to an otherwise overwhelming reality.
Then came Charli XCX and her lockdown album how i’m feeling now. The record’s lead single ‘forever’ — the video for which is a collage of wistful fan footage — makes my heart ache and swell simultaneously with the words, “I will always love you/ I’ll love you forever/ I know in the future/ We will see each other.”
Jayda G’s new single too, has lifted me from a funk more times than I care to count. On ‘Both Of Us’, Jayda G set out to make a happy house song, and she delivered exactly that. There’s an uplifting vocal, a slow and tantalising breakdown, a joyous release, and a simple piano riff that feels warm, bright and optimistic — and we could all use some optimism right now.
In the spirit of feeling positive and in the hope of getting stuff done, I spoke to various industry players to find out what they’ve been listening to in order to stay switched on and inspired during lockdown. From glossy pop to 80s dub, rave heaters and breezy bedroom love songs, we hear from journalists, producers, presenters and label heads below.
This is a piece of music over the years I always return to. I'll listen to this on repeat… It's never failed to lift me up and inspire me to write and play piano. I'm sure listening to this piece 32 times in a day is healthy... ;)
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Felicity Martin, Editor - Dummy Mag
Digging around on Bandcamp is what's keeping me motivated right now, and dreaming about the club. At the moment anything '90s rave-inspired with an uplifting vocal is doing it for me, and I've been enjoying this track by Myor boss Coco Bryce.
My partner introduced me to Jay Som a few months ago so they remind me of her, but this track in particular blew me away. I've had it on repeat since lockdown started. It reminds me of those bursts of energy and dreamy feelings you get when you fall in love. I think I was definitely missing my partner a lot when I was listening! I'm a big romantic at heart.
I'm finding it less easy to stay motivated at the moment and more just using music as a vessel for simply getting me through. I've been playing a lot of D'Angelo and Erykah Badu because I find the music comforting and probably due to the link of it being played in my house as a kid. But I think the song I have returned to the most is ‘Eastwood Dub’ by King Tubby. I think dub music just has a way of making you feel like everything is going to be alright. It takes me to Notting Hill Carnival standing in front of Channel One Sound System with some Wray & Nephew, just tuning out to everything going on around me.
I've been listening to loads of new music thanks to radio, and have been truly grateful for artists that have still been releasing tunes during this pandemic. One in particular being India Jordan’s new EP which gave me life. It's obviously sad that we can't hear it in a club or at a festival right now, but it had a totally different effect on me and it really helped my mood.
Another record that gave me life was Dua Lipa’s album Future Nostalgia — originally they weren't gonna release it during lockdown, but I'm glad they did. Also, Charli XCX's record — I bloody love pop music and to have two incredible albums from two British pop queens was amazing.
As well as these, because this time is so uncertain, and because I've temporarily moved home, I've gone back to loads of old favourite albums during this time, just to hear something comforting and recognisable. Fugees, James Blake, SBTRKT, Sampha, stuff that emotionally triggers me, but in a positive way. I just wanna get my emotions out there during this madness rather than bottling it all up.
Vivian Yeung, Deputy Online Editor - Crack Magazine
It’s easy to feel unfocused during lockdown, but Lady Gaga’s Chromatica is the hit of feel-good dance-pop that’s kept me going. I run to it, shower to it; ‘Sine From Above’ gives me strength when I’m nearing the end of a home workout video.
Six people in music, all with different palettes, but all who are finding comfort and motivation in their various lockdown soundtracks. Like The Mozart Effect (a 1991 study which indicates that listening to Mozart for ten minutes a day could improve your performance on, specifically, spatial-reasoning tasks actioned immediately after you’ve listened), there’s reason here too that hearing the right music — whatever that might be — can help get you in the right headspace to focus on creating, and doing what you love.
“To a certain extent, we surrender to music when we listen to it — we allow ourselves to trust the composers and musicians with a part of our hearts and our spirits; we let the music take us somewhere outside of ourselves… Even when music doesn’t transport us to an emotional place that is transcendent, music can change our mood.” Daniel Levitin (This Is Your Brain On Music).
Commission Mission was created by Young Guns Network and London In Stereo to commission 20 new and experienced freelance writers to create articles to inspire, inform and entertain young people in the music industry who are struggling during Covid-19.
The supporters who made this project possible were Association of Independent Music, London In Stereo, Musicians Union, Motive Unknown, PPL, Remi Harris Consulting, Small Green Shoots, Young Guns Network, Youth Music.