Dance trio Above & Beyond are putting out a record specifically engineered for yoga and meditation. All I want to know is: Can they make me feel human again after five days of excess in Pilton?
The week after Glastonbury is always tough. After a year as glorious as this one, even the drive home was more than I could bear. I got The Fear as soon as we got to a service station. Did we really have to come back to concrete civilisation? Couldn’t we just live in the fields? Where had all my serotonin gone? Why are there so many different types of crisps? Nothing made sense anymore.
I was lying flat across the backseat of the car in a cocoon of blankets and self-loathing when the email came through. I could hear my editors discussing it up front. Humongous, Grammy-bothering dance act Above & Beyond are apparently about to release a new album designed specifically for yoga and meditation, and they’re running a post-Glastonbury yoga session in a yard in Victoria. One of my editors jerked his thumb towards the back seat. “Kev’ll do it,” he said. I didn’t hate the idea. Maybe it’ll be just what I need to return my broken body to some state of normalcy. What they don’t tell me is that it starts at 8am. Bastards.
I’m late, obviously. The organisers have saved me a spot right in front of the DJ decks, but it’s hard to be inconspicuous when you’re wearing space cat leggings. I try to sneak straight into a surreptitious downward dog but before I know it a serene figure in white has appeared next to me. “That was quite the entrance,” she breathes. I’m far too fragile for all this.
Still, my Columbo-like powers of deduction are functioning enough that I gather this ethereal presence must be Elena Brower. One of the world’s leading yogi (not the bear), the story goes that she met the guys from Above & Beyond at Burning Man (where else?) in 2014. She led a yoga session in front of the Robot Heart soundsystem in the deep playa while Above & Beyond DJed (The set has now been streamed over two million times on Soundcloud). It was, by all accounts, such a profound and powerful experience for everyone involved that they ran it again five or six times at various other festivals and parties and eventually decided to collaborate on a new album, ‘Flow State’.
Evening, Wednesday, Black Rock City 2014. Led by Paavo and Tony of Above and Beyond, bathing in the lavender sunset, we practiced an hour of yoga with Elena Brower. We gathered, strengthened, listened and received the gift of quiet. We landed at home in our own hearts.
The record itself is a continuous ambient instrumental mix, but there’s also a second version featuring a lengthy spoken word piece by Elena. The threat of a ‘spoken word yoga album’ is usually the sort of thing that makes me delete an email faster than you can think of rhyme for Jeremy Hunt, but right now listening to Elena I realise I’d sell the stronger of my two kidneys for a recording of her. It’s not just that she’s gracefully guiding us through the yoga, making even pretzeling myself into an excruciating pigeon position seem elegant, it’s that she’s keeping up such a steady stream of wisdom about gratitude and safety and self-reliance that I catch myself smiling up at the clear blue sky. The music swells euphorically, not in a I’ve-just-dropped-a-pinger-in-Block-9 way, more like a striding-off-into-a-new-dawn way. It feels vast and cinematic. I’m Renton with the bag full of cash at the end of ‘Trainspotting’. I think it’s all going to be OK. I think it’s going to be fine.
Once Elena is done restoring me to the status of functioning human, I sit down with her and Above & Beyond’s Paavo Siljamäki and Tony McGuinness to find out how they ended up creating this instant dose of Serenity Now.
“We’re obviously DJs who spend most of our time playing dark nightclubs,” explains Paavo. “I think where this fits in is that I feel like if I look after my own mental fitness better, and look after my body better, if I’m in better shape mentally and physically, then I can get more out of the parties. It enables a lot more fun in life.”
We’re living in a hyper-accelerated age, where the danger of pushing yourself too hard and too fast is all too real. That fear is the tragic backstory to this project, which was born in the wake of the recent suicides of Avicii and Bill Hamel, a member of Fatum, who released music through Above & Beyond’s label Anjunabeats.
“I’ve been burning out,” says Paavo. “I’ve been struggling with depression. For me, this has been a therapeutic thing. I’ve needed to stop stuff, and I’ve needed space to really work through things. Music is such an awesome thing because I can make music if I’m feeling happy or sad or tired or energetic. That’s very much where a lot of this album has come from, from a very painful and dark place, but doing it has been a release and now that’s it’s out there maybe it’s going to resonate with people who are struggling. All the shocking things that have happened in the last few years have made me realise that we need to get people talking about this. There’s no shame in it.”
To reinforce the message he wanted to convey with this music, Paavo approached Elena to record her voice-over. “Her message is so on point with what we’re trying to do,” he explains.
So what exactly is Elena’s message? “The very first line [of the spoken word recording] is I think the most important,” she says. “‘There is a place within you that is always at rest and always at peace.’ Then we walk through the process of forgetting and remembering several times over the course of the talk, so that by the end there’s no question: You are here listening to this so that you can remember that space inside of you, provide yourself with a sense of safety and presence and hold your own hand. By doing so, you’re going to be able to do that for other people. That is a service that we can all give to the communities in which we live.”
Speaking of communities, I’ve got about 200,000 mates who I think would be into this. “We’ve got to bring this to Glastonbury, for sure,” says Paavo. “I think Glastonbury would be the place,” adds Tony. “Even more than Burning Man.”
Elena, are you in? “I’d love that!” Let’s make it happen. Glastonbury. 2020. Elena Brower and Above & Beyond, I wanna be your downward dog.