MENTAL HEALTH IN MUSIC
Without music, life would be a mistake…Friedrich Nietzsche
This morning I woke up to a beautiful surprise. Little to my knowledge, one of my favourite bands Enter Shikari had recently released a new single. Whilst this is undoubtedly great news, I can imagine you’re wondering how this has anything whatsoever to do with my blog on mental health.
Maybe it’s just that I’m obsessed with the fantastic specimen of a human being that is Rou Reynolds and will use any excuse to talk about him. I’m not going to deny this. But beyond that, in listening to this song I couldn’t help but be taken aback by the massive cultural relevance of the lyrics. Throughout the song, the band dance not only with super cool lighting, but with some very important themes about mental health within our modern society.
This is far from the first time Enter Shikari have spoken out about themes regarding mental health and well-being within their music. In fact, it was only in May of this year that Rou Reynolds opened up about his anxiety, and the position of mental health within music as a part of Mental Health Awareness week.
Beyond this, it has been explored explicitly in songs such as Shinrin-yoku and An Ode to Lost Jigsaw Pieces on their recent album The Spark. With very personal lyrics such as, “I was so scared of confronting the world alone, fear put me in a headlock and dragged me back from the unknown” the band shift from the politics ridden angst they’re known for, to heartfelt vulnerability. Given the band’s background and genre, this could be seen as an extremely brave shift. No longer are they shouting for a 93 year old woman to take a “good fucking swing” at war criminal ex politicians, but sharing a degree of subtle intimacy.
This might not seem like much. But for someone like Rou Reynolds, to open up in such a public way about his experiences of mental health must have been frightening.
Now, back to their new single. I simply had to stop and discuss it as I found some of the topics broached extremely interesting, and a helpful point of discussion for us in the modern day. Before I go on to discuss this, if you haven’t already seen their new music video – in which case you’re missing out – you may wish to check it out below:
At a first listen, the song may sound like some generic feel good electronic infused rock. The opening refrain,
Stop the clocks
Stop the clocks, I’m killing time
I don’t ever want this to end
And you say “that makes two of us”
comes across as your standard celebration of two individuals having a good time. With the energetic rhythm making you want to dance along you can’t be blamed for thinking the song is rehashing the old gimmick of wanting a fun evening’s exploits to go on forever. It is interesting that this is the chorus repeated throughout. It is the high impact heart of the song. The part that stands out most. For all intents and purposes… It’s the shiny exterior.
It’s only once one listens carefully to the verses – something that may be missed if simply going along for the ride – that you realise something far deeper is being discussed:
There’s a cinema in me
It plays counterfeit scenes
All my worries and blunders
This metaphor of an internal cinema playing out his “worries and blunders” beautifully highlights the inner voice of somebody suffering from anxiety. Interestingly, is the fact it is specified these scenes are “counterfeit”. This highlights one of the worst parts of somebody’s anxieties. Whilst those suffering often know on a surface level what is being told to them is lie, they can’t help but be plagued by it. They see their memories in the worst possible light, unable to escape the worries of even menial things that have come to pass.
The mental state of the narrator is further expanded upon as he sings,
Where’s this present you speak of?
Where’s this heavenly bliss?
I’m so sick of time travel
Here we have the idea that time is running away from us. We are shown an individual lost in his anxieties, who has lost a sense of control as if time is racing ahead without him. This is only emphasised as he declares that, “all your life, its moments missed.” There is a palpable sense of dread, or panic within the lyrics.
We are shown an individual in desperate need of grounding.
For those unaware, grounding is the concept of being rooted within the present moment. One can use various “grounding exercises” such as mindful breathing, or turning your focus to the weight of your body and physical reality of your situation. These exercises can be used as a sense of panic begins to set in to bring somebody back into the present moment, and force them out of an anxious cycle.
Basically, when the cinema of counterfeit scenes that is your thoughts becomes too much, grounding can be used to whip you out of these negatives thought patterns back into a feeling of calm. It can help slow things down when everything around you seems to be going too fast.
Whilst grounding is never explicitly stated, it is both seen within the video and spoken of within the lyrics. As he states, “Give me coordinates please, I look for a safe harbour”, one could read this as a declaration that he requires grounding. He needs to be rooted to the present moment as his feelings are slipping out of control. He needs, to quote the name of the song, “stop the clocks”.
The second place it is seen is at the 2 minutes 51 mark of the video. Rou is seen sat in a meditative stance before a TV showing himself. The music fades out until the TV screen goes blank and his eyes open. This simple visual metaphor shows a real life grounding technique literally turning off his internal cinema. It is no surprise then that it is immediately followed by the upbeat rhythm of the chorus. The clock has been stopped….
So there you have it. The means in which psychological grounding is explored within the song and music video. There is one further aspect I find interesting however, and that is how it relates to our modern society.
This section of my analysis may be a stretch, who knows, it may just be the literature graduate in me, but I feel there is a large section of the video that highlights how our modern technology helps to invoke such anxiety. Throughout the video television screens are shown, and beyond that… the colour blue.
This blue lightning is reminiscent of the digital blue light from computer screens. There has been lots of research into blue light, and its effects on our sleep patterns and overall mental health. Long story short, it ain’t great!
The opening shot of the video shows Rou, eyes closed as if attempting to sleep, in front of a static covered television emitting blue light. As it pans out we see he is within another screen, this one within another, and another etc.
My proposal, is that the video is highlighting the way in which technology is taking control of our lives. We are unable to find grounding in a world so invested with the blue light of technology.
In fact, It is only the mid point of the song in which the television is turned off, Rou is offered some sense of relief. Interestingly, the light is at this stage emitted from his eyes. Could this be a metaphor for finding salvation internally, rather than through technology?
Well, I really don’t know for sure. But I definitely find it interesting to discuss. I know there are further aspects of the video and lyrics I have missed. If you have any thoughts feel free to comment them below or message me your ideas.
I have really enjoyed writing this. Music is a fantastic form of expression, and there are so many brilliant songs exploring themes around mental health. I would definitely be interested in doing more of these in the future. If you have any ideas for songs I should look into, again, share them and I’ll see what I can do.
Thanks for sticking with me through this. If it hasn’t been helpful to you, I hope you’ve found it interesting at the very least.
All the best,