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NTU Sustainability in Enterprise

Myhouse Yourhouse: Coming Out of Retirement, Mental Health, and a Virtual Festival

15 May 21 words: Addie Kenogbon
photos: Fabrice Gagos
illustrations: Karla Novak

It was only when the world came to a crashing halt and gig venues, clubs and record shops were forced to shut their doors, that people realised just how important music is in bringing us all together. But out of that dark period came the resurrection of Myhouse Yourhouse. Part-online gig, part community and part virtual venue, it entertained over 80,000 listeners during the last twelve months, raising huge amounts for charity in the process. Addie Kenogbon talked to creator and Notts DJ Alex Traska and DJ and events organiser Jakki Denton to find out just how this Nottingham subculture became a beacon for mental health awareness, hope and togetherness...

The emotional and mental health benefits of music is something that has sparked debate for centuries. But, if you’re still sceptical of its all-encompassing powers, you need only look to the current pandemic to really see how music has been a driving force for togetherness and lifting spirits across the globe. Whether that’s the now iconic images of Italians playing instruments and singing from their balconies at the start of the pandemic last year, or the many bands and musicians that live streamed DJ sets, live performances and festivals to millions across social media.

You’d be hard pushed to find someone whose mental health hasn’t been affected by the pandemic over the past year, but according to recent research by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the Industry organisation for recorded music in the UK, 94% of Brits stated that music had helped to lift their mood during lockdown, while 91% of those surveyed said they felt music had helped them to escape and forget their problems. 

Here in Nottingham, one particular subculture has been especially instrumental in helping to lift the spirits of music lovers across the city, providing a haven for them to come together, in the name of music from the comfort of their homes. 

Nottingham’s underground house scene is one that has roots as far reaching as the early nineties, with the city often regarded as one of the global epicentres of deep house. But, as the pandemic ravaged the nation, a series of lockdowns over the past year forced many venues across the city to close their doors, and a void was left within the city and the hearts of Nottingham’s underground house community. Once boasting an electric calendar of regular events, the city’s nightlife came to a halt, and with it many were left feeling lost without the comforts of the community they had called home for so many years.

To combat this and help keep the spirit of house alive, Nottingham DJ Alex Traska took it upon himself to help rebuild that community during the pandemic. Through his online global streaming radio platform Myhouse Yourhouse, which relaunched last year during the first lockdown after a two-year hiatus, music lovers across the city and beyond were given the chance to come together once again. Over the past twelve months, the platform has welcomed over 80,000 listeners through the doors which is the equivalent of filling Rock City to capacity forty times over.

We recently caught up with Alex and East Midlands DJ and events organiser, Jakki Denton, to find out how the online streaming platform and a series of live streamed house nights have helped so many across the city make it through one of the nation’s most difficult years, and to discuss their upcoming event, the Mentally Sound Weekender, which is set to take place from 29-31 May.

Tell us a little bit about Myhouse Yourhouse...
Alex: The easiest way to think of Myhouse Yourhouse is that it’s a venue that exists online. When we launched it back in 2005 we decided it was important that everyone entered into it as a collective, and we all had the understanding that we will never charge people to play, we’ll never charge people to listen and we’re not interested in selling ad space. It’s not a money-making exercise, it was more about being passionate about what we’re doing. And, because of that, it meant we built this community that just started attracting like-minded souls that are passionate about great music. 

We have a great roster of DJs that are predominantly from Nottingham but we also have DJs from London, Liverpool, Birmingham and as far reaching as Seattle and Austin, Texas. You’ve got the likes of The Big Faces (DJs Coxie & Jodie P), Beane (Soul Buggin)'s Noodle Hot Pot, which celebrates fifteen years of shows on the station this month, and The Antics Roadshow Boys to name a few. As long as they fit into our musical remit, which is underground house and electric, but also jazz, soul, hip-hop, disco, and all the things that informed where house music came from, that’s what we’re about.

What sparked the decision to bring Myhouse Yourhouse back after its break?
Alex: When the first lockdown was announced, it meant a lot of people that were DJ-ing suddenly couldn’t do it. On the first night the lockdown was announced, I put a message in our Facebook group saying Myhouse Yourhouse could come out of retirement. The following morning, I woke up to so many messages from old DJs and loads of messages from people saying, ‘You’ve got to do this’. So, I built a new website and within a matter of hours, myself and Rob who I DJ with as Loose Joints, did our first opening show which about 100 people tuned in to.

We built this community that then just started attracting like-minded souls that are passionate about great music

How has the platform evolved over the course of lockdown since that first night?
Alex: Like everyone, we thought that COVID would blow over, but when it became apparent that it wasn’t going anywhere we decided to set up a regular roster. Now, the idea of pulling the plug once COVID is over is a distant memory and we hope to continue Myhouse Yourhouse post-pandemic because of all the amazing things that have come out of it.

Jakki: There really have been so many amazing things that have come out of this. I built up Ultrasound with my partner Sean MoRpH who sadly passed away not too long ago. We’re from Lincoln and have been running for almost two years, and we had loads of events planned. When lockdown hit, we had to cancel them but when we found out Myhouse Yourhouse was back on, we knew we had to get involved. We now have a regular slot at Myhouse Yourhouse and from that, we’ve helped build a community and made some great online friends.

Alex: The great thing is, Myhouse Yourhouse has also meant that we can do some really special things such as a few weeks back, we hosted an online event where we raised £2,000 for Nottinghamshire Hospice via our Breast Cancer Awareness special appeal day.

Jakki: There was such a buzz during that event and even though there were only three of us in my house, it didn’t feel like that because of the chat box and the enthusiasm from everyone joining in.

Can you tell us more about how Myhouse Yourhouse has helped listeners from a mental health perspective?
Alex: In 2008, Erick Anderson, who I founded Myhouse Yourhouse with, took his own life suddenly at the age of 25. There were no warning signs, so it was a massive shock for the whole community. As a result, mental health and wellbeing has always been an issue we’ve been aware of, and something that’s always been close to our hearts. 

The pandemic has affected so many people’s mental health too. You’ve got the extreme level of people that are really struggling with feeling isolated and then you’ve got the less extreme level, people like myself, where my work-life balance hadn’t been great before lockdown. On the spectrum of mental health, they’re all really important issues that communities like ours help people with. Of course, we’re not alone in that, and it’s not like we’re doing something unique, we’re just another important social focal point for people. But, in the Myhouse Yourhouse chat rooms, there are always people saying, ‘Thanks so much for being here’ and it’s just really humbling.

Jakki: Through Myhouse Yourhouse, we were helping people who were struggling through lockdown and through keeping things going and providing great music, we were helping their mental health without even being aware that we were doing it.

Tell us about the upcoming mental health awareness weekend, the Mentally Sound Weekender?
Jakki: Sean who I set up Ultrasound with had really struggled with his mental health, but he’d kept it well hidden in the same way I think a lot of people that are battling mental health issues unfortunately tend to do. But it was him that had decided that he wanted to plan an event to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing. So, six weeks ago we all made the decision to put the plans in motion for the Mentally Sound Weekender. Then Sean suddenly passed, and even though his passing wasn’t through taking his own life like Erick, it made the event even more important, and the story just became so much bigger.

We were helping people who were struggling through lockdown and through keeping things going and providing great music, we were helping their mental health without even being aware that we were doing it

Alex: Because of what had happened to Erick, I’d always really wanted to put on an event like this but with Sean’s passing, it really galvanised our resolve to make a stand about mental health awareness, especially given the current pandemic. 

Holding the event during the Bank Holiday weekend means we’ve got a nice three-day’s worth of broadcasting on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and it’s set to be a great weekend with a minimum of eighteen  DJs performing across the weekend. We’ll be featuring lots of deep house but on the Sunday especially, people will also get the chance to listen to hip hop, disco, soul and funk – all the genres that inform house music. As part of the weekend, we’ll also be playing recordings from both of Sean and Erick’s old sets to honour them. 

Will you be raising money for any charities during the event too?
Alex: Yes. Listeners won’t have to pay to listen, but we’ll be encouraging people to donate through the donation link, and there’ll be a totaliser on the site detailing how much money we’ve clocked up.

Although there are of course so many fantastic national mental health awareness charities,  we wanted to do something to support smaller causes such as Soundcheck. They are a chaplaincy service specifically focused on helping out people in the music industry that have been affected by the pandemic and have lost their livelihoods. There are many DJs out there who can’t pay their rent and are being evicted from their homes due to the pandemic. This then has an impact on their family lives and their relationships and can in some cases contribute to some people doing the unthinkable. But, Soundcheck are there as a support line for those people so it was a no-brainer for us to support them. We’re also in talks with a number of other small local mental health charities which we’ll reveal soon.

The Myhouse Yourhouse Mentally Sound Weekender will take place online from 29 – 31 May. To find out more visit their website

myhouseyourhouse.net

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