The effect drugs have had on music

(Photo credit: 4/04/2016)

The effect drugs have had on music and how they might be on the decline, study reveals

Josie Olney

Friday 2 May 2018 14:39 BST

From 'wine, women and song' to 'sex, drugs and rock and roll', drugs and music have had a long and turbulent relationship.

A timeline of drugs in music, recently published by The Guardian, reveals that when a new drug is discovered, a change in popular music is just around the corner. In the 1960s, the opiate drug heroin sedated the jazz/bebop greats Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, inducing a state of relaxation that allowed their free improvisation to flow. Over in the UK, Mods popped speed pills to feel unstoppable and energetic. The early 70s brought cannabis, which on the whole gave a chilled-out high to accompany laid back reggae music. Then ecstasy hit the 80s scene, where young people took pills at warehouse parties to share the common side effect of communal euphoria. Whether it was pills to keep you up all night or opiates to sedate you, drugs have accompanied the music scene for decades.

So which drug is fuelling today's music? Artist Miley Cyrus publicly supports the consumption of cannabis and MDMA, which she calls "happy drugs". She makes these substances appear innocent, claiming they "make you want to be with friends." Famously, Ed Sheeran had to take a year's break from the music industry to pull himself back from the dark side. These are just two high profile examples of the many artists who have struggled with substance abuse. Rod Stanley, Editor of Dazed & Confused magazine, has a perceptive view of the role of drugs in music. "No one has really 'invented' or discovered a new drug for a while," he says. "Every time one has been found over the decades, young people swiftly work out the best music experience to go with it." He even suggests that "if a new drug were discovered today, a new music scene would spring up overnight."

A wave of healthy eating and well-being may be the answer to music related substance abuse. In the last ten years there has been a 360% rise in veganism shown in a study by Ipsos MORI. Gym membership spending is up by 44% according to Cardlytics (a database which studies debit/credit card spending). Alongside this, a few million downloads of well-being and meditation apps, such as Headspace on iTunes App Store. This is the new age of health and statistics show us drug abuse is in decline. In a 2014 study posted by the The Observer, only 31% of people admitted to taking an illegal substance, and of them, 79% hadn't repeated the experience.

Despite this, the music industry still involves drug and alcohol abuse by some artists. A study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy shows that, though there may not be a new popular drug, a third of pop songs in 2007 made reference to alcohol or drugs. But life destroying addictions are now less common, surely a positive finding for all music lovers.

Are Drugs Necessary in Music?

May 1, 2018 - Leave a comment


“The Beatles were so f***ing high they let Ringo sing a few tunes.” Bill Hicks

Josie Olney

A solution might be closer than you think ...

Drugs and music go hand in hand, like reggae and grass, acid house and pills, punks and narcotics. Looking back over the decades, it's clear each music scene comes along with a new drug, or vice versa. Like the chicken and egg conundrum, whichever comes first, the other follows.

So what is it about drugs that make them so important to music? Is it that hallucinations trigger poetic lyrics? Or sedation removes pressure or anxiety to allow free-flowing expression? Or are drugs just a way for musicians to fit in and look cool? Noel Gallagher of Oasis says he 'used to stay up for days doing loads of coke, drinking anything. Because that's what you do, innit?' Unfortunately, as a result of poor reviews, it seems the Oasis brothers should have stuck with drugs; their clean albums, such as Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, were not so well received. 'At least they are still standing' said NME. Back in the 50s, jazz greats like Miles Davies and Charlie Parker glamorised drugs. 'People were considered hip if they shot smack' claimed Davies. But if anything, taking drugs has to be a sign of weakness and insecurity – you are doing something that damages your body to appear more adventurous to other people. So why did this become a fashion?

Drug companies of the 60s may be partly to blame. Amphetamines were legal and liberally prescribed for weight loss and heart problems. Perhaps inevitably, their energising side effects proved irresistible to musicians and gig-goers. Dinaml, a common street drug at this time, created 'incidence of euphoria, enhanced wakefulness, increased physical activity, decreased appetite, feelings of power, strength, self assertion and enhanced motivation'. This sounds like the key to the Octopus' Garden.

We must remember that if drugs were essential to writing music, blogs and books on music would be recommending which drugs to take, rather than focussing on chords and lyrics. Chris Adolf, member of Denver's Bad Weather California argues that "It's absurd to think that because some famous rock stars were drug addicts, doing drugs has anything to do with being a musician". He has a point – you won't say you could only write a good song if you had the latest equipment, as it simply doesn't work like that. But this didn't stop jazz enthusiasts taking heroin to discover Charlie Parker's secret. The drive to be a successful musician seemed to outweigh the desire to live a healthy, long life.

Fortunately, a new way of taking drugs is on the rise and may reduce the number of overdoses. Rather than bingeing on copious drug cocktails, a different method of drug use, known as 'microdosing', is the hot topic on Reddit, a popular debating site. The Reddit microdosing thread shows 15,000 subscribers and targeted searches. Fans of microdosing say it 'removes anxiety' and generally gives them an all-round 'better day'. Hypothetically, if all drugs disappeared, it would be hard for musicians dependent on them to adjust and continue to write. It would be like losing the key to the room where all your musical ideas and identity are kept, forcing musicians to reinvent themselves personally and musically. Microdosing is an attractive alternative to that scenario.

In a 2005 survey, 10.5% of people admitted to taking an illegal substance, whereas today this has gone down to 8%. It would seem that drug abuse is currently in decline. But might this be a problem for music – if new drugs create a new scene, does the opposite apply, and no new drugs make for bland music? Techtonik music is a case in point; it makes a thing about being totally alcohol and drug free, and is as awful as the name implies. Looking back over history of drugs within music, a decline in drugs could be bad news for the creative music industry.

For the foreseeable future, drugs won't be made legal (even if some people think legalisation would stop people overdosing on substances that are effectively 50% rat poison.) Microdosing would seem like a sensible compromise between overdosing and just feeling confident and okay. There may always be celebrity casualties, such as the tragic Amy Winehouse, but on balance, are drugs simply a musical fact of life, a regrettable, but necessary part of the music industry?

Têtes de Pois perform at The Wardrobe

(Photo credit: NiteLifeOnline 9/11/2017)

Têtes de Pois perform at The Wardrobe

Funky 7 piece soul band get crowd bopping to kick off the new Soul Rebels season at The Wardrobe, Leeds

Head for The Wardrobe in Leeds, where the new Soul Rebels season has opened with head-turning new band Têtes de Pois. Think Snarky Puppy and Haitus Kaiyote, combine with Portico Quartet and Cuban Jazz Combo and then sprinkle on that raw Leeds character, and you have a headlining act for the night! The dance floor is packed from the start of the gig, with stunning supports Mamilah and Soul Rebel DJs, building anticipation that erupts in a huge cheer as the band walks on.

The funky seven piece kicks off with saxophone leads Jasmine Whalley and Harry Fowler punching out some bright stabs, accompanied by George Hall on drums. The combination of drums and percussion is mesmeric; Josh Ketch is surrounded by all kinds of instruments ranging from cow bells to egg shakers. He certainly doesn't hold back and adds tasty textures to Hall's grooves.

The band met at Leeds College of Music, and each member is superbly talented, as seen in their dazzling solos. Guitarist Ben Haskins noodles effortlessly up and down the guitar, gliding over fast and intense melodic lines as well as hitting incredible jazz chord extensions. But he's not even looking down – he's too busy smiling at the ecstatic crowd and dancing with the band. George MacDonald on keys creates a soft and smooth vibe as he works through some crunchy chord progressions. Whalley picks up the enormous baritone saxophone and performs an entire track without a strap; playing effortlessly, she honks out a deep, mellow line alongside Owen Burns on bass.

Special guest Otis Mensah, a young MC/poet from Sheffield, is invited on for a special number. His passion for the spoken word shines through as he grooves around the stage with musicians who clearly love playing with him. The contrast with the previous instrumentals adds a lick of colour, keeping it lively and engaging. To close the set, Fowler puts down his sax and picks up the microphone, then out comes his beautiful caramel voice. The song is not a cover, but most of the crowd sing along, showing this new young band already have a strong following.

Têtes de Pois have a talent and passion for music that is impossible to ignore. Their original sound is not to be missed, so look out for upcoming gigs in Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield.

Feisty vocalist, Maya Kally, releases touching solo debut ‘Another Time’

by Josie Olney

The name Maya Kally is popping up everywhere after her single release just over a month ago. This remarkable song covers a deeply personal topic which is movingly portrayed by her unique vocals and delicate piano accompaniment. The young, London-born singer, now a student at Leeds College of Music, fronts a 7-piece band called Nag Champa. Her inspirations and goals, however, are as a solo artist which she shares with me today. Maya Kally(Photo Credit: Cameron Fox, 20/11/2017)

"I'd rather have a lot less friends or connections and be happy then try to be something else"

Kally describes her single, Another Time, as "a tune I had to get out there, put on the table and move on from". The tender lyrics and evocative timbre of her voice create a tapestry rich with colour and emotion, reflecting her devotion to music and her approach to the difficult subject matter. This brave artist not only puts a large part of herself into this new song, but in other tracks she tackles complex topics such as sexual assault and racism. She wants listeners to take serious messages away from her work.

Kally has released 'Another Time' with a stunning music video. Two dancers, fellow students Jasmine Christine Søgaard Gordon and Kate Forster, are mesmeric as they put Kally's words into action. Kally reveals that the song came about after seeing two clouds touch in the sky as she looked out of the window of a Mega Bus; she was drained and tired, but this image sparked an idea. Kally drew inspiration from a music video called Slack Jaw, danced by Emma Portner and Ellen Page; Kally admired their "delicacy and intimacy", and wanted her dancers to be equally captivating, with beautifully personal choreography to complement her music.

Dim lights, alone and in control, Kally's song-writing process is typical for a soul/blues inspired singer song-writer. She walks into a room and says "does it look depressing in here? Right let's go!" Kally writes on guitar and piano; at the start line of her creative process she expresses the emotions through the instrument and then moves onto lyrics. When asked to pick between the two instruments she laughs. "That's really rude! It's like asking my preferences between my Mum and Dad ... my Mum!"

Her ideal place to write, she says, would be the South of France, where she would "just sit in a dark room writing and crying while it's beautiful outside". There is a disturbing disconnect between Kally's emotions and the world out there.

Nag Champa do not currently have a post-university rehearsal schedule, but Kally is aiming for a solo career, so this is not a worry for her. She admires artists such as Nick Hakin and Fiona Apple, but while aspiring to such heights, Kally is realistic. "Babes, you're gonna get depressed if you think that happens to everyone", she sighs. This refreshingly humble attitude is what makes Kally such a likeable and down-to-earth artist, although it comes with unnecessary modesty. Talking about her plans to record an EP, she doubts herself. "I don’t think it would be a good idea to release an album after one single, nobody would listen," she says. The buzz on social media around her single release says otherwise. With around a thousand views on Youtube, planned live sessions with Leeds Student Radio and Live in the Hive and multiple reviews and interviews written about her online, Kally may need to reconsider her plans.

It is a well-known fact that musicians can get depressed by the pressures of the industry, but Kally copes with this by removing herself from stress and going for walks in the countryside. Being out and about in nature reminds her there is so much more happening in the world than just music; this brings her back to reality. "If I'm happy with myself then I want to continue with what I'm doing," she argues. "But if I'm not, then I really need to think how I can become happy." This is a remarkably sound attitude for such a young artist.

“Sometimes I get angry because I want it so much.”

The singer Princess Nokia features on Kally's "get pumped" playlist. Kally loves the female empowerment of this music; "I love watching videos and interviews about strong females who don't give a shit," she reflects. When asked if she is one of those women, she replies "not yet, maybe when I come out of LCoM". Kally believes a combination of life experience, anger and powerful role models will get her to this point. She has a touching fondness for her "headstrong" mum, her personal role model. But Kally's tough side shows when she talks about anger. "Sometimes I get angry because I want it so much." Then she smiles. It's hard to believe such an apparently sweet girl can have this fierce streak, but Kally's drive and ambition powers her emotion, making her an intriguing artist well worth following.

Kally has a positive grip on gender in music, and her take on this is impressive. She describes female artists as "ridiculed" and "isolated", but this doesn't stop her aspiring to be part of change in the music industry. Kally is not at the top of her game yet, but her interest in gender politics will help her on the way to becoming a strong female artist. Most inspiring of all, she is proud of just being herself: "I'd rather have a lot less friends or connections and be happy then try to be something else," she explains.Maya Kally
(Photo Credit: Cameron Fox, 20/11/2017)

Kally's passion and motivation, combined with her self-deprecating yet lively personality, make her a fresh, radiant artist, and one to watch. Do not miss a chance to see her perform for yourself in the next few months, before she makes it big.

Upcoming dates:

22nd March 2018 // The Chemic Tavern, Leeds // Doors open at 7:30pm

7th June 2018 // Live Music at Monkey Nuts, London // Doors open at 6:30pm

20 July 2018 // Leeds Jazz Festival, Leeds // Music Starts at 2pm

Music: Album Reviews


(Photo credit: by Jonathon Barken 07/17)

Portishead: Dummy

by Josie Olney

Portishead's 1994 album Dummy invites listeners into the dark and mysterious world of trance hip-hop, losing them in its wonder and beauty.

Dummy by Portishead is the pièce de résistance of the murky and bewitching 1990s Bristol Sound. This album leads you down a dark, twisting path to the enchanting underground scene of this colourful, exotic city. Dummy manages to contrast sweet delicacy against a base of raw grit; this creates an complex sound that is both beautiful and unique. Earthy textures combine with the intense desperation of Beth Gibbon's diverse and alluring vocals, which glide effortlessly through rough broken-up beats. Dispersed throughout, one can hear smooth muted horns and guitar flickers reminiscent of spy films, drenched in reverb. Whether you're lost in a trance at a rave or on a come down watching the rising sun, this dark and dirty trip-hop suits any mood.

Portishead showcases 22 year-old hip-hop enthusiast Geoff Barrow, known for his turntable genius. Dotted throughout the album, you hear samples of Johnnie Ray, Lalo Schifrin's Mission Impossible and some De La Soul. Barrow's talent shines through as he subtly immerses genres like soul-pop, spy movie and hip-hop into the misty depths of trip-hop. The group also includes Beth Gibbons, a 29 year-old singer who grew up on a farm and who Barrow reckons "had probably done more singing in her bedroom than on stage." Her delicate vocals have unlimited texture, skill and emotional force; NME describes the innocent nature of her voice as a 'broken sparrow', but do not underestimate the power Gibbons unleashes on the intricate tapestry of guitar and samples. She has an impressive wealth of influence and talent. Last, but certainly not least, is band member Adrian Utley, a 37 year-old jazz guitarist who moved to Bristol in the 80s playing with touring jazz bands. Portishead allowed Utley to spread his musical wings, drawing upon his jazz background to explore new fields, colouring the album with dashes of spy-like phrases and crisp guitar riffs. This unlikely group of musicians released Dummy in 1994, going on to win the Mercury Music Prize with it the following year.

Sour Times was one of the singles released from this album, and like the other tracks, it covers themes that NME describes as 'so very, very sad'. The chorus lyrics 'nobody loves me, it's true, not like you do' are similar to Biscuit, where a sample of Johnnie Ray's track is used: 'I'll never fall in love again'. The sense of hopelessness and despair does not make you want to sit down and cry like an Adele song; instead, the creative arrangement of instruments and chilled out beats immerse you in the enchanting ethereal world established by the band. Hidden within these gloomy topics lie haunting poetic phrases, such as 'Full fed yet I still hunger', 'this ocean will not be grasped' and 'Storm in the morning light'. These phrases paint a dark picture of Bristol's dingy back streets, in a haze of lingering cigarette smoke. The urban culture of 90s Bristol was made up of art and music collaborations and beautiful artwork was conjured up by graffiti artists such as Banksy and a founding member of Massive Attack, another Bristol based trip-hop band, Robert Del Naja.

The tracks on the album range from commercial trip-hop jams to far-out experimental genre fusion, making the music accessible to both entry-level head boppers and the more seasoned listener. Sour Times, Glory Box and It Could Be Sweet follow a traditional route of recognisable repeated melodies, catchy choruses and regular beats, making them easy to listen and sing along to. It's a Fire and Roads are beautifully crafted and evocative ballads, where vocals are at the forefront of the tracks, unlike elsewhere on the album, when they blend in seamlessly with the arrangement. Numb, Pedestal, Biscuit and Mysterons all push the boundaries of trip-hop, featuring strange samples, synthetic vocal effects and more complex arrangements of synths, guitars and beats. You can even hear touches of reggae in their music; in the 1950s / 60s Bristol was one of the most multicultural cities in the UK due to waves of immigration which brought new streams of music. Even for the less experienced listener, this music is so appealing, you can't resist diving in.

Dummy is a stylish and seductive album, which allows you to fall in as deep as the lyrics and arrangements will allow. The talent of these three artists does not stop at their instrumental technique; they use sound to paint mysterious and intriguing sets for their audience to walk through. This mysterious and stunning album will distract you from the constant clamour of modern life, leading you towards an oasis of calm and serenity, where you can sit back, plug in and unwind.