Austin Ato & Mind Yer Self on club culture and mental health

Mind Yer Self’s Ruaridh Gill speaks to DJ/producer Austin Ato, ahead of the Haptic 1st Birthday x Mind Yer Self at The Mash House this month, about maintaining positive mental health in the dance music industry

Feature by Claire Francis | 25 Apr 2018
  • Austin Ato

Mind Yer Self is the brainchild of Glasgow-based students Ruaridh Gill, Matty Lech and Cammy Macphail. The trio host bi-monthly nights at The Berkeley Suite, with all profits from the parties donated to Penumbra, one of Scotland's largest mental health charities (to date they have raised over £1,400 for the cause). Previous Mind Yer Self guests have included the likes of O’Flynn, Earl Jeffers, Damiano von Erckert and COEO; as well as bringing exciting new names in dance music to Scotland, Mind Yer Self is a concept that seeks not only to raise funds and awareness, but also to encourage a conversation about real experiences with mental health issues and break down barriers in the process.

This month, Mind Yer Self have partnered with Haptic for the Haptic 1st Birthday Party at The Mash House in Edinburgh on 27 April and they've invited DJ and producer Austin Ato along as a special guest. DJ and producer Ato has been a prominent figure on the scene for years; under his Drums of Death alias he released rave and house records for myriad labels as well as undertaking production work for Azealia Banks. Ato recently released the new EP Song for Mr. Lewis on Phonica White, a record characterised by intoxicating, lush piano and vocal samples. Ahead of the Haptic party (from which Mind Yer Self will donate half of the profits to their cause), Mind Yer Self’s Ruaridh Gill (RG) spoke to Austin Ato (AA) about his own personal experiences and struggles with mental health. Ato has also curated a special all-vinyl mix ahead of the Haptic x Mind Yer Self event; listen to it below or on SoundCloud.

RG: "First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your exciting new project Austin Ato?"

AA: "The name 'Austin Ato' is a play on the classical music term 'ostinato' which means repeating a rhythmic or melodic motif; basically a riff, or a bassline. I make music that takes production nods from disco and deep house. I like things live, loose and a little raw. I’ve done 12-inches on Phonica White (the record store from London’s own label) and Futureboogie. I have a 12 inch out on Man Power’s label in July followed up by a release on house music legend label, Classic. An album and live show are the goals for next year."

RG: "What made you want to make music?"

AA: "I have no idea. Always have. One of my earlier memories is me playing on the my cousin’s keyboard’s drumpads. It’s just there all the time, all I want to do is make music, play it, DJ, play shows. So far, it’s a never-ending journey. I don’t want anything else. Just to write and explore."

RG: "What's your personal experience of mental health?"

AA: "It’s pretty straightforward, I’m a left of centre person. I’m happy when I get to do things my way and keep it feeling right. I used to live in London and ended up fast-tracking myself into the mainstream music world. It was a bad move, I started to hate music, nothing I did was very good and really it was getting into boxing and having a great support network of friends that helped me keep the head.

"I left London, essentially discarded everything I’d done before and decided that I have to work on this new thing back in Scotland. Really, the end of London life was really hard. I can’t imagine having to deal with all that stress and depression on my own. It was pretty bad and something had to change. I’ve recently reconnected with some people from that time and it dawned on me just how bad the shape of my mental health was [at that time]. Being in Scotland and making music that’s far more personal has been another key to happiness."

RG: "How does touring and making music impact your mental health?"

AA: "Personally, I love touring. I’m quite nomadic and since I don’t particularly drink too much and don’t do drugs, I find my ups and downs of DJ/musician touring don’t hit such extremes as other people’s. Some of my happiest moments are travelling alone, meeting new people and seeing old friends. However, I have a girlfriend now and I would love to tour with her, but we’ll see. She also lives in the USA which is a whole other issue!"

RG: "What do you do to look after your mental health?"

AA: "Talk to friends, talk openly and honestly. I think we Scottish people say 'Ach, it’ll be fine' a bit too much and actually inside we’re crumbling. I’ve seen it, I’ve felt it... talk, speak, share.  Also, an obvious one... exercise. I was so fit when I was boxing, I’m trying to get back to that form up here."

RG: "What do you think people can do to help break the stigma surrounding mental health?"

AA: "As above. Talk. Even saying all this is strangely enjoyable. Despite us all being different, we have some experiences which are universal. Dealing with depression and mental health issues are definitely some of those."

Austin Ato plays the Haptic 1st Birthday x Mind Yer Self at The Mash House, Edinburgh, 27 Apr