Editors Note: At the end of Mental Health Awareness month, Swedish bass producer Liquid Stranger shares in his own words the practices that help him manage the stress of the music industry, and how you can implement these strategies into your own life.
My name is Martin Stääf — though you may be familiar with me through my stage name Liquid Stranger and my label/collective, Wakaan. I currently reside in Oklahoma, where my staff and music and clothing operation are based. I’ve been privileged to have worked in the music industry since the late ’90s, have released some 15 bodies of work — including my most recent LP Balance — and have toured all over the world. In October, we’ll be throwing our annual multi-day WAKAAN Music Festival in Ozark, Arkansas at Mulberry Mountain.
As with any industry, in electronic music there are extreme pressures and a wide ride of emotions. Perhaps it’s even more so the case in the music industry, which is filled with long nights, intense travel and a see-saw of emotional highs and lows. At one point a DJ is performing on stage in front of thousands, commanding the crowd, and then later may find themselves sitting quietly in alone in a hotel room contemplating and scrutinizing every facet of their set.
There’s a major mental health crisis in the United States right now, and the electronic music community is not immune — far from it. We’ve tragically lost myriad high-profile producers over the last few years, and also industry executives who worked behind the scenes. It’s heartbreaking. There are, however, ways to soothe the soul. I would like to share with you how practicing martial arts has provided me with useful tools to help navigate my life.
My story starts in Varberg, a small town in the south of Sweden where I grew up. I started training in martial arts at an early age, eventually earning black belts in a few different systems, such as Karate and Kung Fu, after years of hard work. After finishing school, and after working with music for a few years, I felt totally burnt out.
After lots of soul searching, I decided to move to Arizona at the age of 28, after getting a sponsorship for furthering my martial arts training. At this time, I was thinking my main focus should be on martial arts, as it felt like a better path for personal growth. It’s why I came Stateside, to train under grandmaster Soke Reagan. I worked with him daily, eventually started running his dojo, all while making music and touring on the side, more as a hobby.
While I’ve always been a creative, I very much view myself as a seeker, and someone who is hungry for knowledge about lots of different topics. I have always enjoyed the physical, and mental challenges that accompany martial arts. Walking through this experience helped my spiritual development, and offered me new ways to express myself through art. It helped me discover who I was, and how I could become a more self aware person, and better serve others.
After my mentor, Harley Reagan passed quite suddenly in 2013, I went into a deep depression. I was desperately looking for ways to progress in my own path, yet honor all the things he taught me. I was searching for a bigger purpose. After some time, I realized how I could speak to more people, and be a force of good through music. I wanted to try to build a community larger than the martial arts academy, which was roughly 20-30 students at a time. That’s when the idea for Wakaan came about — and I ran with it.
I can say that martial arts has directly helped me in my music career. It’s instilled many things in me to help me accomplish my goals. It’s given me a solid, stable, mental foundation by the practice of meditation. It’s about being present in the moment, going inwards and paying attention. I look at it as developing a set of new tools to deal with different life situations. We’re all human, but the more modalities we have to work with, the better.
My mentor, Harley, handed down to me four steps to manifestation. In other words, how to turn your dreams into goals, and bring those goals into reality. These are not necessarily related to the warrior arts, but I think being more goal-oriented, having willpower, and work ethic is where martial arts helps. I’d like to share the four steps of manifestation with you, and hope you’ll find them useful for whatever journey you choose in life.
What is focus? Focus is knowing what you want. Being able to break through that first obstacle of confusion, and staying in the present will help determine what your desires are, and where you are going. This step comes first, since it lays the foundation for everything that comes after. The more clear you are with your focus, the easier it will be to reach your goals. Remember, the difference between a dream and a goal is that the goal has a date attached to it — the goal should be quantifiable.
Skills and Abilities
How can I develop skills and abilities? Martial arts are good for this because you repeat yourself, and even if it’s tedious, it’s about determination. Training the muscle to train itself. Learning new skills comes more natural if you fully know what you want, so make sure you have a clear focus before you start this step.
Get Off Your A– and Work
Keep going after it and perfecting your craft. Keep busy, and stay busy. Don’t get derailed by not having instant success — it takes time. This step is about will power. Get up. Work hard. Fail. Get back up. Work harder.
Surrender and Completion
This last step has been the hardest to understand myself, since I’m a perfectionist. I mistakenly thought it had to do with giving up — which I later understood isn’t the case at all. It’s more about knowing how, and when, to detach and hand over something to the universe. A prime example in my life is knowing when to stop working on a track. Only when I bring a song to completion can it start to work for me, and fill its purpose out in the world for the listener.
A final point I would like to make is that it’s paramount to surround yourself with good people who challenge you. I travel with a full crew who all serve a function, but also makes me take my life more seriously. It’s an absolute honor and a responsibility I don’t take lightly, to be able to do this as my job.