With 1 in 6 of the UK population experiencing some sort of mental health problem every week and 75% of these issues arising by the age of 24, it’s clear that the stereotypical portrait of the sweaty, raving Millenial or Gen Z might not be completely accurate.
Mental health awareness week in mid-May worked to address this and saw big brands posting on social media to raise awareness on something that has impacted artists and party-goers alike. But what about the other 51 weeks in the year? Should labels and artists be constantly talking about mental health? Why should they when it isn’t their main focus?
This is where eott steps in. Focusing on normalising conversations about mental health, their work operates in a space somewhere between a musical community and a charity. The music side of eott goes beyond their focus on the events they’ve promoted with the likes of Keep Hush and released music from names such as Zero and Higgo (through their Sounds Of Liberation series), as it provides a relatable base for them to speak to younger adults in a tone that resonates with them. Their pamphlets on social media provide engaging advice on how to deal with mental health problems, both personally and socially, in their hallmark DIY aesthetic. Their witty but gripping ‘u k, g?’ branding has led to their merchandise quickly selling out, with all profits going to charities such as Help Musicians and Music Minds Matter. Along with collaborations with Keep Hush and Krudd, eott’s merch has been endorsed by names such as Slowthai, Loyle Carner and Bru-C.
We had a humbling conversation with founder, Levvy, about eott’s journey and why it exists.
“It was inspired by the absence of an organisation within the music scene that was solely focused on mental health.”
What led to you coming up with the idea for eott?
There were two big moments. The slogan, ‘u k, g?’, came first as a campaign which appeals to people in the underground music scene. After that, it became about building a home for the slogan which expanded into its own project. It was inspired by the absence of an organisation within the music scene that was solely focused on mental health. I’d always see big brands posting about mental health, but only really on mental health awareness week. I don’t blame them because it’s not their mission, but it inspired me to start something that focused on mental health all year round.
What were your personal motivations for starting eott?
I had my own struggles as a kid. I never spoke of mental health as a teenager, it was never a part of conversations. Looking back, I needed something that was familiar to me and spoke to me in my own language.
Something more relatable?
Yeah. Don’t get me wrong, there are loads of great mental health charities out there and some of the work that Mind and Samaritans do is incredible. But for me, the way it was presented was a bit alienating. I wanted something that was more familiar that would resonate with people like myself.
A couple of days later I realised that it could mean ‘Are you okay, g?’ I thought it was pretty good…
How did you come up with the slogan?
It was a bit of a eureka moment. I was playing around with the letters UKG and just added the question mark. It didn’t click instantly, I just thought it was cool and funny. A couple of days later I realised that it could mean ‘Are you okay, g?’ I thought it was pretty good so I sent it to some mates and they said ‘This is it!’ I’ve had loads of silly ideas before but something changed as soon as that happened. It sounds cliche but it just felt right.
It’s so simple, 3 letters, a comma and a question mark, but it really hits home.
Part of me was worried about it becoming a bit repetitive or lacking creativity, but at the same time people are still interested so we’re rolling with it.
You mentioned pamphlets and merch but what other work have you done?
We did two events before lockdown. The first was in Brighton and then we also collaborated with Keep Hush and Beastwang at their secret location event. We had some other fundraiser events planned in Leeds, Bristol and one with Krudd in Nottingham, but then lockdown happened and they couldn’t go ahead. That side of the music scene couldn’t really exist anymore. Luckily things are now opening up and we have some parties planned, one with Southpoint in July and hopefully another with Beastwang. After that we’ll work on doing our own independent parties.
That’s really exciting, hopefully restrictions ease as planned so everything can go ahead. What artists are you looking to book for your events?
To begin with we probably won’t have headliners. They’ll be fundraiser events so we have to take the budget into account. But we’ve taken big inspiration from Keep Hush because they don’t depend on big names coming through, it’s about the community vibe. We’ll start with low capacity parties and maybe one day we’ll do our own fundraiser festival.
It’d be wicked to go from sitting at home and playing around with those three letters to doing your own festival. I guess we should address the elephant in the room. Has COVID impacted your work?
It’s definitely had an impact on our process and operations. For the first four or five months there was no face-to-face teamwork. Events were cancelled, there were slower supplies from clothing manufacturers and we had a more constrained workspace. Personally, the most difficult aspect of lockdown was that my bedroom became the office. It might seem like a minor point for some people but it was important to have somewhere to go outside of the house everyday.
On the flipside, a positive was that it made room for more content which we might not have released otherwise. Before lockdown, our plan was to focus on music and fundraising events. After a month of lockdown we had to rethink our strategy so we worked on the pamphlets which ended up being really well received. They’ve received a lot of attention and were a direct product of lockdown so that’s been a positive.
Knowing that mental health issues and difficulties exist is important.
People who might not have been as conscious or as worried about their mental health before lockdown might have that worry now. Maybe your work has become even more valuable now.
I think there’s definitely a case for that. COVID has been a bit of a reality check mental health-wise. It’s certainly shown me that without the right consistent care, my mental health can be quite fragile. In a strange way, COVID forced me to recognise how important my mental health is.
After we released a pamphlet that we wrote last year titled ‘signs your mind might not quite be alright’, someone came up to me a few days laters and said ‘Bro, I’ve had this. I didn’t know this was a thing.’ They said that the pamphlet helped them, just because they then knew it existed. I have a close friend who has had anxiety for a few years and he said that just knowing what anxiety is has helped him the most and that what he’s going through has been validated.
Exactly, you can get worried because you don’t know what’s happening to you. You can question yourself, like ‘Should I be feeling like this? What’s happening to me?’
Knowing that you’re not the only person who has felt like that. Not in a condescending way of course, but knowing that others have felt the same can help deal with it.
Yeah, that helps shine a light on the path out too.
Definitely, if someone else can overcome it then so can you. You’ve worked with people like Bru-C and Fred CC who are quite established in their scenes, what sort of role do they play in eott?
Generally speaking they endorse the project. Something like repping the merch helps our message resonate, you could call them idols that are supporting the cause. It’s cool that famous people like Mahalia or Loyle Carner are also repping the tee but the more important thing is that they support our cause too.
Of course, it’s not just a piece of clothing.
Yeah, they also believe in the work that we’re doing. That’s the main role that they play but there are some instances where we work with some people more closely. Bru-C has been very important in the journey. Within the first couple of weeks of going live, he messaged us saying that he wants to get involved. We spoke on the phone and bounced some ideas off each other. He said straight away that he wanted to set up a collab with Krudd which was mad because it was only a month or two into eott. Krudd have been around for six or seven years and Bru-C is huge too so it’s mad to get support from them. Aside from the collab, he’s been more than happy to give advice here and there. I have to give major big ups to him.
Also, Fred from Keep Hush. He instantly warmed to the project and has been super happy to give feedback when we’ve asked. We also did the Don’t Keep Hush collaboration with him which was wicked. There are others too: Nico from Beastwang, Josh from Southpoint and Bobby from BTS have all been more than happy to help on a consistent basis.
Definitely! Do you have any goals for eott?
I’d like to collaborate with Mind for a pamphlet, zine or a poster. It’d be really cool to get their stamp of approval or validation. Even if we could say something like “Supported by Mind” it’d be an honour. In terms of mental health information, they’re the ones. And of course we’d like to do an official Reebok collab too. Mind and Reebok, that almost sums up eott!
Unexpected things have already happened when you look at who you’ve worked with so there’s no reason that those collabs couldn’t happen.
We’re still learning and we’ll get there. Both of those things will happen!
The clothes, tunes and endorsements are all great but the purpose of everything is to normalise the perception of mental health. When someone says that they’ve been checking up on their friends because of our work, that’s the best thing for me. It’s our purpose.
Where would you like eott to be in 5 years time?
We’d like to be a fully fledged mental health media platform and become credible in providing mental health content. Things like podcasts, articles and also releasing music. We want to continue raising funds and having an impact on communities all over the country. Seeing the money that we raise from selling garms being put to use is truly one of the most heartwarming experiences. Whether it’s food banks or a local charity, we want to do more of that. I’m not sure if it’s within five years, but we want to raise a million.
That’s all specific for eott, but in general we want to help more people and destigmatise mental health further. We want mental health not to be scary, or unfamiliar. The most fulfilling responses are definitely when people message to say that because of our work, they’ve been checking in on their mates and making it a normal part of conversations. The clothes, tunes and endorsements are all great but the purpose of everything is to normalise the perception of mental health. When someone says that they’ve been checking up on their friends because of our work, that’s the best thing for me. It’s our purpose.
If you’ve had people message you, think about how many people haven’t messaged but have still been influenced.
That’s true, only a few people actually get in touch. I forget that a lot of people see the content and don’t interact with it on social media, but the message can still sink in.
Even if it’s more of a long term process. The work that you’re doing along with other charities like Mind and just people talking about mental health, it all contributes to destigmatisation. Is there anyone you’d like to shout out?
First and foremost I have to shout out Eyes. Since before day one he’s put in more care, heart, passion and time than anyone else. It’s a true blessing to have him around. He couldn’t make it today unfortunately, but he’s a star and is due lots of credit. We make a great team. Also, shout out C-Waddz. He’s my boy and came up with the Don’t Keep Hush idea. He’s a g and a massive inspiration. Hold tight UKF too. 2011 times bluetoothing Nero and DJ Fresh at the back of the bus ones. Big.
Peace and Love