If you’ve ever been to see Bwana play you’ll recognise he’s a DJ who looks after himself: his arms speak for themselves and he holds the unique distinction of being the only artist to have had a protein shake prepared for him mid-set on Boiler Room.
The Canadian producer, real name Nathan Micay, has been into weightlifting since high school, and a brutal incident during his student days made a focus on his health more pressing than the average twenty-something might give heed to. Walking home through Leeds’ Hyde Park on an early Halloween evening during an exchange year at the university, Micay was clubbed on the head with a pipe and robbed of his valuables while knocked out cold.
As he revealed in a Resident Advisor interview, this put him out of action for an extended period, halting a promising ascent in the loosely-termed post-dubstep scene. He’s since made an impressive return to the fore, changing tack to make music that blends house, disco, and techno into slick, driving club records, clocking up releases Aus, Cin Cin and LuckyMe while playing gigs worldwide.
The life of a touring DJ is a taxing one and keeping a close check on physical health is a necessary requirement. “The more you tour the more you realise your body's own limitations,” Bwana tells us during a Skype call. “Once you start realising that, you need to put a plan in place to ensure you can make this a sustainable career.” This is something Bwana is now helping other DJs with, running a personal training program for DJs and industry people in Berlin that he jokingly calls 'Bodies By Bwana', "like it's an infomercial or something.” He’s even made fake commercials for it on his monthly Berlin Community Radio talk show, which can be heard here.
It started when a Berlin-based techno DJ approached Bwana about wanting to get in shape alongside a label colleague. “They saw pictures of me on Facebook and said I look like I know what I'm doing so asked if I could give them a hand,” he says. “I had all this spare time because I'm just a producer/DJ full-time, so I said 'yeah, I'll give it a shot.'”
From there the project has grown into a six-strong roster that he trains twice weekly, spanning up-and-comers to headline status DJs and a key player in electronic music PR, with four people also on a waiting list.
The programme varies on individual’s preferences. “Some people just want to lose weight, some people want to full on get into weight lifting so I show them what to do with that, then I write a nutrition plan and generally give advice whenever they need it. I tell them when and when not to drink alcohol. It's becoming like a full-time job!” Bwana remarks, having now expanded the classic DJ/producer tag to include the slash titles entrepreneur/personal trainer/nutritionist/mentor.
Another top-level DJ and current student of Bodies By Bwana has been in the programme for close to four months now, recently making the step up to the weights room after initial months of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and preliminary bodyweight training.
Despite the obvious benefits, staying healthy carries a taboo in the dance music sphere, with its connection to sesh bravado and relentless schedules. “Whenever I'm on tour and I meet other DJs the first thing they almost always do is point out my arms and say I'm a much bigger person than they expected,” Bwana says. The aforementioned Boiler Room appearance drew comments such as “Douche!” and “When you think it couldn’t get any worst [sic] ... protein shake whilst DJing." But chain smoking cigs and knocking back shots is commonly seen as a cause for applause.
And Bwana does face occasional ribbing for his tendency to stay dry, a choice linked to alcohol’s stunting effects on muscle growth, when spending time with wider industry people. “Networking is all about partying and stuff and it's hard for me sometimes,” he confides, “I like to party and I dance as much as anybody, but I don't feel I need to be drunk to have a good time.”
A recent tweet from Bwana demonstrated this point. “Music festivals: where industry people make fun of u 4 staying in shape when they're sober & then after 2 drinks get real & ask 4 gym tips,” he posted while backstage at The BPM Festival, no doubt experiencing the teasing noted above.
While Bwana is keen to not be preachy or impose his own personal choices on anyone, at face value his experiences do reflect a prevailing mindset in dance music that staying healthy is unusual or somehow a badge of shame, which can be dangerous and all too commonly lead to burnout and other serious health conditions among industry figures (as well as fans). “You meet other DJs on the road who are exhausted and look like they seriously just need some time off, and it can be hard to see,” he says, noting that one excessive night can be enough to throw a whole tour into jeopardy.
“It seems like more people are coming around,” he continues, commenting on a shift in this attitude, and it’s encouraging to hear of his training work and the clamour for places. “The gym is a great constant. In an industry where so much is out of your control it's nice to have something where you actually get what you give. You can work for months on a release only to see it get brushed under the table but with the gym you actually can control most of your progress and that really is a wonderful thing to have when you work in this industry.”
It’s important to remember that it’s possible to party while maintaining an awareness of health, and sometimes making the decision to arise early for the gym rather than see an after party through to the bitter end will do wonders for wellbeing. “You have to pick and choose your battles,” concludes Bwana.
Health tips and help is out there for those who need it, and for any Berlin-based industry figures, if you’re lucky Bodies By Bwana may have wait list spaces available come 2020.
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Staff Writer, follow him on Twitter
Published as part of Mixmag Health Season