White City Entrepreneurs: The Transcendent Power of Sweating It Out

Originally published on White Noise

August 2018

Imagine Secret Cinema, but… sweatier. Our Huckletree West studio-mates Sweat & Sound have found a way to blend fitness, live music and intriguing locations from forests to historic churches. Arnelle Paterson had a chat with founder Ariana Alexander-Sefre.

It’s a dreary Tuesday afternoon, and I could do with an energy boost. “Arnelle?” An unfamiliar voice interrupts my train of thought. As I turn my head to investigate, a sudden gush of energy fills the space. It looks like my shot of Lucozade has come dressed in work-out leggings.

Ariana Alexander-Sefre is the founder of Sweat & Sound. She creates live music fitness experiences to engage all the senses, complete with storylines and themes to offer an escape from reality in secret locations.

Ariana’s spent the last ten years in the events industry, working with companies like Nike, Coca Cola and Sofar Sounds. After moving to Bristol for university, she started to “spot missing pockets of experience” and began catering for the under-represented. She says, “The music scene there is very middle class and white, especially in the uni. There were no hip-hop nights and I was like, ‘Let’s just do one.’ We got a few local artists in and it was a hit!”

She set up her first business aged just 19, running underground music gigs and club nights. “It was all cash-in-hand and I was cycling around Bristol with ten grand of cash in my backpack at 4 am about to get mugged and then I got to the bank the next day like, ‘Would you mind cashing this into my account please?’” she laughs. “And they were like, ‘No, you can’t do that!’ So I’d end up stashing it in my room. This is money I owed people as well; I wasn’t this super-rich student.” The entire operation lasted two years.

After university, Ariana emigrated to New York, where she worked for a bank and ran events for their ultra-high net worth clients. “It was ridiculous. I was booking private jets from Switzerland to the Bahamas so they could go to a golf tournament.” Despite the initial excitement, Ariana realised it wasn’t for her. “I hated the corporate world. You become a robot and a bit depressed, and you manage it with drugs and that’s what everyone does,” she admits. “75% of New York’s on Xanax; they prescribed me Xanax.” The idea for Sweat & Sound was niggling away, but visa constraints held her back. “I didn’t want to be one of those British people in New York working in a bar. I thought, ‘I’m going to go back to where I came from, set up this business and hopefully move it back to New York one day.”

Sweat & Sound experiences combine the mind and body, and tap into emotion for escapism. I’m interested to know why this combination works. “It’s been scientifically proven,” she says. “They proved that when you listen to live music, your happy hormones increase and it makes you feel better. When you’re doing exercise and movements, the same thing happens. When you combine the two, they increase even more than they would otherwise.” She tells me that exercise and music are being used for post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

Ariana describes a study on multi-sensory immersion using VR and the senses (example) that’s being used to ease post-traumatic stress disorder. “We’re so used to living these one-dimensional lives where we go from work to transport to office block. We’re sitting for eight to nine hours a day in fake light, fake air,” she explains. “All these senses we were using 500 years ago on a daily basis, we don’t use them any more. Anxiety and depression are increasing every single day in major cities.”

Aurora is one of Sweat and Sound’s most popular events. It’s yoga and meditation in a historic church with a live orchestra. Expect a journey into outer space with the help of projected visuals. “Ahhh, it’s so beautiful!” Ariana clasps her hands together with satisfaction as she beams. “I look around and there’s tears streaming down people’s faces. We have other experiences where everyone’s really happy and laughing. By tapping into these little emotions, it’s your body saying, ‘Thank you for engaging these senses that I don’t engage with every day.’”

The effects that these experiences have on people are pretty profound. “People have said that the event stayed with them for a couple of days. They’ve described the experiences like a mini-retreat, like they’ve been there for a day or two. It’s an extra way to disconnect people from a far more mundane reality for that two or three hours. With what we’re doing, the biggest angle is the mental over physical.”

It’s no surprise that mental health is important to Ariana, as the Londoner has had her own battle. “My anxiety was linked to my purpose and what I was doing. You can probably tell I’ve got a lot of energy, so I need to put it into something that’s going to matter to me and make a difference,” she says. “I work so much harder and I’m probably a lot more stressed, but it’s good stress, rather than negative, depressed stress. I still get anxious and overwhelmed and I’ve got coping techniques, but setting up this business has been one of my biggest helps.”

Ariana’s got a pretty jam-packed schedule, with a session last week for White City Place’s Not-So-Sporty Sports Day, a space-themed event in Seven Sisters, as well as some retro Bollywood yoga in the mix. Her closing sentence makes me smile: “I’ve got the yoga and live orchestra at the beginning of October in New York.” 18 months after moving back to London, this logical dreamer has realised her dream.

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