Guest Post – Music And Autism


Today we are delighted to welcome our first Digital Resident, Patrick Samuel. He is kicking off his residency with a blog article all about music and autism, reflecting on how music has helped shape who he is today and offering some insights into how it helps him cope with his autism and ADHD.

Over to Patrick…

Music and Autism

Musician Patrick is wearing a bandana and black eyeliner, holding an electric guitar and pick.

Since I was diagnosed with autism and ADHD at the age of 38, I found it helps me a lot to “interview” myself when writing. It’s like the drums when I write music; I always start with them, they’re my guide and lend me structure.

Has music always been a big part of your life?

I grew up in Trinidad and music was always around me from as far back as I can remember. All types of music. From the American Top Ten countdown with Casey Kasem, to Solid Gold and American Bandstand; that’s how I got to know about Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna and David Bowie and learned about music videos.

There was also a lot of calypso at carnival in February and parang at Christmas. As well as that, because it was an Indian household and I was part of a large extended family, we would gather for weddings, birthdays and get togethers to watch Bollywood movies. My mom and her sisters played a lot of Indian music, and I became familiar with the greats such as Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar.

As I was already very hyperactive and easily overstimulated as a child, my family instinctively used music to calm and distract me when I was getting close to challenging behaviour. I would immediately get up on the table and start wiggling my hips, and everything was fine.

Did your tastes change as you got older?

They didn’t really change, they grew. I think it was an early sign of my autism that I couldn’t get enough of music, sometimes at the expense of everything else. My appetite got bigger as I was always hungry for new sounds.

I moved to the UK with my mom and my older brother, and by the 90s I was becoming interested in Britpop and with bands like Radiohead, Suede and Placebo, as well as the grunge movement with Nirvana and Hole. MTV helped a lot as those music videos were in constant rotation.

Whilst I experienced a lot of anxiety getting out and about and meeting people, it felt natural to go to gigs to see my favourite bands and to indie and alternative clubs. They started to feel like a second home, and I didn’t feel like such a misfit when I was on stage and dancing under the lights to all my favourite songs. The focus was always on how the music felt in my head and it allowed me to unleash all my pent-up frustrations and let go of my anxieties.

When did you become interested in guitars?

In the mid-90s — when I was getting more into 80s bands I missed out on hearing as a kid. The Smiths, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, Fields of the Nephilim and The Danse Society, to name but a few. I started hanging out at the clubs that played more post-punk and goth and was really taken with how those guitar and bass tones felt in my head. They triggered colours, patterns, shapes and bursts of light that felt really good. However, it would be a long time before I started playing the instruments myself. It was something I never thought I had the capacity to learn because, back then, it wasn’t easy to afford them or to find a left-handed one.

What type of music do you look out for nowadays?

There are lot of bands now that try to sound like those 80s bands like Sisters of Mercy and Siouxsie and the Banshees, but occasionally I come across ones that are doing their own thing and making their own sound. I like to keep an eye on Bandcamp which I use more than Spotify. As long as they have great sounding guitars, decent drums and a good balance with synths, I’m always interested.

Black Angel and Transylvanian Tapes are two bands I recently came across that I like. Secret Shame, Astari Night, Bestial Mouths and Scary Black are also some recent favourites.

Do you still go to gigs?

I try to. The Covid pandemic pulled the brakes on everything, but as we’re coming out of lockdown, I’m looking forward to a few club nights and gigs in the coming year. It takes a lot of organising to make sure I have everything in place for myself and my carer in terms of early access and companion tickets. Not every venue is as accommodating as they should be. It’s been impossible to reach anyone to book access tickets for Bauhaus at a venue that’s literally 20 minutes from my house. Looking forward to seeing Sisters of Mercy in September at Camden Roundhouse and Dead Can Dance next year.

How do you think your autism affects you with music?

It’s hard to say because I’ve never not had autism, so I can’t compare. But I think it intensifies it for me. I’m able to zone in on specific parts of a song with a particular instrument and it’s like euphoria in my mind with all these shapes and colours and patterns it generates in there. It brings my synesthesia to life.


Digital Residencies is part of Drake Music’s covid-secure artistic programming and is supported by the Arts Council England Culture Recovery Fund.

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