As an LA-based Christian music site launches a new ‘CEDM’ show, we question the role of religion in modern dance music.
Dance music’s intersection with Christianity has always been varied. While genres such as soul and reggae have deep religious associations and others (hip hop, R&B) make frequent reference to matters of faith and religion without anybody blinking an eye, the relationship between dance and Christianity is less clearly defined.
New Release Tuesday, an LA-based Christian music and entertainment site, recently launched a ‘CEDM’ radio show, The Reconstruction, in collaboration with Christian dance producer Dave Thulin. Swedish-born Thulin states that he always had an ambition to introduce dance to the Christian music scene. Starting off by creating the bespoke genre of ‘worship trance’, he soon found that the best way to appeal to his fellow Christians was to fuse his music with already-popular Christian bands through remixes.
The launch of The Reconstruction (and Thulin’s remix album of the same name) is just one development in the CEDM boom. As mainstream EDM explodes in America, it comes as no surprise that Christian kids (who make up a substantial portion of the population) want to be included. Ironic, then, that the sub-genre which has emerged as a result is pretty exclusive. Sites such as Tasty Fresh warn against ‘selling your soul’ in the music industry and point artists towards Christian-owned labels and club nights. Many Christian producers refrain from performing on the ‘secular’ scene, opting instead for Christian-specific events and festivals. A happy consequence of the choice to play to all-Christian audiences is the relative fame it brings to Christian producers, the proportions of which would be harder to reach in the wider dance music scene. But of course that’s being cynical. When interviewed by the BBC a couple of years ago, Ben Jack, a UK-based Christian dance producer, explained that despite having been signed and on the cusp of secular success, he decided to turn towards Christian-only gigs in order “to serve the Church”. “I don’t want to be famous,” he explained, “I just want my music to glorify God.”
What is notable about the CEDM scene is that it constitutes a mass engagement. The music is used as an evangelical tool, and producers make it with the aim of reaching large audiences of their Christian peers and spreading their love of God – comparable in ways to the use of roots reggae as an evangelical tool for the Rastafari movement.
Typical responses to overtly religious strands of existing musical genres range from bemusement to mockery. Christian rock has been the butt of countless jokes over the years, while the concept of Christian dubstep was widely ridiculed earlier this year. But perhaps house music – with its roots in soul and gospel – makes a lot more sense as a conduit for religious messages? After all, the link between Christianity and house goes much deeper than the latest generation of overtly Christian artists and DJs. For producers such as Kerri Chandler, the relationship between faith and music is far less explicit. As Chandler explained in a very frank interview with Attack last year, gospel was a fundamental part of the New Jersey music scene when he started out. For Chandler and his peers (including a young Lauryn Hill), religion was a constant in an otherwise difficult and dangerous environment: “All we had was hope, gospel and some kind of raw talent.”
The CEDM scene constitutes a mass engagement.
While Chandler concedes he never wanted to make a record his “grandmother couldn’t listen to”, he also explains he is “not a religious person”, but someone who has faith. His music is informed by faith, but not created with an outright religious message. That vague spirituality is a key element of his work, and one which shouldn’t be forgotten if the instinctive reaction might be to mock the entire idea of Christian dance music.
Somewhere between CEDM’s overt religious purpose and Kerri Chandler’s faith-informed style is Todd Edwards. Edwards strikes a balance between spreading a religious message and expertly crafting music which makes full use of, and appeals to, the secular dance music scene. Some suspect that Edwards’ complex sample-collage technique serves to disguise religious vocals in an attempt to maintain that secular appeal. Edwards’ own explanation is simple: “I tried not to make it too overt but it’s there if you want it.”
Edwards gives equal importance to developing his music style and sharing a religious message, and takes inspiration from the best of secular house and garage talent. He cites Marc Kinchen as a big influence, and the similarities between Edwards’ work and MK’s use of deep sampling to create composite melodies is obvious. Edwards explains in an interview with Little White Earbuds that in contrast to genres such as CEDM where “the message is the focus and the music comes secondary”, he doesn’t “believe in that”. Not everything Edwards makes does have a religious message; what is essential to him is that the tracks are about positivity – ‘End This Hate’ being a prime example.
In Kodwo Eshun’s critical epic More Brilliant Than the Sun, he asserts that music is in a ‘postsoul era’ and has lost the humanist elements associated with soul or hip hop. When speaking about his collaboration with Daft Punk on Random Access Memories, Todd Edwards admires the way the little-known production duo reintroduce human elements, using instrumental sounds which come from real people rather than relying on effects and presets: “It’s kind of ironic – two androids are bringing soul back to music.” Perhaps the likes of Kerri Chandler, Todd Edwards, Daft Punk and, in its own way, CEDM are evidence that the human element might still exist in dance music.