Smoke & Mirrors - Retconning Religion
I recently read Aaron Gonsher's Last Night A DJ Saved My Soul from last years Red Bull Music Academy 2015. The article didn't prove to be as interesting or as relevant as I'd hoped. Rather than exploring the the musicological elements of house music and their possible roots, it looked at DJs who's religious beliefs inform their music. However at the end of the article Gonsher tries to sum up the piece with this:
There's something problematic and quite emotive for me in this sentence. It seems as if, according to Gonsher, the music is being used by these DJs as means of ministering. Whether you agree with that or not as a use of music is irrelevant, but what is important is whether that use is valid or justified. The relationship between house and religion has always been difficult to qualify, with areas of resonance and tension emerging across the timeline, but this attempt by amplify what is generally subtextual... it's even more difficult to square with house music's past. Are they rewriting those more tenuous resonances and links to be expressly Christian? Is it an attempt to de-secularise house and rebuild a religious construct from disparate parts? Are they offering a revisionist retconning of house's history as something more religious than it is? Or is their narrative the true one?
I should say that in no way am I placing this in any kind of moral framework, and far be it from me to make judgements on what is and is not appropriate/proper use of house's materials. One of those philosophical summersaults that house allows is that the music is a universal one that belongs to anyone, as long as they engage with that nebulous "feeling" that is the essence of house music. House is for those who need it, like punk or disco, it's deviant music and music of difference. But these questions do deserve some scrutiny.
There's obviously a long history of connections between religion and house. The fact this project exists is testament to that. And just how much can we really know about a movement like house music with no fixed centre? It's a prime example of Kassabian's Distrubuted Subjectivties. But it's possible to say that from some of those key pieces of music that come back again and again in this study (Promised Land, Baby Wants To Ride, Can U Feel It etc.) there seems to be a distinct lack of a deity or religious figure. Instead we get the idea Rietveld spoke of where the object of devotion becomes the community. Even the DJ isn't raised beyond his station, he's a conductor and guide but is certainly not a worshipful presence. Then why is it some DJs suggest that house is a christian experience?
I'm only left with one idea as to why this may occur. House music, like disco before it, was an attempt to build a society without the need for those external pressures of being a sinner or deviant. It was acceptance into a community. And the music and musical culture was the mechanism by which this community and acceptance occurred. Perhaps now it's not the homosexual Black and Latino minorities that need some form of acceptance, perhaps it is the more left learning religious communities. There might be an argument to be made for the fact that house offers the same acceptance and vehicle for messages to another audience. It would certainly explain the shift after 2000-2001 away from secularised gospel house, to vocal house with Christian connotations and messages. To put it very unsubtly: maybe the Christian's need house more than the gay community in the new century.