Besides Rastafarian messages sampled from reggae tracks, drum & bass has never directly addressed faith. In fact besides the gospel presence in soulful house, most forms of electronic music have shied away from the topic of religion full stop.
DJs don’t discuss their beliefs, lyrics don’t explore the concept of a higher power, no MC has ever invited us to church on Sunday morning. Well, not seriously…
There are many reasons for this; a lot of electronic artists don’t practice any religion, or at least not enough to express it in their music, certain aspects of club culture are at total odds with any faith lifestyle and, as UK drum & bass pioneer DJ SS states, artists worry they might offend their fanbase.
25 years deep into his career – a career that comprises a whole slew of formative jungle records as well as 20+ labels that gave us early singles from a huge amount of artists such as Nero, The Prototypes, Rollz, John B, Twisted Individual, DJ Hazard, Original Sin (as Generation Dub), Distorted Minds – DJ SS does not have this concern.
Since finding faith five years ago he’s been considering a way of sharing his faith. And he’s found it with Bass Disciples, the world’s first ever gospel drum & bass label where the remit is simple: to spread the gospel word with heavy helpings of bass music.
For a genre that constantly looks to progress and break new ground, faith is a bold new territory for drum & bass. It’s an interesting one too, considering the genre’s rudeboy references, frequently dark iconography and twisted demonic sound design. But, regardless of your own beliefs and faiths, this is what makes this story all the more interesting. We called up SS to find out more about the world’s first gospel & bass label…
Shopkeepers who are Christian still sell alcohol don’t they? I’m not out there all off my face in the crowd, I’m playing the music and spreading the good vibrations.
Faith and drum & bass… These two have never come hand in hand before. Why do you think this is?
I think people are scared they might offend their fanbase. I don’t call it religion, it’s a relationship I have with God. I don’t preach, I just want to express the relationship I have with God through my music. What I’ve achieved through music is all a blessing. For me to keep quiet about my faith is like winning the lottery and keeping it all to myself.
Were you brought up in a very Christian family or is this a more recent development in your life?
I did go to church in my teens but it didn’t start for the right reasons. I had a mate who was an altar boy and he told me we could make some money; you would be given some from the collection plate so it was for a little bit of pocket money to begin with. But I’d be there for the whole service and I felt this sensation of calmness and peace. At the time I didn’t know what that was. It was a different sensation to what I was used to. It took me years to work it all out but from then I knew I was on a different path. I then focused on my life in music and hit the road and didn’t get to attend church as much as I wanted. 25 years later and I’ve found a lot more strength in my faith again. I’m going in and I’m learning.
What do you learn?
I learn about the world and learn about myself. Bottom line; I’m learning that there’s more to life than our selfish ways and our egos. I’m blessed, I’m still here doing what I love doing and really appreciating that fact. I see things differently, it’s not about egos. It’s not about me me me.
Has your church ever criticised the lifestyle choice, spending so much time in nightclubs where people sin?
No. And this is the thing I want to clear-up. My church never question what I do for a living. They tell me to come back safely whenever I travel. Whatever people do in the clubs is up to them. I know I’m not tempted by that. You can’t hide from God, he sees everything. He sees me travelling the world, spreading the good vibrations of music and peace, he knows I’m doing the right thing and he’ll see me in church on Sunday morning. The other weekend I was playing at World Of Drum & Bass in Moscow. Finished my set at 3.30am, caught a flight at 5am and was back in my local church at 10.30!
Do you visit churches when you’re touring?
I do! Knowledge is key. I’m about to do a US tour – 16 shows in 21 days. It’s full-on so sure I’m going to visit churches when I’m touring. I’ve done my research and found out where they are on my route. There’s a huge church in Times Square which has five services daily. Of course I’m going to spend time there. It’s like a concert! So yeah it keeps me grounded. I also travel with the right crew; people who aren’t drinking and aren’t on that whole druggy thing. It doesn’t matter anyway, I am my own person but it helps to not travel with that type of behaviour.
Drugs are very hard to avoid on the road – even when you’re just declining them – so has that aspect of DJ culture made you think about your career choice?
Drum & bass found me! It’s part of me, it’s how I earn my living. Shopkeepers who are Christian still sell alcohol don’t they? I’m not out there all off my face in the crowd, I’m playing the music and spreading the good vibrations. Hopefully one person will hear the lyrics of the songs and dig a little deeper into the message. I have a platform, a chance to do something constructive. I’ve been putting smiles on people’s faces since I first started DJing and producing. Now if I can take it one step further and make people think – even if it’s just one person – then I’m using my platform properly.
Okay, let’s take faith out of the equation for a second: music is all about spreading good vibrations, bringing people together and being peaceful anyway. Something you’ve been doing for 25 years. Isn’t that enough fulfilment as a Christian?
That’s right. But where there’s good there’s also bad. I could stand on the sidelines and just accept that or I could jump in at the deep end and start spreading the word in a deep and authentic way. Which I have done. I have to say that this isn’t about me and what I’ve achieved to date. It’s not about what people think about me. I’m not telling people what to do, I’m not telling people how to live their lives. I’m just saying ‘have you heard the gospel message?’ I’m trying to bridge the gap, not preaching.
Could you see yourself becoming a preacher though? Can you see this calling developing and taking more of a role in your church?
I’m not looking to be a preacher. My music is my calling and my music does the talking. I help out round the church anyway; I’m setting up the speakers and packing them away again later, getting involved and offering my skills. So no, I wouldn’t preach but I am prepared to spread the word and I think a lot of Christians are scared to do that.
Are there other artists in drum & bass who are like that?
Yeah there are some for sure. One MC recognised a remix I did of Hill Song recently…
It’s the Jay-Z of the church world. They do concerts across the world and have a huge impact on people lives. This MC was the drummer for Hill Song UK. I played the tune and he walked in at the time and we made that connection. That’s the connection I’m talking about. That’s how the church and God brings us together.
So what made you return to church?
A situation happened in my life five years ago and I thought ‘yo, life has got to better than this’ I needed to get out of the situation and my sister invited me to church. It was a happy, positive vibe. The more I went, the more I realise I needed peace. As a DJ you’re always chasing the next thing, you’re always looking at things and thinking about what you can get out of it. It’s me me me. At church it wasn’t. It made me step back and look at the whole picture differently. Now I walk around with open eyes.
What situation was that?
I was a relationship break up. But it was a blessing. The whole thing is a blessing now I’m doing what I can do in the hope other people experience that blessing.
Let’s talk about the label and the music…
The first release was me; Soul Saverz with Jay Square that came out last year. Now this year it’s a reggae thing with drum & bass remixes. The whole connection is beautiful. Jay Square came over from Trinidad and visited the church and I was asked to take him to the studio and keep him company for the day. On the way in the car I told him about drum & bass and he said he’d never heard it. So played some and booom: he started spitting bars right there and then! We got back to the studio and recorded four tracks that afternoon. One take; no messing around. Next level! He’s had albums out in the gospel world and is very well known in that scene and very professional, it’s a blessing to have him do the same level of musicality and professionalism in drum & bass and it’s inspired me with my own music and how to spread the gospel message with clarity but subtlety: It’s all still big beats, all still big basslines just words and lyrics that mean something and not just some hollow words about girls in clubs or anything like that…
What’s coming up then?
The single is out now and there’s a lot more to come. I’ve got five originals all ready to drop . . It’s very liberating creatively; I can write real music and real songs with real lyrics and not be concerned about the whole poppy thing or ‘selling out’. These songs have substance. Quite often I make the downtempo version first, which I can play to the church people. And then I get the remixes done for the club. If I play the drum & bass version in church not everyone will get it so I bridge the gap with the styles. The label will be the same; there’s dubstep, there’s house, there’s a lot of great drum & bass. Two things are guaranteed: heavy bass and the gospel message. That’s what it’s all about. Nobody’s done this before, there’s a big gospel hip-hop movement and I’d love to do this in drum & bass Now let’s the music do the talking…