Wednesday, May 03, 2006

dub, spirituality and worship

Update: this post has attracted a stack of spam, so I am closing it temporarily. My apologies and thanks to all those who posted.

Some random thoughts that might be total rot (ie, I’d value some feedback).

Thought 1 – It struck me at the Greg Laurie Crusade (in Christchurch over the weekend) that the music was “white boy” music – more rock based,guitar driven, clear verse/chorus song structure – in style …

Thought 2 – Often the songs sung in church are “white boy” music; I’m thinking Delirious, Hillsong, Soul Survivor …

Thought 3 – Dub music is currently BIG in New Zealand; I’m thinking Fat Freddys Drop, Salmonella Dub, Awake the Dawn … the list goes on …

Thought 4 – Some of my most spiritual moments in the last 5 years have occurred listening to dub. I can construct my spiritual soundscape around Love your ways and Longtime by Salmonella Dub and the sheer power of Ho Pepa’s trombone from Fat Freddys Drop – moments when God has been incredibly real amid my personal brokeness in leaving Graceway, battling institutional and denominational powers, embracing my inadequacies before the wind of God’s spirit.

Thought 5 – Dub music seems to create a number of layers for the individual participant to move within. It is more fluid and less linear than rock. It might just be me, but dub concerts are often more communal and less alcohol infused than rock concerts. Dub often has a spiritual vibe of peace and equality and inclusivity. I can imagine deeply Christian corporate worship around songs like Ez on by Salmonella Dub, Believ’n by son.shine; Hope by Fat Freddy’s Drop…

Now, if these random thoughts have any linkages (ie I’m not talking rot), I suspect there’s a need for a widespread “Dub project” that explores the place of dub in worship in New Zealand. Any takers? Does anyone know of any churches using Dub in worship, or any “Christian” dub bands out there?

Dub is a form of music that uses extensive echo and reverb effects and snatches of the lyrics from the original version, with most of the lead instruments and vocals dropping in and out of the mix. Another hallmark of the dub sound is the massive low bass. The music is often further augmented by live DJs, and electronic sound effects. Link

Posted by steve at 10:30 PM


  1. Some of our core leaders mentioned this very thing to us…that we need to do this at Revolution. I think you’re on to something 🙂

    Comment by Makeesha — May 4, 2006 @ 2:11 am

  2. im a bit put off by the idea of christian dub, the idea obviously being that the music that is being mixed only inlcudes music and beats by other christians, or the noises mixed only include noises that wont offend christians…

    i know of a number of dub musicians that are christian, but not christian dub musicians…

    we used to use lots of dub music in the late late service in adelaide…

    one of my favourite dub music is by a dj going by the name of dj deepchild

    Comment by darren — May 4, 2006 @ 2:49 am

  3. Steve, Christopher Partridge in his book “The Re-Enchantment of the West – Vol. 1 has two subsections in his chpater 7 (‘Popular Occulture: Music’). They are titled: “Chilling Out with Ambient and Dub” and “The Sacred Art of Dub” – approx 10 pages in total including the chapter conclusion.

    More generally, I tend to agree with you, however, to Dub, for me personally, I’d add “Ambient,” and some “Sacred Music” from within the Christian tradition, e.g. the St. Thomas Music Group directed by Margaret Rizza, and the song “In the Silence.”

    Comment by Paul Fromont — May 4, 2006 @ 7:03 am

  4. Darren,
    I put Christian in quote marks. I was usng the quotes to try to signal the issue you raise. Of course I don’t want to create yet another Christian subculture. I was fishing, wondering if there might be any conversation partners out there for me. I’m not a muso, so am wondering if any musos in nz have noticed this potential disconnect.


    Comment by steve — May 4, 2006 @ 7:25 am

  5. Steve,

    An observation about thought 5. Multiple layers of exist in most music, dub or otherwise. Musicians can often expand or manipulate a song by introducing syncopation or other rythmical changes to the original groove of the song. Classical musicians were masters of this technique. In Beethoven’s 5th symphony the opening phrase is repeated in every measure of the first movement. It’s augmented by different phrasings and instrumentations and volume. In modern music the jam bands (i.e. Grateful Dead, Phish, etc.) make layering and expansion of the original melody their breadwinner.

    I don’t disagree that layering is a though provoking aspect of dub music. In fact the idea you propose I think is a very valid one.

    Comment by Nels Cross — May 4, 2006 @ 7:56 am

  6. “It is more fluid and less linear than rock. It might just be me, but dub concerts are often more communal and less alcohol infused than rock concerts.”

    that’s because typically, if you look at the history of dub/reggae, it’s culture stems from drugs more so than alcohol (which tend to bring people together and make them peaceful more than alcohol). i used to be right into salmonella dub back when i used to get high, and that music was MADE for it. the fact that one of their albums is called THC winter (THC being the active drug in marijuana) just proves it, and songs called peyote dub (peyote is an hallucinogen) tells me that too. also having songs called “dub for straights” mocking the idea that people listen to dub while not being stoners (this was before they kind of sold out and got popular)

    it’s drug influenced more than alcohol influenced, and i can tell you any secular dub acts are heavily into getting high and taking hallucinogens. thinking otherwise is ignorance

    and for a wee note, IMO dub is at it’s best when there are little or no lyrics.

    sure you can fit in it with church, as long as the motivation is right, but do be aware of it’s heritage.

    Comment by Andrew Brown — May 4, 2006 @ 8:19 am

  7. one of my favourite dub music is by a dj going by the name of dj deepchild

    turns out deepchild hangs out at CafeChurch in Sydney…

    Comment by Sinner — May 4, 2006 @ 8:38 am

  8. Hi Steve, I like your aloud thinking on this, and being a Fat Freddy’s Drop fan I like your reflections. But (the inevitable but) is there overtones of ‘worship war’ type of language here? Fat Freddy’s Drop is better (more communal, more spiritual, more peaceful) than rock music (too individual, too much alcohol, too linear) – hymns (more theological, more communal) are better than contemporary songs (too shallow, too linear, too gushy). Is this a possible hazard here or I am making too much of it?

    Comment by Andrew — May 4, 2006 @ 9:10 am

  9. Andrew,
    interesting thought – couple of quick responses

    1 . Between my thought 2 (how much church music is “white boy” rock) and my thought 3 (how important is dub in NZ), I took a mental flick through the church worship playlist. if there is a “worship war” then rock has won. Hence my thought 5, what might we need to do to clear some space so that at least there are some options?

    2. behind this lies our multi-congregational approach at Opawa ie we currently have 4 worship styles (2 with no singing). i work hard at placing the emphasis on mission, spirituality, community rather than worship style. so i’m not thinking of forcing 1 congregation to chance.

    my motivation is more wondering aloud about the contextual need for a “dub” sound in some worship. not as either/or but both/and.

    i think a bigger danger worth pondering is buying into an increasingly fragmented music scene.

    Comment by steve — May 4, 2006 @ 10:25 am

  10. here’s an interesting point, and i don’t say this to say that dub is for rastafarians (it’s not) but just to make an interesting note. once I went to a dub gig at the bar heaven in town, and the singer was praising jah (their God) and no-one cared, imagine if he had been praising Jesus….

    I think that what tends to happen is there is too much focus on making the music relevant to people and completely missing on the lyrics. most christian songs these days have no content, they don’t speak of truth and often they speak of what God has done for me, which is essence, is about me. where are the songs based off the only music handed down from God that we have, the Psalms?

    Comment by Andrew Brown — May 4, 2006 @ 10:44 am

  11. Andrew Brown wrote:

    “IMO dub is at it’s best when there are little or no lyrics” and then “where are the songs based off the only music handed down from God that we have, the Psalms”

    and Steve commented;
    This is my dream Andrew, that we put fragments/phrases of the psalms to a dub beat; and not just “up” beats but “down beats” ie praise and lament. and then we create multiple stations – confession; intercession; offering — around the edges so that people can particiate in multiple ways — with the sermon “spoken” over a live musical track.

    This is not a cry for relevance, I am simply wondering if our current worship has lost currency because it is wrapped in rock, when a large part of NZ has gone dub … and if David the psalmist could sing of God using his harp, when will we sing of God using bass and reverb?

    Comment by steve — May 4, 2006 @ 10:54 am

  12. i guess i don’t understand why exactly it needs to be relevant? i guess for me personally though i tend to have a different point of view on worship and music in the church. as far as i’m concerned, as long as the music isn’t offensive, what’s the problem? i do understand i’m coming from a completely different place than you though 🙂

    Comment by Andrew Brown — May 4, 2006 @ 11:05 am

  13. whoops, i realise i said relevancy when you said you’re not crying for it, but you said currency, so assume i meant that. as long as it’s not uncurrent…

    Comment by Andrew Brown — May 4, 2006 @ 11:06 am

  14. Steve, didnt think so, just had to say it… it’s a gut reaction, Christian makes a good noun but a bad adjective…

    Sinner, yeah deepchild is connected to the cafe crew, he co-cordinates the studio there and used to be the artist in res.

    Steve, a friend of Mark’s (Pierson) came to Blackstump a couple of years back, he played live dub(ish) music during worship and was from NZ, he seemed like a person who may be interested in getting together with others like minded… Give Mark a hoi as I can’t remember the guys name (memory’s not that good)

    Comment by darren — May 5, 2006 @ 2:25 am

  15. different strokes for different folks
    I happen to like a lot of what’s called white guy music. There doesn’t have to be an argument. Those of of who like it can have it. Those who prefer something else – go for it.

    I do wonder why Christians are always following the culture though. If we serve God who is the creator of everything. If he lives in us. If we are joint heirs with Christ we should have the most artistic creative music in the world. The world should be following us.

    What I see now isn’t transformational at all. It’s just Christians trying to grab on to some style the world’s created.

    Just for what it’s worth.

    Comment by John Lunt — May 5, 2006 @ 4:46 am

  16. Just caught up with this post – intrigued by NZ being a dub “big on dub”. Here in the UK dub has largely returned to its specialist black (and rasta)roots. With hindsight we can see that the significance of its heyday (late 80s early 90s)was the influence it had on the broader dance music genre, and especially on such dance music leaders such as Massive Attack who used its most distinctive features as part of their creative repetoire.

    As regards Christian music it is a dying genre here apart from within the safe confines of evangelical christianity – the reason is quite simple is that artistically it is rarely any good. Most talented musicians who are Christians are choosing earning their living/ being creative in mainstream genres with little time for “Christian music.”

    Lok forward to reading more of developments.

    PS this is not intended to “knock” dub (Sprog 2 loves it) – simply to reflect on how it has developed here in the UK

    Comment by Tom Allen — May 5, 2006 @ 7:47 am

  17. Really appreciating all these comments ..

    John Lunt – hi and thanks for dropping by – wondering if you read my thought 4 – “Some of my most spiritual moments in the last 5 years have occurred listening to dub.” I’m not following the culture, just trying, as they did in Acts 2 – to hear God in my own language.

    Come on Tom, you UK fellas love our dub. One of the nz bands I mentioned, Fat Freddys Drop, won Best Album at the BBC’s 2005 Gilles Peterson Worldwide Awards. Get with the beats bro 🙂

    Comment by steve — May 5, 2006 @ 9:02 am

  18. Hi Steve and friends. I’m a fulltime freelance drummer and audio engineer from Wellington.

    Steve – I really like where your thoughts might lead…. I rarely find the typical “white boy” music that’s presented at most church services helpful in connecting me to God. By contrast, some of my most significant music-enhanced God moments have been well outside of the church – at a drum n bass rave, or while painting my house and listening to Portishead or Bjork. I don’t think what you’re talking about is really specific to dub music – that’s just the sound that you’ve connected with personally – but about acknowledging that all music has the power to open up a window to God.

    I do find it interesting though, that music that is designed primarily for people to MOVE to is an incredibly powerful catalyst for worship. There is spiritual power in a groove. The danger/beauty with it is that you can’t tell participants what to say or think while they are listening/grooving (which can make it look a bit dangerous to some Christians). Perhaps that’s part of the way that dub music works for you? It gives you sufficient space to insert your own thoughts and words? I find standard song-based worship music frustrating because I feel like I’m being manipulated into saying and thinking someone else’s thoughts….not my own.

    When I’m involved in facilitating a congregational worship time, I try really hard to focus on creating an atmosphere that supports and enhances people’s ability to connect with God, rather than just telling them what to sing and when.

    John Lunt – you mentioned creativity. In my view, a big problem in contemporary christian music is the LACK of creativity. You said – “If we are joint heirs with Christ we should have the most artistic creative music in the world.” I agree. Unfortunately, the “white boy” music that you like is just an extention of what gets played incessantly on commercial radio. Creativity in music is MUCH bigger than interesting chord progressions or clever lyrics. I went to an improv music gig the other night. There was a drummer, a turntablist, a singer (Amy X Neuberg, if anyone here’s heard of her) with a heap of electronic sampling/looping gear, a tuba player, a guy with a room mic and a bunch of electrickery and a guy with a gong and a microphone. It was totally unrehearsed – they just jammed and created the most glorious, raucous, mad music you’ve ever heard. Now THATS creative! (And God was there too, I suspect, smiling with glee on the sheer creative outpouring that occurred.)

    I’d LOVE to be involved in ANY project that explores music in worship that is outside the standard, mundane parameters.

    Thanks for letting me share 🙂

    Comment by Evan Williams — May 5, 2006 @ 10:59 am

  19. Steve, I agree with Evan, its not a dub thing. I love dub music, drum and bass and techno and cant find any of this in churches.

    JUst like reggae and hip hip was not used in the 90’s.

    White church pastors dont understand the music so they ignore it. If they can understand it, their flock on the whole can’t so they dont use it.
    Ive given up on getting the church to be musically releant and in tune with the surrounding club culture.

    PS have you got salmonella dubs new remix album?

    Comment by dave — May 7, 2006 @ 12:15 am

  20. Two thoughts: and I hate that they both come from the realm of the black hat but:

    Re: ‘White boy’ music. I have played church music for almost all of my 18 years as a guitar player. Whilst I accept that Christian music is loosely based in Rock music I think it largely fails to capture the essence of that music. I would say that naively playing church music for so many years has severly hampered my musical development – especially as a wannabe rocker ;o)

    Where I am going with this is that perhaps the white boy music analogy doesn’t go far enough. Church ‘rock’ music seems to me to only be relevant to people who have become acustomed to it over a long period of time – it is a genre all it’s own (at present and by-and-large)

    Re: Thought 5: this assumes dub has relevancy to all participants – I have to say that for me I don’t relate to it at all as a musical style. In fact it kind of annoys me.

    That doesn’t mean I think dub is irrelevant or unusable. All expressions should be considered and as many used as possible. But I think John has something in his thoughts about “is this a new expression or just another facsimile”

    What I am saying is: using rock alienates my dub brothers and sisters. Using dub would alienate me and my rock brothers and sisters. Perhaps we need to zoom wider?

    Make any sense?

    Comment by Randall — May 8, 2006 @ 5:33 pm

  21. My thinking would be just that Christians would make this style of music for the purpose of worship…right? Would it matter if it had overtly sacred lyrics or not?

    Comment by Makeesha — May 9, 2006 @ 3:59 pm

  22. I think that the only dub artist which has won any award this year was in the “world-wide awards” rather proves the point that dub has returned to a black underground here in the UK and is not the force it once was – but there again who would dreamt that “guitar rock” would come around again in the way that it has at the moment in the UK.

    Incidentally most of my DJ contacts would regard Gilles Patterson and his focus on “worldwide music” as fairly “specialised” which probably illustrates the insularity about dance music here where we tend only to value stuff from the States or Caribbean.

    Comment by Tom Allen — May 11, 2006 @ 6:56 am

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