Religion in electronic music

Maybe it’s just because we follow our mutual preferred genre so closely that this seems to stand out but it strikes Softsynth there’s almost a disproportionate number of theistic, or “religious”, if you will, music in the electronic world. Some are confirmed so, others are merely assumed to be such given the subject matter of their songs, but either way there seems to be an awful lot of electronic music that takes a little ride on the religion highway.

Full disclosure: your humble blogger is not a theist of any stripe. Our take on religion is immaterial to this mini-essay except to say, our general preference for music lyrics runs to the secular. That said, in this piece we’ll be taking as objective a look as possible at what we think is simply an interesting phenomenon.

Religion in electronic music takes several forms. There are outright religious musical acts, there are bands that toss off an occasional curiously faith-soaked song, there are bands that explore faith as a broad concept without clearly adhering to a specific religion and there are electronically inclined religious events, each as compelling, theoretically , as the other.

It was on listening to Estonian electronic band Suicidal Romance’s track “Not Alone” with its pretty clear Christian allegory that we drew back once it clicked what the song was about. Where we had previously enjoyed the song because its great electro rhythms, we were now so struck by the lyrical content that it’s hard to hear anything else when listening to the track. Which is what most strikes us about theistically inclined music that one can’t quite shake off. When dealing in purely secular music the themes can range across the spectrum of “anything in the world” to “pretty much anything else in the world”, while theistic music tends to primarily be based on one key theme – one’s saviour and elements of the faith in question. No matter how awesome the beats it’s pretty hard to not be utterly conscious of what the song is trying to do/be/say. And if that’s what gets a given listener all hot and bothered, we say, “awesome” but for anyone else if can be at best distracting and at worst, genuinely distracting in a bad way. The funny thing is nowhere have we read about Suicidal Romance being any kind of faith-based band (if anything one might conclude the opposite), yet when a SR track comes up on the shuffle that thought suddenly charged to the forefront of the Softsynth brain. We’ve had similar experiences with bands like Michigan and Venus Hum , both of which are among Softsynth’s bands of choice yet because of tracks like “Valley of Death or “Shine in Silver”  (in the case of the former) and “Wordless May” or “Honey” (in the case of the latter), we are wondering more often than we should be when listening to their respective catalogues what song x or song y is “really” about and even wondering if they might be trying to pull something over on the secular listener.

Then there’s the more obviously overt theistic electronic band. Look no further than Joy Electric. This band is essentially Ronnie Martin who produces a very appealing trad-Moog analogue-style synth pop absolutely drenched in Christianity. They (he) have build a considerable following not just in the faith community but among those who are simply fans of classic electronics. Heh went on to found Plastiq Musiq, a label that specializes in Christian synthpop, building an industry within an industry, within an industry. And beyond Joy Electric there is a large, thriving electronic community particularly among Christians. There are some bands like Project 7, MuteMath or the Echoing Green that we have enjoyed without at first even realizing they had a theistic agenda (not that there’s anything wrong with that…) but they are just the tip of the iceberg when you realize how large the community actually is. Why is that? Is it because synthpop is an unthreatening, melodic, fun subgenre? Maybe, but there’s also a thriving Christian industrial community that includes groups like Azure Skies and Social Engine and a whole lot more. Perhaps the answer is as simple as “there are theists who like listening to and performing electronic music inasmuch as any group of people, regardless of religious bent.” Still doesn’t explain why it seems so prevalent, though…

Then there are bands like Depeche Mode, who have been interpreted as having a bizarre relationship with various forms of religion since 1984’s “Blasphemous Rumours” which spoke to a band (or at least a songwriter) with atheism on their minds. In fact Martin Gore has played with these concepts and perceptions even since with religious themes popping up all over the place (most notably throughout the appropriately titled Songs of Faith and Devotion) and it’s become impossible to discern exactly what Gore’s personal belief system really is. Though one suspects this is more a case of Gore’s enjoying the rich tapestry of symbols and trappings of religion than ascribing to a specific faith. And this seems to be a big reason why there is so much religious iconography throughout electronic music. Think about it, few genres of music are more about melodrama than electronic music and what lends itself to melodrama more than religion and faith. One need look no further than VNV Nation with its bombastic themes and anthemic melodies and it’s constant religious references, often oblique, but sometimes right there in your face (Assemblage 23’s Tom Shear has suggested he thinks that VNV Nation’s Ronan Harris is a closet Christian). It’s a natural marriage – big, broad themes coupled with bands that are drawn to big, broad themes. It’s not that much of a mystery when you think about it.

At the same time there’s a huge subculture of Christian raves and Christian DJs, marrying the power of the electro party with the…some would say “jubilation” of their faith. This huge segment of the electronic world has become a haven for many young Christians.

Then there’s a large Jewish electronic community (including an almost-fascinating album called Forgiveness, which is an album of “traditional Jewish prayers with contemporary experimental electronic music”,) and if you scratch any major faith there is a small but devoted (no pun intended) electronic community.

Bottom line, there is a major correlation between faith, deism and electronic music. The reasons are myriad but the connection is clearly evident, and as a minimum, pretty darn interesting. Whether that means you enjoy the music more or less than you would otherwise is up to the individual in question but it’s yet another reminder of the diversity our genre enjoys.

Watch: Joy Electric – Children of the Lord

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6 Responses to “Religion in electronic music”

  1. […] Admin Posts wrote an interesting post today Here’s a quick excerpt Religion in electronic music takes several forms. There are outright religious musical acts, there are bands that toss off an occasional curiously faith-soaked song, there are bands that explore faith as a broad concept without clearly … […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by kellycart, Joshua Schlinsky. Joshua Schlinsky said: Religion in electronic music « Softsynth http://bit.ly/aOu9KT […]

  3. […] Read a rest here: Religion in electronic strain « Softsynth […]

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  5. Well written and very interesting article. Hopefully the mainstream world catches up to all the many styles and creativity that is taking over the independent market.

  6. thanks for article

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