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Jesus by Dance House Children (Review)

Dance House Children sounds exactly like what you’d expect a pre-Joy Electric project to sound like.

I think it would a sad commentary on Christian ​“alternative” music if groups like MxPx and the Supertones were seen as pioneers (no offense intended to said groups). Doing so completely forgets about the contributions and efforts made by the likes of Terry Taylor, Michael Knott, and Allan Aguirre to write music that was artistic, challenging, and relevant in an environment (the Church) that so often stifles such efforts so as to be safe. May I humbly submit the names of Ronnie and Jason Martin to such a list? Sure, they may not seem to have the ​“legendary” status of Taylor or Knott, but the Martin brothers have done their fair share of expanding the boundaries of Christian music.

Nowadays, the two brothers are probably better known for their current projects; Ronnie is the leader of the incredibly synthpop act Joy Electric and Jason is the leader of the shoegazer/​lounge/​Britpop/​rock group Starflyer 59. However, the two brothers have been making music for far longer than many fans might be aware. Their first project was the dance/​techno/​rave group Dance House Children, often considered to be the first Christian act of its kind. Originally started when the brothers were in their late teens, they released two albums on Knott’s Blonde Vinyl (the first major Christian indie label) before Jason went on to form Starflyer 59. Ronnie recorded one more album under the Dance House Children moniker, the sometimes brilliant Rainbow Rider, before starting anew with Joy Electric.

Listening to Jesus, it’s apparent that Ronnie was the guiding force in the band. In fact, Dance House Children sounds exactly like what you’d expect a pre-Joy Electric project to sound like. However, closer listens will reveal a few differences between the two groups. Dance House Children has a much ​“clubbier” vibe, whereas Joy Electric has a purely synthetic feel to it. As such, the songs on Jesus have a much more ​“natural” feel to them; the songs feel less quirky and idiosyncratic than Joy Electric’s music-by-way-of-Nintendo method.

Also, the music was recorded before Ronnie’s vehemently anti-sampler stance. Samples abound on this album, including some great usage of that awesome beat from Siouxsie And The Banshee’s ​“Kiss Them For Me.” The music on here isn’t throwaway or simple club music. There’s actually a heart and soul at work here, especially on the opening ​“Once Upon Your Lips” and the heartbreaking ​“Wisteria Time” (one of the favorite songs of all time).

In the liner notes, Ronnie states that their music is about ​“remembering and happy-sadness… about missing those certain times in life that were so beautiful, only to have faded and gone.” It sounds awfully sentimental, but on a song like ​“Wisteria Time,” I can’t help but feel like they’ve succeeded. Other highlights include the Saint Etienne-ish ​“Uncle Art” with its trilling flute and European vibe. As always, the Martin brothers were very upfront about their Christian faith, but also very earnest in their desire to wed such beliefs to music that was as cutting edge as possible.

Although some of the songs may sound dated when compared to the drum n’ bass and jungle rhythms that are so often heard today, there’s still a freshness to much of the album. Kudos to M8 Records for reissuing this gem, although they only released 2000 copies so you better act now.

It’s a real shame that both Ronnie and Jason have practically disowned their Dance House Children output, belittling it in every instance I’ve read. I don’t think they realize how good some of this stuff is, and how much their current projects owe to it. If you’re at all a fan of the Martin brothers and their current projects, you really need to own this. It was my first exposure to the music of the Martins, and listening to it now just confirms their influential status in my mind.

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