Sunday, May 06, 2012

Mars Hill starting a record label

Head’s up: we’re starting a record label, and we’re gunning to take over Christian radio.

This one's not too big a surprise.  I admit, compared to renting the city of Ephesus I find this more understandable and less problematic a venture of two possibilities.  Renting a city for a day to do some "epic" filming is something I'd find objectionable for any church.  A label?  It's not like CCM hasn't existed before.  Mars Hill's just gearing up to give us CCM Mars Hill style. Perhaps the church has gotten big enough and famous enough now that they can market their particular sound and be assured enough people buying the product to at least break even.

Bottom line, whatever you think has defined “Christian music” up til now, you can forget it:

The scare quotes may be telling.

Now maybe Mars Hill "could" shake up what we may broadly identify as CCM (contemporary Christian music). I doubt it but I also doubt the necessity of doing anything to even try making people forget what has defined Christian music or "Christian music".

For instance, "Christian music" could be taken as a pejorative term regardless of what working definition we might bring to the discussion.  It might be old-time Gospel music.  That music doesn't need to be forgotten, far from it. There's no reason to forget Hank Williams Sr's "I Saw the Light" if you grew up in the United States.  there's no reason to not know about it if you take even "Christian music" seriously. You may not really like John  Rutter all that much (and I admit I'm not a big fan) but you do at least need to know who he is and some of his work to understand that he understands his market.  As far as I'm concerned there will not be a time from here on out where anyone with any appreciation for Christian music shouldn't know about, if not love, the music of Mahalia Jackson.  Ditto Blind Willie Johnson.

More near to the "official" type of "Christian music" I think Keith Green, Rich Mullins, and Michael Card have done work that still merits attention.  Yeah, even despite the fact that I have blogged about Messiaen and other composers like that I don't have some beef against Keith Green or Christian singer-songerwriters as such. Sometimes things get a bit cheesy but sometimes things get a bit cheesy, right?  There's the soft friendly ersatz and there's emo/indie/goth ersatz and one is not necessarily musically or conceptually superior to the other.

There may be some fun and listenable music to come out of the label but I doubt that many of us are going to forget what has been defined as "Christian music".  there's no way Mars Hill is going to come up with something farther out than Messiaen's organ works for Pentecost; Penderecki's Luke Passion, or maybe even Frank Martin's Mass for double choir (which is very conservative compared to the previous entries).  I don't doubt it's exciting for folks on the inside who might hope to have bands signed on to the Mars Hill label.  Working on new music is exciting, there's just no two ways about it.  It's one of the things that keeps inspiring me to compose and tackle playing new music myself.  But surely after every convulsive stylistic and conceptual change in music at a global level in the 20th century we don't have to kid ourselves about the possibility of coming up with something that redefines music in a genre as we know it in the 21st century.

 Then again, Driscoll's not a musician and by his own account no one would want to hear him sing so he may understandably just be at a disadvantage here on the musicology side of things.  I don't doubt they still have some very capable and wonderful musicians over there.  I met a few of them so I know I would know.  Just, please, don't mess with the golden oldies like "Wondrous Love" or "Be Thou My Vision" because you can't change those tunes in any way that will ever improve them.  Just leave them as the classics they are, okay?  :-)


Anonymous said...

It seems MH is capitalizing on growth of its brand and not of its people.

Anonymous said...

It also seems that they are capitalizing on having Dustin Kensrue of Thrice on board as well. They are moving him to Bellevue and subsequently starting a record label. what a coincidence.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Announcing the start of a record label at Mars Hill is sexier but announcing what, if any, changes to the bylaws have been made to include an appeals process for members under discipline is more important. Unless Mars Hill wants yet more cases like Andrew or Lance to hit the local and national press it would be beneficial to focus less on outwardly observable additions to the brand and work on some infrastructural competence and addressing procedural and communication issues. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of retroactive public relations.

It's also not as though the Call for Reconciliation has remained a topic for discussion. It's been a month or so and perhaps Mars Hill may want to provide an update on how many, if any, people took up the call. Did any reconciliation happen? I admit I'm not holding my breath.

The Kensrue connection's not too hard to make but it's worth noting all the same. I've been discovering that sometimes things that are sitting around in plain sight don't get blogged about, like James Noriega and Scott Thomas no longer being listed as pastors in any MH or A29 capacity.

Finally, the Kensrue connection was something I learned about a while back but it's worth noting all the same. As I've been discovering in my blogging about Noriega and Thomas this year just because something is out there and obvious doesn't mean people will necessarily spot it or discuss it.

Steve said...

Having a guy from Tooth & Nail will be a big boost for them, and if they come up with some theologically sound but modern sounding music, that'll be fine by me.

However, what I don't appreciate is that attitude that they're inventing cool Christian music. Just because Driscoll didn't spend any time ferreting it out, doesn't mean it didn't exist. I get it if he took the path of least resistance that led him to hating CCM-radio and listening to JayZ, but now that he's doing something different, don't act like you've invented it... Sheesh...

How about Poor Old Lu, the Choir, Daniel Amos, the Lost Dogs, Mad at the World, Starfyler 59, Joy Electric, the 77's, etc. etc. who've all been part of an "underground" Christian music scene that was innovative & relevant musically and lyrically?

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Some of those musicians were doing the indie Christian thing when Driscoll was either not a Christian or had been a Christian for maybe one or two years. The Christian indie scene has been around for a long time. I admit I got out of the loop on that scene as I focused on chamber music but I do remember several of those bands from my early college days.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Driscoll earned his Indie "street cred" by being invited to appear on Lief Moi's radio program, "Street Talk" in the early days of Mars Hill, and being associated with Moi's Paradox Theater all ages venue in the University District. That was where the tatted up and pierced grunge/punk rockers were hanging out. Moi helped Driscoll morph his WSU jock image into cool working-class hipster.

Steve said...

Then Mark should KNOW he's not doing something super innovative here. Poor Old Lu played at the Paradox lots, from things I remember (don't live in Seattle so never went), and I'm sure Tooth and Nail must have had bands play there, no?

Plus isn't Jeff Bettger a worship leader at a MH church, and he was in 90 Pound Wuss, plus that horrific Raft of Dead Monkeys band which thought it would be cool to push the boundaries of Christian art by imitating slasher movies, swearing and fingering the audience as some sort of performance art. I think I read some sort of "I was young and immature" type of repentance once - I'll assume it was heartfelt, although it didn't come across as a complete distancing (at least in my memory).

So anyways, this may be cool, but it isn't new.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Friends of mine in college (as in 18 years ago) remember Lief Moi's radio show fondly. Driscoll has not, to my perception, ever shaken off the Wazu jock thing.

Bettger's definitely a pastor, as noted by his statements to The Stranger in January 2012 in the wake of the Andrew case, but I don't remember what pastoral role he has. I never cared a whole lot for the Strike Force sound myself but I liked all the people in the band I met and found them nice, personable sorts. :-)

And to clarify Anonymous' observations, it was Moi who owned the Paradox in the U-district and he used to preach there. It wasn't uncommon for me to go hear Driscoll preach at the Earl building on a Sunday morning and then go listen to Moi preach Sunday night. If Driscoll ever took credit for founding the Paradox theater I'd consider that a substantial misrepresentation of MH history.

Anonymous said...

"If Driscoll ever took credit for founding the Paradox theater I'd consider that a substantial misrepresentation of MH history."

A simple Google search turns up many references such as this: "Mark Driscoll was named one of the 50 most influential pastors in America, and the founder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, the Paradox Theater, and the Acts 29 Network which has planted scores of churches."

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I know ... but I'm not above gently leading/goading readers into linking to stuff so I don't have to look up everything myself. :-) Besides, it can be more fun when there's some interactive research and discussion.