Exegeting Sound: Hearing the Reverberations of the Gospel in EDM

Zac HicksArt and Worship2 Comments

Update: The article referenced is no longer available on the original site. It has been posted here.

A post of mine just went live this morning over at Liberate entitled, “Why EDM Sounds So Liberating.” Consider it an attempt at what some call “cultural exegesis”–an exercise in understanding culture by teasing out meanings and subtexts.

Worship leaders like me theologize far less about music than lyrics. When we’re talking about “theological depth” in worship music, we’re often talking about the propositional content of the words of worship songs. But this isn’t the only theological work happening. Music says a lot. In fact, it may be that our culture’s music theologizes even more than its lyrics. 

Some folks feel like this is dangerous territory because once you start dabbling in the “messages” of music and art that are textless, you may be venturing into the quicksand of relative truth, subjectivity, and listener-based meaning. Here’s the difficult part about those fears. When we obsess over those debates (that I admit are not unimportant), we lose sight of the fact that the art of culture is shaping culture and part of our job is to dissect and inspect, rather than simply argue about how or whether we should do it.

So, consider my post about Electronic Dance Music (EDM) an attempt at taking the art form for what it is and truly trying to hear it–to listen for the deep human heart beneath this genre. Some people write off EDM because of its roots in the debauchery of the clubbing lifestyle pioneered decades ago in places like Chicago, New York, and London. Others write it off simply because they think it’s “bad music.” For better or worse (I think, for me, it’s for better), I am unable to write it off, because I serve in a metropolitan culture (Miami / Ft. Lauderdale) where this music “speaks.” And so when I began listening, I found some very wonderful things to appreciate, enjoy, and, yes, exegete. I heard the “reverberations” of truth, echoes of the gospel there. EDM is great music.

If none of the above thoughts are convincing enough to check out the post, consider this additional thought. EDM is everywhere. It has taken over pop radio. It has taken over the media and advertising world. It has even gained prominence in worship music (think Hillsong United, Hillsong Young & Free, Bethel Music, and Jesus Culture) and worship services (think of the growth of the use of loops and live software platforms like Ableton).

Here’s a little teaser, but please go read the whole post here:

EDM, unlike other musical forms, which have a more pronounced storyline from beginning to end (think of a sonata or a country song), places the listener-dancer into the playing field of the infinite. Put another way, EDM paints on a canvas without edges. It transports us into an eternal storyline. This is why EDM sounds so repetitive. It is an art form expressed in the context of eternity, catching us up in a never-ending loop of joy. The Bible similarly describes eternity as a euphoric repetition of heavenly beings whonever cease crying, “Holy, holy, holy” (Revelation 4:8). Perhaps EDM is better equipped than any other art form to help human beings grasp, even for just a second, what eternal rapture feels like.

2 Comments on “Exegeting Sound: Hearing the Reverberations of the Gospel in EDM”

  1. Love it! You put into words what we've been feeling all along. There oughta be more exegeses like this for other genres of music!

  2. I found your original LIBERATE post exhilarating! I have been trying to communicate to my team the importance of the dynamic arc of a song but had yet to connect it to the arc of the gospel story.
    Your dedication to the dual crafts of music and local church/contextual leadership is inspiring. I have no reason to flatter you, I just find it incredibly encouraging that the next generation of church history has some thought leaders that are committed to the church and the truth. That Gospel story reverberates through all the years of massive change the church has seen. We could do much worse than a Gospel preaching church with EDM worship and a mosh pit! Much worse, indeed.

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