N-SOUL RECORDS has been the pioneering force in the Church's gradual move into the realm of contemporary dance music.
Flashback to 1994. There are three Christian DJs playing dance music in the UK: Karl Allison, N-Daze and Steve Nixon. One day a Californian DJ called Scott Blackwell had the absurd idea that dance music was not of the Devil and that Christians were allowed to listen to it, make it and actually dance to it. And that people could actually worship to music other than 70s folk style. N-Soul was founded by Scott Blackwell in 1994 and was assisted by a pioneering ex-UCB DJ called Steve Nixon of the Rhythm Saints who moved to America to work with Scott and to set up the label. One of the first signings to N-Soul were a group of crazed Mancunians, with a powerful schools ministry, called the World Wide Message Tribe. No British record label were vaguely interested in the Tribe at the time.
Through the years, N-Soul have brought us seminal albums by Virus, the Prodigal Sons and Paradigm Shift and dozens of others as well as distributing albums by UK acts such as Hydro and Psalmistry. Scott Blackwell moved from N-Soul in 1998 to reactivate MYX Records, leaving Phillip Kim in charge. Kim had previously worked with Metro One and Wycliffe Bible Translators and had been working alongside N-Soul as a consultant. Under his leadership N-Soul have diversified into ska, hip hop, R&B and even punk praise albums and have released their first film soundtrack for the film Mercy Streets. But dance music - in all its modern forms -remains N-Soul's main focus, even though there is a major marketing problem with N-Soul releases in that most American Christian radio stations play little or no dance music and by concentrating on albums, rather than 12" singles, N-Soul's impact into the mainstream has been limited.
The current dance music roster for the label includes hard house artist and deejay A J Mora, drum and bass collective Faith Massive, ambient duo Antidote, industry veterans the Prodigal Sons, a remix album for Sheltershed, an eclectic album by DJ darryL and DJ c3pO as well as hip hop artists Fros'T and Deezer D. They have recently commenced broadcast of an internet radio show, Radio N-Soul Free, and diversified into fitness videos. They are also now producing a monthly dance music video show for broadcast. Their website at www.nsoul.com offers chatrooms and a message board where you can meet fellow dance music fans as well as a facility to listen to and buy music from them on line.
Nitro Praise is N-Souls best known album series which will shortly be eight volumes old, together with two Nitro Praise Christmas albums. Philip Kim commented on the series' long standing popularity, "Nitro Praise is praise and worship - the highest form of music no matter what style it is expressed in. I believe God wants his people to praise him and blessed Nitro Praise for all the dance kids to find an expression of praise."
The concept started with them and has been often imitated, namely to re-record well known praise and worship songs of the day in a dance friendly style, ranging from poppy house to drum and bass. It is a serious attempt to get the Church worshipping, using a more relevant style of music than 70s style folk music. All of the albums include instrumental versions for praising and worshipping along to. They have covered everything from "My God Is An Awesome God" to "Shout To The Lord" and dozens of others.
It's clear from the internet boards that hardcore dance fans left the series alone at about Volume 4, but for many in the Church unfamiliar with dance music, it's a great way to introduce them to club music.
One of N-Soul's ideas is the Eclectica series, which is an innovative way to produce an album which has allowed independent artists to receive exposure for their music. This four deep series continues with their latest trance-orientated release. It operates on a "pay to appear" basis, which has resulted in variable track quality but some really classic tracks as well. This gave artists such as DJ darryL and Antidote a base to move on to full albums.
Commented Phillip Kim, "When I was at Metro One I created Indie Empire which was a way to showcase indie artists. Being an artist myself, I know how frustrating it can be not to get the attention and exposure you need. The Eclectica series is an extension of that vision for indie artists. So is the Christianmp3.com compilation of mp3s - the first in the industry! Indie artists need channels like this to build upon and I support them in that way!"
Mercy Streets Soundtrack
Phillip Kim enthused about the label's unexpected move into film soundtracks. "Mercy Streets is so exciting. I believe it is one of the best Christian films ever made and totally holds its own against major releases. I met the producer and director of the film through a mutual friend and we shared common vision. I am extremely proud to be a part of what I consider a new wave of Christian films. The soundtrack is awesome too! We worked hard to license the best music for the movie. It was a great experience for me and something I see N-Soul growing in."
Down the years N-Soul has occasionally released some outstanding hip hop projects including albums by Fros'T and Deezer D. Phillip Kim commented on N-Soul's diversification into hip hop, "We love hip hop here. There has been an explosion of hip hop in America and so there are a ton of labels and artists that are doing it. I think we were initially involved with hip hop because not many other labels could help the artists' ministries. Now there are hundreds and so we are more focused with dance. I am open to what God brings our way, but I am a lot more excited about a great dance artist because I know no one else is supporting them.
How, I wondered, did Phillip Kim respond to the suggestion that N-Soul is too radical to be accepted by the CCM scene and too Christian to be accepted by the mainstream dance scene? "N-Soul has evolved a lot in the last couple of years. The technology is so much easier to access so dance records are so much better quality. I think our artists are just as creative and talented as any mainstream label however even on the mainstream side, there is little 'mainstream' acceptance. A dance category was only just recently added to the Grammys here in the US. CCM culture is changing too - with more acceptance to dance and DJ culture. Our goal will be to produce the music that we love. Whether it is fashionable for the moment or not is not in our control. With a missions focus, we are reaching the unreached people group of the dance culture. I think if we continue to stay true to our vision, we will not lack acceptance from the people we really care about."
For the future, Phillip Kim is upbeat. "N-Soul is proud to be the
premier Christian dance label. We are a label of
firsts! The first Christian dance record to go number one on the radio charts. The first Christian dance instrumental record (previously everything had to have words to consider it Christian), the first label to focus full time on DJ culture, the first label to release a Christian mp3 compilation, the first Christian dance label to gain mainstream distribution, and a lot more. We look forward to blazing more trails ahead. We love what we do. Most of us here in the office sacrifice a great deal to continue the ministry of N-Soul Records. With the downturn of retail in the last two years, we have seen dramatic changes in the Christian music business mostly working against indie labels like ourselves. Now more than ever, we appreciate all the fans that support us and continue to email and write us. Our direct web sales have risen 300% in the last year and we are sad to say it is because the distribution game is a sick beast. On the web, we sell more music to people outside of the US than we do within the US! We know people love and appreciate our music. Thanks for all the years of support!"