Christian rock exploded, imploded and died.
In the mid-ninties there were more Christian Rock bands in more genres and sub genres than ever before.
There were SKA bands
Trippy Indie Pop
And even a short-lived Surf-resurgence.
Soon the music section of Christian book stores took over, Christian music festivals expanded. Creation Festival became the biggest music festival in the world. Youth conferences drew crowds with the musical groups they picked and music listeners awaited the announcement with excitement. It was common for new and old believers to burn or smash all of their secular tapes and CDs and to only listen to Chrisian music. There was so much Christian music out that you could listen to Christian music exclusively and still consume a lot of the music. When the internet arrived in 1999 this only served as a greater tool for connecting listeners to hearing about music.
The third wave of Christian Rock is an anomaly and the most difficult to understand. Christian Rock expanded at an incredible rate. And it experienced an identity crisis. There were as many opinions as of what Christian music was, as listeners. This was reflected in the Christian music chat rooms and message boards that the internet made available.
Looking back the only definition that fits is that Christian music was music that was made by Christians.
Some felt that this wasn’t enough. If the only thing that makes Christian music was that it was made by Christians why the need for the industry?
Bands like The Supertones
spoke about God in almost every song, preached the gospel from the stage and saw their band as a missionary group and their audience as their mission field.
Bands like Mxpx
seldom sang about God and were chastised for their lack of evangelism. Their faith was brought into question on multiple occasions.
Other bands like Five Iron Frenzy
sang about God or the bible sometimes. Other times their songs were political, about love or just silly.
On the Skamania tour they dressed in Star Trek uniforms and inbetween songs their banter was mostly Star Trek related. One crowd disliked their wacky approach and chanted “Jesus Christ” until the band had to stop. They wrote the song Litmus as a response to the experience.
It wasn’t just Christian Rock that was exploding. Christian youth culture was very successful. Youth groups became major ministries at churches and youth conferences grew as well. YC in Alberta was so big in 1998 that they couldn’t safely hold the event at the Red Deer Centrium (which holds over seven thousand people). They moved it to the Oilers hockey arena in Edmonton where it sold out several years. (It holds 13, 000).
I don’t know why this happened. The population demographics don’t explain it. Teenagers and college age had a robust population but they were not the biggest demographic.
RELUCTANT CHRISTIAN ROCK STARS
The Christian rock movement was a beautiful thing. It was interesting. It was hard to define. It was the backdrop for all my relationships from 1997 to 2003. It was a large enough movement that I could see a stranger at the Chinook Mall while visiting Calgary wearing a Living Sacrifice T-Shirt.
But it was a small enough movement that you felt that you were part of something special. Me and my few friends were the only ones in our schools that listened to this music and it drew us together.
Here’s me singing in one of my early Christian Rock bands
(I’m the one with the huge Adam’s Apple)
We were into something no one else was and we criticized what we saw as the worst time in history for mainstream music. We viewed ourselves as Christians on the better bottom.
When everyone else was listening to
We were listening to
These bands we loved were a part of a great movement that was the soundtrack for the lives of scattered teen Christian renegades everywhere. But these Christian Rock prophets were reluctant. Reading interviews in Christian Rock magazines 7ball and HM you’ll see that Christian rawkers spent their careers acting like the guy at grad who thinks he’s with a girl that’s below his league.
“We get on planes and play shows to thousands of people. But we’re not rich and you walk into a record store and no one has heard of the band.”
In All My Friends That Play Guitar Starflyer 59 sings
“Do you know who we are? We’ll never go far, like all my friends that play guitar.”
I talked with Ronnie Martin of Joy Electric a few weeks ago. He said
“The movement as a whole always lacked credibility. So if you had a band that had a little ambition and you saw other bands crossing over like P.O.D. charting on Billboard or Switchfoot selling out arenas or MxPx selling half a million records. It all seemed a little more legitimate than touring youth groups or Christian music festivals. Which is understandable but what I was always critical of bands that would complain and complain. They would have these philosophical stances and say ‘We’re Christians but we’re not in a Christian band.’ I would ask them. ‘So why are you playing this church with me?’ or ‘Why are you at this at this Christian music festival.’ I wondered Why they were making music in the context of a movement they pushed so hardly against. Was it for the $5000 a show? If that’s the only reason they were doing it then it’s just trying to be credible but doing something that really lacks integrity.”
It was these interactions that inspired the Joy Electric album ChristianSongs. Joy Electric usually sang songs about castles or love songs for the synth but Christian Songs let everyone know Joy Electric was a Christian band and proud to be one.
THIRD WAVE DISREGARD
CCM made a list of the top 100 Christian Albums ever made
Only two albums from the third wave of Christian Rock made it in the list. Jars of Clay’s self titled debut and DC Talk’s Jesus Freak. While both these albums were Christian Rock, they were both on the fringe of what was going on. CCM was always out of touch with Christian Rock in the third wave. 7ball magazine and HM picked up their slack. The third wave of Christian Rock expanded and eclipsed all other forms of Christian music. Espisally Contemporary Christian music.
HM magazine made a top 100 Christian Rock Albums
I didn’t care for their list either. It’s very metal focused and rife with pathetic snubs (Five Iron Frenzy).
There has yet to be a book written about this era of Christian Rock.
Around 2005 Christian Rock died and I don’t know why. Music sales dwindled and many Christian books stores closed. Christian music festival attendance dropped. Most of them no longer function. Cornerstone Festival was the heart of Christian Rock and it closed its portable gates in 2011. Most of the Christian rock record labels went under or were bought or liquefied by major record labels. Tooth and nail was the other heart of Christian rock. It still exists, but it’s output has been greatly diminished. The bands themselves broke up or got sucked up into the mainstream.
My biological father wanted to take me to Banff. I had just turned 16. I was driving down the highway and he was sleeping. The van begun to shake. I didn’t want to wake him up so I kept driving until one of the wheels fell off. I went to the nearby farm house to call a tow truck. The person didn’t want to answer the door but eventually did when she saw how harmless I was in my dinosaur tail touque. She had a chain on the door and she handed me a wireless phone through the crack without letting me in. I found out later we had broken down across the street from a maximum security prison.
A tow truck took us and the van back to Red Deer where we stayed the night. In the morning I walked around the city while we waited for the van to get fixed. I was a new Christian and I found a basement shop called Gospel Music and Books. They had an amazing music section with posters of The Huntingtons and Skillet. They also had five or six listening centres. I put on MxPx’s Life In General.
I listened to the whole album.
I listened to it again.
Then I put on P.O.D., All Star united and jonnyQ public.
I was changed forever.