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Interview: Luke Rollins, DJ ministry co-ordinator

27 April 2018

‘The simple joy of people dancing together will never change’

The concept of a DJ is much more than just choosing music: it’s an artistic expression in its own right. They’re also musicians and have outputs as well; so there’s musical credibility to what they’re doing. It’s an enormous industry these days: very competitive, a lot of jostling for position in terms of who can put together a set to create experiences for people, taking them on a musical journey — an education, almost — showing a broad understanding of music in all its forms, blending them, making them palatable, making them relevant.

At the top end, DJs do a two-hour show in a club or a venue. They have an image surrounding them, and they’re heavily scrutinised role-models. Some DJs do connect with the audience and talk to them, but the vast majority of us don’t. Good DJs tend to be buried in basements looking at music; so being forced into the limelight brings its problems. Your social-media image is very important. Carl Cox, probably the biggest DJ in the world, has a charisma that connects with the thousands who are attracted to his events.

Preparation is essential, and really is the bulk of the job. There’s no shortcut to finding good music — it takes time and commitment. Once you’ve found the music, you have to know it inside out, and then there’s the necessity for effective categorisation in readiness for the gig, be that vinyl selection through to Rekordbox playlists for USB. And we haven’t even started on travelling, promotion, social media, music production, and some good old-fashioned practice time.

A lot of success now depends on your skill and ability with online marketing. It’s no longer enough to be a good DJ or a good producer. Technology has allowed more people to tick those boxes; so the battle is to rise above the multitude of voices and engage with audiences whose attention spans are greatly reduced because of the sheer volume of content. The risk is that the essence of DJ ing is lost in a vicious publicity battle that becomes less about music and more about status and money.

That said, the simple joy of people dancing together will never change. Be it on vinyl, CD, laptop, or USB, sharing music with others will always be the foundation. Ultimately, you’re there to help people to dance and to experience joy. There’s a connection that happens when you play live — you’re sharing your personal choice — and bringing someone joy is a wonderful thing to do, even if you’re not a Christian.

There’s a whole movement of clean clubbing, but, sadly, there’ll always be some whose experience is heightened with narcotics or alcohol abuse. They’re looking for escape, hope, community, someone who will make them happy. They’re there because they can’t find it, but music’s just a vehicle, and, tragically, it doesn’t usually lead to that; so they keep going back.

That’s why we need people to be there who can say you can find that in Jesus. They’re there to find an answer; so they’ll give you an audience if you give them time to speak in one-to-one encounters, connecting over your passion, maybe outside, or over a coffee, or in the studio.

I became a Christian eight years ago, after a long Prodigal Son journey, when a girl at a nightclub where I worked shared her faith with me. I always wanted to make people dance, but I was probably simply seeking affirmation, identity, and romantic encounters. She started me on a long journey back to God; so, if I’m working in a club or at a party, I’m there for him and looking for an opportunity for God to reach out to someone through me. While the music is important, it’s only ever the vehicle for a connection or a friendship with someone that allows God to speak into their lives through love. There are so many broken, hurting, lost people in the nightlife industry, and everyone is looking for answers in different places. I want to try and be a light in the dark, as that girl was for me.

One of the first things I did after I’d received Jesus was to sell my DJ decks, remove myself from my residency, and cancel all upcoming gigs; so it was pretty dramatic. God took me out of the industry while he sorted out some problems I’d established as a result of the lifestyle that I embraced. I was out for nearly four years, during which time I barely touched my headphones. He started to call me back in, bit by bit, without the same intensity and struggles, and with a new perspective.

My favourite artists are DJs such Louie Vega, Steve Lawler, Carl Cox, James Zabiela, and Paul Woolford. Musically, anything from Moby through to Laura Mvula and London Grammar, Jesus Culture through to Timbaland, and Simon and Garfunkel, Otis Redding, through to Louis Armstrong, Debussy, and Beethoven.

My wife and I run our own music business, and I’m also signed up to a London agency, DJs on Demand. I do produce, but rarely music that I’d ever use in a DJ set. I draw upon too many interests to be condensed into making house music. That’s a bit frustrating, to be honest. I absolutely love making music, but it’s solitary, and DJing is vital for getting me out among people.

Third Space Ministries exist to share God’s love in Ray Oldenburg’s “third spaces of society”, where people meet to develop friendships, discuss issues, and interact with others. Our first space is home; the second, work; but third spaces are areas of leisure and community where we relax and unwind: a cafe, gym, retail park, or club where often people are more open to interaction. We like to be in places where people are least likely to expect a God encounter, where the Church hasn’t traditionally had a presence, but we offer teaching and training for churches who catch the vision.

We launched the DJ Unity Community on 13 April. It’s an 80-strong collective of Christian DJs who give Christian discipleship and support within the music industry. About 60 top-quality DJs met in a very lovely space, played some music, danced, and talked about the vision of what we’re trying to do, and prayed for me.

We’re hoping that people will see the need for authentic mission in the industry, and for the love of God to reach an entire generation unlikely to set foot in church. We recognise the increased spiritual and mental struggles that DJs and musicians are facing, and highlight the lack of support and resources for them.

There has never been more insecurity. Success seems always about who you know and what you are prepared to sacrifice in pursuit of your dream, be that relationships, health, or personal integrity.

The first night I experienced God for real was at a Christian praise evening in Leicester. I was 15, and I knew then that Jesus was the way, but it took ten more years of rebellion, apathy, and hurt before I truly surrendered my life to him. Since then, life is unspeakably good, and the grace and love of God are daily revelations. He planted me in a great church, established fantastic friendships, took me on wild missional adventures to Ibiza, and introduced me to my wonderful wife, Judith — an extremely talented singer and musician — among many other countless miracles and journeys.

Music-making with God always relaxes and excites me. Judith and I run a home group together, which is a huge blessing, and we love having people over for dinner. I use the gym, play and teach piano, and occasionally put my feet up with an episode of Grand Designs.

It makes me angry when someone is abused, persecuted, or discouraged.

I’m happiest when I’m watching someone grow in their walk with God.

I have lots of hope for the future. What gives me hope is Ephesians 3.20-21: “Now to him who, by the power that is at work within us, is able to carry out his purpose and do superabundantly, far over and above all that we dare ask or think — infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams — to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever. Amen.” So be it.

I do pray, and it’s mostly for my family, loved ones, and whomever the Holy Spirit places on my heart.

If I could choose anyone to be locked inside a church with, it would have to be St Paul. I just have so many questions to ask him.

Luke Rollins was talking to Terence Handley MacMath



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