From its humble origins on an industrial estate in Stratford, London, House Gospel Choir has evolved into a 150-strong ensemble, aimed at spreading positive vibes and quality house music at a time when the world needs it most.
During lockdown, the choir helped lift the mood with unique takes on various rave classics – check out their note-perfect reworking of Basement Jaxx’s Red Alert below –and now the troupe is gearing up for the release of their debut album, Re/Choired, which lands in October. [Pre-order the album by clicking here]
The album features none other than the legendary Todd Terry, and follows recent collaborations with the likes of Beverly Knight, Alex Metric, Barbara Tucker, Wookie, Toddla T and DJ Spen.
909originals caught up with Nat Maddix, founder of the House Gospel Choir, to discuss the new album and the healing power of house music. Hallelujah!
Hi Nat, thanks for talking to us. The recent Acapella Series was one of our unexpected highlights of the lockdown – I think the world needed those positive vibes?
It took us a few weeks but we got there in the end. We were trying to make them every week. There were 17 in total. I think we took one week off because we were making a music video.
At the moment, there’s so much conversation about how to avoid catching coronavirus, but not that much about what keeps us well, like faith and positive energy. So we’re just trying to raise the vibrations, overall. I think that’s the core of house music to be honest, to bring people from where they’re at to a better place.
Tell me about the history of House Gospel Choir – am I right in thinking it started about 10 years ago?
In my head it’s been around 10 years, because that’s how long I had been dreaming about doing it, but in total it’s about six and a half years now. I had been wanting to do it for a long time before that but I wasn’t brave enough.
I had been working as a tour manager. I had always wanted to work in music, and I got to quite a nice level and was getting paid quite well. But the longer I worked in it the less I enjoyed it, and I was really puzzled as to why that was. I realised I just needed to get into a room and sing with people.
I’ve always liked that quote from Frankie Knuckles, “house music is for church people who fallen from grace”.
When I was growing up, my family was quite religious, and as all young people do, when I was growing up I had lots of questions about faith. Then I discovered raving! At first, they didn’t seem compatible, but I felt that a really good party experience is like being in a church – just being with people and feeling uplifted. I thought ‘I want more people to feel like this’.
With House Gospel Choir, I get to have that ‘rave’ experience on a weekly basis without getting completely trashed!
Had anyone else thought of doing this in the past?
At the time I wasn’t aware of anyone else doing it but I have had some conversations with Barbara Tucker since then, and she explained that she had done a similar kind of project with other house legends, where there was a choir.
The House Gospel Choir brings together people from all different backgrounds. Was that always the intention, to promote inclusivity?
That’s always been my experience with house music. I wanted to make sure people felt uplifted and spirited, without necessarily feeling like they had to be be of a particular denomination or a certain group of people.
Literally anybody can come along. We started our weekly sessions through word of mouth and friends of friends, and people turned up and sang together. It’s always been a really diverse group.
There’s two levels to what we do – obviously there’s a professional House Gospel Choir which performs, but there’s also a community level, where we run a programme called Mass Choir. Anybody can come along – you can either be the best singer in the world or not very good at all, it doesn’t matter. That takes place once a month.
It seems like the sort of thing that you could franchise out – start up House Gospel Choirs around the world?
A few people have said that to me, actually. Funnily enough, we played Australia as part of the Perth International Arts Festival, and anybody with singing experience could apply. We received a number of applications by video, and those that applied joined us on stage for a few numbers.
We called it the Home & Away Choir, because the only Australian things we could think of were Home & Away and Neighbours!
We want to encourage people more to sing, because deep down, everybody can sing. Not everybody can sing on stage, but you might sing in the shower, or when you’re on the dancefloor. It’s such a healing and joyous feeling.
Shows like The X-Factor and The Voice make it seem like singing is just for professionals, but it’s actually just about making noise and feeling good about it.
If you remove all the music industry stuff, every human being has the right to sing. We should be encouraging that more and more.
With the Acapella Series, you had members contributing from their homes. That must have been difficult to put together?
Logistically, it was a bit of a nightmare the first few times, trying to co-ordinate people from their homes, but we got there eventually. There were lots of conversations on WhatsApp.
A lot of the songs were ones we already performed, so there wasn’t much additional learning required, but occasionally our musical director would come up with new arrangements and we would practice at home by ourselves, and then do a Zoom rehearsal.
You would get the track on a Wednesday, and have three days to put your piece together, and then we would mix it all together. It was a very DIY process.
We were lucky in that we had Crystal Waters, Beverly Knight, Donae’o, Barbara Tucker and many others join us, Most of the people that we reached out to said ‘yes’.
The new album, Re/Choired, features house legend Todd Terry. How did you come to work with him?
My manager and I went to the Ibiza International Music Summit, and built up the courage to talk to him. We wanted him to know who we were and to tell him that we loved his music.
Then a few months later, some instrumentals were sent to our A&R team at Island Records, and one of the tracks, My Zulu, really stood out. So myself and a couple of the other guys sat around to work on it.
Todd came to London, for the 51st State festival, and we got to do a session with him; he came down to our studio in Shoreditch and we ended up writing an original song called Everything is Love, which will be the next single.
He’s a really cool guy, very down to earth and we got on like a house on fire. I went to New York on a bit of a whim in January, and had the chance to go and rave behind the decks with him. It was one of those ‘is this really happening‘ moments.
Is there anyone you would really like to work with?
At the top of my list would be Louie Vega and Josh Milan. They are responsible for some of the songs that have made me happiest.
When I was in New York, I met a really nice lady called Vivian Scott you who invited me down to rehearsals for Elements of Life, Louie Vega’s band. They were coming to London to do a show at the Southbank Centre and we ended up singing with them.
He’s one person I’d like to get involved, hopefully for the next project.
So in other words, you’re in this for the long haul – we can expect to see House Gospel Choir spreading good vibes for some time to come?
The beautiful thing about House Gospel Choir is that it is proof that all these people with different backgrounds can come together and make harmony.
As a society, there’s so much division – we are proof that we are really one race of people, and together we can do something bigger than ourselves.
Thanks Nat for talking to us. House Gospel Choir’s Re/Choired is released on Island Records in October.