“You guys are the most beautiful people I have ever seen in my life!” the sweaty maniac in the skeleton T-shirt shouts from the stage to an ecstatic crowd of teenagers, “so, ugly people, put your hands down!” It’s the opening line to a particularly funky track from their debut album, Business Up Front, Party at the Back, and Family Force 5 get the response they want as a thousand hands shoot into the air with a cheer. The event is a recent performance at the New Day Festival in Uttoxeter and it is Family Force 5’s first gig in the UK, but certainly not their last.
Family Force 5 are a Christian “crunk rock” outfit from Atlanta, Georgia. They’ve shared tv time with the Pussycat Dolls and are signed to Madonna’s Maverick record label, home to Alanis Morrissette and the Deftones, but none of that matters when you see them live. It is, quite literally, a religious experience. But this is not the kind of musical epiphany accompanied by soaring choral ecstasy and eyes closed in meditative bliss. This is, as lead singer, Soul Glow says, “music that people can shake their junk in the trunk to,” and you know he means dance.
“If we don’t go home with cuts and bruises then we haven’t done our job,” says Soul Glow. “I could show you my knees but I’m not gonna, ‘cause I’m a little insecure about my legs.” They’re that sort of band. During the show at various times, the band makes good on his promise. Break-dancing, climbing the speaker-stack for a guitar solo, doing head-stands on the drum-stool and some of the coolest, hardest tambourine playing I have ever seen are just flashes of the party atmosphere. Band members dance (and dance well), eventually crashing to the floor on top of each other, guitars (and key-tar) are raised and dropped in choreographed cheesy unison, feet are planted firmly on monitor amps in time-honoured rock tradition. Drummer, Crouton, cut his hair “like Nigel from Spinal Tap” for crying out loud.
Playing a fusion of rock and rap, with elements of 80s style synth, funk and live DJ mixing, the Family may be all about the jokes (“If you’re not jumpin’ up and down right now you are physically ugly!” shouts Soul Glow at one point) but their musical talent is no laughing matter. Tight, funky, and catchy as Ebola virus in a crowded sauna, the band have full control over the crowd at all times, partly because the songs are just that good, partly because the show is that entertaining, but mainly by sheer force of will. Throughout the entire set, no-one can stand still. Bouncing, cheering, laughing and smiling are the order of the day.
But there is a deeper side too. Songs like Love Addict, while opening with a line like “hold up, wait a minute, put a little love in it!” reveal a passion for God that is backed up by what is said on stage. Before the end of the show, Soul Glow declares that the reason they play is for Jesus and encourages anyone in the audience who doesn’t to get to know him. His brother Phatty leads the audience in prayer, thanking God for the opportunity to “praise you in our own way and lift you up and jump around and be crazy in the name of God.” He encourages the teenage audience to have a spirit of boldness about winning more people for Christ and the “big party we’re going to have in Heaven”.
This is Christian music at its finest. Not merely just as good as secular acts and certainly not copying them, but great music in its own right, made with passion and praise-filled hearts for the glory of God and the fury of the funk. Go and support them. Scoot.