Arts: Pop: Keep faith with the new church of ecstasy

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WHEN MOBY, the infamous Christian techno star, suggested some five years ago that the "luvved-up" unity of clubbing had turned rave into the new church, he was largely ridiculed by a media unwilling to equate the immorality of the ecstasy-embracing lifestyle with the sanctity of the house of God.

And yet, it was a theory that any clubber who had enjoyed the powerful cocktail of feel-good drugs and uplifting music could understand. The combined heady rush of the chemicals and surging music created a rare sense of spiritual positivity. During these intensely charged moments - on which much of clubbing's subsequent folklore has been based - it didn't seem unreasonable that God was, indeed, in the house.

Faithless understand this more than any other live dance band. As DJs in demand, Faithless's creators and co-producers Rollo and Sister Bliss have been experiencing it for 10 years. As Faithless, they create music that embraces the openness of ecstasy culture, and concentrates all the genres that have touched post-acid-house clubbing into a unified, celebratory sound. An uncanny ability to combine the moody raps of Massive Attack with the raptures of Motown soul, all wrapped up with the dance floor suss of commercial house.

In Sister Bliss, they also have a classically trained pianist who possibly overdosed on the works of Elgar as a child. Her rousing keyboard motifs come across with all the pomp and majesty of the most stirring Protestant hymn. A worrying proposition perhaps, but when the nine-piece band open and close their set with the anthemic "God is a DJ", the sight of three tiers of capacity audience, all arms aloft and dancing as one, would make even the hardiest cynic suspect that Moby had been right all along.

With much of the set drawing on such hymns to raving, the audience are rarely allowed to stray from Faithless's roots. Yet, in Maxi Jazz, their wiry frontman, they have a formidable rapper whose laid-back lyrics reveal a dark humour. The stand-out "Bring My Family Back" melts pastoral choirs over a slow dub and astutely observed lyrics; the patchwork Gaelic soul- meets-Satie ambience of "Postcards" explores the loneliness of the long- distance rapper, trapped somewhere on an endless tour and missing his wife "like a lock on the door".

Two years ago, the band's debut gig at London's Jazz Cafe was a disappointing display of musicianly self-indulgence. Two albums, three hit singles and 24 months of solid, world-wide gigging later, Faithless have become one of the most invigorating bands today: their Empire show was nothing short of inspirational.

Martin James