In the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers, legendary singer James Brown plays a preacher who rouses an entire church congregation into an over-the-top frenzy of singing and dancing.
A swaying, clapping choir, dressed in colourful robes, joins him in the up-tempo gospel song, The Old Landmark.
DJ Sunshine Trott, centre, and the Sunshine and Disco Faith Choir at rehearsal at Revolver nightclub.Credit:Scott McNaughton
Fast-forward more than 40 years and a Melbourne choir is channelling that energy and spirit in its own way.
While not yet a household name, the upbeat Sunshine and Disco Faith Choir has landed some impressive gigs in its six-year existence, the latest a prime slot at the St Kilda Festival on Sunday.
The gospel, pop and soul tracks sung by the 12-piece group are fused with disco, techno and house sounds, and performed with light and movement.
The Choir’s founder, Sunshine Trott, aka DJ Sunshine, said the one-hour festival set would include the choir’s own takes on The Old Landmark, the Miley Cyrus hit Flowers and a favourite of Trott’s, Aretha Franklin’s A Deeper Love.
The choir will perform at 7pm, on a stage next to the Esplanade Hotel overlooking Port Phillip Bay.
“I’m expecting it to be a lot of fun,” says Trott, who is the DJ wearing a commanding white and gold robe as her choirmates sing, clad in gold-and-blue robes.
Trott, whose first name really is Sunshine, has been a Melbourne DJ for 22 years and has a regular Saturday morning gig at Revolver nightclub in Prahran.
Before seeing The Blues Brothers scene, which she loves – “It’s so energetic and full of life. It makes me feel happy and uplifted,” she says – Trott fell in love with James Brown’s more stripped-back recording of The Old Landmark, with a gospel piano, percussion and vocals.
James Brown and choir in the movie The Blues Brothers.
“I took another techno track and layered it underneath the Brown track, live, in my DJ set,” she said.
“I did it by accident the first time and the energy that created, I could play that at any type of gig — an under-age party, a late-night techno club, at a festival – and it would resonate. I got so obsessed with that sound.”
Trott formed a live choir with singers she knew (she now holds auditions), and in December 2016, at the Prince Bandroom in St Kilda, they performed a gospel inspired track Trott co-wrote, Here to Stay, and two cover songs.
“Everyone was blown away,” Trott says. “It was like they’d never seen anything like this before. It was all so new, but I knew straight away how special this idea was, and I wanted to work on it and keep developing the project.”
Amber Ferraro out front of the choir at the Esplanade Hotel, St Kilda, 2021.Credit:Sunshine and Disco Faith Choir/Martin Cedes.
Sunshine and Disco Faith Choir has since performed at the overseas passenger terminal in Sydney’s Circular Quay, a corporate gig for Google on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour, at Festival Park in Darwin and at Melbourne’s Forum Theatre. They even performed at a boy’s bar mitzvah party in a Melbourne CBD office block.
To top it all, on New Year’s Day this year they played for 500 people at the Iceberg Club overlooking Sydney’s Bondi Beach.
“You’re pinching yourself at how beautiful the location is,” Trott says. “And then you look back at the dance floor and everyone’s going wild. It makes you stop and appreciate the moment.”
Ben Jenner, a restaurant manager by day, has been a choir member for three years and loves it.
Ben Jenner back stage at Caulfield Racecourse, where the choir performed in 2019.Credit:Sunshine and Disco Faith Choir/Jess Middleton
Growing up in Traralgon in Gippsland, he sang hymns in his Catholic church choir. Suffice to say, the songs were not gospel-techno mixes. “This is completely on another level,” he says.
Jenner is stoked to be performing at the St Kilda Festival where previously he’s watched bands, such as The Cat Empire.
Performing in this choir is “unbelievable” and the energy in the group “palpable”.
“I genuinely can’t tell you how good it makes me feel,” Jenner said.
He admits the performances demand lots of energy. “We don’t just stand there and sing like a normal choir, we’re dancing pretty much the entire time,” Jenner said.
The St Kilda Festival is on February 18 and 19.
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