Most interviews don’t start with a prayer. But when Westword sat down in July with Jonathan and Angela Burgess and Tim and Lorna Heil — spouses and members of the pro-life Christian electronic-music act Transform — they prayed.
We were sitting at Sox Place, in a room where a massive crucifix hung on the wall. Named after Doyle “Sox” Robinson, the drop-in center serves homeless youth. Sox, who earned his nickname handing out socks to kids living on the 16th Street Mall, opened the space in 2002 and offers free concerts and parties for the youth he works with. Transform has played many of those events.
Sitting around a table, the bandmates bowed their heads. “Dear God, thanks for this opportunity,” Jonathan said. “I just pray to you to help bring you glory. And I pray in Jesus’s name that it will be done. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.”
Amens said, the musicians shared their story.
Tim and Jonathan met in the early 2000s, as undergrads at Colorado Christian University, where they bonded over a mutual love of dance music. The two drifted apart after Jonathan transferred to Sterling College in Kansas to play football. A few years later they reconnected at a Starbucks and shared phone numbers.
“[Jonathan] called me up about this guy doing an event at a coffee shop up in Johnstown,” says Tim. “His name was DJ Life, and he was doing this DJ thing. ‘Do you want to go check it out?’ I asked. So we went, and he was doing a combination of spoken word meets dance music and art.”
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Heil, who plays under the moniker DJ Omni, introduced himself to DJ Life and ended up closing out the night.
The owner was impressed with Tim’s DJ skills and offered the two men a chance to use the venue once a month for dance parties. After a few such events, they were eager to bring their parties to Denver.
The DJs formed Tranceform Productions, putting on underground drug-free raves that incorporated live painting, candy necklace-making stations and even roller-skating performances.
Early on, they met Sox. “We asked Doyle if we could use this place. We knew we wanted to use it as a way to just reach people. Our purpose is to just reach people for Jesus,” says Tim.
While Sox had hosted rock shows, he had never held a rave before. He jumped at the chance on one condition: If any homeless people wanted to go to the show, they had to be let in for free. Tim and Jonathan gladly agreed, eager to share God’s word.
“We were not overt from the stage or anything,” says Tim. “We weren’t forcing our religion on anybody. We were providing a positive environment for people. We promoted a positive, drug-free nightlife.”
The shows were organized by word of mouth, and Tim and Jonathan would hand out fliers with a phone number for people to call and get a location — the latter kept under wraps lest law enforcement show up to bust up their godly, but loud, affairs.
Along with throwing big parties, Tranceform Productions hosted coffeehouse events at the Bohemian Bean in Uptown.
“We’d have local DJs playing and people mingling, getting to know each other better,” recalls Tim. “We were never overt from the stage with our faith, but people knew we were believers.”
Adds Jonathan: “We were able to befriend people who had opposing thoughts, and through that, people would open up.”
A few years later, Tranceform Productions joined forces with DJ Life and evolved into Transform DJs, a group of Christian EDM artists. Tim focused on house music and Jonathan on trance. Eventually, when DJ Life left the group and Tim and Jonathan’s wives joined in, the project evolved into Transform.
Although the members champion Jesus and the Christian cause, they are ambivalent about the category of Christian electronic dance music (CEDM).
“It’s really hard to label something CEDM,” says Tim. “For me, it’s dance music. I hope that our music appeals to the masses because of the quality.”
From their earliest days, all four members were steeped in Christianity. Lorna’s and Tim’s fathers were both pastors, and Jonathan’s father is currently a pastor; Angela’s mother has been involved in missions and ministry. All four were also involved in music at church. Until recently, Jonathan and Lorna served as youth pastors at Trinity Christian Fellowship Church in Northglenn, where Jonathan’s parents currently minister. So naturally, they say, their love of Jesus shines through their music.
“It’s just an extension of who we are, and it’s going to come out,” says Jonathan. “If there’s a cardinal sitting on your electric line or something, it’s going to sing what a cardinal sings because it’s in nature for that type of bird. Since we’ve decided to follow Jesus, we try to become more like him.”
While the group may not always wear its Christianity on its sleeve, Transform has positioned itself to deliver the party music of the pro-life movement.
Back in a 2012 promotional video, Jonathan described the members of Transform as “evangelists. We want to see God’s kingdom expanded. We’re going to do that three ways. We’re going to share the gospel, we’re going to defend pre-born people (and other defenseless people worldwide), and we’re going to lead God’s people into worship.”
Not much has changed since — other than the group’s rising ambitions. Now the website claims: “Transform’s mission is to share the Good News of Jesus with over 1 million people through Holy Spirit-led performances, defend pre-born life and other defenseless people worldwide, and lead God’s people into worship.”
During Transform’s performances, the group plays a short graphic video called “The Willing Vessel” that shows a woman weighing whether to have an abortion and ultimately deciding not to. The soundtrack? Pure EDM.
“We have a huge heart for ladies and men that have crisis pregnancy situations,” says Angela. “Yeah, you could say that we’re pro-life. What we do from the stage is basically speak out and offer a hand, whatever we can offer. We can just tell them, ‘God’s got your back. He has a plan for you and for your baby. There is help for you.’ We do that just from the stage.”
The group is quick to quote Scripture to defend their beliefs. Jonathan points to Jesus talking about “the least of these” — the poor, hurting, hungry, thirsty and the prisoners. “Whatever you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done to me. Whatever you haven’t done to the least of these, you’ve not done for me.”
“Jesus is basically saying ‘Love your neighbor,’” says Jonathan. “And we want to love our neighbors. Our neighbors are the homeless, those caught in trafficking. Those who are hungry, those who are thirsty.”
Other neighbors? Fetuses.
“By all means, our pre-born neighbors are also our neighbors,” Jonathan adds. Transform aims to “give them a voice and lovingly — and that’s a keyword — lovingly raise up a voice for the voiceless.”
Transform has taken its pro-life advocacy to Washington, D.C. In 2017, at the 44th Annual March for Life, the group performed just before Mike Pence became the first vice president to appear at the rally.
During Transform’s performance, Angela called for an immediate eradication of abortion, saying, “Enough is enough! ... Our tiny pre-born American citizens deserve better.”
The band, which cheerfully champions its cause, continues to spread its message through music, including its most recent single, “Wildfire.” The song dropped in May, and a video for it came out in June. The video follows the members of Transform, and fans, around RiNo’s spectacular murals in a dance-filled celebration of faith and music, evoking LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.”
Jonathan even throws down a short rap alongside a playful refrain: “When you play with fire, it’s bound to get lit.”
Tim says the video is about the gospel, bringing light into darkness — and while the project nods to traditional hip-hop art forms such as graffiti, rap and dance, it is mostly white people doing the nodding.
And why not? That is the language of EDM. John Martin, aka Kareem Martin, is a resident DJ at Denver’s Beta Nightclub and says that he loves “Wildfire.” Martin adds, “I do believe that, yes, Christian music needs to be spread out into any musical genre. Back then, gospel music was very big, and now having Transform DJs influencing Christ into EDM/pop music — it’s a positive message for our youth generation.”
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Back at Sox Place, as we wrap the interview, Jonathan recalls one of his favorite moments with Transform, when he played with Switchfoot at Red Rocks. “Tim was deejaying,” recalls Jonathan. “We’re not just playing songs. We’re worshipping God with our music.”
He was standing on the drum riser behind the DJ booth with his arms held high. As the sun set, rays of light came down from the sky.
“In that moment, I just couldn’t believe that God had given us this opportunity. I couldn’t believe I was able to start to live out my dream, and I couldn’t believe that He was actually there watching me,” Jonathan says. “In that moment, it was like a little kiss from the Lord. I think God was using us in that moment to help reach people.
At the same time, He was basically saying, ‘I’m watching you, I’m here, and I gave you this.’”