‘They thought it was the craziest idea they’d ever heard’: Groove Terminator and the Soweto Gospel Choir reignite dance classics

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‘They thought it was the craziest idea they’d ever heard’: Groove Terminator and the Soweto Gospel Choir reignite dance classics

History of House
Words by David James Young

“Daddy can't get off the phone, darling!”

In his heyday, Simon Lewicki – aka Groove Terminator – would have been drawn away from a phone interview to get back to the seemingly never-ending party that followed everywhere he went.

These days, however, it’s to deal with his fussy daughter who is home sick from school. “It’s a lot of work,” Lewicki says of fatherhood, with an exasperated laugh that can only come from a parent. “She’s just tried to feed something to the cat that she’s…” He completes his sentence extra loud, so his daughter hears: “NOT supposed to!”

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Don’t get it twisted, however: Just because Lewicki is settled into grown-up life in suburban Byron Bay these days, doesn’t mean he can’t still terminate a groove. As a matter of fact, the DJ and producer is on a second wind in that department, as he prepares to revive one of his most ambitious live shows to date: History of House, a decades-spanning revue in collaboration with the Soweto Gospel Choir.

Though dance music and gospel may seem strange bedfellows on paper, Lewicki explains that their inter-connectivity runs deeper than most might assume on surface value. ”I’m a lapsed Catholic, but I grew up around the sounds of gospel choirs,” he says.

“I think a lot of people don’t realise that a lot of the great vocalists that are sampled or otherwise featured on big dance tracks all come from the church. Because you’re so focused on the beat or the hook, you might not even hear that a lot of those songs are about finding God!”

Another common bond Lewicki particularly emphasises is the sense of unity. Though they’re very unique environments unto themselves, the veteran DJ sees both as opportunities for lost sheep to find their flock.

“I always saw dance music as the great equaliser growing up,” he says. “I had no idea who my people were before I discovered it. It’s music that brings people together; there’s a great spiritual freedom that’s present in the clubs on their best nights. I feel like we’re all trying to chase that feeling in life. It’s a very active pursuit.”

This freedom Lewicki found in dance music as a teenager, he says, ultimately set him on a path in music that would eventually lead him to the group he describes as “the best gospel choir working in the world right now”: the Soweto Gospel Choir.

After brainstorming several ideas for an Adelaide Fringe show, including a new live-band set and a recreation of one of his famous Central Station bootleg mix CDs, Lewicki settled on the plan to collaborate with a choir to recreate some of dance music’s biggest hits with a litany of soaring voices.

“I was able to get in a room with them after they played the Sydney Opera House, and I still wasn’t entirely sure of what I was pitching them,” Lewicki laughs.

“They thought it was the craziest idea they’d ever heard, but I think that’s why they said yes. I mean, think about it: It’s the best dance songs ever made, being elevated by 16 lead singers who are all doing their own choreography. Who the hell would say no to that?”

Despite a strong start through the rehearsal process, including a pilgrimage to Johannesburg circa January 2020 that Lewicki describes as “transformational”, as well as an exciting premiere at the Fringe, a looming threat would soon end the party before it had truly begun.

“While I was in Johannesburg, everyone was wearing masks and doing temperature checks because of that new virus we were all hearing about on the news,” Lewicki recalls.

“To think, it was getting scary then – this was before it had even made it to Australia. Towards the end of the Fringe, we were having these huge conversations about whether to continue at all. We’d sold out every show, but there were so many empty seats – no one wanted to be in an enclosed space, especially not older people. It was becoming make or break as COVID got more and more serious.” 

What followed is what Lewicki optimistically describes as a “winter hibernation” – all of the offers that had come in to take History of House to venues around the world had to be put on hold for over two years. As the Village People once prophesied, however, you simply cannot stop the music.

In January 2023, History of House returned to where it all began at the Adelaide Fringe. “We were just so excited to be back on stage again,” Lewicki beams. “We were all so aware of not taking it for granted, and I think that alone made the shows the best they’d ever been.”

A national tour is already in the works – following three recently completed, sold-out performances at Darwin Festival, the project has dates booked in Brisbane, Castlemaine and Melbourne this month. Lewicki, naturally, is chomping at the bit to show the rest of Australia his passion project in its brightest, liveliest form.

“We really know what we’re working with on stage now,” he says. “This is the best version of it; everything is nailed down, and I’m so proud of everyone who’s worked on it. This is dance music on steroids! You’re gonna love it.”

History of House comes to Brunswick Ballroom on October 21 and to the Forum on October 28.

This article was made in partnership with History of House.