A unique live club event which takes the Gospel to followers of metal, punk, goth and hardcore music takes place in darkest Soho. George Luke visited ASYLUM LIVE.
If you were looking for a place where you could hear quality Christian rock bands, your first choice probably wouldn't be a venue which describes itself as "the dark heart of Soho." But, as home to the bi-monthly Asylum Live nights, that's exactly what Gossips on Dean Street is, located just across the road from what claims to be London's friendliest strip club (I decided I'd take their word for it and didn't investigate how friendly it was).
Inside Gossips' cavernous lounge and bar area, muted tellies are tuned in to Star Trek Night on BBC2. A few guys are enjoying a snooker game and some of the outfits on display wouldn't look out of place in some of the seedier venues nearby. In keeping with Asylum's usual hospitality, there are loads of free crisps, "fun-size" chocolates and other goodies laid out on the tables. However, attendance tonight is low in comparison to previous nights - and it's not just the punters who've stayed away, either. Skinflowers (tonight's advertised headline act) pulled out at short notice and have been replaced by another band, a non-Christian unit called Djevera. Dual Edge's Andrew Antoniades, the club's resident DJ, puts the low attendance down to the extraordinary events of earlier in the week (ie, the attack on the World Trade Centre). "People are mourning," he says. "If it was me, I wouldn't want to go out, either."
Probably for the same reason, the really hard-sounding music isn't in high demand tonight ("hardcore's dead," says one punter). One CD that does get an all-round thumbs-up is P.O.D.'s import album 'Satellite'. Club regulars Xegesis (the band fronted by Asylum's leader Billie Sylvain) come on and give us about half an hour of their techno-metal fusion, then it's time for Djevera to take the stage. The band's lead singer starts with an introduction: "We're not a religious band. But there are some things we share in common - such as our humanity." They launch into a song attacking the way the Press treats asylum seekers; that and the other socially conscious tunes in their set are warmly received by the crowd.
The great thing about Asylum is the way it constantly challenges your preconceived ideas of what sort of person goes to places like this. My most interesting conversation tonight is with a lady who's travelled all the way from somewhere in Middlesex to give moral support to her son, a member of the Asylum crew. "I like to encourage him in what he's doing, so I come out and spend the whole day with them," she tells me. "I went with him to the Asylum church in the morning and from there we've spent the day around London before coming here." A heavy metal club that lets parents in - now, that's rebellious. Very rock 'n' roll, in a twisted sort of way.
A few days later Billie Sylvain spoke about Asylum Lives history. "We
began the Live events in April 1998. Primarily, Asylum is about
bringing the Gospel to the alternative scene - working with people who
are into punk, metal, goth, the skinheads and bikers who are outside
mainstream pop culture and showing them there is a God and that he
loves them. As well as Asylum Live we have a monthly club at the
Intrepid Fox pub in Soho where we play the best Christian hard music
around. We have loads of conversations there with people whose
preconceptions about Christians and Christian music are shattered by
what they see and hear there. We also have outreach events where we go
out on the streets and talk to people about Jesus. Then last but not
least, there's an Asylum market stall at Camden market every weekend
where we sell the best of the Christian hard music albums."
Asylum is linked to the Kensington Temple network of churches and gets regular prayer support from them. Billie is convinced that the various expressions of Asylum are essential for reaching Britain's youth. "The people who run Asylum have a natural affinity with the goths, punks, bikers, etc. Their culture doesn't alienate us, rather we share an interest in it. When these people hear excellent Christian music they're very open to talk about the claims of Jesus."