Nine years ago I bumped into a friend in a high street record store in good old Sutton, and he asked if I was going to Destruction Fest that weekend. 'Destruction Fest? What's that?' Turns out, it was a weekend festival in Camden, two nights of gigs, metal, punk, goth, hardcore, run by an alternative church (what's that?). Nine years ago I was a somewhat heartbroken (and, please know, I was responsible for much of the heartbreak) nineteen year old, home for the holidays, at a bit of a loss and missing my metal-loving Uni mates.
So I went along. And it was great. Loud and heavy and slightly overwhelming, especially as I knew no one. I went to the Sunday service and wept. And let me just say now, it was not because I was greatly moved by the message or the worship (though I'm sure they were good). I wept because I was lonely and hurting and guilty, and sitting in amongst this broad community, mostly clothed in black, I felt all those things a little more because I was not really a part of it. And, although I had wonderful friends, I didn't really have a church community to belong to anywhere else.
But, even with the weeping, I still loved the experience. So I went back in 2004, and fell in love with Antidemon. And again in 2005, where I fell more in love with Extol. And by 2005 I had finished Uni, moved back to London, and was on the look out for a new church. So I figured part of the weekend would be 'trying out' the church that organised the festival, going along this time not to weep, but to see whether it might be a place I could attend regularly.
I had planned to visit a whole range of churches, but that Sunday I knew that GU was where I was meant to be, at least for the time being. So, those other visits went out the window and I kept turning up at GU.
As much as I loved it, I found it hard. I was a timid, shy 21-year old, overawed at the 'cool' people who attended this church. I struggled to initiate conversation, and when I did speak with people, it was hard to get beyond surface small talk. But there I was, week after week, and slowly and surely I got to know people a little better, came to feel a little more comfortable in my surroundings, began to feel like part of the family.
Destruction Fest 2006 moved venues, and by now I was on the other side of things - I was not a punter, I was a volunteer. So I sat at the door, welcoming people and taking money, or manning the merch table, or praying in the back with a couple of others. My husband met me that night, although I do not remember this (not because he is not memorable, but because I had other preoccupations at the time). I knew some of the bands by then, well enough to say hi to. I was bold enough to strike up conversation with people I didn't know. I wanted others to feel like family too.
We took a break, tried some different things through the years between, and came back in 2009. Destruction Fest returned, oh yes, just as loud, but with a different vision. We had an all-day gig, to free up an evening for prayer and worship. We had a huge service in our new church venue of St Michaels, 'Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down' reverberating off the Victorian stone arches. We set up and packed down and prayed and fed people and hung out and welcomed and counselled and laughed and sang and moshed, and this year I was part of the core, at the heart of the family. And I was so incredibly glad.
And here we are again, another three-year break, returning with Destruction Fest 2012. I'm making cornflake cakes this afternoon to feed the hungry metallers. Tonight we'll gather to pray and worship, tomorrow we'll head over to the Black Heart in Camden, to 'bang our heads and help the homeless', on Sunday we'll celebrate and feast at St Michaels.
This year is special for me because this year I bring along Button with me. Safely hidden away, but present nonetheless. 'Your first gig, my darling', and I'll tell the story in years to come of a metal festival leading to a church, which became a family, which became our family, which is a family with open arms to all those seeking, all those lost, all those lonely - and all those who love metal.