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Rock of Ages

[whitespace] Christian Punk
Millennial angst and righteous anger materialize in the East Bay punk scene at 24Seven

By Harmon Leon
Photos by Farika

"Anybody a hard-core Christian?" shouts the lead singer wearing a wife-beater tank top.

"Yaaaaaa!" the crowd enthusiastically screams. They go ape shit, the biggest response of the whole night.

"This goes out to you!"

The band kicks into a Rage Against the Machine-sounding song. People shake their heads up and down to the grinding music.

"Do it for Him, for what He did for you! Do it for Him, for what He did for you," shouts the lead singer doing ghetto-rap hand motions, then diving from the stage into the Christian crowd.

This is the heart of "Christcore." These bands are angry--angry for the Lord! The mission behind their screaming lyrics and three-chord progressions? To put the fear of God into the people or, as their flier says, "to reach the members of Generation X through music, for the Lord Jesus Christ."

Three Christian punk bands are on the bill tonight at 24Seven, located in the Evangelical Free Church of Newark in the East Bay. The music began at 8pm. I don't imagine that this will run too late--church is tomorrow. The event is held in a carpeted room normally used for, I assume, Sunday school.

The first band is already playing. There's a small crowd of about 30 people, ranging in age from early teens to mom-types. Most are clean-cut and very white, with that healthy Christian glow. One guy, who's slightly bigger than the rest, does kung-fu to the music. Everyone else stands around, listening, patient, with hands in pockets. Some look like they have to be here.

This Christian punk crowd is far from angry. In fact, they are downright smiley. That's a big difference right there--more smiling at Christian punk shows. The smiley band onstage plays some Christian grindcore. It's surreal.

Banners adorn each side of the stage. One says, "He Is Risen," with a picture of Jesus praying by a cave. The other depicts a giant cross. The band finishes its three-chord thrash for Christ.

"Is that awesome or what!" says the smiley guitarist wearing shorts with white socks pulled up to his knees. "This is not a new song. It's called 'Christian Elite.' " They kick into the tune. I can't understand the lyrics, but I often hear the word "Jesus" screamed. When the set is finished, a smiling man wearing a red baseball cap, named Kendell, comes onstage.

"All right, how did you like those guys?" he asks the crowd. Kendell reminds me of a summer-camp director. "Hey, you guys come up front here. We can't let you mosh, but we can have you dancing, having a good time!"

Before the last band comes onstage, a tattooed, muscled Henry Rollins look-alike takes the microphone.

"Every band you see here, all of them, are about Jesus Christ!" The crowd gets weirdly quiet. Some people go "Sh-sh-sh-sh!"

"You won't leave a 24Seven without hearing about Jesus Christ. If you want to know who he is, I'll tell you, he's about love. ..."

Since the days of Johnny Rotten calling the Queen "a cunt," punk has greatly changed. He goes on to tell the punk crowd about his 2-year-old son, and how you don't know what love is until someone calls you "daddy."

Yes, that's also what they tell you in the Castro.

"What was it like when God sent Jesus Christ, His own son, down to earth? ..."

Josh, the guitarist from the first band, comes over smiling. I tell him I play in a band called Burning Bush.

"How long has your band been together?" I ask.

"Eight months," he says smiling.

"I'm their groupie!" says an alterna-chick by his side. I wonder what a Christian music groupie would actually do?

"What makes a Christian punk band a Christian punk band is they want to show Christ to those kids who are listening to them," says Pastor Eric, who runs the Christian punk events at 24Seven. "In fact I wouldn't call them necessarily Christian lyrics, but I'd always call them positive in terms of anti-drugs, anti-premarital sex, but also salvation issues." To thrash a guitar at Pastor Eric's venue, it's a requirement that the band actively tries to reach people for Christ.

"Our purpose is specifically to reach people for Christ. But we specifically target the fringe kid that's not going to be in a youth group, that's going to be a skateboarder, kids that are going to be in a parking lot in the middle of the night listening to Rage Against the Machine or Korn--a real hard-core alternative music--so we're really focused on that."

Though some old-school Christians might dismiss the use of hard-core music in spreading the word of Jesus, Pastor Eric believes otherwise. "We don't have baggage about what music is Christian and what is not. We believe the rightness or the wrongness is in the lyrics, that the music is not inherently evil."

Though he believes that non-Christian punk is anti-establishment and largely aggressive, Pastor Eric thinks that the point of Christian hard-core, much like the point of being a Christian, is that everything is Christ-centered, everything is done for God's glory.

"Rap was spawned in the ghetto, right. The black man was crying out about issues. Well, that's what punk music was when I was growing up in the '80s," Pastor Eric says. "Anytime you have a Christian band, regardless of the medium, whether it's rap music or rock music or punk, you're simply using the music to communicate a message, pure and simple!" And his punk message: actively reaching the people for Christ through hard-core. Yes, mosh for Moses! Slam-dance against Satan. In praise of the Father, the Son and Johnny Rotten.


Getting thrashed for thrashing for the Lord.

A few classic punk bands and the origins of their names.


LOCATED IN Concord--the whitest-of-white suburbs-- 5 Minute Walk is a Bay Area Christian recording label that deals not only in punk but also in Christian swing, ska and techno.

"If you spend five minutes a day talking to Jesus like you would a friend, He would become your friend. I know it sounds weird, but I challenge you to give it a try," president Frank Tate states on the 5 Minute Walk website. "The next time you're bummed, lonely, scared or frustrated, go for a five-minute walk and talk to Him like you would a friend. Tell Him exactly how you feel and what you're thinking."

On the punk side, 5 Minute Walk represents two bands: Smiley Kids and Five Iron Frenzy. "All our bands get very good responses from the crowd. They're very receptive and there's lots of involvement," says Mary, 5 Minute Walk's PR person. "And they love to talk to the crowd afterwards. Our bands are really big on that, on spending one-on-one time with the kids after the show happens."

Besides the absence of drugs, Mary feels Christian punk shows are a different environment than their mainstream counterpart. "I think it's a little more of a positive atmosphere, because they do have a chance to talk from the stage and kind of set the atmosphere how they want it. There's definitely just as much energy and fun. It's just a lot more positive!"

5 Minute Walk also runs a music venue in Concord called The Scream. When in the Bay Area, their bands will usually perform there or at a different venue in Dublin, but have yet to do shows in San Francisco. "We don't have a relationship with venues there, so it's not a necessity," Mary says.

"I just don't think there's that many Christians in the San Francisco punk scene," explains Chris, who works at Mission Record--home of copious local punk shows. Chris believes that if they booked Christian punk bands, people might turn up for the novelty aspect, but if they're billed as a Christian band they most likely would be mercilessly heckled.

"We're not into that whole end of punk rock," Chris says. "We had a band here with a cop in it before. People didn't show up that would have showed up."

'HARD-CORE'S ABOUT freedom of expression," explains Kris McCaddon, vocalist for Embodyment, a Christian death-metal band from Arlington, Texas. Like other people in the Christian hard-core world, he too is very nice.

Embodyment, with a machine gun of drums, a blare of guitar and screaming lyrics, sounds very angry for the Lord:

    Call me what you want, the truth remains the same
    i am branded Christian
    immortal soul of mine fearing not this world
    i am enslaved by no man
    remaining in my faith i do not stand alone
    my spirit is willing
    falling to my knees, a servant unto Christ in this world of disease.

Embodyment often plays with non-Christian bands in death metal and hard-core shows, frequently getting written up in underground death-metal publications, with such praises as, "This is a Christian band, but they kick as much ass as anyone else!"

According to Kris, Christian metal bands like Mortification and Living Sacrifice helped to gain respectability for other bands. Recently, Christian hard-core bands such as Zao and Strong Arm have changed people's viewpoints on the genre.

"Of course, they have to mention you're a Christian band," Kris says. "Sometimes I wish they would just look at the music, if that's what they're going to do."

During their early days, the metal scene was pretty harsh, having the attitude that Christians couldn't keep up with the death-metal pace, playing in an arena reserved for gore.

"I mean, to me music's music, Kris says. "It doesn't matter what message you put to it, or a message at all. I don't think that matters. But I mean now, where we stand, everyone respects us."

    Lord, you are so faithful with me
    Your heart forever graceful assurance of victory
    in my heart and should no dominion
    the path that Christ walked i choose to live
    death is swallowed up in victory
    my faith in God i will not shudder
    i will not shudder i choose to walk the way that Christ did.

What separates Embodyment from other bands of their genre is their faith and belief in Jesus Christ. Kris doesn't go in for the whole "sex, drugs and rock & roll lifestyle," because that just isn't the way he lives his life.

"We don't want to force anything upon anyone. We let whoever wants to listen, let them know what Jesus has done for us personally and how he changed our lives. It's just a message to anyone who wants to listen. At shows, we try and stick around and talk to people and stuff, just to see what's going on. We never, from the stage, start preaching and stuff like that, because to me, that's at least impersonal. But that doesn't mean at all we're ashamed at what we believe in, but we do express it and that's what we're about. That's why we're doing what we're doing."

Despite their very heavy and hard sound, topped with screaming vocals, Embodyment has received a lot of support from their local church. "And it's a pretty conservative church," Kris explains. "But they're real open-minded. I think a lot of people are open. Especially nowadays. Because so many of that generation before us, they can't reach kids. If they can, that's awesome, but I don't think kids are into it."

"If you don't know how to play an instrument, don't start a band. There's other outlets of ministry besides bands," Kris adds. Embodyment's main focus is on writing music and writing it well, and they hope Christian hard-core, metal and punk bands can get more mainstream recognition for their musical ability.

Kris believes their beliefs are getting them shunned. "It's lame. Because you don't see some Satanic band being shunned for whatever reason. To me, it's going to be about the music--listen to the music, not the message."

As for the groupies scene, "people wouldn't think it exists in Christian music, but it does. It's pretty weird." Kris confesses that the scene is pretty lame. "It hasn't gotten to a point where it's freaky or anything."

"There are not a bunch of women who tag on to a band at shows to hook up for the night," says Vince Radcliffe, drummer for the Christian punk bands Pink Daffodils and One21. "Most people are not there to use us for personal gains. Usually, it's a clean and friendly environment, one where I can freely ask a person who wants an autograph about their lives. Hopefully, that allows us to have a conversation that brings me down from a 'rock star' status to one of a friend. Before I leave a conversation, I enjoy asking my new friend if they have any prayer requests," he says. "Often this allows me a spiritually intimate opportunity to impress upon them the fact that in Christ we are united. After that they normally consider me a friend and can no longer act the way a fan sometimes does. The word 'groupie' can no longer apply."

"Personally coming to a point where we could accept Jesus the Christ as our Savior was the best thing to ever happen in our lives, and we hope to share the blessing it has left in us with others both on and off the stage," says Vince, whose band has many lyrics that are taken verbatim from the Bible and Scripture.

"We take the time to explain our songs in hopes that Christians who are there will be encouraged and that people who do not know our God will be convinced. These actions are not done in contempt, but are followed through, because of the God-inspired love we have. The joy that we experience through our faith is so tremendous that to not share it with others would truly be a sin," confirms Vince, who respects the ability of people who come to his punk shows, whether they choose an eternity in the presence of their God or the torment found in separation from Him.

Christian Punk THE FINAL Jesus punk band comes onstage. "Hey, how about those first two bands? Good frickin' punk!" says the guitarist, who you'd trust to baby-sit. "Thank you, every single person who came. I love you!" Then they burst into a song about school, which is some back-to-school punk.

"You gotta get an education! You gotta go to school! You gotta get an education! You gotta go to school!" screams the lead singer.

"This is the moshing song," he confirms. The music blares. Five guys sort of push each other while smiling.

"Don't judge us by the way we look. We just want to read his book!" screams the singer as he rolls on the ground. "I'm on my knees, begging for forgiveness!"

It's all over by 9:50pm. "Thank you, 24Seven. We love you!"

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From the June 21, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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