This article originally appeared on Hunger TV.
On an unseasonably warm spring afternoon two tall men, swathed in long jackets, dark jeans and saddled with backpacks, turned up at a coffee shop on the edge of South London. Both in their early twenties; Dwyte and Xavier are gently hunched over a table in the far corner, clasping hot drinks and discussing the designs on the walls. Together with friends turned colleagues: Ray Fiasco, Phillip Raheem and Nii (who are not present today), the pair are Asylum 33; a creative collective who at face value are unassumingly responsible for the distinguished visuals of London’s post 90s generation of artists. But dig a little deeper and there is more to their story than London and it’s new breed of creatives.
The Asylum has its beginnings in the spare room of Dwyte’s grandmother’s house, where himself, Ray, Phillip, KJ and Nii would hang out and map opportunities for one another. Primarily doing this by pitching their sundry of skills (graphic design, photography, songwriting and music production) into one pot and waiting to see what emerged.
Asylum now numbers seven; with Vanessa, Xavier, KJ Palmer and Chiddy (The Slumflower) joining a few months down the line. They have since moved from their Catford base; though not too far with the second and current nerve centre now found in Norwood, in the basement of Xavier’s Mum’s house and provides a space for the group to rest, think, learn and of course work. We sat down with Dwyte and Xavier to talk Asylum, barriers to creativity and challenging yourself.
Can you talk about the foundations of Asylum?
Dwyte: Things started off as five of us in the bedroom of my grandma’s house, running through names at 1am. We thought, ‘what does this feel like right now?’ Everyone was just frustrated. You have to understand that the nature of creativity is freedom of expression but we live in a world where you can’t capitalise on that.
Xavier: It’s one of those things that felt right at the time and the meaning just grew. It was just a feeling; everything is just based on how it felt at the time. And I think you just have to learn to trust your feelings.
What did you initially start off as?
D: It initially started with us just trying to create opportunities for each other. For example we had a producer, he would work with Nii. Ray [Fiasco] would come in, do her photography and from there we just would build an eco-system around one person to ensure that that they could go and do what they needed to do. Naturally as we kind of went down that path and understood exactly what we were doing and people came in and added their bits and bobs to it, it just grew into a much larger idea.
With all of this broad work, how do you define yourselves. I had the idea of Asylum doing the creative thing but now it sounds like there’s more to it. Can you explain?
D: Fundamentally Asylum 33 is a creative agency. I’m like a strategic designer, I like design, I love visuals, I like directing. But part of creativity is just problem solving and if I’m in a surrounding and a culture that allows me to problem solve on a larger scale, then why not?
X: I guess now it’s gone from more of a collective to an eco-system, there aren’t specific restrictions on what we do or what we’re interested in. It’s very much about creating an environment where people who want to create can create, not just music but tech, film, finance. There’s going to be opportunities for people to create ways to sustain themselves and impact on the bigger picture. For us it’s about creating that eco system where everybody is inclusive, can be part of it and they can go on to be someone or be something and create a legacy through that.
Where does that idea or vision come from?
D: Lots of thinking
X: Yeah, it definitely comes from us having a lot of space to think and being around so many intelligent people all the time, you’re forced to be critical.
D: We’re forced to challenge our reality all the time
X: And through that and looking at the way the world works it’s given us a bit of a different outlook. So we take bits from finance and the tech industry; we take stuff from the creative industries and the agencies. And then from Hip Hop culture and see what we can bring out of that.
D: As wild as that sounds, we have to think about it logically. If this were to happen in America you would need the connections from San Fransico, the producers from Atlanta, the fashion industry from New York but we’ve got all of that in a twenty six mile radius [London] and its top three in every industry.
Plenty view things from the standpoint of ‘What can I do for myself?’ But it seems that you have an overarching view of things?
D: I mean for me personally it’s always been about that. It didn’t make sense to me that when I came to London and made all of these great friends, met all of these talented people, I couldn’t ask anyone to lend me twenty pounds because everyone was broke. That didn’t make sense to me. So if I’m in a surrounding where I can encounter a black lawyer, a black banker, a black investor, a number one footballer all on the same train, how is it that we’re not clocking onto that? For me it was always about building an eco-system where I can get up and not have to depend on anybody to be okay.
X: Everyone who is in Asylum has had to sacrifice a lot in order to sustain. When people look at it it’s like ‘okay the important things about making business is about making money,’ but for me if it was just a case of making money then none of us would be in Asylum.
D: We’re not stupid; it’s not hard to make money.
X: Exactly. For us it’s not just about making money, it’s about creating an eco-system where other people can make money, that’s more important than just making money for ourselves. If I do make a lot of money, I can go on holiday but who am I going on holiday with.
You’ve mentioned being afforded the space to do a lot of thinking. Were there any books or materials that have guided you along the way?
D: I fell out of love with reading after GCSEs because the joy just ran out. But we do [watch] a lot of documentaries. We probably watch; if it’s a nice week, probably about three a day. Then after that we’ll chill, reflect, talk. The good thing I like about that is that the perception of myself is challenged every day and if I always have to improve to feel better about myself then that’s automatically going to be better for everyone around me.
X: It’s good because everybody has very different interests. For me, I’m very interested in terrorism and global affairs and all that kind of stuff, naturally because I’m a Geography student. But he’s [Dwyte] very interested and knows a lot about sport sciences, a lot about creativity and design. So when I’m schooling him on one thing, he’s schooling me on another other thing and then Ray is schooling me on something else. When seven people go and learn seven different things, we all learn.
Each one teach one?
X: The internet means that there’s knowledge everywhere. You can learn everything and understand it, so why not?
D: Last year I knew nothing about the things I know now. I wouldn’t say I’m smart because every smart person knows that they’re dumb. But it’s nice.
Let’s talk about the internet. That’s how I first discovered Asylum and I’m sure many others did too. Now that knowledge is free and YouTube vlogggers are millionaires, do you still feel a need to give credence to the older way of doings things?
D: You have to. I think as much as the way the internet influences the way people see things and the way that the world operates, you have to pay respects. We still have to pay council tax, that world still operates, it still functions and it will still come and slap you in the mouth if you forget [laughs]. For me it’s always about the duality. You have to understand where you’re going and why you’re going there but you have to understand why you can’t get there yet. You just have to be smart within your creation.
X: I love the internet because it gives a person a voice. If you look at the Arab Spring risings, Ferguson, what’s going on out there, a lot of that we wouldn’t even know without the internet. So in regards to that I really love it and I’ll always hold it in high regards in comparison to the traditional ways because traditional ways are very top down. You have to realise that they do exist but not for very much longer
There seems to be little to no barriers involved in your thinking. Xavier, you’re a Geography student and also a video director.
D: Having creative barriers is such an oxymoron. It doesn’t make sense and I feel like people need to learn to trust themselves more.
X: For us again it comes to this thing of learning. I feel like once you’re intelligent you can go and do anything you want, relatively. You can’t go and be a doctor or a dentist or be a lawyer straight away but you have the ability to learn and to know how to. As you said there aren’t many boundaries between what you can and can’t do. Going into the future you’re going to see people doing art but knowing about investing, you’re going to see lawyers doing music. I feel that’s the direction the world will naturally go into. Barriers to entry will slowly be removed.
D: And that’s the beauty of the internet. The internet has literally made that incredibly feasible. A blogger can go and buy an SLR and as you say become a huge star and the overall cost was £200 for the SLR, a Wi-Fi connection that costs £15 a month and she’s now a YouTube millionaire. The barriers are so low it’s just that people don’t always understand the process from A to Z.
Talking about instincts and trusting yourself more, it seems that when we’re young plenty of us are taught to go against our instincts. But now you say you’re going with your feelings instead. Was there a spark for that or has it always been that way?
X: I think it’s being around these guys. When you step into the Asylum you can feel the energy, you can legitimately feel it. Everybody who has been in there can say they felt it. And from there you learn to trust it a bit more and trust it a bit more until you eventually learn to trust it completely.
D: I was lucky enough to grow up in the county side. I went to school in a field; my school was built in a field. My house opposite sheep, I had hella time to be thinking and challenging myself. Then through the track and field stuff I became very self-orientated. In order to triple jump you have to trust yourself.
Some of the decision we make on a daily basis people turn around and think ‘what are you doing? Are you trying to run your friends into the ground?’ But you just have to understand where you’re going and what it takes to get there and just make sure you’re able to make the sacrifices and then build around them.
Any final words?
D: Don’t take us too seriously, we like to have fun.
X: That’s the number one thing; it’s all about being happy.
X: And black lives matter
D: That’s really it.