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Metal Minority

What Are You Doing Here?

Oh I read the book and some of it resonated with me. Mainly because I have been asked the question.

I listened to the Radio a lot growing up for my musical fix and while poking around I discovered metal and was hooked. And when I first went to University I discovered Star and the Wendy House nights in Leeds.

These were my first introductions to the world of metal where I noticed something weird.

I was the only Asian kid there. Maybe there were others, but I certainly didn’t meet any after much much later.

It’s where I met some of my first friends and made tentative steps of independence. All the Indian kids were out listening to Dubstep, Jungle and Hip-Hop and Asian Dancehall genres.

I never saw race until later but in retrospect I had just walked into the least racially diverse place ever.

And someone commented on that on my first night out. “What Are You Doing Here?”.

It was followed by “Can I buy you a drink?”.

This was not a question of insensitivity. This was one of curiosity. Metal fans have a bad rap most of the time, but their reputation is especially tarnished by the far right’s involvement in the genre. There are some metalheads, punks and the like who are rather racist and vocal about it. It’s easy to demonise the whole lot by the actions of the few.

No, this person had never seen an Indian at this place and wanted to know if I accidentally got lost. Maybe it was racist but you know what? There weren’t any Indians there. I spoke about listening to bits of it on the Radio growing up (I never really bought music, didn’t have anything to play music on till my first PC for myself).

There’s always one or two at every metal gig I go to in London. Amid the sea of white faces there are always one or two black fans standing out from the crowd. The question I want to ask is “What are yo.u doing here?” Not because I don’t think black people should be into metal, but because I want to know what drew them to heed metal’s call.

What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal inspired me to write this.

This is an issue to be fair. Minority groups are not well represented in Metal. It’s still predominantly a white male area. When women are involved the language often tends to be very misogynistic especially considering one would think that a genre that prides itself in appeal to non-connformist outcasts would effectively ostracise women.

Female metalheads do everything these days. They run the labels, the magazines, the agencies, studios and the background business of the Metal music industry. They shred, scream and drum. They throw up the horns.

They also seem to be represented in major magazines as “Metal’s Next Hot Chick” while draped in alluring positions. One can argue that it’s their choice but one can also that it portrays women solely as eye candy while “Metal’s Next Sexy Dude” isn’t draped sexily in skintight leather but is portrayed as well… an artist.

Oh I noticed it too. Female metal artists are treated as eye candy, male ones are serious and that attitude shows. Can you name any famous metal bands with female members? Nightwish? Within Temptation? Certainly they aren’t Metallica. The attitude is changing but it’s still not perfect.

The same problem lies in Metal in minorities but in the opposite. Metal fans here are portrayed as unfriendly because of the “Hail Satan” look.

People like Metal because it’s an outlet for emotions. It’s fun! The problem is Metal Fans are portrayed as surly, angry, nerdy, friendless, weird and racist. Because of it’s association with Punk and Skinhead music. And because like any racially dominated group, you will get some bigotry and Metal for a long time was really really white.

There is direct racism. “Oh Go Away Paki”. I haven’t heard anyone say that to me in earshot at Metal Gigs. But there is a subtler one. In order to be an Indian Metalhead at the time you had to dissociate yourself from Indian Culture in the UK. Which was a bit weird for me. I liked the stuff Indians liked and I liked Metal. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with knowing the lyrics to the Spice Girls and Dio and never felt the tribalism of Metal.

No what I found was surprise and a feeling of novelty. In the pit people would sometimes have a weird moment where they are attempting to mosh and look at me at the same time which is not advisable since it stops looking like you don’t have a care in the world and starts looking like you just herniated yourself. Try it out and I guarantee you will not look “Badass”.

And I feel that being a novelty can scare people off. People want to be part of the crowd and to not stand out.

A lot of minorities are under the burden of expectation to behave a certain way and that means “not enjoying headbanging”. People attribute my taste for it as being due to “living in the UK”. Which was funny to me after I began to move around India more, I sort of realised that Indians LOVE metal. I can get myself a Megadeth T-Shirt for £2.50 and since India has incredibly lax copyright laws that aren’t enforced, music is effectively free. Indians love “terrible” Hip Hop too but they like Metal as well. The problem is Indians in the UK are more defined by their ethnicity and expectation than Indians in India and their identity is more narrow and so they have a narrower taste. We are enjoying it more and more. But there is one group that’s even less represented than us. Black people. I feel that it’s because of Metals repeated excision of black musical influences from itself and the enmity between Metal and the Mainstream which at the moment is Hip Hop has resulted in some rather tasteless arguments.

Metal may be strongly coded as ‘not black’, but its coding as ‘white’ has become seriously eroded, (despite the efforts of metal’s openly racist fringe.). It’s a community that’s cleaning up and it’s a community that’s doing well in doing so. Now obviously things can go faster and better but that’s the case with all progress. 

What metal does need to be is open to the involvement of those minorities who wish to join and to start breaking the glass ceiling for minority groups here. Metal has a strong community and it’s an accepting one. The spiky anti-social Metal Head is gone and inside really does beat a human heart. (Cheer up! It’s painted black!)

Walking through the door may be hard but since I did on that one night in September around 11 years ago, I felt at home. And I was lucky to not run into the racist fringe but the real fans who wanted me to enjoy.

That night, I admitted I knew nothing beyond what I heard on the Radio. The next morning I had a knock on my door. The lads I met turned out to live near me and asked to use my computer. I said sure and left to do some laundry. I came back 3 hours later to find my room COVERED in CDs. Everything from AC/DC to Zepplin. They had collected every CD they had and were copying them to my PC so I could enjoy what they liked.

I don’t think we should think of music by race. Music is something for everyone. If a white man plays jazz is it less jazz than if played by a black man? If a black woman with one leg and and a hare lip played guitar for a metal band, does it make it less metal? Certainly it makes it more!

But we perceive different spaces as places where we wouldn’t be invited or where we would be ridiculed. And to delineate ourselves by genre is madness too! Don’t listen to these sounds! You already listen to these sounds and those sounds are wrong!

If you are thinking of visiting a metal club and seeing what it’s like as a minority group then do so. You may be the centre of attention but you will find people there are nothing but normal and friendly.

I Mean… Hail Satan!

Comments

  1. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    Having been a metal kid since the 80s (I’m over 40 now!) the whole mentality has always been “if you’re here and not being a dick then you’re one of us” – the us vs them was always metallers against everyone else! This maybe what is thought of as the anti-social element.

    In London, for sure, there are people from all sorts of ethnicities at the clubs & shows. It is predominantly white but if you are not you won’t get too many 2nd glances.

  2. miles says

    Privilege one million and one that I was mostly unaware of… going somewhere as a fan and finding myself the only person in the room of my ethnicity and getting the occasional double-take, not something I’ve experienced except for in the extreme rare circumstance (e.g. my nose and love of mexican food leading me in to a restaurant without an english menu or english speaking proprietors – I was definitely an unwelcome invader there).

    Glad they are welcoming – +1 esteem point for humanity! I had no idea metal was big in India. Most of my indian coworkers seem to be fans of beer and anything you can find in a karaoke machine.

  3. Pen says

    Ah metal! I have a friend who was one of those female metal heads who run magazines. She was in France but worked with bands all over Europe and the U S . I remember she told me she was concerned about the white nationalist fringe in certain Scandinavian/German bands. Not that they were anything like a majority but she wanted to make sure they didn’t sneak past her and get publicity from her mag. Metal was her life and she took it very seriously.

    I’m glad your experiences were positive Avi. Being the first to walk into the room is always a bit of a more intense experience.

  4. Subtract Hominem says

    Metal may be strongly coded as ‘not black’, but its coding as ‘white’ has become seriously eroded

    I’ve found it especially interesting to how this has been playing out in the Middle East and North Africa, where for example, the same band may be promoting a remix of one of their songs by a Palestinian one moment and going on tour with an Israeli group the next. I don’t know how sustainable that sort of transcendence of religious and political boundaries will continue to be in the long term, but I hope there’s more of it. That’s one of the things music and other arts are for.

  5. Ysanne says

    Hah, I knew you had good taste in music. :-)
    Admittedly, what qualifies as metal these days is generally “not Metallica”, just because it’s not exactly mainstream to begin with. So the women in niche bands such as After Forever, Lordi, Edenbridge, Lacrimosa etc are not really good counterexamples.
    Can’t really comment on the ethnicity angle, being a white female myself, but I was surprised too how bad a reputation metalheads have, after experiencing the super-friendly nerdiness of the German prog-goth-melodic metal scene. Apparently this niceness is not universal all over the world though, at least I’ve heard bad things about violence and intolerance in Latin American metal culture. Can anyone here comment on that first hand?

  6. says

    I don’t really have a taste in music… I Like Metal but I also grew up on a healthy diet of 80s music, Ska, Punk and later “really manufactured pop music”. As I said. These Sounds Are Good, but these other sounds are bad?

    I am quite happy to sing along to whatever manufactured band we have these days but also know they lyrics to RAtM.

    The problem is the vocal and racist fringe have been swanning around in a predominantly white setting. This kind of means that their bullshit is more accepted than condemned.

  7. leni says

    II grew up listening to a lot of punk in the 80’s, and the metal kids were kind of our natural allies.

    (Ok we mostly bought drugs from them because they had better connections, but whatever.)

    And it was very, very white. And there were some fringe skinheads in my local cliques too. Though I think once people were on to them they got treated like pariahs. I mean, we weren’t perfect but we weren’t fucking neo-nazis either.

    Anyway, I was thinking about Rob Halford. He came out in, what, the late 90’s? And I’m sure it wan’t easy for him, but I kind of remember the response being a sort of collective shrug. Do I remember that wrong?

    I don’t know, it kind of endeared me to the metal fans that they just didn’t seem to care. I hope I don’t remember it wrong. (I wasn’t paying very close attention, though.)

  8. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    About Rob Halford’s coming out: It was quite a big thing for about, oh, 2 weeks (not negatively though – mainly because it raised some amusing questions about lyrical content!) and then it was “who cares?”. Halford was already a legend at that point which did shield him to a certain extent, and maybe his coming out helped calm down some of the macho bullshit that was around. The funny thing is that a certain brand of metal showmanship is, let’s be honest, as camp as a field full of boy scouts… and Judas Priest are up there.

    However I’m not sure that Halford was the first. Most UK metallers have a massive respect for the band Queen, and most had no idea that Freddie Mercury was gay either. I certainly didn’t when I was younger, again, bombastic/camp rock showmanship blurred the lines here too. IIRC he was out before Halford.

    A more interesting recent case is that of Gaahl, ex-frontman of Norweigan black metal band Gorgoroth, came out in 2008. Scandinavian black metal is one of the forms that has had problems with intolerance/white supremacy/out-&-out fascism, so that raised a few eyebrows!

  9. Alex C. says

    Metal in India! Ha Ha HA HAHAHAHA!!!!!

    Check out this Iron Maiden concert in Mumbai (part of Flight 666):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COvCPJGjaiE

    No white folks there (apart from the band themselves…) .\m/

    Metal does NOT have any racist overtones in India. Rather, it marks you out as an outlier, an enemy of Indian culture, and a target of right-wing nutjobs!

  10. says

    AlexC! I know that mate, what I was trying to say that in the West.

    I am British Indian, I am currently in India but normally am in the UK. I wrote about it as someone between both sides. In the UK there would be very very few Indians if any at the event.

    The second problem is that there are some metal fans who are racist and their actions are sometimes rather harmful. They are vocal but the community is better at cleaning it’s messes up.

  11. says

    Hey, there’s even pacifist-feminist-hippie metallers.

    I’m a bit choosy with my metal, because I rather dislike misogyny, racism, and homophobia. I also have a soft spot for schlock-metal/rock, such as Alice Cooper. (Whether or not he counts as “metal’ is most likely debatable.) I’ve not been part of the community, though, much as I’d like to, because I’m not… not big on travel, really, and it’s such a pain the tail with the wheelchair, so… yeah… I do end up missing out on a lot of fun stuff (Ozzfest, Hempfest…)

  12. says

    Here as an Indian metalhead in the US, I’ve noticed pretty diverse crowds at metal shows–still mostly white, to be sure, but appreciable numbers of African Americans, Latinos, (East) Asians, even Indians, and always one huge black guy in a Meshuggah shirt (yes, it’s always a Meshuggah shirt, and no, it’s not the same guy). I am in liberal New England, so that might have something to do with it.

    I’ve observed that as a scene, we’re pretty good as cleaning ourselves up. The one commandment seems to be that the community of the music must thrive over all and if you threaten that, you’re a pariah. You see a microcosm of this in mosh pits. If you get pushed to the ground, you will be picked back up. But if you’re in there karate kicking around and looking like you’re endeavoring to hurt people, you’ll be pushed out of the circle with extreme prejudice. Even my fiancee has commented on the “gentlemanly” nature of your average metal concert-goer.

    Metal’s always been this weird contradiction in terms: a chaotic yet cohesive community of non-conformists, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving it.

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