(Andy Synn is the author of the following opinion piece, which we will not attempt to summarize here and risk spoilers… so please read on….)
I’m not sure if you’ve all noticed, but a LOT of people have been VERY angry online over the last few weeks.
Whether it’s furore over the upcoming release of the (frankly rather terrible looking) Lords of Chaos movie, the apoplexy inspired by a certain festival headliner announcement, or the excessive sniping, ignorant sexism, and self-congratulatory back-patting inspired by the purposefully click-baity title of a recent (and otherwise extremely well-written) article, there’s been a ridiculous level of rage on display across the interweb recently, something that only seems to have further fostered and widened the inherent divisions within our disparate community.
And while I don’t have time to dive into all of these issues, there’s one in particular I’d like to share a few thoughts and feelings about.
In case you missed it, Bloodstock Festival announced Aussie Metalcore titans Parkway Drive as their third and final headliner last week, and certain segments of the internet predictably exploded in outrage.
Of course, it goes without saying that the shocking level of venom and vitriol being flung about, especially the totally unnecessary insults and personal attacks levelled at the Bloodstock staff, is entirely unjustified and deserves nothing but condemnation.
However… the more I thought about it, the more I realised there was a lot more to this story than just a black and white, he-said-she-said, us vs them, situation, and that to truly understand the why of all this, I/we needed to look deeper.
Now I’ve been saying for quite a while that, if it’s going to survive (and thrive), Bloodstock needs to keep growing. And, inevitably, that means looking towards some more mainstream-friendly (at least in Metal terms) bands so as to attract more punters in the future.
And, let’s face it, with a major UK arena tour now under their belt, Parkway Drive are definitely the right choice to fill this role.
But while the announcement of the arena-filling Aussies brought out a predictable number of trolls screeching about how “all Metalcore is shit” and accusing the festival of “selling-out” (although since a festival is very much a business, maybe “selling-out” isn’t the most effective accusation) the sheer number of voices complaining about their addition to the line-up can’t be attributed solely to the trollish hordes.
Not that that stopped some people from trying. The backlash against the backlash saw all the usual accusations and slurs about “elitism”, “neckbeards”, and “basement dwellers”, being thrown around, as if the very idea of disliking a band or thinking they were a poor fit for the festival somehow made you some sort of slobbering moron.
Things got worse when the festival’s social media accounts picked up and amplified a few less than savoury messages from their supporters, including one which explicitly said that anyone who didn’t like the announcement was “an ignorant cunt”, only to then go and tweet out a message calling for rational discussion and decency, with the clear disconnect between the two inflaming tensions even further, as otherwise impartial fans were provoked to call out the festival’s blatant hypocrisy.
The truth is, however, that underneath all the superficial shit-stirring and mud-slinging coming from both sides (a phrase which I shudder to use, but is unavoidable given the circumstances) something fundamental has been ignored. Something which, I have to admit, I’d also overlooked at first, and which has caused me to re-evaluate my own attitude to festivals in general.
You see, for the longest time I couldn’t comprehend those people who constantly crowed about how they go to the same festival, every year, regardless of the line-up, only to spend most of the time drinking, yelling at one another, and very clearly not showering.
I mean, for one thing, if you want to just grab some mates and go get drunk in a field while not watching some bands, there’s definitely a lot cheaper ways of doing so!
But, as has been pointed out to me by a few sage souls, I’m coming at this from a very specific, and far from universal perspective, and that’s been colouring my thinking in ways which, until recently, I hadn’t been aware of.
You see, I am, in fact, very fortunate. I live in a town that gets a solid number of gigs and has a relatively vibrant Metal community (which I appreciate, even though I’m not really a major part of it).
Not only that, but I’ve got my own car, and a fair bit of disposable income, which gives me a lot of freedom to travel to shows which aren’t coming near me (in fact I’m off to one in Sheffield tonight), so compared to a lot of people I’m actually spoilt for choice when it comes to the bands I can (or can choose) to see or not.
But that is definitely not the case for a lot of people… and I think this is something which has been overlooked in all the recent uproar.
As many people have pointed out, but which just as many people seem to forget, there are some important socio-economic (and geographical) factors involved in how much someone is able to participate in the Metal scene at large.
Let’s face it, seemingly simple acts like being able to afford to buy a guitar, join a band, purchase a new album, or go to a show… things which many of us are lucky enough to take for granted… are much more complicated for some people than they are for others. When you factor in issues like travel costs, food and drink, or questions about whether someone is going to be able to get time off work/college, etc, you begin to see how it can be a real struggle to participate in “the scene”.
As a result, something like Bloodstock – which has built up a reputation not just as a music festival but as an active community – can be particularly important for those punters who don’t have much of a local scene, or local community, and who don’t have the ability to travel to see shows.
It’s the sort of event which, though careful saving and budgeting, someone who doesn’t otherwise have much in the way of disposable income (or holiday allowance) can spend entire months looking forward to and preparing for. It is, in no uncertain terms, the highlight of many people’s year, and their main, possibly only, opportunity to meet up with friends and likeminded fans they don’t get a chance to see any other time.
And it’s the combination of these two factors – cost and community – which I think have, both rightly and wrongly, contributed to the recent outpouring of online outrage.
After all, if this festival is your one chance to see the bands you want to see (or, at least, some of them), and your one chance to meet up with the friends you don’t have elsewhere, then you’re understandably going to be a bit miffed if you think that it’s steadily becoming less and less value for money, and less and less friendly, by catering to a sound or a crowd which doesn’t appeal to you.
Of course none of that justifies being an asshole online, not at all, but I can understand how disheartening, how upsetting, it might be to see something so important to you changing like that, and how that sense of loss could drive you to lash out.
Ultimately there are no “winners” in this scenario. Both sides (there’s that term again) have come out looking bad, and the fractures and divisions within the UK scene have grown that little bit wider as a result.
But I think there are things we can learn from this which might just help us all understand one another a little better, and which might just help mitigate any future hurt or harm that might occur when this sort of thing inevitably occurs again.
Perhaps the key thing to take away is that both sides, all sides, almost always have a reason for acting the way they do. Festivals need to expand, fans need to feel like their voices are being heard, and no-one benefits when either side gets wrapped up in feeling so self-righteous that they reduce everyone else to an ignorant stereotype.
Now I’m not yet sure whether I’m going to be attending Bloodstock this year. Time (and future band bookings) will tell. But I wanted to close this article by picking out a few early additions to the line-up which are well worth checking out if you’ve already got yourselves a ticket (or are intending on getting one).
First off there’s one of my personal favourites, Death Metal overlords Hypocrisy, who, fingers crossed, might just have some new material to share (as they’re in the studio finishing up their new record right now.
Evil Scarecrow are a Nottingham-based “Parody Metal” band who, while not really my sort of thing, always put on a great live show and always get the crowd going (which explains why they’ve played every edition of the festival for the last several years, slowly rising up the billing in the process).
And, lastly, for those of you looking for a bit more Grunge and groove with your Rock/Metal, Leicestershire’s Resin should provide a welcome blend of melancholy melody and heavy hooks.