Oct 162015

Jo Bench
Jo Bench (Bolt Thrower)

(In March of this year we gave cultural anthropologist and dedicated metalhead David Mollica a platform for recruiting people willing to be interviewed for a research project about gender in the metal community and what it means to be a metalhead. And now we’ve got a report on his interview results and conclusions.)

I know I’m all kinds of slow with getting to writing this, but you know… excuses and stuff. Anyway I’d like to share what I found from the interviews some of you lovely readers were kind enough to sit through with me months ago. Thanks to your help I ended up interviewing 6 women and 5 men, making this the first study of its kind that I know of to have equal gender representation. Most other studies looking at gender and metal have ended up talking to a pile of dudes and next to no women.

Without getting into the fine and horrendously boring details, I do inductive research. Basically, I like to ask questions and see what I find. I’m not a mathematician and I don’t like to treat people like laboratory subjects. Instead I look for patterns and common themes that emerge from the interviews I conduct. I then take those themes and patterns and put them into categories that can be used to build a model of what I am researching. This time around, I found four common categories that help to explain why women are sometimes under-represented at metal gatherings. Some of these things are going to be obvious to you, so keep in mind that the research was intended for an audience in the social sciences who generally can’t tell Fenriz from Gaahl. Continue reading »

Mar 052015

 Transient’s Krysta Martinez

(About two years ago we posted a five-part series on metal culture [which can be found here] by cultural anthropologist and dedicated metalhead David Mollica, based in part on his Master’s dissertation and interviews he conducted in preparation for writing it. He is embarked on a new study, and we’ve agreed to help him recruit participants.)

Hey all. You might remember me from my guest series about my research on the culture of heavy metal. Well, I’ve somehow managed to convince another group of professors that letting me study metal is a good idea and I need some help with the project. In my post about women in metal (here) the content was mostly based on conjecture and anecdotes mentioned by men that I had interviewed because only one woman agreed to be interviewed for my research. Well, I’m finally getting around to addressing that issue.

I’m currently working on a research project that looks at gender in the heavy metal community and what it means to you to be a metal head. I’m looking for 10 guys and 10 girls (must be 18 or older) who are willing to be interviewed over the phone, via Skype, or by email. The interview will take about an hour. Continue reading »

Feb 152013

(This is Part 5 of a 5-part series about metal culture by guest contributor David Mollica, a trained cultural anthropologist and dedicated metal head. This series is based in part on David’s Master’s dissertation and the interviews he conducted in preparation for writing it. You can download the actual Master’s paper at the end of this post.  The previous Parts of the series can be found here.)

Well everyone, here we are at the end. It’s been great being able to put this stuff out and to read the discussions in the comments. I hope you enjoyed the series and I want to thank Islander for letting me do it. I’ve got two subjects I want to tie up the discussion with: The sort of communities we create and what heavy metal means to fans in context of the larger world.

Obviously, metal heads don’t build communities like towns, share the same ethnic groups, or even share the same governments. The social groups we build are loose and informal, based on a shared interest in the music and to a certain extent, aesthetic preferences for stuff like horror movies and occult themes that come out in the music. We also don’t always cluster together and exclude everyone else at every turn, unless we are talking about high school cliques or some such. Despite this sort of cultural preference being very real, the study of informal fan communities is a fairly new trend in most social sciences, because many had previously dismissed such groups as being invalid artifacts of youth culture that get shucked off when we enter the world of adults.

That we grow out of the stuff we like when we age and basically get boring is a rather depressing way to look at things and I don’t really buy it as a universal. It happens, of course. I’ve lost some friends because they “grew up”. When I was 16 I liked Ozzy, Iron Maiden, and Metallica, but I didn’t know what song was on what album or the names of most of the band members. Now that I’m almost 28, I visit 2 to 4 metal blogs a day, spent a year studying groups of metal heads so I could write a dissertation about it, and know more than I probably need about not just Metallica and Iron Maiden, but also about a whole metric crap ton of other, less well known groups. I’m not trying to tell you I know more about metal than everyone else, I certainly don’t. I’m just pointing out that my interest in the music has grown as I’ve aged, not diminished. Continue reading »

Feb 142013

(This is Part 4 of a 5-part series about metal culture by guest contributor David Mollica, a trained cultural anthropologist and dedicated metal head. This series is based in part on David’s Master’s dissertation and the interviews he conducted in preparation for writing it. The previous Parts of the series can be found here.)

I had planned on yesterday’s post being about gender and ethnicity, but before I knew it I was well over my self-imposed word limit without a single mention of ethnicity. Maybe I like to talk about girls more than I thought… So today I am going to combine the topic of race with the discussion on exclusivity that I promised deckard cain the other day. Sorry if I get a little brief on these last two posts. I’m starting a new job tomorrow and that blasted real-world thing is interfering with the stuff I care about again!

If you live in a Western country most of the metal heads you know are probably white and if you don’t live in one there is a chance that there aren’t so very many of you. Metal heads in Europe and the US also get accused of being racist often enough, and statements made by people like Phil Anselmo and Varg Vikernes don’t always help to put that image down. However, there are large pockets of fans from almost every ethnic group across the globe, especially in larger cities.

Further, out of the ten people I interviewed, three of them weren’t white. If my group was at all representative of the larger fan base, and things like Sam Dunn’s Global Metal would suggest that they are, it means there are a lot of non-white metal heads out there. They are a group that most academics who study metal have somehow missed. Since I met these people hanging out together in bars it also puts up some strong evidence for something I’m guessing you knew already — most of us aren’t racist.  Continue reading »

Feb 132013

(Here’s Part 3 of a 5-part series about metal culture by guest contributor David Mollica, a trained cultural anthropologist and dedicated metal head. This series is based in part on David’s Master’s dissertation and the interviews he conducted in preparation for writing it. The previous Parts of the series can be found here.)

Lets talk about sex and heavy metal…Get your mind out of the gutter, I mean gender, not how to spawn while listening to Slayer. It’s a pretty universal truth that there are more male metal heads than female. Of course anyone can rattle off a huge list of metal bands that have some women in them, like Into Darkness, and even a few all female acts such as Derketa or Mortals (all of which are pretty sweet bands), but these groups tend to be exceptions to the rule. The field is male dominated and always has been. I found this to be one of the most difficult things to inquire about during my study because I got a different answer from every guy I interviewed and the few female metal heads I knew at the time didn’t want to do an interview. My conclusions on the subject didn’t entirely satisfy me, as most of them are speculative and one can even be construed as vaguely sexist, so I hope this post spurs some healthy discussion.

First, think about the social environment at your average metal venue. If it’s even a halfway decent night there is going be yelling, pushing, drinking, headbanging, and mosh pits. According to Beth Winegarner, who has contributed to Invisible Oranges, she never liked to go to concerts because of that sort behavior. However, she still felt the emotional connection to metal that many people reported when I asked them why they liked the music. In other words, Beth is a fan even if she doesn’t socialize with the group all that often. She felt uncomfortable about being around what she saw as the aggressive behavior of male fans. Obviously this sort of feeling doesn’t account for everyone — one of my most gnarly pit-related black eyes was administered by a girl who looked to be about 16 — but it might be a contributing factor to why so many gigs end up being sausage fests. Continue reading »

Feb 122013

(Here’s Part 2 of a 5-part series about metal culture by guest contributor David Mollica, a trained cultural anthropologist and dedicated metal head. This series is based in part on David’s Master’s dissertation and the interviews he conducted in preparation for writing it.)

Today I want to talk about physical culture and the group/individual dynamic. Anyone who has ever been to a gig or looked inside Gaahl’s closet knows the metal uniform: Jeans, camo shorts, chains, denim vests, black band shirts, guys with long hair, tattoos, piercings, and so on. It makes us stand out a bit, attracting wary looks from ‘normal’ people on their way to work when we are trying to buy a Red Bull at 6:00 am for the after-gig drive home. On a surface level this helps create that group cohesion thing I was talking about yesterday. There is a certain amount of comfort we get from being around people who look and act like ourselves; that’s why immigrant groups often move into neighborhoods together instead of dispersing all over the place.

Personally, I never thought of why I choose to dress the way I do (minus the camo shorts…that’s just too much for me) until I started my fieldwork. That whole being able to see the other guy as a person and not just part of a sea of bodies at gigs is obviously important, and I think that’s partially why mosh pit etiquette is so universal. However, the way we dress goes beyond that simple level of making groups of strangers work together more easily. It’s also how a lot of us make friends, myself included. Think back to when you first met the people you know in the metal scene. The first thing that was said by way of introduction was probably something along the lines of “Nice shirt man!”. That’s how I met half the people I interviewed and some of us are friends to this day even though we don’t live anywhere near each other anymore. Continue reading »

Feb 112013

photo by Peter Beste

(We’ve got something different for you, something I hope will provoke thinking and discussion.  This begins a 5-part post by cultural anthropologist [and metalhead] David Mollica on the subject of metal culture, based in part on extensive field research in bars.)

Hey NCS readers, Islander has kindly allowed me to talk at you about the metal community and why we do what we do for a little bit. I’m going to cover the whole media perception, violence, and counter-culture thing first to get it out of the way, then move on to some more interesting stuff in later posts. So first a little background:

I study cultural anthropology and mass media in addition to being a metal head and thought it would be cool to mix a little fun with my serious business. So, a couple years back I somehow managed to convince my adviser that letting me hang out in bars and listen to Iron Maiden was a legitimate form of fieldwork for my Master’s dissertation. The end result was a rambling 33 pages of material, some of which I’ll be talking about here. Since most of my field work took me to places where I had to keep up with the livers of London natives I may have missed a few things, so feel free to voice your thoughts in the comments. I like discussion. If you want a copy of the paper email me at gilderling@gmail.com.

Let’s start with a question you might not think about all the time: Why do you like Heavy Metal and what got you into it in the first place? Not only is this stuff grim, aggressive, angry and over the top, but we also see those things as standard positive qualities of the music. We expect macabre subjects and weird note progressions. So what drives us to listen to this instead of more mainstream or easy going stuff? Continue reading »