Heavy Metal Studies and Gender

MeralandGenderLast week, an article was published over at No Clean Singing that caught my eye. The article,A Metal Gender Study is a follow-up post by cultural anthropologist David Mollica who put a call out through No Clean Singing last March to recruit participants for his study about gender and metal.

Since Mollica’s research is very much aligned with my own work with regard to gender, I thought I’d share my thoughts on his article in hopes of opening a discourse about how gender has been examined in the past as well as how the perspective of women conducting the research themselves can offer different insights than previous studies done by men.

We_Can_Do_It!First off, though Mollica’s writing is aimed at the general audience in the blog post, I wondered about several aspects of his study. For one, he writes:

“…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.”

Since I’ve had to research a lot of literature on this topic, I found this statement to be  misleading and, with no sources cited, I also question the depth of his actual research. In the last decade or so, though statistics may have not shown an exact and equal ratio of men and women on studies like Mollica’s; the fact is there has been research done with women and men regarding the subject of gender and metal.

One example is the research done by scholars Leigh Krenske and Jim McKay entitled,Hard and Heavy: Gender and Power in a Heavy Metal Music Subculture“, in which gendered structures of power in a specific music club within the heavy metal subculture in Brisbane, Australia were studied. In this study a total of 10 participants were interviewed, 6 women and 4 men.

Additionally, in my own research, I have referenced academics such as Sonia Vasan from the University of Texas, whose dissertation,Women’s Participation in Death Metal Music was extremely influential on much of my ethnographic approach. Likewise, Sarah Kitteringham from University of Calgary has written and interviewed a variety of women from the Canadian Extreme Metal Music Scene, authoring her findings in her thesis, Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses.  There are other scholars from around the globe – Rosemary Hill, Gabrielle Riches, Jasmine Shadrack, Laina Dawes, Pauwke Berkers, Julian Schaap, and Keith Kahn-Harris – who have written about women in and around metal music. This also assumes one has referenced older and staple academic works written by Arnett, Walser, Wallach, Hickam, Purcell, Pillipov and Weinstein which mention and address different aspects of gender in metal. I’m sure I’m forgetting more.

KarynCrisisOn top of the lack of reference and context (which in Mollica’s defense, was probably due to not wanting to sound too academic on a commercial website), I thought the sample size of 6 and 5 to be small. In my own research, I interviewed – either in-person or electronically – around 80 participants from the NY area alone. If not for the cut-off period instituted by the IRB, there would have been many more – something I will probably use for a follow-up paper.

In addition, I’m left wondering about other aspects such as the demographics of his interviewees–Where was this study conducted? How old were his interviewees? What were their ethnicities? What were their educational backgrounds/careers?

Mollica points to conducting inductive research, assessing patterns as they arise. While this is a valid form of research, asking and answering such demographic questions is integral to finding out the patterns among his participants.

For example, in my study, I found that many of my online participants (which were women only) identified with Caucasian or Hispanic backgrounds. Asians, Native Americans, and African Americans had the lowest representative numbers. This becomes an important part of understanding identity construction, especially within an area like the NY tri-state region which is considered to be quite diverse.

Moreover, the women in my study (of which 72 were surveyed online) identified with the following stats: 18% between 18-24 years of age, 56% between 25-34 years in age, 18% between 35-44 years in age, 5% between 45-54 years in age and finally and most surprisingly 3% between 65-74 years in age. Considering age demographics is one way to reveal listening reasons. One can infer the musical styles that would have been around during the participants’ birth years for each age group and what may have been influential as well as what they were moving both away from and towards.

Also interesting – and not surprising – were the differences in our observations of women participating and producing within the scene. Mollica writes,

“Another thing that was mentioned was the stereotypically feminine tendency to herd up, move in groups, and sometimes stand on the periphery of the action.”

Though his interviewees mention this as fact, I and many of my participants witnessed otherwise – at least as the NY-area goes. Interestingly, many of the local extreme metal shows I attended had women attending by themselves. Perhaps this was due to the age of the women I noticed attending; they were often older and more mature, in their late 20’s and on, whereas younger adult women attended in groups, both mixed and unmixed. But, there are reasons outside of metal for this, and men are shown to move with their friends as well.

He also talks about authenticity within the metal scene, mentioning the similarities with geek culture and the acceptance of women within that subculture. I agree with his point and would add that this “burden of proof” placed on women to show their true fandom and authenticity elicits a form of tokenism, whereby they become objects which are judged and criticized. Schaap and Berkers work, “Grunting Alone? Online Gender Inequality in Extreme Metal Music”, explains this tokenism within extreme metal scenes, further supporting how sexism is widespread and cultivated throughout the subculture.

Finally, on Mollica’s last section, “What’s the Point?”, he writes:

Overall, most metalheads are probably not sexists who don’t want women in their “club”, as some other research has concluded. The reality is probably more that we bring our ideas about the world to heavy metal when we make ourselves part of the group.

I think I’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. For starters, this might be the case for the particular region of Mollica’s study. Since I’m not sure where that was, all I can offer are my own insights and experiences as a woman from the NY tri-state area. Most of the women I met with and interviewed felt that the extreme metal scene in NY was an arena that could be both restrictive and open in its acceptance of women as consumers and producers. Though many women felt established and included with the community, they also cited the difficulties in getting there.

My interviewees cited that their acceptance within the subculture did not eradicate the constant “testing” of their authenticity once there, whether it was being tested as a musician, fan, music journalist, or critic. Many women felt that this openness and acceptance also changed regionally, often telling me that once they were outside of urban and diverse areas like NY, they were more likely to experience sexism, racism and violence at shows.

castrator1In addition, the construction of the lyrical content does not offer many avenues for the dismantling of misogynist and sexist content. I can only think of NY’s Castrator as an example of a band that has turned traditional death metal lyrical content on its head.

With that, I leave you with a quote from one of my anonymous participants:

“Heavy and Extreme Metal still have a long way to go”

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Conferencing the Extreme Metal Way…

Just a quick update on my recent academic excursions. My thesis was accepted for presentation at two conferences and I presented on them in the last two weeks. I talked about my on-going research on Women in NY’s Extreme Metal Music Scene.

*Banner from MACI website

*Banner from MACI website

The first presentation was at the North East Popular Culture Association conference (NEPCA) in Providence where I was happy to sit on the panel titled “Music and Dance in Popular Culture”, with Professor Jeff Cain from Sacred Heart University as the moderator. I was joined by students Bethany Fagan-Good from SUNY Brockport who presented her paper on “Erick Hawkins Aesthetic: Finding the Dancer” and Matthew Scully from Tufts who presented on “Chester Himes and Frantz Fanon on Blues: Toward a New Humanism”. Each paper was interesting and I was glad to get my feet wet, so to speak, with conference presenting. As an aside, if you’ve read my blog before, I’m pretty enchanted by Fanon’s work, so much so, that I wrote a paper about his inspiration on Fela Kuti and Afrobeat and the correlation with how both Afrobeat and Norwegian Black Metal arose out of the same political and religious oppression. Just sayin’.

In any case, it’s been sometime since I’ve presented or talked in front of an audience. My tenure at Columbia University began in 2012 and because of my new role in Acquisitions, I’ve haven’t had the luxury of teaching classes like I did when I worked at the Met. There’s actually a lot of cross departmental work I miss from my old days there, including providing reference, teaching classes, and cataloging (believe or not!). My current position is more about management, finance, and making sure items are getting ordered and received in a timely matter!

Me at MACI conference

Me at MACI conference

The second conference I presented at was the Metal and Cultural Impact conference (MACI) which took place at the University of Dayton in Ohio. This by far, was one of my most enlightening and engaging conference experiences. I met so many metal music scholars whose work was not only inspiring but fascinating, not to mention I was getting to meet scholars whose work I reference in my own thesis. The topics presented were captivating.

Some highlights included the presentations from the scholars below:

Kevin Ebert – “But that doest help me on Guitar!–Unraveling the Myth of the Self-taught Metal Guitarist
Dr. Imke von Heldon – “The Pagan Reunion Awaits: The Construction of Cultural Identity in Norwegian Metal Music
Dr. Ross Hagen – “Pay no Attention to the Man Behind the … Ritualism and Depersonalization in Underground Extreme Metal Music”
Dr. Carl Sederholm – “Answering Cthulhu’s Call: Exploring Lovercraftian Cosmicism in Extreme Metal
Dr. Jasmine H. Shadrack – “Femme-Liminale: Corporeal Performativity in Death Metal
Megan McCarty – “Aesthetics of the Brutal: The Voice, Listening Practices and Affect in Extreme
Alex Skolnick – “Louder Education with Alex Skolnick

The conference started on Thursday (11/6) and unfortunately I was unable to see the presentations on Thursday as my flight was rescheduled. This was upsetting because with my new obsession with all things gender-related, I missed out on keynote speaker Amber Clifford-Napoleone’s presentation on “Queer Metal Matters: Metal, Sexuality, and the Future“. Fortunately, I did get to speak with her the next day, which helped to alleviate my guilt of missing her keynote address as well as school me on some interesting aspects of queer theory.

Also of great note was getting to see the provocatively creative exhibition by librarian and metal scholar, Brian Hickam. I was happy to meet both Brian and his colleague Elizabeth as they’re both Librarians! Really..I’m sure you can feel my excitement. Brian curated the exhibition titled, “Masked Performance: Facepaint, Head Coverings, and Masks in 21st Century Popular Culture”. He spoke about his experience with metal as both an avid fan and scholar and how he inevitably drew parallels with the use of masks in culture and in heavy metal music.

I also made some new friends, especially Laina Dawes, who also presented on the Women and Metal panel. I’ve mentioned her before on this blog when I brought up reading her book, “What are you Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal“.  She discussed the rampant violence towards women and women of color in the extreme metal scene through her presentation entitled, “The Music or the Message? How to Love Music that Doesn’t Love You Back“.

All in all, we even got some help from two metal scholars when our rental car wouldn’t start! Thanks Jamie and Kevin!

Hopefully, the future of metal music studies will see an increase of scholars bringing relevant issues to light within both the metal community and mainstream society. Attending this conference helped to validate my ever evolving interest with metal music, gender, and anthropology. So to my fellow metal colleagues–Keep up the great work!

Finally–A video taping of me presenting at MACI. My husband taped it with his cell phone and we uploaded it to Youtube with hopes of disseminating my research. It’s not the best sound recording quality but it helped me reflect on honing my presenting skills.
Thanks & Enjoy!

Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Part 3 of 3

Review: Mortals show @ The Acheron, 7/18/14

mortals1

Mortals at the Acheron, 7/18/14

Finally got to see Mortals live! I discovered them through one of the participants in my research about women in extreme metal who recommended some local NYC bands with female members. Lucky for me that when I started researching Mortals, my delight was made sevenfold when I found out the entire trio were women who skillfully and creatively came together to play some of the best death metal I’ve heard.

They played last month at the Acheron to a full crowd as part of their record release party for their 2nd full-length EP entitled, Cursed to See the Future. Opening for them were the bands Mammals and Godmaker and though I usually write about opening acts, they really didn’t impress me much (apologies to Mammals & Godmaker fans!). Both bands did an adequate job of warming up the crowd, but you could tell what everyone was really waiting for; the proficient and technical abilities of Mortals’ pounding funerary dirges.

Mortals opened the evening with an almost art-school video viewing for the title track, “View from the Tower“.  Amidst good-hearted laughter and smiles,  everyone watched as the film unfolded; an homage to old school serial killer movies. As comical as the scenes were, it only added to the creative and satiric minds these musicians have.

They opened their set playing songs from the new EP as well as a song not yet released. Overall, drummer Caryn Havlik’s exuberant bats in the belfry playing never lost it’s pulsating preciseness. Add to that drumming, the vocal growls of bassist Lesly Wolf and the velocity of Elizabeth Cline’s speed guitar and you had a culmination of pummeling death driven songs. Heavy rifts and driving tempos abound as each song takes on it’s average five minutes or more spotlight. Wolf’s vocals give a fullness to each song, making one think of sludgy mire-full screaming.

mortals3

The fact that these Brooklyn Deathheads were women really didn’t detract or add to my overall impression of the what the crowd was perceiving. As an ethnographer, scoping crowds at each show I’ve attended has become part of my obersvation method and it was clear to see previous ideas by academics I’ve read, dismissed, at least in the particular show.

What’s often said about extreme metal music scenes is that there is almost always a lack of women in relation to men as well as a lack of diversity. That was not the case this evening! I witnessed a surprisingly diverse make-up of Asians, Hispanics, Blacks, and Caucasians, with Caucasians counting as slightly higher in number overall. There was also an overwhelming even count between men and women at this show with the average age looking to be between mid-20’s to 40’s. Clothing was as expected, with men and women wearing either heavy or extreme metal t-shirts. There were also a handful of fans wearing your non-affiliated standard uniform of a black shirt with black jeans. Otherwise, the other remaining styles that could be identified were some punk and hipster looks–after-all, we were in Brooklyn!

In terms of my research, the results of the attendees of this show confirms my belief that due to the location (NY Tri-State area), we’re seeing more diversity with fans and musicians in the overall EMM scene.  The increased accessibility of EMM here in NY has made it a little bit more acceptable to women and it will be interesting to see if my survey findings as well as interviews corroborate that assessment.

The bigger question will be whether female participants in the EMM scene see their involvement in light of any kind of feminist agenda.

Pharmakon, Cut Hands, and GODFLESH

Last night I attended a genuinely intense Godflesh show at Irving Plaza that did not disappoint with it’s line-up or it’s main band. Originally the show was to have taken place last October but was rescheduled, so you can imagine my joy when this night finally came. The only downsides were:

1) That it was a Thursday night (hate to have to get up and work the next day)

–AND

2) The show didn’t start until 9:30 (yes I’m an old fart! but a new mommy!! so you can see my concern)

20140410_212830In any case, I was pleasantly surprised to see the first musician, Margaret Chardiet of Pharmakon come up on stage. To be honest, I did not bother to check who was playing with Godflesh last night, partly because it was a rescheduled show and I must have glossed over the original line-up way back in October, and partly because I like the serendipitous discovery of seeing new bands to love or hate.

Set amidst amps and a minimalistic looking mixtrack controller with a makeshift sounding board, I had no idea what to expect as the lights dimmed and Pharmakon took stage. And I certainly did not expect to hear the extreme noise coming from a very creative and petite Margaret Chardiet. Described as an experimental noise musician by her record label Sacred Bones, Chardiet’s added vocals, which ranges from death growls to straight screaming, added further extremity and dimension to her heavy, constructed electronics. I was so happy to hear and see a woman creating music with such fervor and magnitude in a typically male-dominated genre, where female performers seem to be so rare that I was must have appeared awestruck and doe-eyed as song after song was played.

At times, Chardiet’s repetitive screaming of, “I don’t belong here” seemed to resonate with my feelings of feminism and metal, echoing perhaps, the underlying challenges of being creative in male-coded spaces.

Though I didn’t get to tape last night’s show, here’s a clip from one of her other performances. You can see without a doubt, why she got to tour with Godflesh.

 

Next up was Cut Hands. 20140410_215233Made up of sole musician William Bennett, original founder of the UK industrial/electronic band Whitehouse and primly dressed in a black blazer and charmingly smart glasses, Mr. Bennett came up to the stage and approached his Macbook with precision as he began to spin some insane Afro-inspired industrial fusion.

The climatic point of his performance was probably towards the middle where he began dancing and digesting the spirit of the music itself. Add to that, a stunningly beautiful background of rotating images reflecting Africa and it’s culture and you had a widely diverse approach to both music and aesthetic atmosphere. At one other point, I remember thinking to myself that the vibrations from the music alone made me feel as though I was on a jet plane readying for departure. All in all, it was quite the scene.

Ah but the best scene was left for last….GODFLESH!

My husband and I had last seen Godflesh when they played the Maryland Deathfest in 2012. I think I was 6 months pregnant at the time! It was great because we both thought we’d never see Godflesh reunited and playing stateside! Last night’s show was an even better experience as we were literally 3 feet away from Justin Broderick as he slammed his music into our souls! \m/

Godflesh1Godflesh2

Some of the songs played were:

  •  Like Rats
  •  Streetcleaner
  •  Pure
  •  Crush My Soul
  •  Slavestate
  •  Christbait Rising

I enjoyed the set and was happy to see Godflesh looking like they enjoyed it too. There was an overall nice turnout and I was glad to see that at least a third of the audience was female. I wasn’t surprised to see a small percent of females in the group but I was surprised a handful that seemed to be there without any accompaniment, either boyfriends or friends. Also of note was the nice feeling of not being the only Asian girl in the room. My husband joked that he was probably the only Trini-Indian there though. I got to see a variety of ethnicities (those which I could easily discern) and thought that was part of the unique make-up that is New York City. My original perusal showed Caucasians being the dominant ethnicity (not surprising), with Hispanic/Spanish a close second, and the rest made up of Black and Asian folks.

Heavy Metal – Women and Perception

All-Female Blackened Doom Metal Band (Japan)

I’m constantly scouring the internet in hopes of finding new articles, books, and comments regarding women in extreme metal, let alone heavy metal, for my research. So it was nice to see this post over at The Metal Advisor blog. http://www.themetaladvisor.com/2013/07/a-maze-of-thoughts-women-and-heavy-metal.html

The author rightly points out some of the most interesting female musicians who often go under the radar. What’s nice to see is that the author (whom I can only guess is male) validates some of the typical misconceptions and stereotypes female musicians receive, almost always having to do with their not being judged on musical ability, but rather on their appearance. Vocal quality and it’s likeness to how male metal vocals are produced is mentioned, though if you ask me, it interesting to note how women have to negotiate both vocal and bodily acceptance in the hyper-masculine environment; meaning recognition is given when a woman can sound undecipherable from male vocals/growls/shrieking or if she embodies the male musician look/style.

In some of the research I’ve come across, this issue of negotiating the female body and it’s place in the heavy/extreme metal scene seems to be very black and white. Women are judged not only by the males in the scene (both musicians and fans) but by other women as well. What results is a very simplistic perception of female participation as either “hyper-serialized feminine personas” or “masculine ones” (Walser 1993).

Sonia Vasan’s analysis of this very issues applies a social exchange theory in order to make sense of what is sacrificed by the female fan in being included in the Death Metal scene. In her paper, “The Price of Rebellion: Gender Boundaries in the Death Metal Scene“, Vasan argues that in order for female death metal fans to be perceived as authentic, they must be willing to conform to a hegemonic masculinity.

It’s this questioning of negotiation and sacrifice that is extremely fascinating to me. With my own research, I hope to answer what these characteristics might be, not just for female fans who are accepted into the scene, but for the female producers/creators. I wonder how this negotiation impacts female musicians and their artistic vision within the scene. Are they able to re-appropriate commonly masculine themes within the genre and make it their own or do they submit the to hegemony? Can they approach themes of death, rape, brutality, and violence through a gendered lens of feminist theory? And how would/has that changed the common themes written about in heavy metal?

Review: My Cocaine Museum by Michael Taussig

Michael Taussig’s book, My Cocaine Museum, is an experimental text that seeks to explore the “imagined realities” of the cocaine industry in Colombia. Opening with a history of Colombia’s gold industry and its similarities to the cocaine trade, Taussig presents his readers with a “human history as natural history”, stressing the historical and symbolic likenesses between gold and cocaine production. Written in a non-traditional style of ethnographic writing that reads like a fictional narrative, misgivings arise through the course of the text if it is viewed through a strictly traditional lens. Although the majority of the book adheres to a distinct framework in its literal style, at times its linearity becomes hard to follow as Taussig goes back and forth between gold’s significance, cocaine’s relation to gold, and anecdotal stories told by Colombian informants who often seem to serve more as decorative enhancements to Taussig’s main points of cocaine and Colombian history than first-hand sources of information.

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Anthropology Reading Journal Series I

Anthropology Reading Journal Series
VI. 10/17/2011: The Body in/and Performance

This week’s focus is a continuation on the Body and the theory of embodiment of culture in performance. It’s a critical review day so we won’t be discussing articles but instead I’ll be reviewing the book, Sensational Knowledge by Tomie Hahn, written by a professor from RPI who teachers dance and performance.
 

Book #2 Critical Analysis
Hahn, Tomie. 2007. Sensational Knowledge. Middletown CT: Wesleyan UP.

Tomie Hahn’s, Sensational Knowledge: Embodying Culture through Japanese Dance, is an ethnographic text that studies Kabuki’s cousin – and lesser known dance style – nihon buyo. By examining the practice of nihon buyo, Hahn explores how culture is passed down and embodied through dance.

In her introduction, Hahn highlights the concept of dance transmission, writing that transmission is “the information between teacher and student, sender and receiver, and embraces the relationship that evolves” (p. 2). She goes on to give historical background on the Japanese concept of mind and body as one. Throughout the beginning chapter, this unity of oneness is emphasized as Hahn builds her case in support of how theory arises from practice. This sets the groundwork for Hahn’s interests and questions relating to embodiment. She begins by explaining to the reader that translating embodied culture and experience into text is wrought with difficulties due to the nature of actual experience. Hahn expresses these concerns by framing them with the surrounding questions of, “How does culture shape our attendance to various sensoria and how does our interpretation shape our individual realities,” (p.33). She references Lila Abu-Lughod’s Writing against Culture as an inspiration for disrupting her insider perspective, enabling her to better convey sensory knowledge through multiple voices.

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