Individual Thought Patterns: Women in NY’s Extreme Metal Music Scene – Castrator

Castrator logoOn the research side, things have been coming along nicely..or at least until I’m told the famous, “hey, this isn’t going to work…your topic is too narrow/broad, you won’t be able to finish this at the Masters level, etc. ” I don’t know why, but I feel that statement lurking behind some shadowy academic in my future. I’ve been told that its the natural thing for advisers to critique your work until you’re in fetal position. I remember art school being like this. In light of this very real fear, I’m going to try and keep the optimism burning.

Last night I had my latest interview with a wonderful woman who was part of the metal scene back in the day. She’s a media personality now, working with an urban music label and moonlighting as a front woman for an indie rock band. She had lots to say that helped inform my study with regard to women and where feminism lies within NY’s metal and hardcore scenes. One of the common patterns arising from my interviews with women in NY’s extreme metal music scene (EMM) has been the diversity of backgrounds. I’ve met with a variety of women coming from all walks of life, varying ethnic backgrounds, and a range in age from 18 to 40. It confirms that metal’s reach is truly global…especially here in NYC, which is already rich in diversity.

As far as the compiling and writing portion of my thesis, all I can say is that it’s coming along. I’ve managed to organize my thoughts into a draft table of contents/outline. I’ve been working on parts that come easily to me. One of the sections that I’ve written about was about women and their re-appropriation of the death metal music scene. I’ve attached a small part of of my draft below. I’m currently editing and refining it based on one of my professor’s comments, but hopefully the majority of it will be part of the final thesis. I thought it would be nice to bring to light my happy discovery of the NY band Castrator. They’re significant in their pursuance of leveling the male-dominated NY death metal scene. I wholeheartedly support women with this agenda.

Re-appropriation and the Changing Discourse

 A number of the women I conducted one-on-one interviews with were musicians in the extreme metal scene. I interviewed two members from the New York City band Castrator, Carolina Perez (drums) and Mikaela Akesson (guitars). Castrator is an all-female band who play death metal, one of the styles blanketed in the extreme metal category. The other members consist of M. S. (vocals), P. S. (guitars) and R. M. (bass).* Not only do these women represent a multiplicity of ethnicities, they are a rarity with regard to actively choosing to create an all-female line-up, unique in the EMM scene. The band’s construction allows the women to create a space in metal in which expectations of gendered identity either fall by the wayside or become fuel for songwriting. The experience of performance for them paves the way to transgressing masculine space and sexualized gender tropes and subverting the normative patriarchy of the scene, rather than reinforcing them.

The band’s name, as well as two songs on their demo called “No Victim” and “Honor Killing” also serve to transgress the genre. Naming the band Castrator fits naturally with the death metal image of morbidity and the macabre; however with women behind the name, it gains a new appropriation, hinting at the inverted expression of female masculinities (Halberstam 1998).

Their lyrical content is a direct opposition to the current masculinized death metal hegemony and yet adheres stylistically to the genre’s sound. An example of this can be found in the lyrics to the song “No Victim,” which tells the tale of a man’s attempted rape of a woman. The tale is told from the woman’s perspective in which thoughts of “always in fear” and “trying to be brave” position the woman as victim. However, as the end approaches, the discourse undergoes a complete reversal – the woman overpowers her attacker and takes his knife and ends his life, “the knife from his hand she grabs, stabbing him multiple times”. When I asked Carolina about her thoughts behind writing this song, she said, “every woman has the fear of being raped and it shouldn’t be like that”. There are, in fact, many death metal songs, penned by men, glorifying rape. Some graphic titles include Cannibal Corpse’s “Fucked With a Knife”, “Stripped, Raped and Strangled” and the evocative “Entrails Ripped from a Virgin’s Cunt”. She said that with this band she wanted to show the EMM community that women “could play as brutal and as fast” and that “they like death metal music for what it is”. This mode of practice allows Carolina and her band to destabilize the gender norms of EMM by reclaiming masculine space for their own.

*Initials used for anonymity

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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

About Me: Depth & Transgression

JoanI realized, the “About Me” section in this blog is a bit wanting and I thought that even though I’ve been relaying all the sordid details of my research, I haven’t really let my audience know about me (although one can argue that you’d get a feeling about who I am if you’ve been reading my posts!)

But anyway, here’s some details about me and where I’ve been going both academically and professionally. First off, this blog was started back in 2011 as a way for me to get my bearings with writing in academia as well as a way to force me to just, well, WRITE!

I’ve always been a fan of all types of music, especially 80’s New Wave, Classic Punk, and, as you can tell–Extreme Metal. By Extreme metal, I am mostly talking about Death, Doom, Sludge and some Grind.

My first life was spent as an Art lover and student. I went to SUNY Albany for my Bachelors in Studio Art (Drawing) and Art History (Medieval Art and Architecture). Having experienced first hand working in a Visual Arts Library, I thought to myself, wouldn’t becoming an Art Librarian be cool???And I wouldn’t have to be a starving artist to boot! So about a year after I graduated college, I went to Pratt for my Library degree in Library/Information Science with a Certificate in Archives (which is gathering dust by the way).

In the midst of my Pratt life, I ended up, very luckily, working at The Thomas J. Watson Library in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I worked there for about 6 years as an Art Librarian, enjoying the highs and lows that accompany art reference, cataloging and inter-library loaning! This was a great way to merge my love of art with reading and organization.

However, somewhere down the line, I ended up thinking about getting a second masters degree. I remember talking to some mid-level librarians who told me that in order to work in a college library, having a second masters for specialization was helpful. So that’s what I did. I decided to go to Hunter’s CUNY program in Anthropology with the beginning intention to write about Anthropology and the Pacific. Having found out that most schools in the NY didn’t really have faculty focused in that area-unless you’re going for the PHD, I was outta luck. So I started thinking about what else was fascinating about humans and culture.  And then I had an enlightening conversation with my husband. He brought up Karyn Crisis from Crisis and her influence as seminal person in the death metal scene in early 90’s NYC metal. It got us to thinking about women in Heavy Metal Music. And it most certainly led me to researching what, if any, academic literature was written in Anthropology about women and their experience in these often “hyper-masculine” and “misogynistically” described musical genres. We talked about Dawn Crosby from Fear of God/Detente, as well as women who were musicians  not vocally fronting in bands, like Jo Bench. I wondered what led them to participate in this sub-culture of extreme metal and I wondered if they felt marginalized or empowered by the scene.

Side cutFor me, around 2007, my reasons on listening to Death Metal became apparent. For one, my ears had slowly become trained to actually listening to the genre as form as oppose to just hearing loud noise. And two, no other music for me could correlate to the passing event that I had just overcome, that of my mother’s death. Down-tuned guitars, heavy bass-lines, and blast beats all lent itself nicely to both the angst and grieving I was undergoing. Finding women as vocalists and musicians in the scene served as a way to connect. This became very poetic for me and it’s what I believe happens to people when they connect to a particular style of music. It was a transgressive experience.

But where has this left me? It’s left me at a point where I am still learning from many of the women I have surveyed and interviewed during my research. I am finding, that like me, they are empowered by the music and their acceptance. Although bad experiences exist in any sub-culture, emerging patterns of tolerance have also been relayed to me. I am finding that in NYC, diversity and gender are ever the forefront in cultural concerns. What that may mean for women in the EMM scene can have a variety of meanings. For one, if feminism, especially that of the third wave feminism can be applied to EMM, then the make-up I am seeing, which is fairly diverse when compared to EMM scenes outside of NY, aligns itself well with the third wave.. There is a predominantly Hispanic population of women involved in the the local EMM scene and it does indeed encompass, “many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural backgrounds”.

In the near future, my professional plans are to finish up this thesis and disseminate it. After that, I plan on going back to my first love of art and perhaps dabbling in creating music. All of this research has cemented to me that there isn’t many female artists lyrically writing about what it is to be a women, if they even get to write the songs!

For example, what would it be like to hear something like Cannibal Corpse’s “Stripped, Raped and Strangled” from the point of view of the victim? Or maybe lyrics that relay the pain, terror, and joy when birthing a child? How about lyrics about being a female serial killer or the pain felt when having a miscarriage, etc? These are all reasonably within the motifs of Death Metal but align themselves with a feminist agenda. It’s something I have yet to hear with maybe Brooklyn’s Castrator being an exception.

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.

Gender Reassignment and the Metal Music Community

I came across an interesting interview the other day over at Invisible Oranges on the male to female transition of one of the members in the heavy metal band, Cretin. The interview was posted in June of 2011 so I’m sure I’m pretty late on the news, but I guess that’s bound to happen when your knee deep in researching and learning new things. I added this tidbit of information into the “learning new things” category. Although it’s not about women and their participation in the Metal Music community, it’s of course related and is actually quite a fascinating read!

I was drawn to this interview because I wanted to know first-hand what kind of challenges Marissa Martinez, formerly Dan Martinez, received upon coming out to the metal music community.

Below: a pic of Martinez pre-transition and post-transition:

15062_artist

From the interview it looks like most of Martinez’s hesitations were internal and that the metal community didn’t react or treat her horridly. Though it wasn’t an easy transition  it seems she was able to, with support of her ex-wife and band-mates, experience a therapeutic and cathartic transformation. I’ve seen that the majority of the time this isn’t the case.

In one comment, Martinez says that she was approached at the 2011 Deathfest by supportive fans who knew her pre-transition and that some young girls who were new fans had said that it was awesome to see a woman who could grind. This of course made Martinez laugh and only supports the fact that Metal still has its marginalized groups that exist within it.

I think the most surprising thing I digested from the interview was Martinez’s upbeat and optimistic attitude. I thought it was great that her story had a successful outcome, one where she had great support from her fellow band-mates and her fan base. It was great to see she wasn’t only striving to produce creative music but that she took an active role in participating in the transgender community and speaking out about her experience.

And of course, it puts more meaning to Cretin’s song Daddy’s Little Girl, which I love:

Biting the Bullet with Female Hasidic Rock

Over at Metal Injection, an interesting post was made about the band Bulletproof Stockings. They’re a two piece band from Brooklyn, made up of Dalia Shusterman (vocals/drums), and Perl Wolfe ( vocals/piano). Their uniqueness comes from playing to only female audiences as they consider themselves to be a female Hasidic rock band. Say what?

Their shows are female-only! –NO MALES allowed.–

 

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Though I mostly post articles pertaining to my research interests with women in  Metal,  I thought it would be fascinating to see what spurred these two to form a band. They follow all the teachings of Orthodox Judaism, while, as they say “rocking out“. I respect their sound but as a metal-head, rocking out might have a different meaning to me but that’s neither here nor there. Their sound will resonate with a more jazzy lounge type listener, think Adele or Norah Jones fans. See below:

While I find this a progressive movement for women in any organized religion and practice, I wondered about several things. As I am no way versed in the practices of any religion, let alone Judaism, I wondered about their form of music-what is and isn’t allowed for women in their community. Is this women circumventing prescribed rules of behavior and/or re-appropriating behavior that males in the community are more easily allowed to display? I remember a couple years back hearing about the splash that Matisyahu incurred with his interpretation of faith and music. Is there any kind of backlash among their community?

bulletproof stockings1

I ponder these kinds of questions because it would be interesting to see if anything like this would ever occur within the Extreme Metal Music (EMM) community here in NY. Is it possible that women would feel a need to write lyrics that negate the misogyny and violence often depicted within the lyrical content of the genre or does it take away from the music to omit that kind of content. And what about the shows? Would an all female EMM band turn away males from the doors? In a genre as small and acquired in its taste as Extreme Metal, could women afford to shut men out, the majority of their audience–probably not.

Metal Monday – Agrimonia

Agrimonia

Over at RateYourMusic.com I found a nifty list of DOOM metal bands with females either fronting the band or as members. To my serendipitous surprise, I just discovered the band Agrimonia. Fronted by lead singer, Christina, the band hails from Gothenburg, Sweden and employs a sludge, crust, post metal sound–not surprising, given Gothenburg’s musical history. Having only listened to the band’s first self titled album from 2008, I wasn’t left wanting.

As for stylings, Christina’s vocals are impressive. She alternates from gritty bowl crunching growls to an easily identifiable influence of the punk and hardcore vocals of which she stems. Drawing from both a rich history of Gothenburg metal and punk, it’s easy to see why I loved hearing this band. Melodically, I found the perfect balance between heaviness, precision and and straight-up musicianship. The album, which had only five songs, about 10 minutes each or longer, offered a skillful blend of atmosphere and symmetry while remaining intense throughout. I lost myself to certain signatures that gave me the right amount of rumination for hearing the organic transitions of each song-listen to The Decay below and you’ll see what I mean. Even their lyrics blow me away –

“My tears all I can give
My anger my despise
The poison eats you alive
I can see every bite”…

Of course, I can’t wait to hear the next two albums that were released in 2010 and 2013. I could totally imagine them being signed to Neurot Records if they were state-side. It’s that kind of organic sludge.

Cue research soundtrack…..