War on Women

Here’s a recent article that was published over at the Washington Post called, “Rape, street harassment and trolls. This punk band has a song for that” about the hardcore band War On Women and Feminism. It’s both an interesting and discouraging article about what female musicians face in the punk, hardcore and metal music scenes and goes on to speak about the band’s origin and experiences performing. In particular, like the article’s title suggests, band lyricist and vocalist Shawna Potter talks about fans’ reaction to her as a woman performing and her experiences of harassment.

War-On-Women-2014-1024x819WOW_logo_original-600x154

It’s sad to say, but Potter’s experiences are really no different than what many of the women I interviewed here in NYC spoke about. Even though a majority of metal news sites, commenters, and bloggers in the blog-o-sphere might argue differently, these moments of violence, mistreatment and racism still occur. It’s very much a “still happened, even if it didn’t happen to you” kind of thing.

I am glad to see articles like the Washington Post one being published because these issues of rape, racism, and sexism still are and should be ongoing discussions, lest we forget– see what I did there? –But seriously… the discussions shouldn’t stop at just media highlighting white women of more noticeable bands – there needs to be a focus on the intersectionalities occurring – women of color, of ethnicity, of varying gender identities etc.

And before folks get all uppity about there not being enough bands with women of the intersectionalities I just mentioned, you can just look to bands like NY’s Castrator or the site Female Vocalists of Extreme Music– the name implies only vocalists but it really includes a very in-depth listing of bands worldwide with women as musicians & vocalists.

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Death’s Metal Maiden: The Portrayal of the Grotesque Female Body on Extreme Metal Album Covers

I’m taking a much-needed break from writing my actual thesis and instead looking at the art produced for extreme metal music albums. In this way, I feel like I’m paying homage to my first love in academia: art history.

I recently came upon an interesting CFP on my blog feed from the University of Winchester. This upcoming summer, they are holding a conference on Death, Art, and Anatomy and put out a call for papers on any research having to do with the following topics:

  • Death and art
  • Anatomy and death
  • Anatomy and art
  • History of anatomy
  • History of death
  • Religion and anatomy
  • Religion and death
  • Medieval and early modern death beliefs and practices

It got me thinking, and I started to explore the idea of how some extreme metal album art could be an extension of the medieval concept of grotesque realism.

So I began reading and discovered previous research making this claim by author and Professor Karen Bettez Halnon. In her paper, Heavy Metal Carnival and Dis-alienation, she examines the use of grotesque realism in performance, lyrical construction, and the appearance of bands like Gwar, Slipknot, and Cradle of Filth. Although these bands are not all categorically extreme metal, it made me think about controversial extreme metal cover art that has been produced in the past few decades.

Referencing philosopher and critic Mikhail Bakhtin, Halnon defines grotesque realism in relation to her study as a form of “heavy metal carnival,” whereby the noise of commercialism is dismantled and transgressed by heavy metal’s ability to challenge societal norms of conduct, dress, taste, morality and civility (Halnon, 2006). What this encompasses is a fandom and culture that encourages the obscene and bizarre, disassociating it from general musical audiences that would favor more socially-accepted styles of popular music, visual art and fashion.

As an example, she cites the band Gwar, who spray their “slaves” (the audience) with red-colored water (symbolic of blood) and other bodily fluids, effectively enacting a spectacle of grotesque through fantastic and fictional displays of human dismemberment, torture and beheadings. On its most base level, this spectacle transgresses the limitations of real and fantasy for participating fans. Like Halnon believes, “the display signifies the creative life-death-rebirth-cycle”. (Halnon, 2006)

GwarWithin the paper, Halnon echos Bahktin’s own definition of grotesque realism as:

“Eating, drinking, defecation, and other elimination (sweating, blowing of the nose, sneezing), as well as copulation, pregnancy, dismemberment, swallowing up by another body—all these acts are performed on the confines of the body and the outer world, or on the confines of the old and new body. . . . The grotesque image displays not only the outward but also the inner features of the body: blood, bowels, heart and other organs. Its outward and inward features are often emerged into one.” ([1936] 1984: 317–18)

Does this not sound like extreme metal to you? Hanlon goes on in her paper to talk about inversion within the heavy metal carnival. What really caught my attention was the following:

“The carnival-grotesque is not only exposing the deep (hidden, vile, disgusting), interior aspects of anatomy but also what is spurned, spoiled, stained and hidden in the body politic. Inverting the ordinary devaluation, invisibility, or “symbolic annihilation” of those positioned at the bottom of (social) hierarchies (Larry Gross quoted in Gamson 1998:22)”

These two statements mark further evidence of the grotesque for lyrics constructed by extreme metal bands like Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, or Deicide. However controversial the works of these bands and bands like them can be construed, it made me curious to explore the imagery depicted on albums of this nature.

Furthermore, I wondered if the often violent and horrific covers of extreme metal albums were indeed an extension of both the medieval grotesque and heavy metal carnival, then what research, if any, was being conducted specific to the treatment of women, so often depicted in controversial images flagging the albums.

If I decide to write a paper for this conference, I think it will broadly speak to the use of grotesque imagery on extreme metal albums as a form of intentional aesthetic and then move more specifically to the depiction of women, particularly the thematic imagery of Death and Women on covers.

\m/ –Hail Metal– \m/

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”

Individual Thought Patterns: Women in NY’s Extreme Metal Music Scene – 10.19.15

Cover of Natalie Purcell's book

Cover from Natalie Purcell’s book, Death Metal Music: The Passion and Politics of a Subculture

I just realized that although I’ve been working on this research for some time, I’ve rarely posted anything that’s part of the draft thesis. So in case you were wondering…here’s a sample of what I’ve been writing about. I’ve included the abstract, table of contents, and just the working introduction, which reads very auto-ethnographic.
Draft – Individual Thought Patterns
And of course, please feel free to contact me if there’s something just glaringly odd/off. It’s still a draft form so I’m sure my advisor and second reader will have changes in mind.

Thanks  \m/

Popular Culture Conference, April 1-4 2015

pca-2015-montageb

My colleague Angela Washington and I presented at this year’s Popular Culture Association (PCA) Conference in New Orleans. This presentation was more aligned to my first love– art librarianship and not to metal music, though I did attend a metal panel at this conference.

Sailor Moon manga - MMA Dark Kingdom-2We presented our paper entitled, “The Metropolitan Museum of Art Gets Graphic: Building a Collection for the Library” under the Libraries, Archives, Museums, and Popular Research panel. We decided to present on how we started the graphic novel collection at the Met’s Nolan Library when I was working there back in 2010. It was right before we hired the current Public Services Librarian who is now conducting the teen and children’s programming. We were first up on our panel and got to meet and see wonderful presentations from the head bibliographer at Tulane and librarians from  both San Diego State University and Florida International University. Overall, our presentation went very well and Angela did a great job at explaining the Watson and Nolan’s collection policy and its unique nuances involved with selecting, purchasing, processing and programming at the libraries.

Below was our panel line-up:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Gets Graphic: Building a Collection for the Library The libraries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art are home to over 900,000 books and periodicals… Angela Washington

Joan Jocson-Singh

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Paper
Poodle with a mohawk: Collecting cat and dog comics in an academic rare books department In New Orleans, with its wealth of distinctive popular culture associations, it may not surprise… Joshua Lupkin Tulane University, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library Paper
NSFW: Sexually Explicit Comics in Academic Libraries Sexually explicit topics have been safely explored in the academic bubble for decades. However,… Anna Culbertson San Diego State University Paper
Doujinshi and Libraries Doujinshi are Japanese publications, usually created by amateurs and fans, though occasionally… George Pearson Florida International University Paper

Of course, I was most excited to attend the Music (metal) panel because of the papers presented (see below). A highlight for me was hearing Victoria Willis’s presentation on The Dialetic of T(werk): Hegel, Marx, and Womanist Agency in Mastodon’s “The Motherload” Video, because of her theoretical framework and it’s relation to feminism.

Title Body Presenter Affiliation Presentation type
Sunn O))) – A Camp Dimension? In a video posted to YouTube, the drone metal band Sunn O))) can be seen performing an… Albert Diaz UCLA Paper
“Rime of a Metal Mariner” “Rime of a Metal Mariner” looks at Iron Maiden’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” as an adaptation… Justin J. Roberts University of Kentucky Paper
The Dialetic of T(werk): Hegel, Marx, and Womanist Agency in Mastodon’s “The Motherload” Video In this paper, I examine the role of twerking in Mastodon’s recent video for “The Motherload.”… Victoria Willis Georgia State University Paper
Hype, Visual Personae, and “Real” Music: The Example of Lana del Rey Before Lana del Rey’s first album, ‘Born to Die,’ hit the stores, she was an internet sensation… Mark Allister St. Olaf College Paper

And the panel on Music (Gender) was too great to pass up:

Title Body Presenter Affiliation Presentation type
Bring It On Home: Gender and Sexuality in Led Zeppelin Sasha T. Strelitz: “Bring It On Home: Gender and Sexuality in Led Zeppelin”

Many…

Sasha Strelitz University of Central Florida Paper
“Bootylicious” with “Love on Top”: Female Empowerment and Performing Sexual Agency at the 2013 Super Bowl Halftime Show In the middle of an exclusively masculine contest of muscle and strategy between the Baltimore… Claire Anderson University of Washington Paper
“Papa, you ain’t got no mama now”: Analyzing Female Agency in Race Record Ads When it comes to analyzing and understanding blues music, many researchers have turned to the… Catherine Gooch University of Kentucky Paper
“What a Great Song…Except for the Lyrics!: Examining Rape Culture in Popular Music”

In this paper, I explore the cultural and social landscape that popularizes music that…

Melinda Mills Castleton State College Paper

I’ve been telling folks for years that the Popular Culture Association is the most interesting academic conferences I’ve been to. Because it deals with popular culture, it really spans disciplines and is one of the more affordable conferences to attend if you’re not a member. You can present as an independent scholar which is also nice. I had a great time meeting other academics and really enjoyed learning about the varied research that’s going on all of the states.

Next year’s conference will be in Seattle – so I’m really looking forward to that.

Survey: Women in NY’s Extreme Metal Music Scene

Hi Folks,

As part of my thesis research on Women and Extreme Metal Music, I’ve created a survey to help inform part of the study.

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

The purpose of this study is to survey female participants (fans, musicians, and music industry workers) in the New York Tri-State area and address/answer the following overarching questions:

(1) What elements surface as common identity markers for women in New York’s Extreme metal scene?
(2) How does this compare to women in other regions (with regard to ethnicity, age, education, etc.)
(3) In what ways do the behaviors and conventions of women in the NY extreme metal scene intersect with feminist/post-modern theory, 3rd Wave feminism, and feminist musicology?

The results from this project may provide information on the unique experiences of women in the NY-Tri State area in relation to the Extreme Metal music scene.

If you have any questions about this study, you can contact Joan Singh at Joan.Jocson-singh21@myhunter.cuny.edu or Hunter College’s Human Research Protection Program (HRPP)office at 212-650-3053 or hrpp@hunter.cuny.edu, if you have questions regarding your rights as a subject for this study.

So if this survey sounds like it pertains to you, by all means Take the Survey!!!!

And please pass it along to any women you feel might have some insight on the NY’s Extreme Metal Scene.

MetalSurveyFlyer1_with QR code_REVISED

Thanks and Metal  on  \m/

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.