They’ve been type casted and assigned stereotypes and not taken very seriously by the ‘serious’ music critics. Heavy metal fans have spent a lifetime defending the music they love. According to a new UCL (University College London) research, heavy metal music culture is inclusive and governed by etiquette and codes of conduct.
UCL Anthropology PhD student Lindsay Bishop spent several years on the road, touring with a variety of metal bands from USA and Europe. Her research has shown that the global heavy metal community is complex and transgenerational with elders passing on rules of etiquette, such as most pit behavior, to younger members.
This is the first ethnography study of its kind to focus on the significance of live heavy metal performance from the perspectives of both the audience and the musician. It examined heavy metal from a strictly anthropological perspective. Bishop carried out extensive interviews and documented bands including Fear Factory, 3Teeth, Mortiis, Pig and Combchrist. One of the findings was that far from the popular perception of “angry teenage males,” heavy metal is culturally inclusive, with a rich and varied audience — including many women and older adults — that emb
races an array or religions, sexual orientations and political leanings.
Bishop‘s research / findings include:
Mosh pit etiquette
Older generations of metal fans pass on mosh pit etiquette and behavior to newcomers and younger generations to ensure an environment of “controlled chaos.” This includes an implicit understanding that the mosh pit is voluntary, that those who fall over should be picked up immediately and if someone is hurt they are taken to the bar by the person responsible.
Some of those who participated in Bishop‘s fieldwork commented as follows:
“When somebody goes down, you get them straight back up: ‘You all right, mate? All your earrings intact?’ But it’s like that in metal — its being in a huge club and you don’t necessarily know everyone’s name but you give each other a nod.”
“There is a kind of… not a chain as such, but guidance, if you like, a kind of etiquette of things. It is kind of unwritten.”
Bishop says: “The older generations teach mosh pit etiquette and newcomers learn that moshing is not a fight, it’s a way to release tension and often create lasting bonds with people. Metal culture doesn’t have a history of aggression towards mainstream culture that, for example, punk has become synonymous for. In metal culture, aggression is released through catharsis within the crowd.”
The message or perception that is out there says, heavy metal community is a “brutish rite of passage for teenage boys.” Bishop says it is a “complex, inclusive and global community” that now encompasses several generations. She continued, “the metal community has evolved since its inception in the 1960s, and today women make up on average one-third of gig-goers and many older adults, families, disabled, LGBTQ people participate throughout the globe.”
Bishop explains, however, that it will be time before perceptions change, “While there’s been a steady increase in women among the metal community, there’s a perception issue that might give young girls and women the impression it’s not for them. When, in fact, women all over world are part of the metal community, notably in the South African country of Botswana, there is a community of ‘Botswana Queens’ that are smashing gender stereotypes through metal music.”
Friendship & fandom
Traditionally, studies have focused on either the musicians performing on stage or the audience, but rarely has the collective experience between the two been addressed, particularly from a transgenerational perspective. The metal community is far reaching and today, in the wake of the digital revolution, bands have evolved their approach to producing music. More emphasis is placed on touring and connecting with the audience than ever before. Thanks to social media, gig-goers and performers are now forging long-lasting friendships.
The relationship between audience and performer is integral in the metal community, and there are a number of rituals such as physical connection with the audience, singers conducting the audiences singing that connect to artist to the audience. The relationship is also somewhat a consequence of the music industry and dwindling record sales, which has seen bands rely increasingly more on income through touring.
Bishop comments: “Touring is crucial if a metal band is to survive. Additionally, crowd funding is bigger than ever among the community. Any band that can withstand the test of time gains a lot of respect. It would be virtually impossible to see a manufactured band in metal, because in this community, to be successful, you have to put in the time, graft and earn the respect of your audience.”
The closest genre to classical?
“There are certainly correlations with classical. Many heavy metal bands are influenced by classical music and a number of metal musicians I have spoken to have studied classical music,” Bishop added, “There is a similar appreciation among the audience. In Russia, for example, it is common for older metal gig-goers to take sheet music to concerts as they would the opera.”
There’s a lot to say about the effects of metal music. One participant described it as “a great stress reliever, particularly because you can stand there and almost feel your internal organs vibrating.”