In 2016, the internet has become such an integral part of global culture that it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without it. Social media, in particular, takes advantage of this massive global connection by helping people to communicate across the globe in real-time.But, strange as it seems, there was a time before the internet. People still communicated, albeit a lot more slowly.
So, how does this relate to metal culture? To understand how, first we should take a look at why metalheads would need to create a social network. In the 80’s and 90’s, heavy metal and it’s fans had a HUGE stigma attached to them (in some parts of the world, this stigma still exists). There was a large scale moral panic surrounding the music and it’s culture.
In the United States, for example, there was a growing wave of misinformation, political correctness, and organized opposition that threatened the very existence of metal. Police were trained to target metalheads based on the stereotypes propagated by the PC groups like the PMRC. Here are a few examples from a police training pamphlet called “Youth Subcultures”
By themselves, these images are humorous at best. But the descriptions accompanying the photos labeled all metal fans (and punks, the picture with the mohawk was sadly missing the label) as lowlifes with no motivation to do anything constructive, who’s only source of income was from theft and drug sales (also mentioning that most metalheads were avid drug users themselves).
Combined with metal being completely ignored by the music industry, disrespected by the media, metal shirts being banned from schools, young fans of the music being sent to counselors and camps for “de-metalizing”, and metal bands being put on public trial as scapegoats for youth tragedy – you’ve got a culture who’s very existence requires it to go “underground”.
And if you can’t find music you want in the normal media channels, where do you go? Simply put, you go to other fans of the music. But metal fans were few and far between – and spread all over the globe. There was no internet, no media, nothing – how did people find new metal that wasn’t a polished, formulaic mainstream parody of real music?
The answer, of course, was tape trading. Metal magazines were essentially the lifeblood of the culture. And the classified ads in these magazines allowed someone to advertise that they had new music for distribution, or to advertise their tastes. All you had to do was put in an ad with an example of a band you liked (and your mailing address), stating you were looking for more bands like them, and wait. People would send you music, mostly free of charge, that was in the same vein. Essentially it was a pen-pals with benefits sort of thing, and it completely cut the record industry out of the picture.
This is where the sub-genrefication of metal started, it was necessary to get people the music they wanted. This was also the time where the unwritten rules of metal started to solidify. These things are all manifestation of “sub-cultural space”, it’s how metalheads communicate aspects of metal culture to one another. It’s also when the metal “uniform” really came together and became a thing. The most important part of the uniform (wearing shirts of the bands you listen to) was a way to show solidarity with the culture, support for the bands (because they still get more from t-shirt sales than they ever did from albums), and personal musical taste to other people in the culture.
Fun fact – with the industry out of the picture metal was free to evolve without corporate influence. If it wasn’t for widespread persecution of metalheads (forcing them to go underground as a culture), you wouldn’t have Thrash, Death Metal, Grindcore, Hardcore Punk, Black Metal, or any of the extreme branches of the metal family tree that exist today.
In other words – this is when heavy metal completely broke off from rock and roll and became a distinct musical style with it’s own unique culture. Just like rock and roll broke off from the blues, metal severed it’s ties to rock music.
So, when you see an article bitching about how downloading music is killing the record industry – take it with a grain of salt. It’s killing the pop-machine entertainment industry for sure, but if you’re paying attention and capable of rational thought you can see even that claim is 100% bullshit. But as far as metal bands are concerned – sure, they’re seeing a drop in record sales. But record labels were pretty famous for signing metal bands to horrible long term contracts that gave away a lot of legal rights and fucked them over creatively for years. So they’re probably going to have to adopt a business model from heavy metal musicians, largely based on touring and merch sales. Soooo… the bands treated like dogshit by the major labels are now going to be their saving grace. Ironic much?
But I digress.
The outsider/taboo status assigned to metal by (and in) mainstream culture is what turned it into the cultural behemoth (pun intended) that it is today. File-sharing and social networking in the metal community is something that was happening for a full decade before the internet even existed. The transition to social networking and file-sharing websites was a natural one, metalheads simply digitized aspects of the culture that were already there.
That’s why metalheads still shit on Metallica on a regular basis. A shitty album or two can be overlooked – nobody bats 1000. But when you go after an evolutionary step of the very cultural mechanism that made you into what you are today (tape trading->file sharing, if you’re not following), you’re selling out completely. They sided with the same corporate entities that wouldn’t have given them the time of day a decade earlier.
Anyways – the only thing metalheads like more than metal is reading about how great metalheads are. So, there’s that. Enjoy.
Oh, if you liked this please feel free to join my facebook group metal stuff.