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Why Metalheads honor the memory of Sophie Lancaster

Introduction

9 years ago this month (August 24th, 2007), a terrible tragedy in England resonated throughout the sub-cultural (and mainstream) communities around the world.

Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend (Robert Maltby) were targeted by a group of thugs and brutally attacked. There was no provocation – they were chosen because of the way they dressed (as I understand it they were part of the English Goth community).

Although Goths and Metalheads are separate and distinct cultures, there is a good deal of crossover between them (as there is with a lot of sub-cultures). Enough crossover, in fact, that both the young men committing the criminal act and the witness who called the paramedics referred to them (among other things) as “moshers” (a pejorative term to refer to goths, metalheads, and other similar looking subscribers to sub-cultures in England, as I understand it).

And this wasn’t an isolated incident. I’m not saying anything sensationalist here – heavy metal and other subcultures aren’t under constant attack. But when you participate in any subculture/counter culture, it’s good to remember that there’s going to be a broad spectrum of reaction from the mainstream cultures (and other subcultures, for that matter) that’s going to include (but isn’t limited to) physical retaliation and violence.

Given the Dionysian, Hedonistic, Anti-Social (not Asocial, as most people tend to define it) cultural tendencies metalheads, goths, punks, emo kids, scene kids, etc tend to share – it’s not surprising that there is often a negative reaction from a predominantly Apollonian mainstream culture.

So, while I have absolutely no idea whether or not Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend actually listened to heavy metal or were part of the subculture – it’s a moot point. To someone who comes from a place outside of these cultures – they’re all one and the same. Ben Moores (a teenage metalhead) was attacked in a similar manner to Sophie 5 years later.

An American Perspective to Illustrate a Greater Point

And I have to admit, as an American Metalhead my knowledge is inherently biased towards my own experience and those of my peers. For example – I’m much more familiar with the cultural persecution of metalheads in America from the Satanic Panic of the 1980’s and early 1990’s and the subsequent cultural fallout.

Judas Preist and Ozzy Osbourne were both put on trial after young men who were fans of their music committed suicide. Christian youth behavioral modification camps capitalized on the satanic panic to “de-metalize” or “de-punk” rebellious youth. American police were trained to recognize and discriminate against metalheads. Censorship as a part of a multi-faceted attack on heavy metal that includes religious moral and political concerns from the dominant culture is nothing new. (Sound of the Beast, by Ian Christe, chapter 17)

When the Columbine tragedy occurred, mainstream culture and the media were quick to associate the young men’s association to heavy metal as the culprit.

Three teenage boys (dubbed the West Memphis Three) were scapegoated in a brutal murder case of three young boys on circumstantial evidence and held for 18 years. Even after they were freed (they were obviously innocent – this was the subject of several documentaries) – they had to agree to a plea deal where the state admitted no wrongdoing.

After the brutal rape and murder of Elyse Pahler, her parents (unsuccessfully) sued Slayer twice as the cause of the horrid attack.

In Arizona, when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot – the media was quick to point out Jared Loughner’s association with heavy metal music through his love of a single Drowning Pool song.

And, although marginalized, the demonization of heavy metal and it’s followers by the church continues in the United States to this day.

What Does this all Mean?

When a mainstream/dominant culture demonizes or vilifies a smaller sub-group on a large-scale/macro level, there tend to be individual manifestations of this within the interactions between members of those cultures on a micro/individual level.

If the church and the government in the United States had not brought mainstream culture to a state of panic concerning heavy metal in the United States (elected representatives publicly speaking against the music, media demonizing fans and musicians alike, congressional hearings spurred by the PMRC resulting in the censorship and subsequent economic sanctions that occurred as a result, etc), there most likely wouldn’t have been such a tendency towards blaming heavy metal for societal ills on an individual/micro level.

Applying this to the situation in England, I’m guessing that greater cultural norms had a significant impact on the social landscape of the country. Considering that the pejorative term “mosher” even exists to describe anyone who is a member of the subcultures being discussed in this article – I’d say that’s a pretty safe bet. The negative mainstream cultural connotations attributed to metalheads and goths (and others) can be seen as both an indirect and a direct cause of these brutal hate crimes. This sort of hatred didn’t come out of thin air – it’s a logical conclusion that a similar societal pattern existed in England to the one in the United States that led to where we are today.

So, the legacy of Sophie Lancaster is best exemplified through the Sophie Lancaster Foundation – which is focused on creating respect for and understanding of subcultures within communities.

Moving Forward

I would argue that there is a responsibility on behalf of the global community of such subcultures (metalheads included) to not only remember such horrible events, but to recognize societal patterns that have proven historically to lead to this sort of violence and intolerance.

Because it’s not limited to England and the United States (or Christianity) – I recently wrote a piece dealing with a situation in Romania where the church has caused a stir in the local community.

darkfuneralconvo

After receiving the blessing (sic) of Lord Ahriman of Dark Funeral to use some of what he was saying/reporting on in the area, I wrote a piece detailing how the a Russian Orthodox Priest had petitioned the local government in protest of Dark Funeral’s recent concert in the area. the government, in turn, issued a vocal statement that they would allow the priest to decide who did or did not play at public venues in the area.

The problem with this is that in similar instances across the globe where a particularly fundamentalist religious population enlists and is granted government aide to strip a group of citizens of their rights leads to a societal marginalization that can (and has) led to individual incidents of violence against people of that particular group. And metal culture has been proven to be particularly susceptible to this around the world.

Whether it’s in Africa, South America, Latin America, the US, Europe, Russia, China, Malaysia, India, or anywhere else on the globe – it’s good for people to be aware that this sort of thing can and does happen.

Metalhead response to what happened to Sophie Lancaster has been a global phenomenon – it got a dialogue going where it was urgently needed, there have been metal festivals dedicated to her, Bloodstock Open Air has a stage dedicated to her, charity shows for the Sophie Lancaster foundation, a charity album, and most importantly – social change via legislation that classifies subculture abuse as a hate crime. And it’s something that, almost a decade later, still resonates with people on a very human level.

I think it’s safe to say this is, globally, something worth supporting.

 

Cellphone Use at Metal Shows is an Abuse of Privilege – Quit Ruining the Show for Everyone Else

First off, I’m not saying cellphones should be banned from metal shows. That would be ridiculous. There’s always going to be a situation where someone might need to leave their phone on (emergencies, etc).

Secondly, I’m not saying people shouldn’t be allowed to snap a few pictures or record a song or two. That’s an awesome keepsake – and every time you watch it, it’ll bring you back to the experience.

But I am saying that cellphone use during concerts is a privilege – not a right. I get it, you paid for your ticket. You know who else did? Everyone else at the show. Meaning you’re on the same playing field as everyone else.

For anyone whining that people on cellphones at a concert are probably in the middle of an emergency – both you and I know that’s a load of shit. If it’s enough of an emergency that you need to use your cellphone, it’s enough of an emergency to give up your spot in the front row at a concert. 99% of people on cellphones at shows are texting or doing shit on Facebook.

And using the possibility of an emergency to justify texting a buddy during the middle of a song while you’re in the front row is an abuse of privilege. You can’t use cellphones at pretty much any other public entertainment venue (well, maybe a circus) – you’ll get banned.

This sort of abuse of privilege is why companies like apple are developing technology to stop cellphone use at events altogether.  And frankly, the only people who are to blame for this are the entitled shitheads who feel it is their god-given right to do whatever they want at a show because they paid good money.

If you drink too much at a show, you’ll get kicked out. If you start a fight at a show, you’ll get kicked out. If you get caught doing illegal drugs at a show, you’ll get kicked out. In general, if you’re disruptive and cause others to lose out on the concert experience you’ll get kicked out. So no, you don’t get to do whatever you want at a metal show.

As a matter of fact, that’s the attitude that’s literally going to ruin it for everyone who uses their phones courteously. If you care so much about the right to use a phone during an emergency, don’t act like a twat and make it so that people can’t use their phones at all.

And don’t ruin it for the people standing behind you – nobody who paid the same amount for concert tickets as you should be forced to watch the show through your fucking cellphone. How about the artists? Since people started downloading music, live shows are a big part of the reason they can stay in the music business. If you’re broadcasting the show, people have even less reason to go to the concert themselves. They paid for all the lighting and special effects, not to mention the wages of the roads crew and whatever other expenses go into making a show. Show a little fucking respect.

Corey Taylor (Slipknot) and David Draiman (Disturbed) were exactly right to call people out on using cellphones during their shows. I’ll take this one further – they are exactly the right people in the metal community to be doing this. Bands like Slipknot, Disturbed, 5 finger Death Punch, and the like are what I like to refer to as “starter metal bands.”

Nobody starts off listening to Second Wave Black Metal or Technical Brutal Slamming Death Metal – they start off listening to metal that’s easily accessible. Mainstream metal, if you will. Eventually, that isn’t heavy enough for them anymore, so they move on to the heavier “underground” stuff. This makes the “start metal bands” the perfect people to instruct people on how to act – like when Ivan Moody from 5 Finger Death Punch stopped his entire show in Albany to call out someone who was being a deuchbag in the pit. That way, when people start going to more underground style shows, they already know how to act.

And there are always exceptions to the rules – if you’re filming a set for a local band, this obviously doesn’t apply to you.

Does Metal have unwritten rules?

Short answer – yes.

Well, sort of. More like communally agreed to conventions of behavior that have developed over decades. These aren’t ironclad rules (well, mosh-pit etiquette certainly is), there’s no police force that’s going to enforce it. These are things that metalheads recognize as common cultural norms, and choose to practice as a way to show solidarity within and to the culture.

The unwritten rules are codes of conduct to observe during a show/festival. And a lot of them are just common sense, and apply to any live show you go to. But some of them are pretty specific to metal, and if you don’t know them you might get a few funny looks when you go to a show.

This list has been a little while in the making. A big shout out to the members of Metalheads United Interactive, Metalhead Alliance, my own group Metal Stuff. And a big thanks to my buddy Raven at The Vault of Metal for getting the conversation going over a year ago, and then inviting me onto his radio show to discuss it on-air.

Rules for everyone; 

Shows-

  1. Wear black. At least a black shirt. And if you have the option, wear a band shirt. They’re generally black, and the reason this rule exists.
  2. Don’t wear a shirt from the band you’re going to see, including the concert shirt you just purchased. This is huge – and a lot of people seem confused about it when they first hear it. It’s a logical thing to assume that wearing this shows support for the band – but stop and think about it for a second. You already paid for a ticket, and are in the presence of a group of people who are doing the same. You obviously support the band. All this does is make you look like a fan boy/girl, and nobody likes a fan boy/girl. Don’t be “that guy.” Wait till after the show to throw on your concert shirt, or put it on underneath what you’re wearing if you don’t feel like holding on to it. (exceptions: if it’s Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, or one of those legendary bands you’re fine wearing a shirt with their logo on it. Festivals are also an exception, sometimes it’s almost impossible to avoid wearing a shirt from every band on the bill). EDIT: This seems to be an American behavioral convention – and apparently doesn’t translate as much in other countries.
  3. Don’t wear a band shirt from one of the headliner’s previous bands. This one is a little less strict than the first two rules, and it’s more of a courtesy thing. You’re there to support what the artists are currently doing, not their previous accomplishments. Examples would include no Pantera shirts at a Down show (or a Hellyeah show), No The Agonist or Nevermore shirts at an Arch Enemy show, No Cannibal Corpse shirts at a 6 Feet Under show, etc.
  4. Don’t wear a band patch/shirt if you’re not familiar with the band. This is just a given, but this is a list of the unwritten rules so it makes the cut.
  5. Don’t expect to be in the same spot for the duration of the show. A crowd is a fluid thing, and chances are (especially at a metal show) people are going to be moving around a lot. This also means nobody is going to “save your spot” if you have to go take a piss, grab a beer, smoke a cig, etc. The only way to really guarantee you’re going to have the same spot for the duration of the show is to get there early and get one of the spots at the very front near the stage.
  6. Proper footwear is a good idea. Leather/steel toe boots aren’t really a fashion statement in metal, they’re just practical. Like I said before, the crowd is constantly moving. Chances are your feet are going to get stepped on. A lot. Steel toe/leather boots make the entire concert a lot more enjoyable.
  7. Wear clothing that lets you move around. You might notice a lot of dudes in looser jeans or cargo shorts – there’s a reason for that. If you end up moving around a lot (you probably will) or in the pit mobility is a very good thing. Call me crazy, but skinny jeans or sweatpants seem like they’d restrict your mobility. And after a few hours I’d imagine they get rather uncomfortable.
  8. As much as some people don’t like them, a wallet chain comes in awfully handy at shows. The risk of it getting caught on something is there, but I’d rather get caught for a second or two than lose my wallet in the pit. Mine’s served me well for over 16 years – I highly recommend them.
  9. If you’re wearing a lot of spikes and studs, be conscious of your surroundings. Yeah, they’re fucking cool. No, getting hit in the face with them isn’t cool. A lot of venues ban then because they’re considered weapons (bullshit), so if you have the privilege of wearing them by all means don’t ruin it for everyone else.
  10. Don’t sing along unless the lead singer asks the audience to do so (I’m guilty of this one, and from the look on the singer’s face I have a terrible singing voice).
  11. Don’t buy anything from the merch booth till after the show. Seriously, holding all that shit gets uncomfortable, and takes away for your ability to enjoy the show. It’s fine to scope it all out beforehand – that way when you actually get up there to buy something you already know what you’re getting and can make your purchase and get out of the way as soon as possible. The people running the booth and the people behind you will be thankful. If I’m getting something like an exclusive tour vinyl, I’ll purchase it beforehand and ask them if they can hold onto it until after the show – that way everyone wins. Also, tip the vendors.
  12. Do NOT buy a cheap knockoff shirt from the dude in the parking lot after the show. the price might be right, but you’re fucking the band over and you’ll look like a tool every time you wear the shirt. Don’t be “that guy.”

Ladies-

  1. Avoid wearing a dress. It’s a disaster waiting to happen at a metal show, especially if you’re trying to get up close to the stage. It’s not for any sexist reasons, it’s not to try and make women conform to male stereotypes, it’s just common sense. Because you’re going to be awfully uncomfortable if someone accidentally bumps into you and you do a “graceful” spread eagled face-plant. I would wager, in fact, it would be more uncomfortable than wearing pants.
  2. If a guy keeps bumping into you or trying to get you into the pit and you’re not keen on participating, keep an elbow up or a hand out and let him know vocally.
  3. Sometimes, due to the fact that the crowd is moving around, people will bump into you. But it’s pretty safe to say you’ll be able to tell the difference between someone accidentally brushing against you and someone groping/getting inappropriate. If a dude does something scummy, be very vocal about it.
  4. If vocalizing your dislike of certain behaviors doesn’t stop them from happening, rest assured that the dude standing next to you (in fact, pretty much all of them within range) will put a swift end to it. I’ve heard girls who have been into metal for years complain about scumbags at metal shows – you might be pleasantly surprised to find out just how little tolerance there is for this sort of behavior in the metal community.
  5. EDIT: I’ve had enough girls comment on this that I felt inclined to add another rule – no high heels under any circumstances.

In the pit –

  1. If someone falls down, pick them up immediately. This is the most important rule, no exceptions
  2. No hitting – it’s not a fight. Things happen, limbs flail – if you accidentally hit someone do a friendly gesture and apologize (flashing the horns and mouthing “sorry” over the music works). Chances are, they’ll forgive you. If not, step out for a bit and let them cool down.
  3. When you’re on the outside of a particularly violent pit, and you see someone trying unsuccessfully to get out, if you think you can handle it go and get them. They’ll appreciate it.
  4. If someone is seriously hurt, form a protective circle around them until help can get there. If necessary, send someone to speak to the nearest security guard – their job is the safety of the crowd, and they’ll know what to do.

In General –

  1. Know your shit. If you’re going to make a statement or talk in general about a band make sure you know what you’re talking about. This is another one of those things that should go without saying – there’s no shame in saying you’re not familiar with a band or album.
  2. Respect your elders. At the risk of sounding old – this is one that seems to get lost by the wayside with a lot of the newer influx of people into the metal crowd nowadays. Metal isn’t classified as a “youth subculture” because of the fact that metal doesn’t reject it’s elders. If you see some older dudes at a show, say hey or offer to buy them a fucking beer or something. Every single one of them has been a part of the scene and the culture for a long time. These are the dudes (and chics) who kept metal going through lawsuits, the satanic panic, congressional hearings, etc.
  3. Don’t bitch about metal culture. If you’re going to sit and whine about how they’re not a friendly group if you’re not wearing a black band t-shirt and cargo shorts, you’re in the wrong place. Metalheads are a global culture that’s almost 50 years old, and there are good reasons for every cultural norm. You’re not going to shock the system and start a social revolution by complaining about the group of people who invented social networking before the internet (I’m looking at you Shayne Mathis).

Also, Hardcore dancing/Two stepping/Practicing karate is not my favorite. It really depends on the show, but most places I go to discourage it. It’s about as cool as the shirtless white trash guy that ends up in the pit at every major show (we get it, you’re sweaty and overheated. Taking your shirt off won’t change that). Most people I talk to are either ambiguous about it or harbor a strong dislike of the practice. If other people are doing it and it floats your boat, whatever. I just hope it disappears like Grunge or Hair metal.

Quit Your Bitching: Metal Elitists are the Reason Your Precious Genre Has Any Integrity

First and foremost, let me get a few things out of the way. We might not have the same definition of metal elitism. And that’s fine. One of the beautiful things about metal culture is that it’s not beholden to corporate control – meaning each fan has the opportunity (and responsibility) to define heavy metal for themselves. And this definition will more than likely change and expand the longer you’re a fan.

Before we go any further – let’s set some definitions so we’re all on the same page, and know what I’m speaking about when I use a term.

  • Heavy Metal – (noun) A type of highly amplified, harsh sounding rock-based music with a strong beat and a heavy emphasis on bass. Characteristically uses violent or fantastic imagery.
  • Metal Fan – (noun) A person who enjoys listening to Heavy Metal
  • Metalhead – (noun) A metal fan who completely immerses themselves in the heavy metal culture and lifestyle. Also referred to as a “lifer”.
  • Metal Purist/Elitist – (noun) A metalhead who will heavily criticize bands (and social aspects of) metal culture that do not meet their personal definitions of what is acceptable. Opinions are often based on popular opinions within the greater metal culture.
  • Asshole – (noun) An irritating or contemptible person.
  • Poser – (noun) A person who pretends to be something they’re not, for the express purpose of impressing other people.
  • Corporate Music Industry – (noun) A group of assholes who happen to have money, and are in the business of selling music and related memorabilia. See Poser and Asshole.

So, what’s the real difference between a metal fan and a metalhead?

OK so, you’re welcome to disagree with me on this. You’d be incorrect, but it’s a free country so go for it. As a metalhead who’s immersed himself in the music and the culture for 20+ years, I’ve come to use the term “metalhead” to refer to a very specific group of people.

Now there’s nothing wrong with simply being a fan – the majority of heavy metal listeners and cultural participants are. Quite the opposite, being a metal fan is a very good thing, as I’m sure any metal fan will tell you.

But for a small percentage of people within heavy metal culture, being a fan is simply not enough. You cross a line and immerse yourself in the music, and in turn the culture. Metal finds it’s way into nearly every aspect of your life. It can be a blurry line to cross, and generally speaking the only person who can really say whether you’re a metal fan or a metalhead is yourself.

What sets heavy metal culture apart from other sub-cultures? First and foremost the music. Without heavy metal, there are no metal fans and there are no metalheads. Secondly, the insular nature of the culture. Because of it’s purposeful lack of marketable mass appeal – heavy metal is a music that is sustained by the participants in the culture. The more a person immerses themselves in the culture, the more they do to support it and keep it going.

So, by definition, a metalhead would be more integral to the metal community and culture simply because they do more and participate more in the culture. There’s actually a sociological term for this phenomenon, it’s called mundane sub-cultural capital. Mundane sub-cultural capital is accumulated by participation in the subculture itself. It’s intangible and difficult to earn – but with it comes credibility. There’s one other type of sub-cultural capital, but as it does not apply to this particular topic we will not be discussing it.

A little history lesson for your bitch ass.

Context breeds clarity, And the main purpose of this writing is to clarify a few things. So, on to the history books. For those readers too young to remember, there was a genre of metal that was 100% music industry created and maintained. We call it “Hair Metal.” And for a period of time, it helped make metal the most popular form of music on the planet. But because it was so strictly defined and never deviated from the industry formula, it defined it’s own mortality and died off. The killing stroke was with the rise of the new industry clone – Grunge. With the advent of grunge, metal was declared dead. And hair metal (and therefore “popular metal”) really was dead.

So who kept metal going when mainstream culture announced it was dead? Oh wait, the metalheads. The elitists. The Purists. The people who knew that the industry couldn’t destroy what it didn’t create, and are directly responsible for you being able to listen to real metal that has artistic integrity and is unbeholden to corporate bureaucracy.

So, what does all of this mean?

By defining what a metal elitist/purist is, we’re better able to see just who someone is really attacking when they make an all-encompassing claim like, “Metal Elitism is out of control” or, “Fuck Metal Elitists.” By making claims like this, all you’re really doing is insulting the people who have, through participation, helped make it possible for you to listen to, play, and enjoy the music you love without corporate music industry intervention. In other words, they’re keeping out the real assholes.

A common mistake people make is confusing the term “metal elitist” with the more accurate “asshole metal fan”. An asshole metal fan, for the purpose of this article, is an asshole who happens to like heavy metal. Seems simple enough. We’ve all met one or read one of their comments on the internet. In fact, I believe these people are the intended targets of public criticism of “metal elitists.” I hate to be the one to break the news, but there are assholes in every walk of life. Including metal culture. That’s just an inevitable fact of life.

Now, can a metal elitist be an asshole? Sure. And when presented with an unsubstantiated or uneducated statement about heavy metal, there’s a very good chance the metal elitist in question might come across like an asshole. But you know what? If you tell an expert on classical music that a particular song comes from the Baroque period, and it doesn’t, they will most likely correct you and come across as an asshole. So you might not like it, but chances are they’re right. This leaves you, really, with two options. You can either a) suck it up and learn your shit or b) whine about it on the internet and get people to throw you a pity party because someone disagreed with you.

Which brings me to another point – not everyone who challenges your metal knowledge or integrity is an asshole. This has been a part of metal culture for a long time. Everyone who’s been around the block knows that when someone in the metal community challenges you, the proper thing to do is make an educated response defending your interests and musical taste. At face value this might seem like a cruel thing to do, but there’s a purpose to it. If you’re wearing a band shirt, or have a patch from a band on your jacket, or you’re talking about a band like you’re knowledgeable about them – you better know what you’re fucking talking about. Band t-shirts and other memorabilia are the universal means of communicating participation in the metal culture. If you’re wearing a band shirt, and you can’t even defend what you like about them to a person, you might want to ask yourself if you really like them. If you are able to make a solid argument for what you like about the band and why, the person will always back down. It’s literally an ongoing rite of passage within the metal community. And it’s a fool-proof way to weed out anyone not dedicated to the music. As such, once you’ve made your argument defending your personal taste you’ve gained a fair amount of sub-cultural capital, and in turn credibility. That’s just how it works.

And when you lay it out like that, anyone who’s been active in the metal scene for any significant amount of time will certainly agree that it’s a good thing. Or at very least, a necessary evil. Does it get annoying? Sure. You know what’s more annoying? Posers and try-hards who are only there because they think it makes them “cool” or see it as a way to piss off their parents, but in reality barely like the music.

OK, I think that’s enough on this particular topic. In closing, if you have a problem with assholes who happen to like metal – join the fucking club. We all hate them. It doesn’t make you special, and you’re not making some groundbreaking observation that’s going to revolutionize the genre. You’re just a self entitled little shit who wants attention and got their feelings hurt. And if you hate true metal elitism, you can fuck right off and suck a chode.

Tune in next time to find out why metal sub-genres are one of the most important things in modern metal, and why not liking them makes you a fucking loser who’s completely wrong.

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