Centre for Women’s Studies and the International Society of Metal Music Scholars, University of York – 11th April 2014

Since the rising dawn of metallectualism, heavy metal scholars have acknowledged metal’s capacity to creatively explore forms of individualism, alterity and otherness. Further, metal frequently casts itself as a marginalised group in mainstream society, with fans and musicians often revelling in their outsider status which is reinforced by references to non-conforming traits (Satanism, for example). As self-proclaimed outsiders, a rhetoric of inclusion is frequently mobilised to establish an oppositional relationship against the ‘nasty’ and exclusionary mainstream. Yet, despite the significance of metal’s discursive construction as an inclusive space outside of the mainstream, the symbolic boundaries of metal are strictly policed. With the assertion of the labels ‘kvlt’ and ‘trve’ defining an authentic embodiment of black metal’s otherness, heavy metal’s borders are performatively marked and reified in its categorising terminology; in behavioural norms; through social relation and the organisation of scenic spaces. This contributes towards the establishment of a dominant framework of a classed/ gendered/sexualised/racialised identity, marking belonging to the ‘imaginary community’ of metal. Furthermore, postulations of metal as an ‘all-encompassing’ community would seem to be belied in the UK by the overwhelming whiteness, maleness and straightness of its participants, both on and off the stage.

This symposium seeks to address the spaces ‘in-between’ (Bhabha, 2004) metal’s boundaries of identification, exploring how metal does or does not accommodate groups that are marginsalised within its own community – the individuals negotiating metal’s edges: women; LGBTQ; ethnic minorities and others who do not fit the metal bill. Exploring the ‘cultural liminality’ (ibid) of metal, we want to examine how metal’s reliance on concepts of otherness often unites it aesthetically and ideologically, yet the alterity of minority discourses within metal appear to challenge its totality and solidity. We want to question how much space metal creates for alternative forms of alterity or otherness, furthermore, how the ideal of individualism plays out in symbolic practices that differentiate and mark the limits of community.

Further provocations may include:

  • What does it mean to exist on the edges of what is already exterior?
  • What does it mean to hold a minority identity in the space of metal?
  • Does the narrative of metal’s inclusivity have a basis in lived experience? Or are such groups tolerated rather than included?
  • How does the language used in metal’s discourses (e.g. genre terms) construct frameworks that include or exclude?
  • Encounters with racism at metal events
  • How does metal contribute to or confront frameworks of racialisation?
  • The use of sexism, racism and/or homophobia as shock tactic
  • How does extremity promote cultures of inclusivity or marginalisation?
  • Structural hegemonic whiteness, maleness and heterosexuality
  • Can the struggles at the margins be attributed more positively to understanding metal as an agonistic site, with contestation at its core?
  • Discourses of metal vs. the mainstream: a positive identification of marginalisation, the importance of alterity and the passion with which individual’s seek to position metal as alternative to the mainstream.
  • Being ‘trve’, belonging and the exchange of cultural/symbolic capital in metal scenes.
  • Metal as marginal – recent developments in policy: The Sophie Lancaster Foundation and the legal fight to protect alterity.

Any questions please email Caroline Lucas, Rosemary Lucy Hill and Gabrielle Riches (carolinelucas@hotmail.co.ukrlh504@york.ac.ukG.Riches@leedsmet.ac.uk).

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