A manifesto for metal studies: putting the politics of metal in its place

Brown, A.R (2016) A manifesto for metal studies: putting the politics of metal in its place. In: Metal Music Studies, ISSMS Conference: Metal & Politics, 9 June 2016, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, UK.

Official URL: https://news.bournemouth.ac.uk/events/event/metal-...


As Phillipov has argued, sub/cultural academics have dismissed heavy metal music/fandom in the name of a cultural politics of value, condemning its political-lack as the cause/symptom of its gender/race essentialism/ exclusionism, whilst simultaneously performing/projecting a cultural tourism/gaze upon punk, hardcore, hip-hop, rap and EDM. In short, nobody wanted to be an egg-head-banger back in the mid-70s, in the first-wave of sub/cultural studies and championing of resistant-youth-styles, even less in the late 1980s/90s, when sub/cultural studies found a degree of academic-legitimacy, moving from class to gender, ethnicity and cultural-hybridity, not when there was post-punk, hip-hop, rap, EDM and indie, to project an aca-fan-identity/longing upon. Yet it is probable that we wouldn’t have Metal studies if it wasn’t for the pubic intervention of a few scholars who sought to defend this abhorred other against its political and social/psychological pathologizing as a sexist/deviant subculture, warts ‘n’ all in the case of Weinstein, and for Walser, via a musicology/cultural-politics that sought ‘neither to denounce or defend wholesale heavy metal’s politics of gender’ but to place it within its structural/cultural context of capitalist/hegemony/ patriarchy. So how was it possible for heavy metal to be political in this moment, perceived as a threat to rightwing/neo-liberal/morality/society, when the left-academic-avant-garde of sub/cultural theory had dismissed the genre and its fans countless times as bereft of any politics, diagnosing the symptom of its lack of value in its ‘lack of politics’? This paper seeks to reject the past-politics of sub/cultural theory and its account of music cultures, diagnosing these as a species of ‘classed-cultural’ projections of a radical object/project. Like rock critics, sub/cultural theorists project their longing/desires upon the music(s) they most admire, while seeking to guide its performers towards their political/aesthetic ideals. The reverse is they project their disappointment/disgust upon that which is seen to be the least amenable to their fantasies/desires. This is why heavy metal, seemingly devoid of any progressive politics/musical-aesthetics, has been dismissed/denigrated by academics/critics for over thirty-years. However, in the past-decade this has begun to change. From 2008 we have seen a series of conferences and a list-serve called Music, Metal and Politics; work that explicitly engages with the idea that metal – once apparently bereft of politics – is now seen to posses a politics in its refusal to ‘do politics’ in conventional ways; metal’s development of scenic-practices of ‘reflexive anti-reflexivity’ that insulate it against political divisions that threaten its unity, and metal as practising a ‘corporeal’ body-politics. So what has changed? A new generation of sub/cultural scholars have begun to recognise in the post(heavy)metal of extreme-metal-styles an aesthetic-sublime upon which they can both project their cultural/aesthetic capital – including the literary, the poetic, the post-structural – but also a fantasised-other of their own fandom. Against these two tendencies, both of which are located in a lack of analysis of class-habitus, this paper argues for a politics of conjunction/ articulation: that popular music cultures are political when they become the subject of political claims/desires or the object/other of fears. The role of the academic is therefore not to adopt the organic(aca-fan)intellectualism advocated by Nilsson, Kahn-Harris and others, but to recognise the classed-cultural relations that both connects/divides the intellectual/class/formation from its object of desire/disgust.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Divisions: Bath School of Art, Film and Media
Date Deposited: 25 Aug 2016 09:05
Last Modified: 05 Jan 2022 15:43
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/8115
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