Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Skinny Jeans and Blast Beats

Let’s play a quick game.  It won’t take long, and it won’t be hard.  Here’s how it will work: I’m going to ask you a question, you think of the answer, and then we see if you’re right or not.  Sounds fun, right?  Let’s give it a whirl.  Who won the World Series in 1984? Did you say the Detroit Tigers?  If you did, you were right.  Here’s another one, just for kicks: Which came first, Blackwater Park or LeviathanBlackwater Park you say? My, you’re good at this.  Ok, enough practicing, let’s break out the real deal.  What’s a name for a sub sect of society that is pretentious, overbearing, and spiteful toward those who think differently about pop culture than they, dresses in a manner deemed to be “weird” to the mainstream, and often views music, movies, et al in terms of absolutes rather than subjectively?  Cue the “Jeopardy” theme… ok.  Got your answers?  Raise your hand if you said “hipsters.”  Well that’s cute, and somewhat accurate, but it’s not what I was going for.

The word I was looking for is “metalhead.”

Yep, I’m lumping myself, along with my pals Mick and Jack and each and every one of you in with this vicious, soul-destroying group of people to whom “hipster” is the most damning of insult.  But think about it.  How many times have you tried to get a friend into Between the Buried and Me or Meshuggah, and no matter how hard you try, they don’t dig it.  Common responses: “Eh, it’s cool.  It’s not for everyone,” “Yeah, it took me awhile to get it too,” or even “It’s pretty dense stuff; you really have to listen to it to get it.”  Read those responses to yourself, and then say them out loud.  At best they're slightly condescending, and at worst they ooze with pretentiousness the way condensation drips off a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon on a hot day. If you don’t want to punch yourself in the mouth hearing those words come out of it, then I don’t know if there’s hope for anything.

Cheap beer > Taste buds

The impetus for this essay/rant came from reading a review of a black metal band’s new album.  In the review, the writer made a comment about the genre of black metal becoming “hipster,” pointing to Wolves in the Throne Room as an example of this (full disclosure: I love WitTR).  It hit me as I read this that “hipster” was a being used as a synonym of "trendy," and being viewed as something beneath what metal (and by extension metalheads) should aspire to be.  As though a band being labeled a “hipster metal” band would equal a fate worse than anything, even selling out.  Think about it: Everyone knows and accuses Metallica of selling out, but no one calls them a hipster band, so the two aren’t the same.  I decided to turn to that oracle of knowledge, the internet, in an effort to understand this idea more.

After a few Google searches, the following bands were revealed to be hipster metal: Wolves in the Throne Room, Mastodon, ISIS, Sun 0))), Gojira, Opeth, The Sword, Baroness, High on Fire, and Meshuggah.  All of these are bands that have a modest to impeccable level of success, have been listed as influences to other bands, and have been covered by Pitchfork or NPR.  They also happen to be some of my favorite bands, so maybe I’m just a hipst… dammit, I almost did it.  I don’t really think it’s the success bit, since even the most metal of metalhead listened to Metallica after Master of Puppets.  No, where I really think the problem lies is within the coverage of metal by outlets such as Pitchfork and NPR.  As much as metal fans want other people to listen to the music they love, the idea of anyone else, let alone two news outlets with huge audiences, show “their” bands to the world is tantamount to blasphemy.  These are OUR bands, that WE’VE listened to for years, and if you think you can just enjoy their fifth album and call yourself a FAN, then fuck off!  It’s really pretty ridiculous.  A big slight against hipsters, as I understand it, is their thinking something is cool because they were told it’s cool.  I’ll agree that that’s completely asinine, but there’s a huge difference in discovering something someone tells you is cool, liking it, and then thinking it’s cool than in thinking something is cool just because.

Nobody just becomes a fan of a band; they start listening after someone else was nice enough to introduce them to it.  No matter how much you love a band or an album, it isn’t “yours;” the memories and associations you have with it?  Sure, those are absolutely yours.  But having your own associations with certain music doesn’t preclude anyone else from having their own with the same music; after all, I’m fairly certain the guys in Stillwater aren’t the only ones to ever sing “Tiny Dancer” on a bus, and that Mr. Blonde isn’t the only guy to torture a cop to the tune of “Stuck in the Middle with You.”  And if Elton John and Stealers Wheel are ok with that, then why should it matter to fans of black metal that more people are discovering the genre?
This guy LOVES Deathspell Omega.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I wish the metal community was less exclusionary.  I wish we didn’t look down on other people’s music and instead just focused on enjoying the music we’ve fallen in love with.  If anything, we should want MORE people to like metal, because it’s completely fucking awesome and a lot of people could use more completely fucking awesome in their lives.  We shouldn’t be selfish and hog all the good music for ourselves because we think we’re cooler than everyone else.  That’s the kind of thing hipsters do.

- Durf


  1. Great post.

    I'm sick of all of the fucking rules metal heads are supposed to follow. Elitism destroys music. I don't give a fuck what band someone listens to. I don't give a fuck what other people think of my musical tastes. I'm too bloody old for that kind of thinking.

    I was at a Marduk show and Moonspell opened up. All the elitists went outside because only poseurs and hipsters listen to Moonspell according to them. I stayed to check them out and, admittedly, I got bored and went outside after a few songs. But I still gave them a chance. I didn't immediately throng with the elitists just because they all said "this band sucks ass." They did suck some ass, but not that much. But that's beside the point.

    The point is: I'm not going to let anyone tell me what music is trve and what music sucks. I'm going to make up my mind for myself. Who cares if people like a band like Slipknot? How does that affect your enjoyment of your own music. If you're so hung up on who's a hipster and who's a poseur that you can't enjoy the show that's going on right in front of you, then you take yourself waaaaay too seriously.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Thanks for reading and the kind words; I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Your anecdote about the Marduk/Moonspell show hit the nail right on the head for me; you made the choice to give Moonspell a shot and didn't like them, forming your own opinion in the process instead of following the herd, so to speak. That's pretty much how I feel everyone should act toward music.

    Additionally, your comment about "rules" struck a chord with me as well. It's asinine that people feel the need to call others out as not being real fans, or posing, instead of just enjoying the music. I guarantee these same people would have a fit if anyone dared put down their music, so what gives them the right to do it to others?

  3. Though I agree with 90(maybe 99?)% of what you say here, I have a few small quips... The main one though is your suggestion that "Nobody just becomes a fan of a band; they start listening after someone else was nice enough to introduce them to it."... Well, that's a bit of a broad statement, that cannot be absolutely true! Let's begin with the fact that I am 32. I started listening to extreme metals, in 1988, at the age of 7. I was raised with good music, hard/progressive rocks.. Proto metals.. All that good stuff, so the only place left for me was the emerging extreme metals. I WAS initially introduced by a friends older brother. Back then, we didn't have internet access(I didn't even own a computer until close to grad, and didn't have internet until the same time! - 1997). Hell, I didn't even have friends that listened to metal, let alone extreme metal! Metal wasn't popular, hadn't been since the 80's. 80 - 90% of the bands I found, I found on my own, with NO ONE suggesting what bands to check out... It wasn't until around 2000 that I was even comforatable enough with the internet, to use it to help me find alot of these great bands! When the second wave of BM emerged, and I first heard of it at 11, going on 12('92/'93 - though many bands of the 'first wave' I already loved, but under the guise of a varriation of thrash), I had to search and find these bands myself! It was not easy back then either, to find underground music from Europe, here in North America, without the internet. Eventually, I would have penpals(yeah, remeber those!?), and the likes - send me tapes, which I would send them underground tapes from here - those would count as being "suggested", sure... But still, until around 2000, 80-90% of the bands I found, I had to find on my own. Your statement may be more true now, than it used to be... But I still find fallacy in it. That being said, it is a great article, and congrats for putting it onto paper!(err... screen!)

    1. I have read a ton about the metal scene in those days. I am a bit of a heavy metal historian and I learned a ton about other bands via lists, metal-archives, and Wikipedia initially. I did my research but it was much easier than the tape trading scenes and for that you should be commended sir!

    2. Wow, that is very impressive! As someone who often thinks that he'd be lost without the Internet, the fact that you were able to find all of those bands pre-Internet is just baffling to me (kind of like I have no idea how my parents wrote papers for college without it).

      I'll admit that my statement was a broad generalization, one that you've proven to be incorrect. A better way to put it would be "nobody just IS a fan of a band; they have to discover it and find something they like in it, before they reach the stage of "fan."" Or something similar.

      Know that you have my respect for how you found metal, as well as my apologies for my gross generalization. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      - Durf

  4. Well put Durf, I always try to get people into some of the music that I really like, friends and students alike. Does a student of mine ask me when the next Sodom album comes out? Does he tell me about how Death's Human changed his view of metal? Both of those are yes. It makes for good fodder and great musical discussion, so being a bit of a keeper of the keys is a good thing, sharing it is even better.