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‘A WoC in the metal scene is rarer than a shooting star’: why metal isn’t for the masses

16 Feb 2017

As an avid fan of music, you can regularly find me at gigs singing along (badly) and having the time of my life. But when it comes to metal shows, I’m always struck with one thought: where have all the other people of colour suddenly disappeared to? One of the largest metal concerts I’ve ever had the good fortune of attending was Judas Priest in Paris over a year ago. This was an arena show with thousands of people in the audience, and yet I couldn’t spot a single other PoC. Even as I think back to all the gigs I’ve gone to in the UK, both grassroots and bigger bands, almost everyone at these shows has been white. Every now and again I might glimpse a fellow “outsider” way over on the other side of the venue, but these people, myself included, have usually come with their white friends.

It’s not that other fans within the metal community have ever made me feel like an outcast for being a PoC, but at times it’s inevitable due to the obvious lack of those also from minority groups. Coming from an Indian background, perhaps one of the most notable explanations for this scarcity is due to the undeniable stigma surrounding metal music perpetuated by minority cultures and communities themselves. “The Devil’s music” and “white man’s music” are only a few of the terms associated with the genre as coined from the mouths of my conservative elders. Associating metal with the devil, well, that’s a fairly harmless opinion. But the latter expression is downright insulting – where has this concept come from that metal belongs to white males? By this logic, the music has not only been racialised to become exclusive to whites, but gendered to belong specifically to men. I guess this explains why a WoC in the metal scene is rarer than a shooting star.

At times, it feels like being a WoC as well as a metal fan requires me to compromise on my identity. There is a strong tendency to associate metal with white musicians and fans, and discredit non-white fans as “coconuts”. This term serves to undermine my status as a PoC purely because of my music choice. I have even had people go so far as to proclaim on my behalf that I listen to metal to gain acceptance from white people. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I listen to the music for just that, the music. To claim that any particular race has a particular priority or stake in the genre is absurd. Music shouldn’t be exclusive, its beauty derives from its ability to unite.

There has been the occasional incident, however, of racist and divisive behaviour from prominent figures within the metal scene; in 2016, video footage emerged of Phil Anselmo, former lead vocalist of legendary metal band Pantera, performing a Nazi salute and screaming “white power” at the end of one of his shows. Behaviour such as this from such an esteemed musician is damaging due to the racist attitude it projects onto its listeners and its assertion that PoC don’t belong.

In the future, I hope to see a change in the metal scene, not just in terms of fans of the genre and members of the crowd, but including musicians on stage whose visibility will consequentially encourage more PoC to engage with this type of music. Bands like letlive. are paving the way for this with half of the band boasting African-American roots, using their platform to raise awareness of prevalent issues like the Black Lives Matter movement through their music. Addressing the problems that affect PoC specifically helps to open up metal to minority groups, inciting them to listen. I hope 2017 will be the year that the stigma around PoC in metal is broken. After all, there is no one way to be a person of colour.