In Defence Of Heavy Metal Music
Metal music has been misunderstood for much of its existence, so when earlier in the week popular radio shock jock Neil Mitchell launched into a tirade against the government giving a $20,000 grant to a local death metal band, we were hardly surprised.
In case you missed the story, Mitchell’s head nearly exploded when he found out that local death metal band OUROBOROS had received $20,000 in federal funding via a grant from the Australia Council.
Mitchell slammed the move as a waste of taxpayers money, insinuating that death metal music wasn’t even really music because it doesn’t have a melody. But let’s call it like it is.
This isn’t a debate about government waste, our tax dollars being flushed down the drain. If it was then Mitchell should be going after the government’s spending habits in other sections of the economy.
Because if he in fact had bothered to do any research, he’d realise the federal government’s total funding for the arts only represents about 0.64% of total government spending, or about 1.5 cents per Australian, per day, per year.
And if you take a festival like Soundwave, which has just under 200,000 Australians attend the festival each and every year, close to 1% of Australia’s population, and no doubt there a numerous fans out there in Australia who don’t attend or can’t, it means there’s a hell of a lot of heavy metal music fans out there in Australia.
For the federal government’s investment, the arts sector – which includes music, film, theatre, and traditional arts – creates about 30,500 jobs and now contributes over $30 billion annually towards Australia’s GDP – more than the contributions of the agriculture, forestry & fishing industries.
Yet, when we look at the spending habits of the federal government we find that in fact industries such as forestry and fishing receive far more money, despite their smaller size.
The Innovation and Investment Fund for instance, set up to help find displaced forestry workers new jobs and diversify the workforce, has been given more than $276 million, which makes the $20,000 given to OUROBOROS seem almost trivial.
But of course the money isn’t what we’re really talking about here, that’s just a convenient excuse. What we’re really seeing here is something metal music fans and musicians have been forced to deal with since day one – being pigeonholed as immoral, antisocial, and destructive.
You know, the kind of moral panic that would make the American pilgrims who burnt witches proud. Which is nothing short of complete and utter nonsense.
Yet it is a stigma that the genre has had difficulty shaking off, and despite Australia as a whole becoming increasingly liberal, there a members of the community who still deem it appropriate to marginalise a sub-culture simple because they don’t understand it.
Because Neil Mitchell isn’t alone, and while his insinuation that death metal music isn’t actual music is pretty offensive, we can’t really expect anything more from someone who makes a career out of dividing the community.
But we should expect more from our elected officials.
Metal music has also found itself under attack in Perth, where Claremont Council has just moved to pursue legal action against Soundwave Festival to prevent it from returning to Claremont Showgrounds.
Why wouldn’t the council want the city to be home to one of Australia’s biggest music events? “The benefits of such concerts are hopelessly outweighed by the intolerable noise, the late finish, the high level of criminal activity and general social misbehaviour in and outside of the grounds,” according to one of the councillors.
Which brings us to our next misconception, that live music, and in particular metal music, is somehow linked to criminality and antisocial behaviour, another load of garbage.
Because anyone who’s actually been to a heavy metal concert or similar will know that in fact the crowds are some of the most caring and well behaved lot around, something that unfortunately can’t be said for most crowd at similar sized dance events.
Not that the Neil Mitchell’s of the world would ever bother to find that out for themselves. Instead, they’d rather sit up in their ivory towers and talk about issues they actually know next to nothing about.
But heavy metal music has always had a rough time being accepted by the mainstream, and that’s kind of the point isn’t it?
The heavy association many members of the public and especially those of an older vintage attach to heavy music is of course satanism, a reputation born out of the theatrics and stage makeups of Alice Cooper, KISS, and others throughout the 60s and 70s and carried on today.
But while some heavy metal bands do have explicitly satanic lyrics, such as Slayer for instance, how many heavy metal musicians do we actually believe are antisocial satanists?
Go to your local church or listen to talk back radio and you’ll probably find many think the two are one and the same. Why else would a musician like Marilyn Manson be blamed for horrible crimes perpetrated people that are obviously sick?
But if you actually dive into the scene you’ll find that most bands play up the demonic angle because of shock value, and because it is emotionally resonant. But let’s not forget that modern day musicians are just as much performers as any theatre actor ever was.
The colourful and powerful imagery used by these musicians are usually metaphors, a simple way of packaging up ideas that are more about opposing the conventions of society than they are about worshipping satan or indulging in antisocial behaviour.
Meet with or speak to most metalheads and metal musicians and you’ll actually find they are not widely out of sync with the culture they live in, they just happen to like metal music.
We have to remember that nobody has ever established that listening to music, let alone metal music, causes any real harm. And just because we don’t understand something doesn’t make it any more or less art, and require any more or less talent.
Sure, we’ve never heard of OUROBOROS, but that’s why the Australia Council’s decision to grant them funding should be applauded as courageous, not hounded down as a waste of money.
Remember in 1973, the National Gallery of Australia purchased Jackson Pollock’s seminal work, Blue Poles, for $1.3 million – a record for contemporary American artwork at the time. The move elicited public outrage, with many declaring the money could have been better spent on more popular and mainstream artforms.
Today Blue Poles is widely recognised as one of the most savvy purchases in the art world, and while we’re not arguing that OUROBOROS is in some ways a modern music equivalent of Jackson Pollock, the similarities should give us pause for thought.
Because we are more in danger from the ignorance broadcast by people like Neil Mitchell, than we’ll ever be from heavy metal.