I am tired of seeing articles scurrying across my social media feeds complaining about a lack of minority presence in the punk and metal scenes. With all the underground music I’ve witnessed in both rural and urban communities for the past decade, I can’t believe that all we have to show for it is mainstream reports that my being in the crowd with my friends isn’t enough.
How is it that writers are quick to forget the Black women music enthusiasts that actually attend shows and support bands? My younger sister and I grew up in midwestern suburbs listening to any style of rock we could get our hands on. She had her life band and I had mine. For us a life band consisted of every album of one artist played on repeat everyday at anytime until the weekend when we might jam on new artists we’d heard about at school. Due to the high frequency of attending the live performances of these bands, we were able to dedicate half of our lives to only wearing clothes that represented them.
Fans like us are about the music first. It’s never mattered whether we are the only women of color (W.O.C.) in the room when our bands are performing. It doesn’t even matter if the musicians are weird about us being there, in front of the stage dancing and moshing to the guitar solos. The music is more important than any of that. We have found acceptance in the metal community, sharing in good times with friends, misfits and outcasts like us.
In an industry where most bands fail to make it past 5 years together, its been important to let them know that we like what they do. We support bands through buying merch, chatting with them after shows, and providing words of encouragement with little care packages of snacks for the road. We understand the touring experience and how strenuous and lonely it can be, to travel so far from home for your art. Coming from a rural area, we were always grateful that bands bothered to book spaces near our town, instead of only in the major cities.
I love all kinds of live music and attend as many shows across genres as I can manage on a weekly basis. Opera, country, Irish fiddle or jazz, but at heart I’m a metalcore girl and I can headbang to riff breakdowns for hours. I see a lot more crowd and musician diversity at the shows I attend these days than I used to when I was younger, but for me it has barely mattered.
From my perspective the arguments of metal or punk failing to resolve American inequalities regarding race, class or sexuality is problematic on a number of fronts. One of my key concerns is the community aspect of these music subcultures and how physically limiting they truly are to reaching audiences outside of their local scene. People aren’t performing, dating or attending music spaces that overlap much. That’s why festivals like Afropunk fest, Riotfest, Warped Tour, and Lollapalooza push for dynamic artist lineups that challenge sub-genres to mingle.
I will never forget standing in the Deftones crowd at Lollapalooza, 2011 all serious face with my sister, as the more preppy crowd made its way past us to the Cee Lo Green stage. They looked scared. Our crowd stood in solidarity at what was about to go down at our stage. We shared secret smiles and began stretching for the approaching moshes and crowd surfs. Those preppy onlookers soon learned that the metal experience was a whole other kind of happy.
The segregation among the music scenes can improve, but it will take time and effort to communicate across the divide. Luckily DIY culture is on our side. When I publish my quarterly zine #blkgrlswurld the first (and likely last) folks to get a printed copy are close friends and family. No matter how open a band wants to be to sharing their passion for music with everybody, that simply isn’t going to happen when their network is limited and promotion efforts are localized.
I am a Black metalcore girl residing in Harlem and when I want to see a metal show on the weekend I have to jump on the subway for at least an hour to make it to Brooklyn for anything remotely hardcore. (Post-hardcore seems to keep a presence near NYU, which I find interesting). Now, there may very well be some metalcore going down in Harlem some-damn-where, but I haven’t found it yet, and it will take me awhile to find it because of the limitations of my personal network. I simply have more friends in Brooklyn than I do in Harlem. I would love to share my interests with other communities, but I work with the connections I have and hope to expand this network over time.
Early 1990s Punk moments in history like Riotgrrrl, continue to be a cultural reference point for many because someone in that scene documented what the hell was going on at the time. In my experience Black voices and perspectives are less often known because our access to documenting or archiving our experiences has historically been limited by layers of oppression.
However, when it comes to our experiences in underground music in 2014 this is bullshit. Every time I attend a rock show someone is waving a big funky smartphone in the air trying to take the perfect picture or record video for a jagged little Vine or Snapchat ditty. Do we ever see those photos later on Tumblr? Instagram? Twitter? Facebook?! Any public domain? Nowhere motherfucker, those images go nowhere past that person’s inner-circle and that’s the real problem here.
As Black women who love rock music this is our time to document and articulate what we are doing and why–not for the mainstream and not for fucking outsiders.
It’s for ourselves so we can find each other!
In attending Afropunk fest in Brooklyn this year it reaffirmed my belief that the number of diverse metal heads and punk rockers in the scene continues to expand. I met all sorts of beautiful people, each unique and passionate about self expression through music. We need to keep this kind of energy going year-round. It will take effort and intent for us to become more visible to each other across music sub-genres and underground communities, but I believe it is worth it.
For those of us making zines or blogging about our favorite bands, document and share as much as you can. Flood Tumblr with the greatest moments of a basement show from last Saturday that went down in the warehouse district at 1am. Don’t let your experiences in music remain only among your closest friends when the culture is desperate for your voice. Let your freak flag fly free! Where the fuck are you?
Written by Christina L.