Black women in metal music scream “We Belong”


For Amy Love and Georgia South, members of nu metal duo Nova Twins, following the book was never an option when it came to forging their path as musicians. “We didn’t fit the conventional standard of what it was like to be a rock band at that time,” Love told Elite Daily. “It was always like, ‘Where do we put you?’ There was always something: they were told they weren’t “rock enough” because they “sounded” more hip-hop. Meanwhile, the duo have also been shunned by their own peers. “When we started, the black community didn’t necessarily accept us,” Love says. “We fell into the cracks,” she adds.

At its heart, the hardcore rock and metal genres are more than music – they tell visceral stories from a sharp point of view; the perfect outlet for emotional release from anger, despair and more. For young black women in the industry, this music offers emotional catharsis in a culture that too often demonizes their anger. Instead, they use gender to defy expectations and create a space where emotional intensity is not only desired but obligatory. “It’s just nice to have a safe space to vent your frustrations and aggressions,” Love says. “That’s why people want to go to rock concerts, because they want to let go and feel something. After.”

These are stories we have never heard before.

While the phrase “metalhead” may conjure up images of greasy-haired white dudes in Slayer t-shirts, the actual face of the genre is far more diverse – especially amid a veritable revival of angst among metalheads. Gen Z listeners. On apps like TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram, artists and fans can circumvent institutionalized music industry norms by creating their own platforms. While the black and brown voices of rock and metal have often been pushed aside, TikTok users are ensuring artists of color see the spotlight by using hashtags like #BlackAlt, #AltPOC and #BlackGoth, which have amassed over 365 million combined views. . Meanwhile, growing social movements have drawn attention to systemic racism across the country, a backdrop of social change that these artists are exploring through their music.

“The scene right now is so well set that people can express themselves in so many different styles,” says Ashanti Mutinta, a Zambian-Canadian rapper and producer who writes about her experiences as a black trans artist under the name Backxwash scene. “I think it’s so great because these are stories that we’ve never heard before.”

As of August 2022, none of the metal and hardcore bands listed on the iTunes Top 100 Heavy Metal Albums chart are fronted by women of color. And according to a 2018 study from Erasmus University Rotterdam, rock fans rate musicians differently based on non-musical traits, such as gender, race and ethnicity. The researchers found that listeners were much less likely to see black women in hardcore music genres as rock artists, and more likely to see them as “temporarily acting like metal.”

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According to Laina Dawes, ethnomusicologist at Columbia University and author of the 2012 book What are you doing here? The Life and Liberation of a Black Woman in Heavy Metal, the emotional catharsis is the most critical part for artists and audiences. “People are drawn to certain genres of music,” she told Elite Daily. “One of the main important things is the anger, aggression and energy that heavy metal, extreme punk and hardcore [music genres] have.” And in these extreme genres, Dawes notes, people feel free to explore some of their most complex feelings.

“I’ve always been very expressive and needed avenues like art and music to express my feelings,” notes Audrey Campbell, a Texas-based vocalist for garage-punk project Pleasure Venom. “Pleasure Venom gives me that: an outlet, having a safe place to work, like my misfortunes and my frustration with the system,” she adds. “Living as a black woman, my experiences, my fucking sanity, I need it.”

Even in a genre where personal emotions are an essential part of musical creation, black women are still watched to express themselves. “I don’t see myself as anything more than a conduit when it comes to this art shit,” Campbell wrote in a July 21 tweet. “Racism and assumptions about a black woman create [from] a vulnerable space frightens you. Period,” she added. “My creative expression is F*CKING VALID.”

If you’re denying someone else’s existence just because they’re themselves, then surely that’s not fair.

While music (especially rock music) has never been politically neutral – take the barrage of anti-Vietnam War music in the 1970s – black female artists seem to receive a disproportionate amount of criticism for sharing their opinions, and even their most basic emotions and experiences can be considered a political position. “We are talking about social policy. We say what we see, how we see it,” Love says, noting how much of their new album, Supernova, was influenced by the civil unrest amid the Black Lives Matter movement. The song “Antagonist” itself is an anthem dedicated to combat in the face of adversity, including the possibility of justified violence. “If you’re denying someone else’s existence just because they’re themselves, then surely that’s not fair.”

“Our existence is inherently political,” says Mutinta. The lyrics to her 2021 single “Terror Packets” describe the pressure to fit into transphobic and racist social norms and the unhealthy coping mechanisms she’s turned to. Even when his art isn’t meant to look political, Mutinta says, “there’s always a semblance of politics, because our existence is.”

By using music to express their issues with lived experiences – which often include a great deal of racism, sexism and transphobia – black artists shift the perspective from a generally gracious perspective toward white people to one that is inherently critical. According to Maureen Mahon, cultural anthropologist at New York University and author of Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll, the resulting setback has a lot to do with disrupting that status quo. “If white people criticize” against racism, says Mahon, “the public can identify with the singer and [think]’Oh, I’m on the same wavelength.’ However, if that same critique is made by a black artist, “that identification may not occur for white audience members…in the same way, or at all.”

Highlighting these experiences can lead to repression. The metal genre, in particular, is known to have a problem with white supremacy within its fan base. “There are a lot of people who are afraid of getting beat up at shows,” Dawes says. When far-right militia groups began gathering in his own Brooklyn neighborhood, Dawes did not feel comfortable going to certain metal venues, as there may have been white supremacist activity there. -down. “You didn’t know what was going to happen to you at a show,” she said. “You can’t visually tell who holds this ideology and who doesn’t.”

For black artists in these hostile environments, success is much harder to achieve. “There’s this concerted effort to racially separate musical genres,” Dawes adds. Many black musicians, she adds, “just [know] they won’t just be shaken up when they go on tour or play.

The Nova Twins have seen this play out in their own careers. “When we were playing festivals, we would often look around and say, ‘Wow, we’re really the only black people here,'” South explains. They were also often the only women at their concerts. “We thought, ‘OK, this is where it’s at. We’re just going to put on the best show we can and rehearse hard. Because we know 90% of the time they hadn’t seen a band like us play live.

But over the years, Love and South have seen the scene become more diverse than it has ever been before. “[We’re] seeing people finally be able to identify with themselves, try things out and experiment,” says Love. “So get together, find your community, find friends, get involved and lift each other up,” she adds. South intervenes. “We take over the scene, and we belong here.”


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