2017, it’s the start of a brand new year. For most, it’s the time to crack on with those new years resolutions, but for some, it’s the anticipation of festival announcements. It’s hard to avoid them right now – Download, Bloodstock and Reading and Leeds have all announced at least one headliner, and with that comes the onslaught of the serial moaners, and metal fans are by far the worst.
If you ask the fans, metal has always been a controversial subject. It was a British thing, mostly, fronted by veterans Black Sabbath, but the genre was only really when Judas Priest burst onto the scene in 1979. And by the time Motörhead had dominated the charts, the music press had finally started to take notice – it was coined ‘The New Wave of British Heavy Metal’.
You’d expect it to be all plain sailing from there – new genre, new scene, exciting new bands – but the arrival of Californian rockers Van Halen in the 80s shook things up a bit. All of a sudden, metal had changed. Now it was all about it the image – sex, drugs and rock and roll. Hair metal evolved, and the scene was nothing short of promiscuous. Fans of the new wave were angry – their scene had become something purely about image, and very little of it seemed to be about the music.
But this, obviously, was not the last controversy in the metal scene. The genre evolves with each decade: the 90s brought grunge, the 00s brought nu metal and the 10s brought metalcore. And all of these periods have brought the same thing – elitism.
If you’re a part of the scene, it’s pretty hard to miss. You’ll probably experience it first hand. I did: I was fourteen and had a questionable set of friends, and their unspoken motto was “if you listen to anything other than metal, you’re not one of us”. That was a difficult situation for me, considering I listen to everything (except country music, no offense to those fans). And while I attend Download festival yearly and been to metal gigs more times than I can count, I’ve attend Slam Dunk yearly and I’ve seen Robbie Williams live – and enjoyed it, too. I was young and impressionable, I wanted to fit in and it sounds stupid to say it now, but it was suffocating. Imagine having to click ‘private session’ every time you wanted to listen to a bit of pick me up pop – no thanks.
So is elitism the reason the scene doesn’t seem to be evolving? Look at it this way: festival headliners never change. Take Download festival, for example – 2017’s headliners are System Of A Down, Biffy Clyro and Aerosmith. Only one of those bands haven’t headlined before, and yes, you guessed it, it’s Biffy Clyro. System Of A Down headlined in 2005 and 2011. Aerosmith headlined in 2010 and 2014. Granted, both bands have only headlined twice before but the fact is they still have.
There are worse examples, obviously – take 2013 (Slipknot, Iron Maiden and Rammstein) and 2016 (Rammstein, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden). These two line ups were virtually the same. And from what I’ve seen, fans who go to Download festival tend to go every year, so why would you want to go to a festival that is almost identical to the one three years earlier? That’s how you lose attendees.
But it’s not just Download. Sonisphere, although it may not be around anymore, was the same. Metallica, arguably the biggest metal band in the world, headlined three years in a row. Fair play to their fans who do want to see them that often, but what about those who go for the festival experience? Do they really want to see the same bands?
So why are festivals constantly booking the same headliners? Is it metal fans not welcoming new bands? Or is it too difficult to become headliner material these days? Because most of these big bands had their time in the 70s, 80s and 90s – basically any time before 2000. Is the Internet killing the metal scene or is it something else? It must effect all aspects of the scene – promoters, unsigned bands and fans alike. So what do they have to say about it?
Northamptonshire promoter Kane Campion says that while “there are areas where the local metal scene is thriving, it’s becoming increasingly difficult in finding bands to come and play in a town they’ve never heard of”. Maybe that’s the problem – maybe bands simply can’t be bothered to put the effort in anymore, seeing as everything is digital.
He also claims that the elitism has spread to the behind the scenes crew too. “It’s such a huge competition with promoters – “who can get the biggest numbers at a show? Who can get the best venue?’” he says. “Companies are so obsessed with being the best that they forget that the main reason promoters exist is to give local music a chance to grow and thrive.” And then he makes a point that we all seem to forget sometimes: “Every huge band started small. We could be responsible for the next Iron Maiden!”
And then you come to the forefront of the scene: the fans. Metal wouldn’t exist without fans, that’s certain, but are they the ones killing their own scene? Metal fans are some of the harshest critics, but do they really have the right to complain about festival and tour line ups when they’re the ones slating all recent metal bands? It’s not just recent bands, though – the comments on a Facebook post about Korn and nu metal in general all seem to include the words “shit”, “has beens” and “past their prime”. Considering that Korn are a generally well-liked band, what hope does that give an upcoming musician?
Metal fan Adam Lancaster claims that some of his worst experiences were at metal shows: “I’ve been threatened more than once at gigs,” he says. “And that’s an issue I’ve never experienced at a dance or pop gig.” He also says the only people to ever judge him on his music taste are metalheads, and that he’s often berated for his lack of band merch – in his words, “they said I couldn’t be a proper metalhead or music fan because I didn’t own any [merch]!”
It is a ridiculous prospect, judging someone on the fact they’re not wearing a band t-shirt. You scoff and think, “I’d never do that!” But what if you are? What if you’re doing it without realising, like when you look at a teenage girl and raise an eyebrow because she’s wearing a Little Mix t-shirt or carrying a Taylor Swift bag? That’s elitism. It’s across different scenes, sure, but it’s still elitism.
“People live their own lives,” Fan Marc Johnson says. It’s their choice to listen to everything or nothing. A little ribbing, maybe, but to judge them for living the way they want to? No.” He also brings up certain bands in regards to being victims of elitism: BABYMETAL and Nickelback.
Many bands have publically been mocked – sometimes it’s worse. The perfect example of abuse towards musicians is My Chemical Romance, however. They were bottled at Reading festival in 2006 during the peak of their fame, but continued to finish the set before branding it a victory. The next year, however, they were bottled during their Download festival headline slot. Why on earth would you bottle a headliner?
But its not just metal fans that have noticed – bands have too. Metalcore band Whitechapel have dedicated a track to it, surprisingly called ‘Elitist Ones’. Vocalist Phil Bozeman accompanied the song by saying, “Metal is one of the most criticized genres – it’s one of the most judgemental genres you can be in. Because if you’re not this type of metal, you’re not true [but] there are just so many subgenres of metal that it’s almost like a fashion contest at this point,” He concluded this statement by saying something that should be glaringly obvious. “You should like music just for the way it sounds, not because of who it’s associated with.”
Asking Alexandria guitarist Ben Bruce also has a few words for metal elitists. In an interview with Metal Wani, he said, “You can sit and complain as much as you want but we’re flying the flag for metal. Maybe we are a little more commercially acceptable […] it means we’re getting more radio play, and we’re opening people’s eyes to metal. If you’re going to be a bitch and argue, no one is going to discover metal. There are elitists going “why are there no new metal bands for me to listen to?” It’s because you’re a fucking asshole and ruined it.” And really, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
So you need to ask yourself this: do you really want your scene to implode? Because that’s looking likely right now. The only people that can fix this are the fans – you have to stop being elitists. I’m not saying you can’t dislike music, I’m just saying that you don’t have to be so shitty about it. I’m saying at least try to broaden your horizons. I’m saying at least try to go see bands you’ve never heard of. I’m saying at least try to support your local scene, and then maybe, just maybe, we’ll finally get somewhere.
Words by Lucy Wenham