overground scene


An auto-ethnography of vinyl consumption

In the early 21st century vinyl has been making a comeback (Savage, 2017). After more than a decade, between the late 1980s and early 2000s, during which the music industry put its faith on CDs, and in the midst of the digital revolution, the few remaining record stores left are full of vinyl records once again. Overpriced vinyl issues of new releases, reissues of old albums, vinyl pressings of albums never released on vinyl before, vinyl pressings of bands’ obscure demo tapes, limited editions, limited editions that are more limited than the previous limited edition of the same album (but less limited than the one yet to come), and so on. Enough cultural commodities for vinyl junkies and trend-followers that would make king Solomon blush.

get-yours-todayBehind the resurgence of the vinyl market are many factors, including the music industry’s imperative to survive, opportunism, but also pure fan passion. The music industry sees in vinyl an opportunity to impose artificial scarcity (Hesmondhalgh, 2007); it is a medium for music dissemination that does not lend itself to expropriation by fans. The reason behind this is not some kind of “objective” quality linked to the medium; it is rather that “vinyl” has been situated in a discourse appropriated and actively reproduced by the music industry that fetishises (not in the Marxist sense) the physical object (i.e. manufactured paper and plastic) rather than the immaterial content (i.e. songs). In other words, the fan buys a vinyl record because they believe that there is inherent and exclusive value in the physical artefact itself. The value might be exactly that not everyone can own one, as opposed to mp3s, so it gives the fan a sense of distinctiveness. The value might be that the vinyl collector is a category that has been invested (partially by the music industry itself) with the meaning of the expert, or the “true fan”, or that listening to vinyl is seen as the “proper way” to consume music. This is a slightly different discourse to the one produced by the music industry in the 1990s whereby CDs derived their value from being on the cutting edge of technology, as well as the effectiveness (better sound) and efficiency (more space) associated with digitisation.

Of course, the activity of vinyl consumption cannot be reduced to the record industry’s imperative for profit and audience exploitation. Consuming vinyl means different things to each different person. Nobody can deny that music fans are at the mercy of the music industry. Almost every single aspect of our music consumption – from the existence of bands, the mass production of music so we can access it around the world, production values, to the existence of genres – is contingent on the existence of the music industry. Nevertheless, as Michel De Certeau (1984) or John Fiske (1989) would say, as consumers we make do and we make with those primary materials provided to us by the music industry. This post is about what I make with those cultural commodities.

I have talked in more detail about my history with vinyl consumption in a previous post. Here I will focus more on my rituals of vinyl consumption, using as an example the most recent album I bought, Deranged‘s Struck by a murderous siege (2016). This post is based on an article I have written and will be published in early 2018 in the Metal Music Studies journal (Zenerian, 2018).

I listened to Deranged’s new album a couple of months before I bought a physical copy of it. I first listened to a song that the record company (Agonia Records) released in the form of a YouTube lyric video to promote the album. After the album was officially released I downloaded it for free and listened to it on my computer and mp3 player. I then decided that I liked it enough to buy a physical copy of it. The purchase took place online. This is a process that involves very different thoughts and feelings to the pre-online shopping record purchasing experience. Entering a shop and searching the record stalls involves an element of excitement that cannot be replicated online. Buying a physical copy from a physical record store means that I own it from the moment I have paid for it. There is a sense of finality that in the case of online shopping is postponed until the moment the record is delivered, which can be several weeks after the purchase. Hence, buying online is always stressful for me.

der1

When the album arrived, the first thing I did was to examine the jacket and vinyl to make sure they are not damaged. I was happy to find it in perfect condition. I spent some time investigating the cover art. Struck by a murderous siege has an awesome albeit cheesy cover. It is awesome because it is pretty detailed, so there is a lot to be discovered. I try to work out if the cover tells a story. The album title works as a caption, the linguistic message that offers guidance on how the image should be read (Barthes, 1984). In this case, the iconic message stands in a relation of complementarity to the linguistic message. The title of the album works as a relay. There is a murderer loose wreaking havoc in a big city. His threatening figure looming over the city connotes that the city is under siege. The police are after him, and they also look for his victims, which we can seen dumped in the sea by the city. I pay attention to all the details; the rotting corpses in the sea, the crow preying on one of the victims, I am looking for signs on the city buildings that could give me information of the identity of the city. I spend quite some time gazing at Deranged’s logo, and I think that it is one of the best logos ever designed.

der3

I then remove the lyric sheet from the album. I am happy to see that all the lyrics are printed therein, there is information on writing credits, and photos of the band members. Sadly, there is no Thanx List. I look at the band members photos and then I go to the writing credits of each song to see who wrote what. I discover that all the music is composed by Thomas Ahlgren, who has been with the band for almost a decade. Rikard Wermen (the only original member) was involved in all the arrangements, keeping the trademark “Deranged sound” alive. Lyric credits are shared between Wermen and the bassist, Anders Johansson, and there are also lyrics based on letters by various serial killers such as the Son of Sam, the B.T.K killer, and the Toy-box killer. The band has also allocated vocal patterns credits (shared between Wermen and Johansson), in the style of Cannibal Corpse (see Gallery of suicide, 1998).

I then remove the vinyl from its sleeve. I smell the inside of the jacket, a habit I have had since high-school, searching for the distinct musty odor of cardboard that old records have to no avail. I look at the grooves and investigate the label. I then check to see if there are any interesting engravings around the label. There is none other than mundane pressing-related information. Back in the day I loved when I would discover messages such as “WATCH OUT FOR TERRORIZER” (Morbid Angel, Altars of madness, 1989), or “IS NICK HOLMES THE NEW ANDREW ELDRITCH?” (Paradise Lost, Gothic, 1991).

der2

I put the album on the turntable, position the stylus and sit comfortably on my chair with the lyric-sheet in my hands. The opener “The frail illusion of osteology” is one of my favourite songs on the album. While I am listening to the second song, whose lyrics are based on the Son of Sam, I start thinking that no band will ever be able to write a better song than Benediction on this topic (“Jumping at shadows”, 1991). I then wonder whether the murdered figure on the album cover was inspired by the Son of Sam. I put the lyrics on the side and go on Wikipedia and read a bit about the Son of Sam, the B.T.K. killer, and the Toy-box killer. The lyric-sheet has pictures of all three of them. I then go back to the album cover and try to see if the figure resembles any of the murderers addressed in the songs. I notice no apparent resemblance.

I then go back to the lyrics and keep listening and reading. During the third song – one of the very best on the album – I begin to evaluate Johansson’s lyrics next to Wermen’s lyrics, and I think that Wermen’s are much weirder and chaotic, while Johansson’s are more structured and catchier. The first song on side B is another great song, about the B.T.K. killer. B.T.K. stands for “Bind, Torture, Kill”, which reminds me of the Suffocation song of the same title. The song inspired by the Toy-box killer (“Toy-box torture chamber”) has the most disturbing lyrics, matching the disturbing nature of the crimes. The song is sung in the first person which makes the depraved and misogynistic character of the lyrics even more disturbing to read (I won’t be reading the lyrics of this song again). I continue listening to the album, occasionally air-drumming and playing air-guitar, until it is over.

What I described is an experience of vinyl consumption that cannot be reduced to commodity fetishism, following music industry trends, or seeking to improve fan credentials. Listening to an album can be an auditory, visual, olfactic, and tactile experience, that brings people in connection with their personal biography (past experiences, old habits, childhood memories) and the broader culture (links with other bands, cultural events, the transformation of culture).

References

Barthes, R. (1984) Image, music, text. London: Fontana Press.

De Certeau, M. (1984) The practice of everyday life. Berkley: University of California Press.

Fiske, J. (1989) Understanding popular culture. London: Unwin Hyman.

Savage, M. (2017) “UK vinyl sales reach 25-year high”, (Online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-38487837)

Zenerian, E. (2018) “‘Doing-Listening with Deranged’s ‘Struck by a murderous siege’: An auto-ethnography of death metal vinyl consumption”, Metal Music Studies, 4:1 [Forthcoming]



Heavy metal news websites: why is “Ratt” newsworthy?

A similar question to the one in the title of this post, is one I used to ask myself quite often when I first started reading Blabbermouth many years ago. Why are news-feeds full of news stories about completely irrelevant bands? Why do hasbeens from the 1980s still populate Heavy metal news? The aim of this post is to reflect critically upon the character of mainstream Heavy metal journalism as exemplified by news websites such as Blabbermouth and MetalSucks.

In my opinion, there are three factors that need to be taken into account when thinking about the content of Heavy metal news websites: First, the imperative of profit in journalism, second, the effects of digitisation on journalism, and, third, the relative power of bands and record companies to act as news sources.

Mainstream Heavy metal websites such as Blabbermouth and MetalSucks aim to generate revenue through selling audiences to brands. Blabbermouth commands the attention of a wide audience around the world, and that is its selling point. The text that follows is taken from Blabbermouth’s “ADVERTISE” page:

Get backstage access to millions of hard rock & heavy metal fans from around the world via a broad range of campaign options; display, video, social, custom executions, and more.

Request the Blabbermouth.net Media Kit to learn more about available campaign bundles, demographics, and pricing. Or simply touch base directly to receive a customized proposal based on your objectives, budget, and timeline. (Source: Advertise – Blabbermouth)

A similar text can be found in the “Advertising” page of MetalSucks (see below). A further enquiry into Blastbeat, the company that manages – among others – MetalSucks’s advertising strategy, provides further information on the variety of brands to which heavy metal fan audiences are sold as commodities (these brands include 20th Century Fox, Orange, Peavy, Epic, Nuclear Blast, Relapse, and many more).

MetalSucks is represented for advertising by the Blast Beat Network of heavy metal sites, which also includes Metal Injection, Lambgoat, The PRP, Decibel and several other of the world’s top metal properties and reaches 14 million unique viewers monthly.

Blast Beat has worked with both Fortune 500 companies and unsigned bands; no advertising request is too big or too small. We have a variety of ad placements available to suit your needs, whatever they may be. (Source: Advertise on MetalSucks)

Heavy metal fans who read Blabbermouth and MetalSucks are exposed to various music and non-music related products that advertisers pay Blabbermouth to promote. Of course, the brands that are most likely to benefit from appearing on a music news website are bands. So, it would not be far-fetched to hypothesise that the readers of Blabbermouth are also packaged as an audience commodity (Fuchs 2014) and sold to the bands themselves. Because of Blabbermouth’s imperative to make profit, it treats its audience (the heavy metal fans) as a commodity that is sold to brands and bands from around the world.

The second factor I want to explore is the effects of digitisation on heavy metal journalism. News websites differ from traditional news media in that they are not static. Websites are dynamic, news are constantly updated, and new stories can be reported in almost real-time. This affordance of web 2.0 (see, Flew 2002) defines the rules of competition in online journalism, which can be summarised in the expression “you snooze, you lose”. If a news website wants to maintain the attention of its audience it has to generate news constantly, or else the audience will switch to a competing website. If a news website loses its audience it also loses its source of revenue, because it no longer has something to offer to advertisers (various brands, as well as record companies). Blabbermouth and MetalSucks need to churn out news stories constantly. This creates the following problem: how do we keep the flow of content (almost) uninterrupted? This problem can be addressed in two ways. First, the website could employ many journalists that investigate and produce new stories. This option is costly. Second, the website could rely primarily on stories generated by others. Which brings me to my next point.

If Heavy metal news websites depend on existing stories to populate their news-feed, then the relative power of bands and record companies to act as news sources should also be considered. Record companies act as news sources by publishing press releases (on the relationship between news and public relations, see Cottle 2003; McCullagh 2002; Reich 2010) or arranging interviews with bands.  A press release is a very convenient source of news for a website like Blabbermouth or MetalSucks, because it is written by someone else, it is easily accessible, and it is easily reproducible. It is a practice that serves the record company (which advertises its bands indirectly without having to pay proper advertising fees) and the news website alike (which has access to content for “free”). It follows that the record companies and musicians that are more capable of constantly generating press releases, are those more likely to end up dominating attention on websites like Blabbermouth and MetalSucks.

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Sensational news on Blabbermouth and MetalSucks.

A final point I want to make, related to attracting audiences, is the journalistic practice of creating sensational news stories. If a news story is sensational it is expected to attract more attention. To understand why “the sensational” sells, we should consider the sad reality of alienation in capitalist societies and people’s fascination with idle talk (Gunkel and Taylor 2014, p. 39). Sites like Blabbermouth and MetalSucks excel in constructing sensational stories. Even if a news story is not essentially sensational, these websites often deploy practices in order to give stories a scandalous appearance. One practice is the generation of misleading and evasive titles known as clickbait. Another practice is the framing of stories through selecting and emphasising aspects of a story that are more sensational than others (De Vreese 2005).

So, maybe the reason why we are constantly exposed to news stories about bands like Skid Row, and Ratt, and Motley Crue, and a bunch of other hasbeens and their embarrassing intrigues and sad lives, is that websites like Blabbermouth and MetalSucks need to link audiences to advertisers, and in order to do that they need to attract and maintain the attention of audiences by providing a constant stream of news stories. Bands that are more likely to afford constantly generating (sensational) news stories are those posers that became millionaires during the 1980s as well as contemporary posers and hipsters who are already famous, or whose record companies and themselves aspire to become famous.

In any case I think it would be interesting if the hypotheses I put forward in this post were tested more rigorously. It would be interesting to measure, for example, the presence on Blabbermouth of successful record companies like Nuclear Blast compared to that of smaller companies. Maybe I’ll do that when I find the time. For the time being enjoy a song dedicated to all those posers that dominate our attention on Heavy metal news-sites.

References

Cottle, S. (ed) (2003) News, public relations and power. London: Sage.

De Vreese, C.H. (2005) ‘News framing: theory and typology’, Information design journal and document design, 13 (1) pp. 51-62. 

Flew, T. (2002) New media: an introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fuchs, C. (2014) Social media: a critical introduction. London: Sage.

Gunkel, D.J. and Taylor, P.A. (2014) Heidegger and the media. UK: Polity.

McCullagh, C. (2002) Media power: a sociological introduction. London: Palgrave.

Reich, Z. (2010) ‘Measuring the impact of PR on published news in increasingly fragmented news environment: a multifaceted approach’, Journalism Studies, 11(6) pp. 799-816.

 



Guilty displeasures

There are bands and albums that are widely considered embarrassing in specific subcultural fields, making the music fan of such bands and albums inherit their embarrassing quality within those fields. I would imagine that the more senior one gets in any given fan-subculture and, accordingly, more confident in their fan-credentials, the easier it gets to admit those guilty pleasures. For example, it would be quite hard for a young metalhead to openly admit among his or her peers that he or she likes St Anger by Metallica, or Illud divinum insanus by Morbid Angel. Similarly, it would be hard for a young death-metal fan participating in a Facebook Old-School Death Metal group to express his or her admiration of Children of Bodom or Insomnium.

In a similar fashion, there are bands and albums that have achieved legendary status, to such an extent that is embarrassing for fans to admit that they haven’t listened to them (guilty omissions), or that they dislike them. The latter are guilty displeasures; distastes that would be embarrassing to admit within a specific subcultural field. In this post I will talk about two of my guilty displeasures; records considered legendary that I don’t like, and whose extraordinary status has pushed me to make an extra effort to try to like them, to no avail.

emper1. Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse (1994)

An album I wouldn’t easily admit in public that I disliked – in the past – was Emperor’s debut. I listened to it back in the late 1990s and I have tried to listen to it again a few times since. I have always had the same reaction after listening to it: what is the big deal?! I have always found it long-winded, boring, and the vocals pissed me off. With the exception of some riffs and arrangements in the beginning of each song, I found the rest of the music unexciting. I still think that the vocal patterns are completely boring. I do get that it probably was an innovative album whose majestic and symphonic character influenced the genre a lot, but I cannot for the life of me listen to it back to back. An album that I did love and still like today by Emperor was their final one.

peacesells2. Megadeth – Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying (1986)

Megadeth’s second album is an album that have always eluded me. I bought it back in 1995, right after I bought Megadeth’s absolute masterpiece titled Rust in peace (1990). After a few listens, however, I got rid of it. That was difficult to do, because I loved the album cover. I listened to it again after a few years and I again failed to be impressed by it. I thought that Mustaine’s voice was annoying, and that the songs were boring. A few years ago I listened to it again and I did discover some things that I like. Some of the arrangements are pretty cool, and I can appreciate that they were probably quite impressive at the time the album was released, and I like a few songs, like “My last words” and “Black Friday”. I still think that it lacks the catchy riffs, hooks, choruses, and melodies that make RIP such an important album, and the intensity and riffs of their debut. Moreover, did Megadeth really take the genre much farther musically than Mercyful Fate and Satan had by that time? I doubt it. So, even today I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I particularly like it.



Viva Presidente Trump!
November 9, 2016, 6:36 pm
Filed under: people, social theory

There’s a silver lining to Trump’s victory. Trump’s election is a major blow to hegemony. It’s a blow to the widespread and commonly accepted idea that “our representative democracies are not a joke”. If Clinton had won the election then everyone would slip back to the fantasy that the “system is ok”; “Look at our respectable, by-the-book president”, while the USA would continue going around the world murdering people, and their repressive apparatus at home would murder African Americans on a daily basis. Trump is a joke, a dangerous joke, but so is the political/economic/cultural system in which he is situated, and there are no longer excuses for not accepting this fact.

Yet, this silver lining is also ambiguous. Waking up to the idea that the things we take for granted and consider common sense are deeply problematic could go either way. Fascist groups might use it to offer “alternatives to the establishment”. Of course, the idea that fascism is much different from the facade we call democracy today is in itself a fantasy. The other option is to engage society in a humanist critique of the existing political system, which is by no means autonomous, but rather linked to capitalism, racism, sexism, and so on. But this option has been preempted and incapacitated by centuries of developing inequality and alienation of the masses, so I wouldn’t count on it. The more likely alternative, which becomes increasingly plausible, is the necessity for grassroots resistance, even violent, on a daily basis. It all depends on when my generation and the younger ones will stop clinging on to dreams of a family and a nice house with a garden.



Reek the vote
June 7, 2016, 11:24 am
Filed under: people, social theory | Tags: , , , , , ,

Here are some thoughts on the upcoming referendum on the UK’s future with the EU. I will not try to predict what the outcome of this referendum will be, or what the outcomes of any outcome might be, because nobody knows. I just felt like reflecting on the phenomenon.

First of all, this phenomenon reflects the fact that the ruling class is not a coherent group; the interests of different actors within the ruling class do not necessarily converge. I am not going to argue over whether the political elites are the representatives of powerful economic groups in society, I take that as a given. It would be interesting, however, to investigate properly whether Boris Johnson’s position and Cameron’s position on the referendum are consistent or not with the interests of their allies/friends in the economic field, or more precisely the economic/political field, what Bourdieu would call the field of power. My guess is that they are consistent.

Secondly, and linked to my first point, the referendum has nothing to do with democracy. It has to do with minor redistribution of power between different elite groups, and with designing a new status quo whereby the exploited will be exploited even more. Regardless of which group gets its way, all elite groups (even the “losers”) will continue occupying a privileged position in designing the strategies within which all the rest of us will have to make do. Regardless of who wins, the only certain outcome will be more exploitation of the dispossessed (remember if the UK stays in the EU it will negotiate its position therein). If you think that abolition of free movement of labour power in the case of a Brexit will negatively affect the manufacturing sector (because manufacturers will lose access to reserves of cheap labour), you are wrong. If cheap manual labour is what part of the economy wants, then the establishment will find a way to provide it, in or outside of the EU.

Thirdly, something that concerns EU immigrants in the UK, and linked to my previous point, the destiny of EU migrants in the UK is not going to change massively regardless of the outcome. If you are an EU citizen residing in the UK and you earn a lot of money, you will continue having the right to reside in the UK as long as you continue making loads of money. If your life in the UK is precarious now, it will continue being precarious regardless of the outcome. As I said earlier, this referendum is about re-designing the strategy of domination. If the UK decides to stay in the EU, don’t be surprised if some of the “rights” enjoyed by the precarious are taken away anyway.

Fourthly, ultimately the choice between EU and no-EU is a mechanism for legitimating the new status quo of exploitation.

It has been interesting (not really, I’m exaggerating) watching the different discourses being produced. As expected, EU membership is usually reduced to things such as immigration, lack of accountability, the TTIP negotiations, and contribution to EU budget by those in favour of “out”, versus sustaining peace in the region, workers’ rights, and controls over the corrupt British political system for those in favour of “in”. Believing that by voting in this referendum anyone has control over any of those issues, is just as big a fantasy as believing that the referendum is about democracy. The UK has been a part of the European project for almost half a century now. Did this stop the exploitation and alienation of the masses, injustice, or the emergence of a few actors with sickening wealth? No, it did not. Will exit from the EU stop plans to exploit the environment, workers, or mean that state resources will suddenly be allocated to the poorer strata of society? No, it will not. If you vote for exit hoping for less immigrants “stealing your jobs” or “ruining your culture” you’re in for a surprise. Similarly, in or out of the EU, workers’ rights might improve or deteriorate depending on what the ruling classes want. If the latter decide that better conditions of work might attract better workers or increase productivity (allowing for expropriation of more surplus value) then, in or out of the EU, workers will be presented with better conditions (I’m not even entering the discussion about what “better conditions” means and what role ideology plays in concealing the “real” conditions of existence).

Having said that, I don’t want to imply that the ruling class has absolute control or that it operates under conditions of “perfect information”, whereby it can plan an optimum strategy. Moreover, the way the political system works at a national level or the EU level is also extremely complex and full of uncertainty. The ruling class will also have to play it by ear, as its been doing anyway, that is why trying to outguess what the outcome of the referendum will mean for us is an exercise in futility. The less privileged will just have to make do with the new strategy presented to them when the time comes. Relative positions will not change significantly. If you occupy a relatively privileged position you should expect something similar regardless of the outcome. If you are fucked now you will continue being fucked regardless of the outcome.

To sum up, the choice between in and out of the EU is being caught between a rock and a hard place. It is an illusion of choice. And it is a legitimation of the process of a minor re-distribution of wealth between powerful groups in society. People will participate in the different discourses that the powerful produce and will vote based on their perceived interest on the basis of these discourses. I am not very familiar with UK party politics, but if the UK has historically constructed the EU as a scapegoat for everything that “goes wrong”, then I would expect a victory for Brexit.



A brief rant about social media “activism”
December 6, 2015, 7:49 pm
Filed under: people, social theory | Tags: ,

I am responsible for the bombings in Syria as well as the suffering of people experienced here and in other parts of the world, and so are you. Please accept my apologies if you spend your disposable income (minus what you spend on basic needs such as food, clothes and shelter – that does not include conspicuous consumption) on helping out people who cannot satisfy those basic needs. I certainly don’t. I do work hard in order to be able to afford a flat, and I also go out for drinks, coffee, and I buy records. I don’t feel bad that I do all those things. But from now on, I will not act as if I am contributing in making this world a better place, because I am not. Instead, I choose to enjoy my life rather than making my life a bit shittier in order to make someone else’s life a bit less shitty. Capitalism is a zero-sum game. And if I behave like I am making the world a better place by opposing the Syrian bombings on Facebook, or by writing a post on my blog, I am a hypocrite. And I could shout out a dozen social theories to absolve myself of the real responsibility of making the world a better place ’till I’m blue in the face, but this does not matter anymore. I could talk about the fluid channels of new communication technologies and how power flows through them rather than concentrate on traditional centres of power, and I could talk about discursive power and that every little thing we do to challenge hegemonic discourses matters, but I won’t, because all these things mean shit if when I leave my keyboard I continue living my hegemonic lifestyle. Thinking that I am resisting because I use social media to criticise authorities (and coincidentally show off what an awesome activist I am) is insulting. If I did anything to pose an actual threat to the system I would be in prison. And the way social media work to absolve us of our real responsibilities is sickening. This is exemplified in crap like #notinmyname. I hate to burst your bubble but it is in your and in my name. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t suggest that laughable acts of resistance are worthless. On the contrary, their disappearance would mean unconditional surrender. What I do say is that, from now on, I would like to be a bit less insulting towards all those generations of people whose utter misery makes my life a little bit nicer (and no doubt some other people’s life a lot nicer). A different approach to social media “activism”, such as pointing out how our everyday practices enable the perpetuation of oppression and suffering in the world, would be much more honest and respectful.



Guilty pleasures #1

What is the definition of a guilty pleasure? I would say that a guilty pleasure has two parameters: firstly, it is when one derives pleasure from something which contradicts or is inconsistent with one’s tastes, and, secondly, it is when this inconsistency causes one to feel both personal (the “I” of the self) or/and social (the “me” of the self) embarrassment. A guilty pleasure implies that we have particular aesthetic standards that exclude the derivation of pleasure from cultural artifacts that fall outside these aesthetic standards. However, if we actually like something that falls outside of these standards doesn’t it mean that they were wider than we thought, to begin with, and that we should re-evaluate them? That would not make it a guilty pleasure though; it would just make it a surprising pleasure, at first, followed by the cognitive stage of being accepted as a new pleasure in line with our newly reconsidered aesthetic standards. That rarely happens though; the pleasure inconsistent with the aesthetic standards with which we want to identify remains a guilty pleasure. The reason behind our unwillingness to admit to different aesthetic standards – where embarrassment lies – can be found in the meanings that are attached to different aesthetics as well as in the degree to which our identity is depended on our cultural tastes.

When I was younger, back in Greece, I was part of a small group of friends whose cultural practices revolved around metal music. Therein, I felt the peer pressure to some degree to conform to what the group considered “true” or “serious” metal. As I have described in a previous post, what constituted true metal was the result of interaction and negotiation with the Greek metal press, older well-respected metalheads from around our town, and each other. So, people whom we admired lent legitimacy to the bands that they listened to. People whom we did not know, however, and we did not know whether they were “true”, were judged on the basis of our already held perceptions of what “serious” is. Our group set some blurry subcultural boundaries early on, that somewhat determined the parameters of negotiation. These boundaries reflected the typical heteronormative hegemonic masculinity that we all performed. An appearance that signified femininity was frowned upon, so hair-metal bands were doomed from the start. Bands with fantasy lyrics were also frowned upon, because they were admired by people whom we considered nerds. High-pitched vocals were accepted on the condition that the music and overall style was serious, usually meaning being devoid of happy melodies and major chord progressions. After a certain point all power metal bands were made fun of.

Sarcofago on the back-cover of the inimitable The laws of scourge

Sarcofago on the back-cover of the inimitable The laws of scourge

Still, bands like Crimson Glory were initially accepted, although we would make our disapproval of their looks known by calling them “Crimson Floroi” (i.e. Crimson sissies). Sarcofago, a band we always admired, was also made fun of due to the BDSM aesthetics they had during the Laws of scourge period. Another classic negotiation would concern bands like Manowar. Manowar was considered a ridiculous band among the people in the group, yet because we could not resist the brilliance of songs like “Black wind, fire and steel”, “Carry on”, “Heart of steel” and “Kingdom come”, we would still listen to them among ourselves but we would never admit to liking Manowar outside our group. A public admittance would position us – or so we thought because we imposed our interpretation of what serious metal is to the gaze of others – to the “poser” category.

This is aimed as the introduction to a series of posts in which I will discuss my guilty musical pleasures. In future posts I will demonstrate, using personal experiences, how guilty pleasures do not exist independently of the social situation in which one finds themselves and the position one occupies in such a social situation.