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The Colour of Metal: ‘Whiteness’, ‘Blackness’ and the Roots of Heavy Metal in 1960s Rock Dr Keith Kahn-Harris Goldsmiths College, London www.kahn-harris.org.

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Presentation on theme: "The Colour of Metal: ‘Whiteness’, ‘Blackness’ and the Roots of Heavy Metal in 1960s Rock Dr Keith Kahn-Harris Goldsmiths College, London www.kahn-harris.org."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Colour of Metal: ‘Whiteness’, ‘Blackness’ and the Roots of Heavy Metal in 1960s Rock Dr Keith Kahn-Harris Goldsmiths College, London

2 Rock n roll as revolution Association with youth: – ‘If it's too loud, then you're too old.’ Ozzy Osbourne Music press constantly focus on new artists and genres Necessity of novelty in music industry marketing Diversity of rock n roll genres since 1950s Technical developments since 1950s

3 So what about history? What are the continuities in rock history? Lecture will aim to highlight the enduring aspects of rock music and culture through tracing the trajectory of heavy metal music and culture since the 1960s.

4 Or in other words... How did we get from this:To this:...And what stayed the same.

5 What is metal? Distortion Riffs Guitar solos Dramatic vocals High volumes Grand gestures Denim and leather Long hair

6 Types of metal Heavy metal New Wave of British Heavy Metal Thrash metal Extreme metal – Death metal – Doom metal – Black metal – Grindcore Nu Metal

7 The roots of metal in 50s and 60s rock n roll Basic vocals-guitar-bass- drums format Technical developments – Distortion – Volume The Kinks ‘You Really Got Me’ (1964) The Kinks ‘You Really Got Me’ (1964)

8 Pivotal importance of the blues Blues rock provided the generic framework through which the new guitar sounds were filtered. Yardbirds Cream Deep Purple Led Zeppelin ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (1969) Led Zeppelin ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (1969)

9 Influence of psychedelic rock The ‘dark side’ of psychedelia Emphasis on lengthy songs and musical virtuosity 1968: – Blue Cheer ‘Summertime Blues’ – Iron Butterfly ‘In-A- Gadda-Da-Vida’ – Steppenwolf ’Born to be Wild’ Steppenwolf ’Born to be Wild’ ‘Heavy metal thunder’

10 Black Sabbath Crystallisation of a new genre ‘Black Sabbath’ (1970) The tritone – augmented fourth – diabolus in musica

11 1960s metal is part of the process in which ‘white’ artists appropriate previously ‘black’ forms.

12 But what about Jimi Hendrix? Pivotal influence of metal guitar playing Pivotal to spectacular metal performance styles Rooted in the blues

13 Effacement of the legacy of Hendrix ‘Given heavy metal’s debt to the visible Hendrix – a debt so profound it can be detected in the way metal music has been written and produced – the Hendrix that survives in heavy metal as a principally audible, principally deracinated figure proves unacceptable’ Wells, Jeremy ‘Blackness 'Scuzed: Jimi Hendrix's (In)visible Legacy in Heavy Metal.’ In J. Jackson Fossett and J. A. Tucker (eds) Race Consciousness: African-American Studies for the New Century pp New York: New York University Press: 61

14 Heavy metal developed in late 1960s A time when ‘black’ music was developing its own autonomy – Motown, Stax etc – ‘Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud’ James Brown 1968 – Strains on civil rights coalition

15 Metal: the ultimate white music?

16 Blues legacy largely buried Classical influence on metal guitar solos (Walser 1993) Commercial hegemony in 1970s and 1980s

17 Metal: the ultimate white music? Black metal: – Aestheticisation of whiteness – Celebration of ‘the north’

18 White power metal ‘...I mean just look at nature, the strong are surviving, you know, like the strong eats the weak, and that’s just the way it is, you know. So you can’t really go against that.’ Yet overt racism is still rare and marginal

19 Exceptions to the rule...

20 Living Colour and the Black Rock Coalition:

21 But these are rare exceptions...

22 Moreover: the exceptions that prove the rule Funk metalNu metal

23 Many metal fans hate these developments: ‘…we haven’t got some kind of ego or image or nothing like that do you know what I mean? Well we don’t give a fuck what we look like yeah? We ain’t gonna go, I dunno, ‘yeah yeah let’s go and all get our nose pierced and fucking get some eyebrow rings and wear some baggy shit’ and you know what I mean? [….] We’re trying to stay totally clear from the fucking Korn, Limp Bizkit, new wave or er, arse metal that has been introduced […] just don’t want to be associated with trendy metal man.’

24 ...and while they have been successful in the short term they have had a limited impact on metal in the long term.

25 Diversity in 90s and 00s metal: metal rules the globe...

26 ...except for most of sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean

27 ‘Local’ acts often ‘go global’

28 Folk metal But where is the black folk metal?

29 Metal may not be black... But it isn’t white either... Metal is ‘everything but black’

30 Where is the black metal? Ironic that the one of the few musical difference you cannot find in contemporary metal is that which is foundational to the genre Why is there every difference but black difference?

31 Perhaps metal’s ‘whiteness’ has made it easier to be appropriated globally? White = universal = neutral Black = particular = other An ironically pluralist consequence of racist discourses?

32 Comparison to the globalisation of rap Rap rules the globe But American artists are globally dominant

33 Rap is as if not more globalised than metal... But metal is much more open to the global success of local acts... Perhaps this is because rap’s ‘blackness’ makes it much more particularist than metal?

34 The roots of this black-white separation lie in the racial politics of rock n roll in the 50s and 60s Early rock n roll both subverted and drew on wider discourses of race – Both racially hybrid... –...and reliant on racial stereotypes –...and effacement of blackness Late 60s black radicalism and separatism revaluated blackness but also essentialised it......leaving whiteness more open to hybridity

35 Does this matter? Does metal ‘need’ black difference? And do black people need metal?

36 And don’t forget gender Metal retains 50s and 60s gender relations. A notoriously sexist genre (with many female fans)

37 Again, exceptions that prove the rule: Glam metalNu metal / Emo metal

38 Exploring gender or vulnerability is resisted by many metallers [Talking about Korn]…I don’t like their, the way they portray themselves and the way they are and the way their music is it’s just too, weak […] it’s like I don’t get any feeling to it.

39 Women’s place in metal: As groupies:As ‘voice’

40 Conclusion: Metal has developed into a multi-faceted and artistically rich genre...

41 ...but it remains faithful to the limitations and legacy of 1950s and 1960s rock n roll And these limitations and legacies tell us much about race and gender relations in modern western societies.

42 Or to put it another way... Rock history matters

43 The last word: Motörhead ‘We play rock and toll’

44 The Colour of Metal: ‘Whiteness’, ‘Blackness’ and the Roots of Heavy Metal in 1960s Rock Dr Keith Kahn-Harris Goldsmiths College, London


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