Global metal: scholars converge to explore musical culture


BOWLING GREEN, O.—Underlying the raucous guitars and thunderous noise of a heavy metal concert is a philosophical outlook and aesthetic that has long resonated with people around the world and continues to create new fans every day, particularly outside the U.S.

Often the object of scorn in the United States, heavy metal has gained the notice of scholars of popular culture, who are interested in both its popularity across cultures and the creative ways in which it is adapted.

The Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University will welcome a host of “metal studies” scholars to share their research and celebrate the musical culture’s endurance at the Heavy Metal and Popular Culture International Conference, to be held April 4-7. The organizers believe it to be the largest academic heavy metal conference in history.

Three years in the planning, the conference “is a response to the dramatic rise in prominence of heavy metal studies as a field of serious scholarly inquiry that encompasses myriad disciplinary approaches in the humanities and social sciences, from ethnomusicology to philosophy,” said conference co-organizer Dr. Jeremy Wallach, an associate professor of popular culture.

“We (the conference planning committee, which includes Dr. Esther Clinton, Dr. Matthew Donahue, and myself from the Department of Popular Culture, and four other committee members at other institutions) thought it was time that a major metal studies conference was held in America’s heavy metal heartland, northwest Ohio. And what better place to have it than BGSU, home of the Department of Popular Culture and the Sound Recordings Archives?” Wallach said.

During the four-day event, participants from Europe, Canada, Brazil, New Zealand and Puerto Rico will discuss such topics as the heavy metal community, women’s role in the genre, the racial politics of heavy metal, heavy metal’s relationship to fiction genres like science fiction and comics, the “Finnish Take on Metal Management and Consumption,” and “Heavy Metal and Culture in the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico: National Identities, Religion and Gender.”

“The foremost researchers in the field of heavy metal studies along with up-and-coming scholars and students will present their latest work to an audience of their peers,” Wallach said. “The result, we hope, will be an unprecedented international meeting of the minds as ideas and experiences are exchanged among scholars from widely dispersed locales united by a common passion and a similar analytical focus.”

In addition to presentations by individual scholars in topic-specific sessions, the conference will include roundtable discussions, keynote addresses, an exhibit: “Beyond the Black: Masks and Facepaint through Genres, History and Cultures,” and a performance by Donahue and his band, Mad 45.

Donahue will also share his study of heavy metal T-shirts, a category all its own, and show his documentary “Motörhead Matters,” about the seminal British metal group.

While the “scholarly tone won’t be watered down—the occasion is too important for that—we do hope that there is enough to satisfy the interested layperson,” Wallach said.

The conference agenda and speakers list are available online.

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(Posted March 27, 2013 )