The Women of Botswana’s Metal Scene

Way back in the middle of last year when I originally wrote about the metal scene in Botswana, and in various versions of the paper I have given since then, I expressed an interest in seeing more work covering the women of the scene. This article on Hyperallergic gives us just that, and again it draws on the work of a photographer – this time that of Paul Shiakallis.

Shikallis’s series Leathered Skins, Unchained Hearts is the first work I’ve come across focusing specifically on female Motswana metalheads. It seems to support most of what I have written about Motswana metal – women participate in the scene, and their experience seems broadly similar to that of male fans. Fans report a strong sense of camaraderie within the scene, the metalheads are sometimes thought of as Satanists by other Motswana, and the difficulties of navigating scenic participation alongside mainstream life are felt particularly strongly by female fans. Female metalheads dress in a similar fashion to the men, and adopt similar pseudonyms

The notes on Shikallis’s website suggest that participation in the scene is, for these fans, “a blunt rebellion amidst the ordinary of their lives”, and Hyperallergic agrees, saying it provides a means of self-expression in Botswana’s “conservative patriarchal society”.

Interestingly, Carey Dunne’s Hyperallergic article avoids the typical othering language to be found in much writing about the Motswana scene, which usually exoticises some aspect of scenic practice in order to exaggerate the scene’s African-ness. However it does instead exoticise their femininity – as frequently happens in discourse surrounding women in metal, where female musicians are either exalted or denigrated on the basis of their gender more than their ability, and female fans are singled out as being different to the majority male crowd. These women are not just fans like any other, but are referred to as queens – while male Motswana rockers are never called kings. Of course as a doubly minority identity within metal, and as a challenge to “all orthodox prescriptions of what it means to be black and African”, such titles are powerful and empowering. It’s a difficult for me analyze this, but it’s surely a point worth considering.

I am really looking forward to seeing more work on the Motswana scene, and more responses to Shikallis’s series as the first engagement with the scene’s intersection with gender. I have yet to see any evidence of female musicians in the scene, bar Skinflint drummer Sandra Sbrana; if scenic participation truly is a form of rebellion as Shikallis and Dunne both suggest, then surely more women performing metal in Botswana is a likely next step.

Metal in Botswana: Part Three – Other Issues, Recommendations, and Sources

This is the final (for now) entry in my series on metal in Botswana. Here are Parts One and Two.

The previous posts covered the research I have done so far; this one will be about problems with this topic, where else this research could go, my personal recommendations, and finally a list of sources.

Problems

Not surprisingly, it’s hard to research a scene in a different country without ever visiting that country. That’s part of the reason I looked at the othering, exoticizing aspects of the media’s presentation of the scene – and of course there’s perhaps an irony or a methodological problem in taking all of my sources from the media and then accusing the media of a bias, but I’m confident my point is a valid one still.

The volume and variety of information that can be gathered purely through online press and scholarly sources is limited, and there are huge gaps and inconsistencies in some of what I’ve found. Not all bands update their social media as often as others, and sometimes different social media sites may contradict each other. Encyclopaedia Metallum doesn’t list every Botswanan band that I’ve found, for example. Some bands I only know from references on others bands’ pages or gig programmes.

Continue reading

Gig Review: Red Fang and Wizards of Firetop Mountain, June 18th, Whelan’s

I’m going to admit I couldn’t have been more excited about this gig.

I’ve been into Red Fang for a bit over a year now, ever since I saw the video for Prehistoric Dog on the Relapse Records Youtube Channel. They instantly became one of my favourite bands; deliciously riffy stoner metal with a few tasteful glimpses of prog complexity. Somewhere between Queens of the Stone Age and Mastodon, maybe.

So when I hear Red Fang have announced a Dublin date, and that date is the same date as my final exam in college? Super.

So I arrived before doors open, get my Red Fang t-shirt as soon as the merch guy comes out, and secure my place right in front of the stage. It’s then a long wait until the opening act appear.

Continue reading

Gig Review: Devin Townsend Project and For the Imperium, May 4th, The Academy

Proving that their country can master any music that involves heavy guitars, Finnish post-hardcore act For The Imperium opened the Academy last night. It was a thrillingly energetic performance, complete with climbing the stage, mounting the barrier, and great crowd interaction by the guitarist; the actual singer doesn’t seem to speak much English, despite singing in the language.

It’s a band like this that show why the label post-hardcore applies to bands as different in sound as At the Drive-In and Bring Me The Horizon (If you don’t know these bands, start knowing At the Drive-In, but BMTH can probably be safely ignored). For The Imperium combine the riffs and clean vocal passages of the metalcore end of the spectrum with the spontaneity and rhythmic energy of At the Drive-In, and impressive guitar and bass work of their own. They’re definitely worth keeping an eye on.

The main act, the Devin Townsend Project, took to the stage after a lengthy video introduction – his signature Ziltoid TV (a collection of comically bizarre videos, curated by Ziltoid the Omniscient himself) entertain the crowd during the band’s soundcheck.

When it comes to the band’s set, I have to make a small confession: I love Devin Townsend, having seen him twice before and enjoyed the hell out of his show both times, but I never remember to invest the time in his albums. This means that when I do see him, I don’t know the songs – but it doesn’t matter.

Devin Townsend is the most charming front man in metal. Every aspect of the show seems to be carefully planned – from keeping the audience entertained (and preparing them for Devin’s highly silly sense of humour) with the pre-show Ziltoid TV segment, to the videos playing in sync with the band – everything combines to present a well-polished, extremely entertaining stage show. The sound quality wasn’t quite up to his usual (exceptionally high) standards at the beginning of the show, but that got resolved within a few songs.

His stage banter shows how well he knows his audience – asking “Does anyone smell NERD in here!?”, and his general charming self-deprecating humour. He also knows how to send up the music itself – two segments where he lampoons Meshuggah and Between the Buried and Me (complete with puppet videos, of course) were not only hilarious, but the BTBAM skit managed to sound exactly like the band in question.

As for the music itself – I just find something so feelgood about Devin Townsend’s music. The songs are so full of positive emotion and affirming feelings, without ever compromising on heaviness. Every song strikes a good balance between being heavy, interesting and catchy – I don’t know of anyone else who can write such commercially appealing music that is so musically interesting.

Laugh, love, live, learn!

Music Television – Thoughts on the State of Metal

A weekend spent at home recently gave me the opportunity to watch a lot of music television, and me being that kind of guy that I am, naturally took the opportunity to catch up on what the young folk are listening to in rock and metal nowadays. There are a couple of channels catering to this audience, but my package doesn’t have access to Kerrang! (probably a blessing) or MTV Rocks (definitely a blessing), so the only dedicated channel left is Scuzz, which in my experience averages a 50% success rate in avoiding utter drivel. However, for the dedicated fans, the channel Propeller (Sky 189) plays music shows in the evening, after a long day of teleshopping and talk shows. Tuune is general chart music, followed later in the evening by Rock Tuune, and then late at night comes Metal Tuune. Anyway, onto the content:

First of all; okay, things actually aren’t that bad! Continue reading