Category: Denigrata Herself


staff card pic_200x300A Lecturer in Popular Music at a British Higher Education institution, Denigrata Herself is undertaking her PhD in women in extreme metal. She is also the front woman/guitarist in Denigrata, an experimental black metal collective. Denigrata have coined the term noir concrête for their music, meaning the avant-garde dark noise initiated by Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen finds a different rhizomatic existence within their contemporary black metal performance space.

Denigrata Herself is a gender theorist whose research and publications to date focus on body performativity, reclamation of female space, tattooing, graphic novels, death metal and black metal. She is part of the International Society for the Study of Metal Music (ISMMS) and sits on various academic and equal rights boards in the UK.

For over a decade she was a lead guitarist in British death metal bands, she was signed to and worked for various independent record labels and now devotes her time to lecturing, researching and performing. She is choir master for her departmental chamber choir and presents annual post-modern renderings of canonical classical pieces with her choir, a string quartet, a contemporary band and Ableton performers.

The Problem With the Music Industry: Where Women Fear to Tread…

By Denigrata Herself, Senior Lecturer in Popular Music and Contributing Writer, HorizonVU Music

https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/i-felt-so-trapped-in-indie-music-sexual-harassment-is-an-accepted-nightmare

Anybody who has read the above link (if you haven’t, please do) will be as shocked as I was at the content. I AM shocked, but not at all surprised. Whilst this is a different genre than the one I’m involved with, there are glaringly frightening parallels…10 Hottest Women in Rock or Metal or Indie…what does it matter what the genre is?! Why is this even a thing?! There is a system in place that protects abusers whilst the women who have to deal with shitty behaviour are often too scared to speak out (Dr Luke, Bill Cosby, Jimmy Saville, that Saudi millionaire who said he tripped and fell into a girl’s vagina http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/12/saudi-millionaire-rape-charge.html# ). Will we lose our jobs, will we get punched in the face or worse, will we lose everything we have worked for?

Simply put, the music industry has a serious problem with sexism and misogyny, anyone who has been following the Kesha situation can see that. Our society is engineered to believe men, to listen to men and to protect and defer to them. There is a terrible and very damaging ethos to not listen to women or believe them. It is systemic, it is institutional and it’s a massive fucking problem. I was stunned that Sony chose to hide behind their ‘contractual obligations’, rather than realise they are protecting a rapist. How can they be ok with this?! Sony, if any of you happen to read this, WHAT THE FUCK?! Seriously, what on earth do you think you’re doing? A woman should be free to have creative control over her art, without having to deal with her abuser. And yes, the clatter of the keyboard warriors shouting ‘what if she’s lying?!’ Because that’s easier isn’t it? To blame the victim rather than open your eyes to the far greater problem of a systemic and very well protected masculinist structure.

Honestly, I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of women being assaulted, of not being listened to, women not being believed and women having to prove themselves before anyone will take them seriously. We have to prove our musical worth, our academic worth and also be willing to play the sexualisation game. I just want to be me, play the music I love and not have to worry about being targeted at a gig or to worry for the women who come to the shows. At some point, men are going to need to step up. As Eve Ensler says. I’m tired of good men doing nothing.

It is far too easy to say ‘but I’m not like that, I don’t behave like that or treat women badly’ but when you look at the stats (97% of rapists receive no punishment, 1 in 3 women are murdered a week by a current or former spouse – here is a link to some more stats – http://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/06/us/domestic-intimate-partner-violence-fast-facts/ ), then we have a very serious problem on our hands. In short, this is femicide and as provocative as this term is, we cannot shut our eyes to it anymore.

The following diagram demonstrates, in an echo Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs, how something as throw away as a joke contributes to the damaging culture we are forced to exist within.
The Pyramid of Misogyny
The moment you start to debase someone through language, you start to chip away at their humanity. The more you objectify women (yes, dear Media, this rests with you), the more you turn women into objects. And when that happens, you can treat those objects any way you like, because they are nothing, they are worthless.

The hegemony’s job is to reproduce its own structures and ideologies consistently, so it gives the impression of an institution in perpetuity, that ‘it’s always been like this’. No. It hasn’t. And it needs to stop. Women should not have to worry about their safety because they are musicians, or journalists or audience members, or WOMEN. We are reaching a crisis point that will mean there is either a revolution or there will be no women left. At a rate of 1 in 3 women murdered a week that is precisely the direction we are heading in.

I am done with patriarchy, I am done with men not willing to step up and I am done with women who internalise the misogyny. Wake the fuck up. The time is now.


Header_DenigrataA Lecturer in Popular Music at a British Higher Education institution, Denigrata Herself is undertaking her PhD in women in extreme metal. She is also the front woman/guitarist in Denigrata, an experimental black metal collective. Denigrata have coined the term noir concrête for their music, meaning the avant-garde dark noise initiated by Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen finds a different rhizomatic existence within their contemporary black metal performance space.

Denigrata Herself is a gender theorist whose research and publications to date focus on body performativity, reclamation of female space, tattooing, graphic novels, death metal and black metal. She is part of the International Society for the Study of Metal Music (ISMMS) and sits on various academic and equal rights boards in the UK.

For over a decade she was a lead guitarist in British death metal bands, she was signed to and worked for various independent record labels and now devotes her time to lecturing, researching and performing. She is choir master for her departmental chamber choir and presents annual post-modern renderings of canonical classical pieces with her choir, a string quartet, a contemporary band and Ableton performers.

Denigrata Herself – All for Love: Creativity and Emotional Investment in the Composition Process

July 2015

Is it possible to fall in love with the music you make? This is a question I regularly ask myself. Is it purely a solipsistic endeavour, all bound and tied with arrogance and self-proclamation or is this kind of deep engagement necessary in order to produce work of any serious quality? Anyone musician who feels what they do, and when I say feel, I mean feels an impact that strikes right at the heart of who you are, will understand what I mean. Yet it is very difficult to articulate because music contains an enigma, as the Structural Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss suggests,

Since music is a language with some meaning at least for the immense majority of humankind, although only a tiny minority of people are capable of formulating a meaning in it, and since it is the only language with the contradictory attributes of being at once intelligible and untranslatable, the musical creator is a being comparable to the gods, and music itself the supreme mystery of the science of humanity, a mystery that all the various disciplines come up against and which holds the key to their progress. (http://www.quoteland.com/author/Claude-Levi-Strauss-Quotes/1397/)

He states some pretty significant, albeit lofty sentiments here but knowing whether he is correct or not is another matter. Gauging content is no easy task and surely a vast degree of that decision making process is subjective. Is Lévi-Strauss suggesting that all composers/musicians are comparable to gods or merely some of them…

Social media seems to rather like attempting to compare the lyrical content for example, of say Led Zeppelin against that of Nikki Minaj, suggesting of course that the latter holds little to no true musical qualities against that of former. However, how can we compare the two when their aims are so vastly different? The subjective experience of Plant cannot be compared of Minaj because they are different people with different pressures and experiences so to my mind, regardless of whether you actually like them or not, it is simply irrelevant to attempt this type of comparison. It’s like comparing apples and oranges, fruitless…or something…

However if all artists can fall in love with their creativity, then why wouldn’t they? You could never accuse Kanye for example, for having no passion in his music even if he has a particular disregard or inattentiveness to Queen? And I’m not entirely convinced it is actually the job of the listener to deride or castigate those they simply find no value in, when it is clear that others do.

To be clear, I am only talking of the music. I am not talking about ideological positions or label interests or fiscal incentives. All of these are very separate and problematic issues and muddy the creative engagement, skew the intent and pull things into different realms.

To cut back all of the crap and to solely focus on the musical engagement only, seems to be something that should be the main impetus, but gets side-lined. Whether you are famous or not, whether you are signed, touring, whatever, when it comes down to the substantia of why you write and perform music, it should be because you are in love with it. When you play your music, it should fill every single sense in your body, mind and soul with fire, your entire being should feel like the gods themselves are coursing through your veins and in that singular performance moment, there is nothing else. There is only the music.

I have just finished in the studio with Denigrata and this is exactly how I feel. When I pick up my guitar, I feel the power of the distortion sparking through the ends of my fingers, I feel the scream explode through my body and blast down the mic and I know, as a musician, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. On stage, with Denigrata.

There is a special bond with the people you make music with and it’s something that being a singular artist in previous incarnations, I missed terribly. The members of Denigrata are astonishing, intuitive musicians. They are phenomenal human beings and they know what they’re doing. I trust them. This creates the foundations of creativity because if you don’t trust someone, you will never be able to let your creativity out. We create vistas of beauty and destruction, coexisting in the void that shakes the foundations of reality and mirrors the pain of existence. Lévi-Strauss goes on to suggest,

The musical emotion springs precisely from the fact that at each moment the composer withholds or adds more or less than the listener anticipates on the basis of a pattern that he thinks he can guess, but that he is incapable of wholly divining. If the composer withholds more than we anticipate, we experience a delicious falling sensation; we feel we have been torn from a stable point on the musical ladder and thrust into the void. When the composer withholds less, the opposite occurs: they force us to perform gymnastic exercises more skillful than our own. (http://www.quoteland.com/author/Claude-Levi-Strauss-Quotes/1397/)

And this is exactly the point – attention and connection. If you pay attention and connect with music, then you have discovered something extraordinary, something so special that nobody can take away. The crucible of creativity gives us everything we could ever need and so I urge you, if you feel that creative pulse, that drum beat in the pit of your stomach, listen to it, obey it and let it consume you until it is done. As Bukowski says, ‘when it is truly time, and if you have been chosen, it will do it by itself and it will keep on doing it until you die or it dies in you. There is no other way and there never was.’ (http://www.rebellesociety.com/2012/10/22/writing-lab-advice-from-charles-bukowski/)

Comments are welcome. Denigrata Herself can be contacted at denigrataherself@horizonvumusic.com


Header_DenigrataA Lecturer in Popular Music at a British Higher Education institution, Denigrata Herself is undertaking her PhD in women in extreme metal. She is also the front woman/guitarist in Denigrata, an experimental black metal collective. Denigrata have coined the term noir concrête for their music, meaning the avant-garde dark noise initiated by Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen finds a different rhizomatic existence within their contemporary black metal performance space.

Denigrata Herself is a gender theorist whose research and publications to date focus on body performativity, reclamation of female space, tattooing, graphic novels, death metal and black metal. She is part of the International Society for the Study of Metal Music (ISMMS) and sits on various academic and equal rights boards in the UK.

For over a decade she was a lead guitarist in British death metal bands, she was signed to and worked for various independent record labels and now devotes her time to lecturing, researching and performing. She is choir master for her departmental chamber choir and presents annual post-modern renderings of canonical classical pieces with her choir, a string quartet, a contemporary band and Ableton performers.

Denigrata Herself – Reflections from the Recording Studio

Sorry for my absence of late, Denigrata have been in the recording studio and whilst this process historically has not been something I have enjoyed, this time has been completely different. We opted for Initiate Audio and Media, based in the East Midlands, UK which has Neil Hudson, an incredible engineer and musician, at its helm. As such, he has made the recording process more of an opportunity, rather than a laborious task.

However, because our set up is different from a great many bands, I think we underestimated how much longer the process would take because of it. Having no drummer may seem like it would make recording easier, but because of the sheer amount of files we use, it has actually meant we have been encouraged to really focus on every single tiny aspect of our music.

It would be easy to categorise this as annoying or perhaps, cavalier regarding attention to detail because some people enjoy this process, others don’t. I am most certainly in the ‘don’t’ category, or at least I was. Perhaps I used to think about it as time = money and so to spend a long time in the studio simply meant racking up a huge bill which wasn’t at all preferable. But what this particular recording process has done has been enlightening.

Through using Ableton, it has meant that every single sound, timbre, texture and time signature has been accessible, put in stasis if you like, in order for us to carefully analyse its inclusion and function. This has meant a different engagement with our music as well as how it will be recorded.

The usual is there, guitar and bass tracking, laying the keys and vocals and whilst I’m used to recording guitars, this is the first time I have recorded any vocals. The morning I was due in the studio, I was quite anxious as I genuinely didn’t know what to expect, from me or the process. I hadn’t warmed up particularly (not something I would recommend!) but got straight into it as soon as I got there.

After various fuck ups, laughing fits and minor alterations, I nailed all the tracks and before I knew it, my day was done and it was time to sit back and listen to what had been captured. I can honestly say I sat there in complete shock! I couldn’t believe it was me! I heard evil, terrifying screamed vocal lines and from someone who sings opera and choral music during my teaching, this absolutely blew my mind!

Having only heard myself at practice and only vaguely at gigs, I was not really able to obtain any objectivity on my ‘sound’ and articulation but hearing this back now, I am able to do so. Having spent so long singing expected gendered songs, vocal lines, soprano tessituras, I was unprepared for the way my vocals for Denigrata would alter my own perception, not only of gender roles but of capabilities. I think well if I can do it, anyone can. I have often held extreme metal vocalists (mostly men) in high regard, thinking that it must be exhausting; it must ravage your vocal chords and be very hard to maintain; naively I was worried I didn’t have what it takes. However, perhaps because of how much I enjoy being a vocalist, this has helped my evolution and commitment to making the sound I have in my head. I suppose in those terms, it’s no different from finding a guitar distortion that meets the sound you want to use. But unlike a guitar pedal or head, you can’t just fix your settings, doing the vocals requires something more.

In order for me to do this, I have to feel. I need to feel the darkness in my soul in order for that sound to come out. It is a cathartic process as well as terrifying. Staring straight at your own fears and being willing to bare your soul is a scary prospect. That being said, I hadn’t thought it would be as empowering as it is. When I scream my vocal lines, I find it almost transcendent. I know this may sound daft, but it’s true. I don’t know if other extreme metal vocalists experience something similar or not, but being able to scream out all the pain, the misery and sorrow is a very valuable gift that I am deeply thankful for.

Needless to say I am very excited to hear the final cut of the album! As H.P. Lovecraft wrote, ‘madness rides the star winds’ and it is time we join them.

Comments are welcome. Denigrata Herself can be contacted at denigrataherself@horizonvumusic.com


Header_DenigrataA Lecturer in Popular Music at a British Higher Education institution, Denigrata Herself is undertaking her PhD in women in extreme metal. She is also the front woman/guitarist in Denigrata, an experimental black metal collective. Denigrata have coined the term noir concrête for their music, meaning the avant-garde dark noise initiated by Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen finds a different rhizomatic existence within their contemporary black metal performance space.

Denigrata Herself is a gender theorist whose research and publications to date focus on body performativity, reclamation of female space, tattooing, graphic novels, death metal and black metal. She is part of the International Society for the Study of Metal Music (ISMMS) and sits on various academic and equal rights boards in the UK.

For over a decade she was a lead guitarist in British death metal bands, she was signed to and worked for various independent record labels and now devotes her time to lecturing, researching and performing. She is choir master for her departmental chamber choir and presents annual post-modern renderings of canonical classical pieces with her choir, a string quartet, a contemporary band and Ableton performers.

Hyperreality or Documenting the Debut Gig

After six months of preparation, writing and practice, Denigrata had their debut show last Thursday at the Student’s Union of my institution. Having been there for most of the day, setting up the sound desk, PA and backline, this gave me an opportunity that you don’t get at most gigs and that is to paw over every minute detail until it’s set up in a manner most appropriate for you. I took a certain amount of enjoyment during the process as most gigs are not like this…

You can only do so much to prepare for these things and when it’s time, it’s time. We took to the stage and struck the first chords of the set, knowing that all we had to support us was the practice we had done and the trust of one another. This can be a risky business, not only because I am the performance module leader of our undergraduate programme (and my students were in the audience) but also because the local great and good of the metal scene were in attendance. If the performance had been shit, my professional reputation would have affected. Fortunately this was not the case! It was a blast and I have not enjoyed performing like this for a long time. Yet something struck me as very odd, that previously I had only been vaguely aware of, and that is Hyperreality.

Let me explain. Hyperreality is a theoretical concept first identified by French Post-Structuralist Jean Baudrillard. Essentially what happens during this process is when the Real (Lacanian or otherwise) collapses into something more real than real, a Hyperreal where you enter a space that dissolves the borders of consciousness. I felt unable to distinguish from the real of the ‘pre-gig abstract business’ to the Hyperreal of performing on stage. This was compounded by the fact that we alter our appearance for the performance – wigs, antlers, corpse paint and other paraphernalia all provide othering signifiers to manifest the Hyperreality of the performance.

Denigrata_gig_11022105Simply put, I was myself but not myself whilst performing; I was an altered subject, signifying a different set of encoded meanings whilst we played. I still felt like me, I still represented all of my existing ideological positions and occupied the same intersubject space with the relationships with my partner, friends, students and acquaintances but whilst I was screaming and playing my guitar, I was more other than the other I usually perform.

It is important to establish what I mean by the term ‘other’. The hegemony is patriarchal therefore by the simple act of being female, I am other. Consequently men are considered subjects, women are objects to be looked at and according to Julia Kristeva, the uncomfortable weirdness of people sits in between the subject and object, and that is the abject. Not only am I other to the hegemony because of my gender but I am othered even further because I am alternative. My appearance, my ideological position (Feminist-Marxist at its most simple incarnation at any rate!) and my desire to be loud and take up space, means that I exist even more marginally because I perform my femininity in the way I want to, not the way patriarchal hegemony prescribes. So for me to experience an even deeper level of othering within the Hyperreal space of my stage performance was exciting and utterly bizarre!

It struck me, about half way through our set that I can use this space to be anything I want and rather than it being a pre-constructed arena, it could be anything I want it to be. So, rather than the weight of musical or gendered expectations meeting me like a brick wall, I experienced an emancipatory performance space that was mine to do with what I wanted. I cannot state just how significant a realisation this is.

For the previous decade, I had navigated the death metal scene, performed death metal guitar and been excruciatingly aware of how extensions of the dominant discourse pervaded death metal, musically and socially. Girls don’t play guitar and nor do they have the cheek to get up on stage and do it well! I am currently in the process of writing a paper on this subject but long story short, sexist modes of address and engagement were plentiful during this time.

Denigrata is different and this difference is manifest on a number of levels. Firstly, the music is black metal, not death. Seemingly this might not present any real difference but to those who know these genres inside out, know there are significant differences. Black metal is a different paradigm entirely, focusing more on existential engagements rather than how complex the music is. Riff complexity and virtuoso playing translates to a form of performed masculinity or hypermasculinity because through virtuosity, there is something to prove. It becomes less about the music, and more about showing off. In black metal, there is space in the guitar lines, there is a different timbre at work and this is not to say that black metal is totally free of sexist engagement but when compared to death metal, there is certainly more room to manoeuvre.

Consequently, the sense of liberation, of autonomy and of agency I experience playing guitar and screaming in Denigrata is astonishing. I feel free to navigate the Hyperreal of the on-stage performance but returning to ‘me’ afterwards, feels like somewhat of an anti-climax. If I employ the Lacanian mirror stage to this concept, the mirror or copy of me on stage, is an altered ego-ideal or alter-ego; it is perhaps what I wish were true in the everydayness of my subjective experience of the Real. The problematic gendered constructs imposed during the process of passing from the ‘imaginary’ through the ‘symbolic’ to existing in the Real demonstrates a rent or gap in the fabric of that reality. How can I know what is real when my most significant moments of subject-self totality occur when I am in the realm of the Hyperreal?! Does this process in fact point to the impossibility of wholeness for the subject, for me? In the face of this experience, I am faced with, not the void of an absent reality, but with whatever abject replaces that void.

Through recognising the controlling binaries of the symbolic (Man/active/ positive/ agent/autonomous vs Woman/passive/negative/bound), what we encounter in the Real is in fact nothing but the void or more accurately, the absence of the void, the un-space. Are our subject-selves so fragmented that we cannot truly know what we are to each other or to ourselves that ultimately we all experience the Lacanian psychosis, the total breakdown of identity?!

I can scream ‘WHO AM I!’ down the microphone with all the fires of Hades for all the good it does and it be assimilated perfectly into Denigrata’s musical soundscape without raising an eyebrow but what this represents to me, subjectively, is deeply significant. I know who I am when I am on stage, and when I am not, the void, the un-space, swallows identity irrevocably.


Header_DenigrataA Lecturer in Popular Music at a British Higher Education institution, Denigrata Herself is undertaking her PhD in women in extreme metal. She is also the front woman/guitarist in Denigrata, an experimental black metal collective. Denigrata have coined the term noir concrête for their music, meaning the avant-garde dark noise initiated by Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen finds a different rhizomatic existence within their contemporary black metal performance space.

Denigrata Herself is a gender theorist whose research and publications to date focus on body performativity, reclamation of female space, tattooing, graphic novels, death metal and black metal. She is part of the International Society for the Study of Metal Music (ISMMS) and sits on various academic and equal rights boards in the UK.

For over a decade she was a lead guitarist in British death metal bands, she was signed to and worked for various independent record labels and now devotes her time to lecturing, researching and performing. She is choir master for her departmental chamber choir and presents annual post-modern renderings of canonical classical pieces with her choir, a string quartet, a contemporary band and Ableton performers.

Blog December 2014
Northern Darkness Calling: screaming into the void

Metal thrives through local communities and culture, drawing its performers, bloggers, promoters and audience from local sources, from people moved by the music who want to add and enliven their scene through their contribution. So, when people who put great thought, time and effort in to doing this are not supported by their communities, it seems like a miserable dislocation of priorities.

I am speaking here of the existence of zines; not webzines, not a social media imitation of what magazines used to be, a ghost that haunts the online space if you will, but an actual, hard copy analogue artefact. To leaf through the personally crafted and often hard-sought interviews, the artwork and the manner in which they have been lovingly crafted, offers something special.

As music becomes ever more assimilated into the digital make-believe that passes for contemporary existence, the blatant intangibility of culture grows and replicates and ceases to occupy space in the real world. A metal zine that you pay a couple of quid for, that you impatiently wait for to arrive in the post, that you cannot wait to unwrap and engage with, means something – it is real. Without getting embroiled into a Lacanian dialectic as whether anything is in fact, real (something I actually theoretically engage with) the simple fact that I can hold the zine in my hands, that it has been created, not by some megacorporation but by individuals who believe in the music rather than returned revenue, helps to reaffirm my existence in the real world. If I was to read it online, the experience would be a divorced, separated and somehow distanced ontology that doesn’t fulfil what it purports to represent. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading online sources as much as the next person, but owning a copy, knowing it is in my collection, means I get to engage with the artistic process of the zine on my own terms. I feel like I am part of it, the art object. Online, I do not feel like I am part of anything, I am just another faceless disembodied entity screaming into the void…

I am a particular fan and supporter of Northern Darkness zine. Hailing from the north of England and now in its second printing, with another one scheduled for the New Year, this has been an example of a zine that makes me deeply happy. It offers you something rare – personal effort for something that is loved: extreme metal. Zines are not created or maintained for money, unlike music magazines, their existence is solely down to a few committed writers, musicians and artists who want to do it. I have blogged about the significance and importance of intent before and yet again, it becomes a significant talking point. The desire to want to do something artistic, for your community, that everyone can enjoy, should be supported and when it isn’t, something in me becomes equally riled and disappointed.

The importance of promotion to cottage industries cannot be overstated – you need to get the word out that this is what you are putting your effort into and, much like unsigned bands, social media is a logical (albeit problematic) way of doing this. However, it is always important to know your demographic so when this has been identified and established, promoting on peoples pages should not be a problem. Yet to some it is and I struggle to analyse why.

You are into extreme metal yes? You clearly identify and like all the relevant pages on Facebook that signify that you are a member of this community yet you get pissy when people want to share what they are doing, after all isn’t this what social media is for…. And I’m not talking about the Facebook ‘over-sharers’ that, with the power of one status, suck you into their intolerable arguments or dinner pictures, Lord knows there are enough of them. I’m talking of once or twice a month posts that promote the zine. Hardly dominating your newsfeed is it. But to then be a dick about it, shows a nasty element of a growing paradigm of online intolerance.

Yes, the metal scene is really suffering at the hands of that at the moment. As ‘metal-gate’ would have you believe various quite frankly, bigoted fuckwits thinking their positions in bands automatically legitimises their backwards ideologies, but supporting a zine should not be part of a general closed-minded attitude that fails to help maintain a vibrant cultural scene. In fact, it acts as a direct counter to instances such as ‘metal-gate’ because it facilitates solidarity; focus on the actual music, instead of giving space to racist and sexist idiots who think it is ok to behave like a cunt. The online space has given them too much already.

The creators of the zine have suffered some disappointing attitudes and comments from, what I have always thought of, as an open-minded and supportive scene. I would really hate to think I was wrong and I refuse to be disheartened because of the few closed minded individuals who seem to forget that when you are mean and nasty online, you are in fact still talking to a human being. What does this say about our community?! That we are unwilling to support fellow creative people in their efforts? That we are not interested in new interviews and album reviews or live performances? Then I have to ask this, what the fuck are you even doing in extreme metal?! Because these are precisely the reasons our communities exist in the first place. We should applaud those willing to give of their free time, for no wages, their desire to offer us something real, something tangible. Who else would bother?

This is actually part of a wider discourse that extends to the support of local bands, local venues, local promoters and independent record labels. If we do not support our cultural communities’ efforts then there is a very simple result – there won’t be any. So before you get all snippy when someone promotes on your page, just think twice before you put your contemptuous fingers to the keyboard: question your response before you hit send, you may be affecting the growth of your scene.

Comments are welcome. Denigrata Herself can be contacted at denigrataherself@horizonvumusic.com


Header_DenigrataA Lecturer in Popular Music at a British Higher Education institution, Denigrata Herself is undertaking her PhD in women in extreme metal. She is also the front woman/guitarist in Denigrata, an experimental black metal collective. Denigrata have coined the term noir concrête for their music, meaning the avant-garde dark noise initiated by Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen finds a different rhizomatic existence within their contemporary black metal performance space.

Denigrata Herself is a gender theorist whose research and publications to date focus on body performativity, reclamation of female space, tattooing, graphic novels, death metal and black metal. She is part of the International Society for the Study of Metal Music (ISMMS) and sits on various academic and equal rights boards in the UK.

For over a decade she was a lead guitarist in British death metal bands, she was signed to and worked for various independent record labels and now devotes her time to lecturing, researching and performing. She is choir master for her departmental chamber choir and presents annual post-modern renderings of canonical classical pieces with her choir, a string quartet, a contemporary band and Ableton performers.

18 November 2014
Metal and Cultural Impact Conference, Dayton, Ohio November 6-8 2014

I have just returned from the University of Dayton, Ohio where I delivered a paper from my PhD at the Metal and Cultural Impact Conference, organised by Bryan Bardine, PhD. The reason why I want to blog about this experience is because it has raised a number of very interesting engagements.

Firstly I was incredibly proud to be part of this. Metal studies is an emerging paradigm that engages with musicology as well as philosophy and anyone involved in popular music pedagogy will know the significance of the relationship between these ideas. It also creates a space where philosophy can be taught at undergraduate level in the form of cultural theory and it provides valuable tools for analytical engagement.

As my PhD has developed based on my ten years in the metal industry as a guitarist, it wasn’t until I gave a paper at the University of York back in April this year that I realised the significance of my own subjective experience. Taking the same paper to Dayton, I found that the metal scholastic community wanted to hear what I had to say.

There is nothing quite like a metal conference. I have presented at plenty of conferences before, from feminist ones to graphic novels, popular music and film but metal conferences offer a different experience – it is not an imagined community, but a real one. Well, as much as we can consider anything to be real given that I hold to the concept that there is no objective reality!

However I found myself surrounded by scholars of a like mind in terms of our affinity and love of metal but also our philosophical engagements. We come from far flung corners of the globe in many cases but our desire to critically engage with the music in its form, structure and function provides another level through which to understand metal.

As I said in my previous blog, metal heads are the outsiders and this is an ambiguous position to exist within. We, all at varying points, have discovered our own problems with the structure and juridical law of the symbolic order and as such have actively chosen a form of subjective construction outside of this model. We therefore see the subject-substance as self-producing rather than hegemonically constructed and honestly, this is a beautiful thing.

Various philosophical positions suggest that this is not actually possible, Žižek, Lacan and Butler for example; however I refute this for the following reasons. Certain grand theory positions suggest that the subject cannot become a subject until it is an active member of the hegemony, meaning a subject a priori is empty. This may well be the case for those happily existing within the symbolic order but for those who recognise the falsity of the system, we make a decision to exist extra-hegemonically if you will. Once on the outside, we have the opportunity to construct ourselves however we see fit thus enacting autonomy over our aesthetics, occupied space and ideological positions. We re-encode the self to be something workable for us and as Keats quite rightly pointed out ‘that which is creative, must create itself’. And that is what we do, we create ourselves. That is not to say anything like authenticity is claimed, because I do not believe in such a concept but what I am saying is that the subject-in-process occurs more effectively outside of the hegemony and that honest moments of totality, of self-recognition can only happen extra-hegemonically because you are free of the imposition of the symbolic order.

The reason why this connects with metal is because metal has always been the outsider, the sociocultural music form that exists on the periphery and it is just as well that it does. From that vantage point, it can critique the symbolic order and embody the Dadaist aesthetic of ‘Art as Resistance’. So we see an affinity between those on the outside of the symbolic order and creative forms that also occupy a similar position.

The significance of the self in relation to these ideas means that when the self becomes a collective, moments of Hegelian totality can occur, in other words moments of realisation of who we are and what that means. Our ability to produce, create and critique are valuable functioning parts of the subject-self and its associated substance.

So when I met with the other metal scholars at the Dayton conference, I recognised in myself my role within the collective, my subjective within the Absolute Meta-Subject, to quote Hegel. Not only did I hear some very interesting papers and research, I met other metal fans and scholars who, like me, have felt this area of popular music worthy of theoretical engagement. And what a life affirming moment of totality it was. All areas of metal were covered and the intersections of class, race and sexuality were not shied away from, they were met head on with solid academic rigour.

A wonderful end to the conference was a gig in the evening where Alex Skolnick from Testament, who also gave a paper, got up on stage and ripped through War Pigs by Sabbath. Some musicians from these bands (Forces of Nature, Lick the Blade, Engines of Chaos), came to the conference too. What I particularly loved about the collision of academia and the metal community in Dayton is how welcoming and open minded everyone was. I was treated like family and that means something, it is significant.

So one of the main conceptual notions I identify is that of affinity and this functions in a number of ways. It is not just affinity of music taste or philosophical positions; the affinity appears to function as a totalising experience, where everyone is on the same page and there are no immediately jarring boundaries of separation that we experience within the symbolic order. Perhaps because of the nature of the conference and the nature of the Dayton metal scene, any racism, classism or sexism just wasn’t present and I cannot tell you what a genuinely liberating experience this was. A space is created and maintained where people are able to be themselves, and regardless of however clichéd this sounds, it is deeply significant.

In a society where the subject-self is manipulated, interpellated and reconstructed to suit hegemonic structures and agendas, I found a space where, through the shared love and affinity with metal, freedom was acknowledged and performed. In this day and age, that is a precious and rare thing indeed.

Comments are welcome. Denigrata Herself can be contacted at denigrataherself@horizonvumusic.com


A Lecturer in Popular Music at a British Higher Education institution, Denigrata Herself is undertaking her PhD in women in extreme metal. She is also the front woman/guitarist in Denigrata, an experimental black metal collective. Denigrata have coined the term noir concrête for their music, meaning the avant-garde dark noise initiated by Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen finds a different rhizomatic existence within their contemporary black metal performance space.

Denigrata Herself is a gender theorist whose research and publications to date focus on body performativity, reclamation of female space, tattooing, graphic novels, death metal and black metal. She is part of the International Society for the Study of Metal Music (ISMMS) and sits on various academic and equal rights boards in the UK.

For over a decade she was a lead guitarist in British death metal bands, she was signed to and worked for various independent record labels and now devotes her time to lecturing, researching and performing. She is choir master for her departmental chamber choir and presents annual post-modern renderings of canonical classical pieces with her choir, a string quartet, a contemporary band and Ableton performers.

4 0ctober 2014

Mastodon and the Meat Market: how the mighty have fallen

Metal has always defined itself in antagonism to the mainstream, and consequently does not speak from inside it. It has sat on the margins, the periphery, and created itself a space to critique the symbolic order. It has used philosophy, bigotry, consumerism, politics and other concerns in its art, its lyrical form and video. As such, metal has always strived to embody a different way of doing things, not always successfully but it is widely acknowledged that it is different from the mainstream. As a result, its acolytes also embody a different ideological perspective and these issues together, manifest a space that is freer to create, to be, to exist.

This has often meant that the rebellious human spirit has found a welcome home in metal, allowing like minds to forge a path that is not prescribed by the hegemony, that is more open and free thinking. This is certainly one of the reasons I love metal. It is the musical form, the ideological position and that space for self-expression that has supported my evolution as a person, as a woman and as a musician.

As with any music genre, as it has grown, certain specifics that were once archetypes become embedded as ‘the way to do things’ in metal. Sometimes these are not particularly helpful, such as the patriarchal, white demography of the music but existing inside this, is arguably a less constructed space than we find in mainstream hegemonic society. As I was growing up, I found this mainstream a too prescriptive place to exist. I was not prepared to be a palimpsest, to have my own narrative rewritten by society because I was expected, through socialisation, to be one kind of woman only. My ontology was more expansive. So, metal became my home, as a fan and eventually as an extreme metal performer.

We become astute in gauging what constitutes metal, musically and aesthetically. Precisely because we position ourselves in antagonism to the mainstream, we have defined ourselves accordingly. When a signifier presents as ‘un-metal’ we are pretty quick in identifying it and analysing it. This can be a riff or a vocal style or it can be how a band looks and their how their artwork somehow fails to embody metal principles. Perhaps I am being too generous but I hope not.

Through my own developing feminist ontology, I have always worked very hard at being an extreme metal guitarist and vocalist. You have to if you’re going to be good, gain respect for your art and carve out a space for your own performance. I am still doing this, ten years later. Whilst there is sexism in metal, that I tackle as much as I am able, it is a sexism that is more readily identifiable than the complexities of the mainstream and therefore, for me, it is a more tangible realm to navigate. However…sometimes metal fucks up, gets misdirected for any number of reasons and sets us back.

It is also important for me to say this: my feminism, my ontology and my way of being a woman is no more or less important than anyone else’s. Women should be free to do anything they want and to engage with their bodies, with society and music however they wish. That is my feminism. So to see women twerking in Mastodon’s video is actually not my problem. My problem is women being objectified for the purpose of selling a song. My problem, to break it down even further, is ethnic women dancing within a white male context for white male pleasure. That to me is unacceptable. It is also unacceptable because metal knows better than to be so lazy, stereotypical and trite.

So it comes as a surprise to no-one except perhaps Mastodon, that their new video for ‘The Motherload’ has poked a bear. That is, a fucking angry feminist bear that would rather take a shit in the woods than have to endure watching that video again. It has also riled the metal community because we have a history of trying to be different from the mainstream, rather than riding on any trending coat tails that happen to be fashionable at any given moment. But before we all get riled up in a swarthy social media hot mess, let us examine the evidence…

The video begins in a typically Mastodon artistic style, where one can easily read the symbology of the white man bent double under the weight of a huge bell, chiming the death knells for our existence. Are we being primed for an existential engagement within a musical context? Well, this is certainly where it seems to be going. There is an obvious Western religious engagement here, with an apple and a man reaching for the forbidden fruit which is nothing new for metal but interesting nonetheless. Metal has never been the shy or retiring genre unwilling to engage with grand theory, religious dogma and philosophy. The band is playing and something is scratching at the corners of my mind although I’m unsure just what it is yet…

Then boom, at 45 seconds in, as the man carrying the bell, who we encouraged through the positioning of the camera, to identify with, walks behind a line of ethnic women twerking. Wait, what?! I rewind the video just to double check what I’m seeing and low I am greeted by lyrca-clad female bodies thrusting. As the video progresses, the song meanders along and the twerking bottoms dominate not only the screen but the space for the song itself. I am unsure what exactly I’m being encouraged to give my attention to. I thought it was supposed to be the music…

There appears to be some kind of competitive twerk-off, the band obviously debated whether or not the psychedelic fractals should disappear crevice-wise and decided against it (because that would have been too much right?!), everyone hugs and then presumably goes home for a nice cup of tea. So what is it exactly that is troubling me? Well, a number of things as it goes. Let us focus on the music first. Now I’m not sure at what point over the last couple of years I began to realise that Mastodon, that mighty, hungry and well-respected band who released some game changing albums and reinvigorated metal by infusing it with energy, seriously good fucking riffs and THOSE DRUMS faded to what I now see before me. I have seen them live, bought their albums, learnt the whole of Remission and Leviathan on the guitar because I was fucking entranced by their song writing and not that it is possible to always write the same music for a entire career but there is one vital thing I have to question with this song – intent. Did they feel that compulsion to write this? Did they wake up at 3 in the morning with that burning inspiration? What is the drive behind this because quite frankly the song sounds like a young, newly formed band who really really want to sound like Mastodon but aren’t good enough at their stagecraft yet. I’m not criticising the playing, I am however criticising the composition. Why is intent so important I hear you ask? Well I’ll tell you. You cannot force the creative process. You cannot paint, for example, if you do not want to and whilst the pressures of being in a band with labels requesting you stick to a release schedule, you cannot compromise your art, particularly if you have such an impressive back catalogue like Mastodon. There are a great many bands who have managed to strike a balance between song writing and label concerns. However, what I see with ‘The Motherload’ is a band grown bloated on their success, so much so that the hunger seems to have been sated. The riff, whilst it has echoes of their previous contrapuntal style, seems like it is missing the passion and whilst there is nothing wrong with common time 4/4 drumming, it seems like the lazy option for such an accomplished performer. If you can write like Bach for example, why would you choose to write like One Direction…

Consequently the song comes across as bland, it is boring and even the band look bored playing it. So one begins to wonder, is this why there are twerkers? To detract from the banality of the song? To refocus the audience to not pay that much attention to a half-arsed bit of writing?

And so to consider the function of power differentials in the video. To tackle the twerking first seems to make the most sense. Let me be perfectly clear – I have no problem with twerking. It is not for me to have a problem with twerking because women can do what they like. I don’t know a lot about the cultural intricacies of twerking but I do know about metal and there is a race dichotomy to apply here – twerking is black and metal is white. Now what is the most incongruous part of this video is precisely its inclusion in a predominantly white male popular music video. It is not an intrinsic part of metal culture and women do not, generally speaking perform like this in metal videos. Instead, we are usually relegated to poles, strippers and other simply fabulously objectifying practices so race and diaspora aside, women are no better off in terms of our representation. However, why Mastodon have agreed to cultural misappropriation in this video is what we should be questioning. The video looks like two separate genres squashed together and whilst there is nothing inherently bad about this, in fact I rather relish the collision, this is a really bad example of how to do it. Like when Fear Factory tried to ‘do techno’. Nope. It’s shit. Stop it.

It is important to acknowledge some glaringly obvious and tired gender binaries that this video enshrines and perpetuates. We have a typically white male band, invested with their own agency, performing at the apex of masculinity, with autonomy and independence. Nothing new there right? Male – subject. We then have ethnic female dancers (yes, classically trained according to http://sexpoleandmma.tumblr.com/post/98998006844/mastodonopinion and how wonderful that is! Better that than a bunch of women just falling over their own, er, arses). The women in this video are performing for men – for the band and for the fans. And the assumption is that the fans are all male. Oh right, but I am a fan, what about me? How is this video hailing me? How is it interpellating me? The simple fact is that it isn’t. It isn’t acknowledging me as a female fan at all, unless I am to look at the wobbling bottoms, at Mastodon’s suggestion, as a paragon of female agency? I think not. So, annoyingly, we have female – object. How very boring. How reductive, irritating and boring.

Now also according to this blog, all the women were treated really nicely, were respected and made to feel welcome. Well, good, I’m glad about this but what were they expecting exactly? What preconceptions of metal did they harbour for them to be pleasantly surprised by their good treatment?! News flash – this is how human beings are supposed to be treated. Don’t be surprised by it, expect it! Why shouldn’t you be treated well?! Were you expecting to be treated like meat? Like objects? I wonder…Another issue that comes up in the blog is the acknowledgement of the women’s good education, as if this fact is meant to counter the use of their reified bodies in the video. Oh you’re all really well educated and doing PhDs?! How phenomenally useful that is because that really comes across in the video. That arse in my face and I’m thinking, oh I bet her Cultural Theory will be applicable here so she can deconstruct just how many fucking layers of subjugation this functions on…Barthes would be proud. If the twerking in this video were meant as some kind of rebuttal (boom!) at white women doing it (ahem, Miley!) then I really think Rihanna nailed it in her video for ‘Pour It Up’. That surely was the end of that particular ownership argument.

But I hear the clatter of keyboard warriors caps lock shouting ‘but they were paid to do it!’ and yes indeed, they were and they did a fine job. It is not with the twerkers that I find the problem. It is with Mastodon and the patriarchal structure of metal. Dearest boys, you have been lazy in assuming this video would pass as something nearing even ok metal standards, particularly given your previous excellence. Resorting to cultural misappropriation, sexism, racism and the promotion of tired power differentials to carry a shadow of your former glory is not going to wash. Dom Lawson’s piece in The Guardian this week identified some of this rather well.

And no, ethnic women twerking for white men is just not ok because white men are the rule makers and controllers. They are the hegemony. They are the ones in power. For those who do not fit this remit, we are the marginalised, the other, the culturally disenfranchised. So simply by having the big three, race, gender and class in one video, Mastodon have managed to fuck up everything they may have wished their video to convey. That is of course, unless what they wanted to say was ‘white male musicians are the best, black women are there to be objectified and exocitised and their arses are more important than their right to agency and we’re better than everyone else because we’re men with guitars’ then yeah. Great. Well done. I’m impressed.

Mastodon, you could have done something great here but instead you have opted for this. Girls, I’m jolly glad you all had a smashing time and were treated like human beings coz ya know, we all belong, but just spare a moment for the women in metal who work fucking hard based on our musical abilities, not the cultural and sexual currency of our naked arses. Given the patriarchal structure of not only metal, but the music industry in general, it is important that women occupy space for themselves, not to be used in the means of production to sell white male music to other white males.

Comments are welcome. Denigrata Herself can be contacted at denigrataherself@horizonvumusic.com


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