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.

29 June 2017

So, after five long years and a change of heart half way through, I have finally completed my PhD. I have passed my viva and had my amendments accepted. And the crazy thing is, I do not feel the way I thought I would.

Many academic friends of mine warned me, saying things like ‘you will feel empty when it’s done’ and I completely poo-poo’d them, as I struggled under the weight of it all. I longed for the moment when it was done, finished, completed, that I would get my life back, that thing I did before the PhD began. But it was so long ago, I can’t really remember what it was.

Five years ago, I started the research. Three years into it, 55 thousand words later, I had a meeting with my supervisory team and director of studies. We sat solemnly round a table. The DOS said bluntly, ‘your heart is not in this. Why are you doing research if you don’t want to?’. She was quite right of course. I had chosen a field of inquiry that did not excite me and that I found boring. And being a university lecturer, there is an expectation that you either already have a doctorate or you are working towards one; in short I felt at that time that it was something I just had to get done. And let me tell you, lecturing full time and doing a PhD are not compatible. By this point, I had essentially wasted my first three years. So I went to Italy. Obviously. I spent the week with a friend of mine in Naples, Positano, Saint Agnello and Malfi. It was perfect but more than that, I had my epiphany.

Earlier that year, I had taken part in my first metal scholars conference and gave my first paper on my experiences as a death metal guitarist. Not only were the metal community friendly and warm, they were so supportive of me that it suddenly occurred to me that I had, in effect, been barking up the wrong tree. The reason my previous PhD felt wrong, was because it was. I already had my subject area but hadn’t realised it. So in August 2014 I changed topic, I started Denigrata, which I knew would provide the data for my research and now it has come full circle. I basically wrote my new PhD from scratch, started a band, all in two and a half years. Lots of people told me it couldn’t be done but 88,600 words later, it is.

My thesis title is ‘Denigrata Cervorum: Interpretive Performance Autoethnography and Female Black Metal Performance’ and I am very proud of it. I use the band as the data for my autoethnography (crudely summed up as examination of the self) and I apply feminist psychoanalysis to those experiences. And why have I done this? Make no mistake, this is a feminist inquiry. It examines the ways in which patriarchy encodes the modes of address and engagement for women in black metal. But it is not a savage take down of the genre, not at all. It obviously has to highlight the problems but it is very much a celebration of what Denigrata and black metal have given to me and what I found in myself during the process.

How do I feel now that it is completed? Well, a bit lost, my drive and commitment have taken a bit of a hit and I don’t really know what ‘normal’ people do with their time?! I now feel grateful that I am lecturing full time because I’d probably go mad without it.

Also during this time, Denigrata have been working on a new album, begin gigging later this year again (after a writing hiatus), released a new video and have acquired a drummer. We have always remained busy. But this time, I get to enjoy the band without the constant weight of thinking ‘I need to write that down’! But, is it enjoyment or panic? I’m not sure I can tell the difference anymore…

In the last year of my PhD, I also got married and conducted/stage managed my first opera (I like to keep busy!) and I am left thinking what does being busy really mean? Is it a filler for other things that I should be doing? I know I want to spend as much time with my husband as possible, and I know I love being creative and am extremely fortunate that I am in an environment where I can be. So I should shut up really shouldn’t I…And yet…
What happens to PhD students after graduation? I have an actual summer facing me now. But I can feel change in the wind, I can feel it in my bones. I can only speculate as to what that will be but for once, I am not going to worry about it. I think I’ll just look forward to my graduation and that moment I’ve been dreaming of for the last five years…