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You listen to what? July 24, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Rather enjoyed this interview with Turkish novelist Elif Shafak in the Guardian. A very insightful overview of her work and indeed her political background. But most enjoyable was this:

I notice what a good listener she is, her body angled towards mine confidingly. She is a very serious person. It’s not only that she regards it as her political duty to talk of such things as equality and diversity; she seems to relish doing so. But there’s a larky, student-ish side to her, too. Is it true that she loves heavy metal, I ask. Her gentleness seems a bit at odds with headbanging. “Oh, yes,” she says. “I’ve always loved it.” She lists several bands, none of which I’ve heard of. “I like all the sub-genres: industrial, viking…” While she’s working, she listens to the same song over and over, using headphones so her children don’t complain. Crikey. Can she concentrate? “Yes! That’s when I write best. I don’t like silence. It makes me nervous.” Somewhere in the distance, I hear the obliging roar of a motorbike.

The air of near disbelief that Shafak might listen to that is palpable. 

There’s this from the Spectator:

Ever since my early youth I have loved, followed and respected a certain music genre that some people consider strange, even dangerous: heavy metal. The journey started in Istanbul, at a small, stuffy music store on a side street in Taksim, nestled between an Ottoman mosque and a fish market, where I would buy cassettes of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin, Megadeth, Twisted Sister, Metallica… and then go home and listen to them endlessly while eating sunflower seeds, because that’s what we Istanbulites do to pass time. Over the years I veered towards less-well-known sub-genres, such as industrial metal, symphonic metal, metalcore, gothic metal, Viking/pagan/Nordic metal; and while the cassettes disappeared, my love for heavy metal remained solid.

And this from Prospect:

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I am huge fan of Gothic metal, industrial metal, Viking-Pagan-folk metal and metal core. Especially dark, loud, aggressive Scandinavian metal bands. I listen to this kind of music on repeat while I am writing my novels.

Then there’s this from the New Statesman:

I arrive at Hay and the sun is shining. In the artists’ green room I run into friends, old and new. My first programme is BBC Arts Hour. Writers and musicians, we join Nikki Bedi for a wonderful conversation. In the evening we have a writers’ Question Time. We’re anticipating questions on British politics and the EU, and Trump’s dangerously irresponsible withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The first question comes from a middle-aged Welshman: “I’ve listened to you on Desert Island Discs,” he says to me. “How can you possibly enjoy heavy metal and write fiction to that kind of music?” I blush. It is something I don’t usually talk about – my passion for Gothic, industrial, folk, progressive and alternative metal. I do not have piercings or tattoos and people tell me I am a calm person. As a result, they do not expect me to listen to that kind of music.

Where though is the surprise. Shafak is six years younger than myself and grew up in perhaps a not entirely different cultural milieu where music was at least part of the mix. Not entirely surprising that some people in that milieu would – larky student-ish not withstanding (given my own experience both as a student and teaching students the idea they’re generally heavy metal fans is for the birds) – be into metal. Or as she notes implicitly, classic/heavy rock shading into heavy metal and then as time progressed into other forms. I know people of her general age whose musical attachment to more recent forms of heavy metal is similar.

But perhaps more interesting the idea that somehow it is difficult to believe that people would like this tells its own story. I’ve faced that sort of disbelief myself – even if my musical tastes would be considerably broader than metal/heavy rock and sneaking punk in as the flip side of that coin, I can’t deny that it remains along with post punk and dance/electronica one of the three touchstones of my own musical taste. Though granted I’ll throw a lot of music in under those three categories. Unlike Shafak I kind of checked out after 1983 for a good while, too interested in post-punk, and found a lot of the sub-genres not that interesting, or less so than goth or whatever. But all the while I was still getting the occasional metal album in whatever genre – Megadeth, Celtic Frost, Voivod, The Beyond, Cathedral, Monster Magnet, Acid King and too many others to mention and keeping up with previous outfits. And that’s not stopped, Ruby the Hatchet, Power Trip – it never ends.

And speaking of influence a cursory glance at programmes of this period, and arguably for a good decade or more now, shows how punk and post-punk period has washed up in various parts of media. All those snippets of Joy Division in the background of television shows – or most oddly to my ears on the IT politics podcast as the music used for the intro – merely demonstrates that a certain age cohort with a certain musical taste made it to certain jobs. Yet few will drag Hugh Linehan out of the IT studio and demand he account for his enthusiasm for Closer or Unknown Pleasures. 

Perhaps the fact that metal remains more of an outsider music – to a point though, there’s been something of a slow reassessment, but somehow I doubt it will go that far – is interesting too. And I can understand why it is regarded as less, well, palatable. Where some see/hear primal, protean others see/hear childish, simplistic, puerile. Worse again is the sense that much metal revels in that. But then, I’ve been reading John Cooper Clarke’s autobiography – oddly depressing in parts, though without question amusing, and that of Stephen Morris of Joy Division/New Order and both touch on just how puerile and simplistic and yeah childish punk was too (by the way, to me listening to the Ramones in my teens and hearing just how compressed and efficient they were was a revelation – it was metal (mostly) without tedious guitar solos. Much to recommend it. And there’s huge areas of metal I’m completely uninterested in, or simply dislike the sound or content – almost all hair metal which was annoying and often sexist and bizarrely homophobic  – G’n’R’s didn’t exactly do themselves any favours by certain lyrics; almost all nu-metal; tracts of death metal and certain racist sub-genres – but none of these are unique to metal. I’ve mentioned it before I am big fan of Oi but you don’t want to prod too closely around the margins of that genre. 

In the Spectator piece Shafak reviews a book on metal and writes:

Approaching the subject from various angles, Franklin talks to academics, doctors and people in health care about their take on heavy metal and its impact on young people. He questions the genre’s relationship to religion, authority, power and sometimes racism, sexism, xenophobia. While he does not shy away from pointing out the problematic parts of the history of heavy metal, he also refrains from generalising everything in one broad brush. Heavy metal is a complex nation. As in any nation we have some bad characters, but that doesn’t mean they represent everyone.

One could argue that metal contains multitudes, that in some ways it is punks twin, starting out slower and more plodding, then speeding up a bit, inflecting punk along the way, before being inflected in turn and racing off twice as fast, just ‘cos, all the while drinking beer and trying to find a party. There’s no surprise to me how punk and metal made up in the 1980s and after. Your mileage may vary.



1. sonofstan - July 25, 2021

I’m alway really interested when someone you wouldn’t expect is into metal, and, at conferences on popular music, the metal panels are always a lot more engaging than stuff on vaporwave/ PC music or post- punk p96.

It’s just the music I can’t stand 🙂


WorldbyStorm - July 25, 2021

I think it’s a broad church – it encompasses at its fringes a lot of stuff you probably do like, as do I – the early proto punk and hard rock stuff that was just shy of metal. But it encompasses stuff, as noted above, that I really can’t stand either. I read an history of it a while back which argued that nothing pre-1980 was metal, and there’s a case for that though I think it’s not really sustainable. And after that it goes in so many directions and leads to and back to genres like psych, stoner, industrial, etc. I guess for me if you were to say what detached me from metal for a while was Iron Maiden – I just found their whole schtick really difficult to like and the music irritating (though they had a few good songs to my ears). And that sort of unreflective metal kind of symbolises a lot of what I find least likeable about the genre. Yet how far are they removed from say Motorhead who I really like? It’s a sensibility.


sonofstan - July 26, 2021

There are a few musical tropes that, while not exhibited by all metal, are to be found in much of it that I find hard to listen to – the all down strokes rhythm guitar thing [duh-duh -duh -duh etc] rather than a more ‘swinging’ up and down thing [duh -and-duh-and duh and duh]. Allied to a double bass drum and it gets very hard to listen to for me.
Same with the kind of flash, the more notes the better lead guitar – in fact the whole emphasis on instrumental virtuosity and the measurement of it is pretty annoying too. And the vocals….. and the way it tends to be recorded and mixed.
I have a line in my head between ‘hard-rock’ a lot of which, as you say, I do like, and metal, and it’s probably fairly arbitrary, but it excludes most of what people who do like metal would consider to typify the genre. Thank to my previous job, I have seen an awful lot of metal bands live (and a lot of awful metal bands…), and I totally recognise the power of it in that context and, as I think we’ve discussed before, the generally positive vibe of such audiences. But…..:)

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - July 26, 2021

I think my line is perhaps a little closer to it and with exclusions and inclusions all over the shop but I really get what you’re saying. Whole albums can be very difficult to work through.

It’s interesting that downward stroke is of a piece with motorik, space rock and huge portions of psych, the JAMC, Velvets. And I really like that metronomic stuff in “that” context. But, agree re the double bass drum and somehow what it all gains in power it loses in effect. It becomes plodding and hard going (and oddly parts of techno have the same problem too). Simply being loud isn’t enough. Vocals, well some good but the overly dramatic stuff is a nightmare. Instrumental virtuosity is another problem too. Never bought into that. If a song is good and a melody is good then going overboard about virtuosity is idiotic. Bernard Sumner can’t be said to be the greatest guitarist in the world but to me he’s incredibly effective, groundbreaking in a way.

It’s why I caveat a lot of what I say by time and date. I really like the stuff pre 1984, but have huge caveats about a lot of it post 1983 (if that makes sense!). And the metal I like best after that point tends to be that which has a bit of punk in it, or is space rock inflected. Or if is in black and other genres is also experimental or willing to feck around with other genres. And I suspect that makes me hardly a metal fan at all in some people’s eyes.


2. roddy - July 25, 2021

I feel like the Judge who asked who the Beatles were.

Liked by 4 people

WorldbyStorm - July 25, 2021

But you must know Deep Purple, Sabbath, Zeppelin, no? Cream, Hendrix, Taste/Rory Gallagher? All part of the tapestry.

Liked by 1 person

3. roddy - July 25, 2021

All beat combos m’Lud?

Liked by 2 people

WorldbyStorm - July 25, 2021

Purveyors of skiffle so I’m told.


4. banjoagbeanjoe - July 25, 2021

Remember when prisoners were being released from Long Kesh in the late seventies. Young kids, young men then, coming out of the jail wearing parallels up to their shins. Fashion had stood still in the cages. Bay City Rollers fans many of them I’d say. Proper music.

Liked by 3 people

5. Bagatelle's Unbraking Teaselers - July 26, 2021

In my time I’ve known young earth creationist fundamentalist Christian fans of Metallica and straight-edge pacifist Swedish Death metal aficionados.

Music is that which spans all borders and has the ability to unite us all.

Of course those who don’t like music must be guillotined for they are the alien infiltrators. Naturally.

Liked by 2 people

6. roddy - July 26, 2021

I tend to judge music by how easy it is to listen to and range from 60s classics,classic country,American protest songs, songs of Labour,rebel songs,Irish trad,Scottish trad and movie soundtracks.(who would’nt rate “the magnificent seven” theme or “the big country” for instance!) With regard to “spanning all borders”,I only became aware recently that the best bluegrass banjo player of them all Earl Scruggs performed at anti Vietnam war concerts , confirming my long held view that peoples politics should not be judged by the musical genre they practice.


sonofstan - July 26, 2021

Wasn’t afraid to hang out with the hippies neither:
(I’ve posted this before, but worth a second run)

Liked by 1 person

crocodileshoes - July 26, 2021

Here’s Maybelle Carter showing you don’t have to look like Slash to attack that guitar.


roddy - July 26, 2021

Speaking of guitars,is there anything to beat “Apache” by the “uncool” Shadows?!


sonofstan - July 26, 2021

Maybelle is my guitar hero. It sounds simple until you try to do it.


sonofstan - July 26, 2021

More (sorry WbS this was memant to be metal thread!)

Liked by 1 person

yourcousin - July 26, 2021

There is nothing more Metal than Mother Maybelle.

Liked by 3 people

roddy - July 26, 2021

And he still wore a tie!


roddy - July 26, 2021

(Earle Scruggs the tie wearer)

Liked by 1 person

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