avatar for Laina Dawes

Laina Dawes

Laina Dawes is the author of What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal (Bazillion Points Books, 2012). A music and cultural critic, her writings and photography can be found in various print, online publications and radio programs in Canada, Europe and the United States. Currently a 2nd year PhD student in Columbia University’s Ethnomusicology department, her research is focused on the application of how subcultural theoretical frameworks function within contemporary extreme heavy metal domestic and international music scenes.

"Why are white boys the only ones allowed to be angry? Anger, Gender and Race in Heavy Music"
Regardless of gender, race and/or religion, extreme music both allows and encourages listeners to explore and express their individuality in ways that popular culture often encourages them to suppress. This presentation will examine what has (and can) happen when black women musicians perform within aggressive, hyper-masculine musical styles, such as mainstream and underground metal genres, hardcore and punk. Through the sound structures that define them, as well as their lyrical and visual imagery, these music styles are predominantly marketed towards and consumed by white men who are drawn to the music and its accompanying culture for its aggressive sounds, lyrics, aesthetics, and its performative nihilism.

Within this musical world, anger is normative, yet despite the steady increase of black women metal hardcore and punk musicians, the ideology of who could and should embrace the anger and legitimize it as a natural emotion remains stuck within a collection of heteronormative, misogynist and racist ideologies. The current political climate has intensified the verbal and physical backlash towards black women that offer a differing viewpoint, so this presentation will ask the question: despite the systemic and institutional barriers that control access and hinder participation as musicians and fans, can expressing racialized notions of anger within extreme metal music provide a cathartic space for black women to alleviate internalized oppression?