How Researching Heavy Metal and Goth Makes an Impact
Karl Spracklen is a Professor of Music, Leisure and Culture at Leeds Beckett University. His research interests include music, subcultures and identity. Here, Professor Karl Spracklen discusses the real impact of research on metal music.
I am fortunate to be involved in two book series with Emerald. I am the co-editor of Alternativity and Marginalization, which explores the meaning and purpose of the alternative and marginal in culture and society. One of the first books in the series is one I have co-authored with Beverley Spracklen called The Evolution of Goth Culture. In this book, we use the idea of collective memory to explore the controversies and boundary-making surrounding the genesis and progression of the modern gothic alternative culture. We suggest that the only way for goth culture to survive is if it becomes transgressive and radical again. In the period before we put the book together we spent time debating the future of goth with a number of people from the goth scene. That is, goths have approached us because we had written other work on goth. This interaction with critical-minded goths led me to be involved on panel at the first Goth City Music Festival in November 2016. Debating with these goths is a sound way to feel one’s research is being read and being critically examined.
The second Emerald book series I am involved with is Studies in Metal Music and Culture, on which I serve on the International Advisory Board. I have been doing research on heavy metal for a number of years, and have been closely involved in the setting up of the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS). I was the creator and I am now the editor of the journal Metal Music Studies. ISMMS has hundreds of members from around the world, and not just academics. We are proud that professional musicians, journalists and fans are formally part of ISMMS and the wider networks of metal music studies. For academics in ISMMS, the hardest piece of advocacy is convincing people in our faculty organisations and subject fields that heavy metal is worthy of being studied. We have won that argument by having book series like the one on Metal Music and Culture, and by having regular and well-attended conferences and other events around the world.
All this activity on metal music studies demonstrates the impact our research can make. Fans, musicians and others in the music industry are reading the books and the journal articles. My own research on whiteness and hegemonic masculinity (Spracklen, K. (2015). ‘To Holmgard… and Beyond’: Folk metal fantasies and hegemonic white masculinities. Metal Music Studies, 1(3), 359-377.) generated an enormous amount of negative criticism from people who did not want their music labelled a bit racist, and a bit sexist. I cannot point to a causal connection between that paper and a recent trend in metal to challenge the sexism and racism in the scene, but the controversy around that paper and others like it have allowed progressive, alternative visions of heavy metal to emerge.
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