Outsider Section: Tracy Chapman

The artist Tracy Chapman is famous, yet not quite much with metalheads, I daresay. Tracy Chapman is an American singer and songwriter, who debuted in 1988, playing a mixture of folk, blues, pop and soul. She has a powerful voice that can both comfort and agitate. Out of her range of seven records, I especially enjoy her last three albums “Let It Rain” (2002), “Where You Live” (2005) and “Our Bright Future” (2008). Next to her musical career, Chapman is engaged in various projects of social and political activism, standing up against racism, heteronormativity and the suppression of human beings.

Watch Tracy Chapman perform “Another Sun” (from “Let It Rain”) live. Isn’t this a beautiful voice?

Outright critical is “Mountains o’ things” (from “Tracy Chapman”, 1988):

By the way, Chapman once played a cover version of Nirvana’s “Come as you are” live onstage in 2005. Curious?

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Seduction of the Masses – Heavy Metal Onstage

More than any other group of fans, most Metalheads share thoughts of unity. Those who enjoy heavy music appear to feel as part of a larger community, united with their fellows not only by their taste but by the outside reception of that same taste as well. They might swap records, wear their metallic uniforms, meet at concerts and bang their heads in unison. Even if you are not into the community that much (as me, living in a place mostly filled with the elderly and having nothing you could call a Metal scene, plus me being a rather unobstrusive metalhead), you are part of the crowd. At least this is how I feel.

Apart from contacts via the web, concerts and festivals are the events that bring us all together. There is a hum of excitement all around the site where a Metal concert will take place. Hours before the event goes off, masses of grinning long-haired youths dressed in black, hordes of bald men in bandshirts, children with Metallica written across their chests and gothic-styled beauties roam the streets.

I have only been to three Metal concerts yet and I loved the atmosphere. My first concert ever, starring Machine Head, Slipknot and Children of Bodom on their Black Crusade tour, took place in Berlin.The Velodrom was packed and we had already screamed ourselves hoarse when the first headliner left the stage. I will never forget the ache in my shoulders the following morning.

Two years later, I saw Machine Head again, this time in Dresden’s location Alter Schlachthof. I wholeheartedly recommend this place: it is small, which creates a special acoustic and a really great atmosphere. The headliner was supported by DevilDriver, who really got the crowd burning.

The last concert I had the pleasure to witness was Skindred’s 2014 show in Leipzig’s Conne Island. A cosy and tiny club, the Island was quickly filled and allowed a brutal sound. Maplerun, Soil and Skindred kept us jumping and screaming and waving our fists and shirts over our heads until we were completely exhausted and devoid of our voices.

I have been wondering about how Metal concerts create such a special atmosphere, and why everyone suddenly becomes part of a whole, united in sweaty, growling bundles of hair and shirts and devil horns. Apart from the community thought I have already adressed, I suspect some psycho-social cause. Heavy Metal musicians seem to seduce the masses easily: it is a typical gesture, an invitation to sing along or a front man’s cheering for the moshpit that builds the spirit of a Metal event. Just take Slipknot’s famous Jump the fuck up-performance: in the middle of their song “Spit it out”, vocalist Corey Taylor instructs his maggots (which is how Slipknot affectionately call their fans) to crouch down on the floor. Usually, a member of the band walks through the crowd to make sure everyone is squatted down. When the song goes on, Taylor inserts into his lyrics the line “Jump the fuck up!”, at which the crowd jumps up in one movement and the moshpit rushes on. I have never experienced anything that bound me more to those metalheads next to me. We were one, strangely enough.

Slipknot do it over and over again. Watch “Spit it out” (from “Slipknot”, 1999) , this time at Rock in Rio in 2011:

 

Benji Webbe of Skindred calls this unity and atmosphere “the power of Heavy Metal” and his concert performance strongly resembles Queen’s legendary “Radio Gaga”. Freddy Mercury used to encourage their fans to clap along as the band did with numerous supernumeraries in their music video. Want to compare?

Skindred’s “Nobody” (from the 2002 album “Babylon”):

Get gripped by Queen’s “Radio Gaga” (from “The Works”, 1984) live at Wembley in 1985:

Festivals might do the same with fans, but actually I have never visited one. Frankly speaking, festivals ask for traits and preferences quite opposing to me: I don’t drink, I can’t stand to be filthy and I am convinced that sleeping in a tent is the most uncomfortable way of resting, outbalanced perhaps only by sleeping on bare ground without shelter in a thunderstorm.

In spite of the many unpleasant side-effects of live Metal – ringing ears, aching backs, broken noses, wet clothes, damaged glasses, tired faces – it seems to draw us right towards it. The seduction of the masses is a phenomenon as old as mankind. There are quite a lot historical situations that may serve as proof for that human beings tend to be manipulated easily. If ever you have read Patrick Süskind’s novel “Das Parfum” (“Perfume”, 1985), you can perhaps understand why Grenouille’s might always reminds me of heaving crowds in front of stages: shortly before his execution, he waves a tissue with some drops of the scent of humans, collected and brewed from the essences of many beautiful women. Thus, he enchants the crowd and escapes death. A certain enchantment and the reactions of several hundred people to the action of a single man on a stage is what live Heavy Metal is for me.

The murderer Grenouille’s success is a strange thing to see:

A great result of this particular unity permeating Metal concerts is that fans act with much more respect, care and thoughtfulness than people do in many other realms of social life. You will never see someone trampled on in a moshpit, rather the strict rule is to help up those who have fallen as quickly as you can. My experience has shown that this rule is tightly obeyed, that metalheads generally give a hand if necessary, protect those who are rather delicate, and usually make room for the tiny (like me).

If you want to try out this kind of seduction, just take a dose of live Heavy Metal – but take care: you might become addicted.

Heavy Metal Nationwide

I’m back in Germany after nine truly revealing days in South England. Apart from the British nation’s undeniable eccentricity (no offence, mates!), the folks over there are a talkative, cordial people who enjoy a little chat with strangers such as me now and then, and who do not hesitate to offer help or pay compliments. Next to exploring whether the stereotypes about the Brits are actually true or not, I have discovered living proof for my thesis of nationwide Heavy Metal boundaries. I found it in a restaurant in Looe/ Cornwall. My boyfriend, a huge fan of Metallic noise as well, was wearing a band shirt when we went for dinner. It was a shirt of American band Disturbed, displaying a fist-brandishing gloomy creature (which, by the way, is their mascot The Guy) and belonging to the first album recorded under their current band name, “The Sickness” (2000). We were served our meals by a young British waiter, who then addressed my boyfriend, mentioning that he liked Disturbed as well. This is proof for my claim insofar as we could go for any place in the world and always find someone who does not only share our taste, but openly shows his or her heavy preferences in a constant search for new companions and bands to discover. It is small wonder that experiences shared worldwide are generally events of music, and it appears logical that Heavy Metal exports are greatest, since Metalheads seem to be the most sincere fans of all genres. Just think of the border-smashing legends Rammstein or Metallica

The Guy live in Dallas (Picture by John Peterson)

The Guy live in Dallas (photo taken by John Peterson)

Considered from the angle of classification, Disturbed is a very controversial band. Neither do they play what the strict and traditional listeners term “true” Heavy Metal, nor do they deliver pure Hardrock. The categories of Alternative Metal and – due to the bands year of birth, 1994 – Nu Metal have been called forward as well. The category “alternative” might fit best, because it designates a type of music hitherto unheard of, and Disturbed really succeed in surprising their listeners. Their music is founded on heavy and often low-pitched riffs, shaped by vocalist David Draiman’s exceptional voice and made round by classical Metallic lyrics with a pinch of drama and much depth. Personally, I have always been quite impressed with Draiman’s vocals, because he does not only offer a powerful clean voice, but also has quite a number of different sounds in stock that make you perk up your ears. In contrast to many heavy contemporaries, Disturbed also manage to produce serious mid-tempo records. In 2000, the band Brawl lost the singer who had performed on their demo-tape, recruited a new vocalist and was re-named Disturbed. “The Sickness” was published in the same year and slingshot Disturbed into fame and fortune. They first toured under the wing of famous shockers Marilyn Manson. Oustanding on their debut is the song “Violence Fetish”: Their second record “Believe” (2002) did not disappoint their crowd in the least, including tracks like “Liberate”: Disturbed’s 2008 album “Indestructible” features some outright serious content. “Inside the Fire” displays the suicide of a young woman, albeit quite artfully. Draiman introduces the video with a short appeal to viewers and listeners not to ignore telltale signs and help those suffering from a suicidal mood. As a cover band, Disturbed do a good job as well. Their debut features a cover version of the well-known Tears for Fears song “Shout”. The New Wave band had published the original in 1984. Which one is more fun? Compare and decide for yourself: [Note: The second, third and fifth video cannot be watched directly on this blog. Click the play button, then right-click YouTube and have your PC open up a separate tab.] Planet Earth might be vast, but the Heavy Metal world is actually small enough for us to find each other. Why not go searching?