This post is inspired by a post I just read on Rate Your Music which struck me as particularly interesting. In a thread generally about metal, one guy wrote this:
"I dabble in black metal because at times it resembles bombastic shoegaze, but I guess I'd say there is too much lion-like roaring, presumably to imitate satan's beast the antichrist in a bid to as archangel guard the lord almighty until his ultimate defeat."
What makes this remarkable is that this is perhaps the first time I've heard someone infatuated with "hipster black metal" who's willing to express the reality of what they like: not black metal itself, but some of its aesthetic tropes when combined with a style of music that they prefer. This guy doesn't claim to be into Mayhem or Darkthrone, doesn't posture as a guy who's deeply into Ukrainian NSBM, and doesn't pretend to "get" the style of music at all: he openly admits that black metal itself is not really what he's looking for. Herein lies the great gulf between "hipster black metal" and the metal scene itself- this grey area is never explored. Most of the people in their overpriced Wolves In the Throne Room hoodies see themselves as an intrinsic part of the metal scene, just like any other metalhead, when they are absolutely (and quite obviously) not.
Fans of hipster black metal/sludge/doom/what have you tend to decry the more traditionalist parts of the metal scene as elitist, but this is hardly the case. Metalheads at their root have no problem with the music of Liturgy, Thou, or any other sort of tertiary hanger-on of the metal scene; the issues lie with the ideology of the fans and their obsessive desire to belong to a community that they otherwise seem to dislike. Most outsider metal bands- those with members cultivated from punk, indie rock, or any other style- have no desire to make music that reflects and embraces the carnal musical and ideological ethos of metal itself; rather, it's an attempt to manipulate metal to the genre of their choice. Members of indie rock bands almost never form a straight-up raw black metal band that would be indistinguishable from the rest of the scene if you didn't know their pedigree; the indie history becomes in and of itself one of the most important parts of the music. Which begs the question: why form a metal band at all?
This comes to my main point, which is a phrase I've coined for this sort of activity: "hipster gentrification." Gentrification refers to when an affluent section of the population moves into a lower-class section of a city, seeking out cheaper property or a sort of "authentic culture" that doesn't exist in their own community; the result of this is that the "indigenous population," so to speak, is forced out of their own homes through rising costs of living, as existing businesses begin catering to the affluent instead of the indigenous. Keep in mind that the value judgments- the estimations of money, or of "high" versus "low" culture- are fairly irrelevant here; it's just a shorthand to describe the sort of cultural imperialism that we've seen in the metal scene.
This is not to say it has to be this way. As the starting quote of this article shows, it's entirely possible for members of other scenes (in his case, the shoegaze scene) to be, as Pavel would say, "genre tourists"; people who intrinsically understand that they aren't a part of the "black metal scene" proper, who simply desire to sample the elements they enjoy at their choosing without investing themselves fully. I would say that this is what the majority of the hipster black metal scene does, but what separates the individual above from the bulk of them is the honesty with which he expresses this value. This guy isn't a part of the metal scene, and doesn't want to be- there's merely aspects of it that he enjoys, and the rest of it he feels no need to delve into.
The inherent problem with genre tourism is that most people are whetted to a particular musical community (at least when it comes to music nerds like myself and those reading this blog,) and everything outside of said home community is treated like a playground. I'll admit it myself; the scenes with which I have a more tertiary interest (hip-hop, electronic music, noise, punk, etc.) are definitely handled, in my mind, with a lighter hand than metal, simply because I haven't followed the history of those genres extensively and haven't invested the time and energy into them that I have metal. However, what I don't do is start a breakcore project when the only member of that scene I really like is Venetian Snares. Why is that? Because I don't want to be a metalhead making a breakcore project- I'd like to make a breakcore project that stands on its own in its own musical community. Otherwise, the results would be shallow and designed to appeal more to my scene than theirs. In short, it's not my place.
However, you regularly see this in the metal scene with hipster black metal or its related substyles, both in musical and ideological form. Take, for example, Iskra, a band that earns a great deal of my ire. Iskra makes a crust punk/black metal fusion, but the black metal is pretty tertiary as Iskra very clearly resides in the crust punk scene. This wouldn't be an issue if the "black metal elements" weren't pushed so heavily, and the lyrics weren't about exactly the sort of 15 year old humanist poli-sci that black metal so staunchly opposes. This is not a natural combination of two related styles; rather, it's Iskra's attempt to humanize a genre that's not their own, and push their own personal ideology into a style that roundly rejects it. The same phenomena is obvious with Liturgy, Thou, and any other number of bands.
I don't want to suggest that ideology is the be-all, end-all of musical communities; rather, I'd suggest that the way the ideology is expressed must be in tune with the scene it's emulating. As I stated in my piece about Christian metal, I would be a thousand times more comfortable with Christianity in metal if it was expressed in a manner congruent with the bulk of the metal scene: warlike, violent, aggressive, and dogmatic. The same goes with Iskra: I would be perfectly fine with their silly far-left politics if their lyrics were violent and revolutionary. Instead, we're left with a bunch of hand-wringing lyrical imagery about how being cruel to gays is just, like, so totally mean! Even Brutal Truth did better than that (and with better music to boot.)
If you're the sort of person who isn't a metalhead but is reading this blog anyway (and apparently there's a fair number of you out there,) you probably understand that this is, inherently, not your scene. This isn't us restricting access to it; feel free to enjoy the music, talk about it, share it with other non-metalhead friends, and combine it with your own styles in rich and varied ways. Simply understand that our scene, like yours (whichever it may be,) was not constructed as a playground for you: we have our own narrative, our own history, and our own community, so if you're going to be a tourist, don't hide the camera and the fanny pack like we're not going to notice.