I shouldn’t be writing an article right now. I’m at work, I’m wrapping up a job, I’m moving house to a new job and new flat 700km away, I’m halfway through having the new Senseless album mixed, I’m negotiating new contracts and redundancies and all that shit, but GODDAMMIT I’ve seen some stuff that I simply must pass comment on.
Yesterday, I saw this:
That isn’t some kid on his way to a show. That is fashion designer Avalone premiering their new Fall/Winter collection of sportswear, and what you’re seeing is a model on a catwalk sporting a shirt that has blatantly ripped off the Mortician logo.
Roger from Mortician has an excellent article about it on his wonderful blog, and I read it and thought my usual thoughts about it being interesting and all that. Then today, just as I was getting a coffee into myself, I saw THIS:
To make it totally clear, that is deadmau5 opening his set to a gazillion people by playing a Psycroptic track. At first I thought someone had merely dubbed some Psycroptic concert audio over a deadmau5 set, but then I saw some people headbanging in time, and the sound dopplers a bit when the phone is moved around. Then I saw all the comments from people who were at the set, half thinking it was fantastic and hilarious, the other half thinking WTF WAS THAT?!
My first reactions to things are usually the stock-standard death metal reactions. Sue them! Get the lawyers! Beat the shit out of them! Etc, etc. My next thought was, Avalone’s got some fucking stones. Do you really want to mess with the artistic copyright of someone like Will Rahmer? Mr.Jailed-in-Poland-for-a-Machete-Freakout Rahmer? Have you fucking seen Will Rahmer?!
And then I had a bunch of other thoughts percolate, and they went like this:
When both a fashion designer and the world’s largest electronic dance music are referencing death metal, this should be telling you all something.
And I believe that something is this: that the music and its imagery are more popular than people make it out to be. A large reason why death metal is on the bottom earning rung is because the majority of the artists believe they are underground, and actively reject any form of popularity. My ears are resounding with the sound of the entire metal scene going “DUH”, but think about it. I did an article only the other week that touched on the fact that metal bands are giving up because of money issues left right and centre, and that some bands are resorting to patronage (or what some people call ‘begging’) in order to keep functioning.
Folks, death metal appears in movies, ads, shows, and the sets of the biggest and most untalented DJs in the world. Metal imagery and shirts are referenced by the biggest outlets in the world. Even ‘Lords of Chaos’, the book about the most underground possible bit of an already underground scene is getting turned into a movie. Death metal clings to this pre-pubescent notion of unpopularity as if that’s the only way to define its image. This is utterly outdated, and totally unhealthy to the scene.
The scene operates in a context defined some thirty years ago, with booking agents, venues, managers, and labels all living in a past that doesn’t recognise the fact that the world has moved on. Want to know why people are turning up in droves to these shows with shitty music? Just look at the deadmau5 clip. This dude climbs onto a stage with a backdrop in the shape of a mouse’s head playing swirling images of LAVA, then when he starts his set proper he fires off enough lasers to bring down the fucking moon. Want to know why your gig in Melbourne the other week only had fifty people, but five thousand drove off into the bush for a show? Probably because it looked like this.
I love death metal. I love Mortician’s “Chainsaw Dismemberment”, I love the crazy bastards in the band, I love the fact that every member of Psycroptic is a better musician than I could be in a hundred lifetimes, but if I’m faced with seeing another gig of four guys in black tshirts on the same stage setup with a backdrop in some stinky old venue with a crowd of bonged out smelly boys, I’ll choose the hours of lasers with the crazy PA and art installations and flocks of gorgeous hippy chicks. Death metal, this is your competition.
All these DJs with their shit music and these designers with their shit clothes and lack of talent have all found success, renown, and income. They do that because they assume popularity, and they choose to work in a context of popularity. They assume everyone in the world can potentially like and buy their stuff, and that’s how they operate. There will always be room for the underground, and there will always be a place for those who are so developmentally impaired that they carry an identity of “nobody likes me so I’m going to be unpopular” all the way out of high school and into adult life. There will always be a place for art that is so dark and cutting edge that the mainstream sensibility shrinks from it. But Slayer and Metallica have Grammies, bullet belts are now modern couture, and Gaahl runs a fashion label.
Death Metal, you’re not as unpopular as you think you are. Someone is making the money.
It might as well be you.
UPDATE 3/3/17: Some scrappy publication known as the NY Times influenced by/inspired by/steals Carcass artwork.