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The Problem with Living in Metalville

The Highline Bar in Seattle
The Highline Bar in Seattle

I live in Metalville, USA, and I feel lucky to live here.

In Metalville, everyone has some kind of interest in metal music, and the citizens of Metalville celebrate that fact. Most people live in Metalville because they want to, and many relocate over long distances to live here. Like anywhere else, there are some people who only live here because it’s where they found decent work, but those people are few and far between, which is one of the perks of living in Metalville.

Many people who live in Metalville also work here. Some work in the service industry, pouring drinks and cooking food, sometimes very good food, and very good drinks. Others are artists; they paint album covers, design posters, take photographs and ink tattoos. Many are deeply involved in the management and maintenance of Metalville. They organize concerts, own spaces and provide security.

When business is good, Metalville is the road crew’s road crew, the infrastructure that supports metal as an economic endeavor in many places.

I’m not being metaphorical. Metalville is a real, physical place, or rather series of places. Like villages within the borders of larger municipalities, Metalville exists inside larger locales. For example, the places where I spend my time, like The Highline Bar, lie inside the borders of Metalville as well as Seattle, Washington. Venues like Saint Vitus are inside the Metalville inside of Brooklyn, and so on. Not all venues that play metal are inside of Metalville, nor do all venues inside of Metalville only book metal shows.

Metalville is also more than just venues, although venues still seem to be the central focus of life here. Art galleries, restaurants, tattoo parlors and clothing stories that surround, cater to, benefit from and are staffed by Metalville’s residents are all part of this community. That said, I’ve never been anywhere in Metalville that did not orbit a live venue.

I’m not sure that metal as a genre needs Metalville to exist. At least not anymore. Judging by documentary footage and journalism from the heights of the NWOBHM, glam and thrash movements, metal relied on storied live venues. The internet has enabled many bands to exist and produce great art with one or two members while seldom playing live (for example, Horrendous or, you know, Darkthrone). It has also created a space for metal fans to interact with one another without sharing the same space, or displaying any investment to the culture visually with clothes, tattoos or piercings.

Metalville is real, but its borders are not distinct, and are subject to random change. In this and other ways, Metalville resembles a seaside resort town. A building can stand inside Metalville one day and then not the next–the town is like a series of islands whose shores change with every storm. One day a building is a part of Metalville, and the next ownership changes and it’s been washed away into the churning sea that is “Everywhere Else.”

The problem with living in Metalville is the same problem that harries destination towns: it is completely at the mercy of outside forces that have no real interest in the community’s thriving or well being.

Sometimes the problem is economic. Metalville’s financial well-being is dependent on money from visitors, not residents. Concerts, merchandise, food and art are luxury and lifestyle items–people purchase them while on vacations or for special occasions. According to one study, only one in five Americans attended a live music event in 2014, and on average those people attend three concerts. The well-being of the spaces that house the community depend on the business of people who rarely visit and, even though they might have a large investment in metal as an artform, have very little investment in the workers, industry and community that house and support the artform.

The problem is also social. Metalville’s residents are, to an extent, at the mercy of the guests and patrons. We rely on their money for our spaces to stay open, and we cope with the fallout of their behavior. And because Metalville is a small community, what befalls a single resident can have ramifications for everyone else. The guy who got gay-bashed at 4AM on Friday night pours my beer with a black eye at 5PM on Saturday afternoon.

I outlined this problem to a writer at this site a few weeks ago. Said contributor wrote an unpublished essay about the futility of debating or worrying about the crimes and beliefs of musicians. His argument was, in essence, that such worries are trivial first because they aren’t pressing to most people and second because they pale in the face of large-scale issues with real-world consequences, such as ISIS or global climate change. It’s a fair point, and I was prepared to run that essay, even though the writer later asked that it not be published.

But here is my rejoinder: said writer is not a physical participant in metal culture most of the time; he does not live in Metalville, but I do. Whenever people in the scene make light of or tolerate sexism, racism or abuse they make the space a little less welcoming for everyone. In the end, if intolerant, abusive and hateful themes do manifest themselves physically, we are on the receiving end.

Even so, Metalville is a decent place to live. I am lucky to live here, first because it offers me the freedom to live with my passions as a larger, more meaningful part of my life, and second because it connects me to other people who share that passion.

Living in Metalville doesn’t make anyone more vital than anyone else, but I also think metal as a subculture is better and richer with great live venues and a community of people supporting them. That community only exists when people are willing to visit and spend money here, and it is only a worthwhile community when it is free from toxic and capricious behavior.

Visit. If you like it, maybe you’ll decide to live here.

Do you live in Metalville? If not do you want to?

—Joseph Schafer
—Twitter – @JosephPSchafer

—Instagram – @timesnewromancatholic

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