DescriptionPanel: Violence in the Pit: A Round Table Discussion on Safety at Live Events Considering Race, Gender, and Genre
Political and racial tensions in Canada, the United States and the UK continue to impact concert attendance experiences as events resume in the wake of the global pandemic. As heavy metal’s musical and cultural properties have traditionally attracted conservative-leaning music fans, contemporary heavy metal culture must address heightened racial tension, misogyny and political divisions that have led to a reluctance from metal fans to actively participate in their localized scenes. As the majority of heavy metal bands rely on touring and merchandise sales to stay afloat, this issue must be addressed to secure the longevity of the music culture.
This panel aims to consider existing issues in concert attendance safety related to genre, gender, and race. These issues include stereotypes surrounding heavy metal moshpits; the culture of picking up those who fall in the pit; the male dominance of heavy metal concert settings; the stereotype of black audiences and genres as more violent; and sexual violence amongst the audience. In what ways are these issues rooted in racism, sexism, myth, and truths? How can we improve audience experience and safety to avoid circumstances like those which occurred at Woodstock ’99 or Astroworld 2021? How do governments, venues, and industry booking agents play a role in affecting audience experience? How can bands, musicians, and audience members take part in improving concert safety for all?
Our three panelists bring together research on genre, race, and gender as well as diverse experiences from Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom to explore possible solutions to these prominent and pervasive issues. Clare King will bring her research on genre to consider how heavy metal festivals are viewed as more or less safe than those for other genres such as hip hop, pop, or country music. Woodstock ’99 was viewed as a catastrophe. It was the third and last Woodstock event to ever be organized because of the violence in the audience, reports of sexual assault, numerous injuries, and property damage. Astroworld 2021 saw nine deaths due to audience crush. What factors turn audiences from music enjoyment to violent mobs, and what can be done to limit this potential? Laina Dawes interrogates these observations by calling us to identify racist stereotypes that pervade music history. She looks at how artists embody different visual representations to enhance their performances, and how politicized groups like the Proud Boys and Antifa recruit at or boycott shows based on ideologies of audiences and bands. Rosemary Lucy Hill considers meanings of sexual violence to audience members from a feminist perspective, and what venues and promoters can do to address it. Theorising the live music environment as set up for men and fundamentally unfriendly towards women and gender non-conforming people, LGBTQ+ folk, disabled people and people of colour is essential to understanding what needs to change. Together we aim to question how different event organizers, genres, musicians, and audiences can improve the safety of everyone who participates at live events. We look forward to feedback and input from the audience/public during this round table discussion.
Rosemary Lucy Hill is a senior lecturer in media and popular culture at the University of Huddersfield. She is the author of Gender, Metal and the Media: Women Fans and the Gendered Experience of Music (Palgrave, 2016) and numerous articles on gender and music, and on the politics of data visualizations. Her research on sexual violence at live music events included creating a resource for venues to write safer spaces policies (www.saferspaces.org.uk). She is Director of the Popular Music Studies Research Group at University of Huddersfield and sits on the editorial board for Metal Music Studies journal.
Laina Dawes is a PhD candidate in Ethnomusicology at Columbia University. She is also a music journalist and cultural critic and the author of What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal (Bazillion Points, 2012). In 2016, Laina founded Women Clap Back: Women in the Alternative Arts, where she organizes and curates public events concerning black and women of colour within creative industries with limited gender or cultural diversity. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she currently resides in New York City.
Clare King is a PhD candidate in Musicology at Western University in Ontario, Canada. Her dissertation investigates the interaction of gender and genre in Nümetal’s impact on metal music history. Her master’s research on Nümetal band System of a Down was published in the edited collection Songs of Social Protest (2018, Dillane et al, editors). She has given talks on heavy metal at conferences in Germany and France, as well as numerous other conferences on popular music. She currently hosts a bi-weekly online social gathering for metal scholars, while also providing full time childcare for her toddler, and writing her dissertation.
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