Metal or Classical Music concert?

***Note--everything below is from limited anecdotal evidence from my time in Sweden so far.

I'm still learning a lot about the local metal scene here in Stockholm, but I'm finding trends very quickly. Last night I went to a different club, Rocks, to catch Obscyria, Nominon, and Protector. Three bands, three different starting decades, three bands that had a lot in common...

with classical music.

I wonder how many scoffed when I said that? There have been studies done showing links in mentality. There are discussions on internet forums with people tossing out theories as to why there's a link. There are programs jumping up in metal studies, a conference dedicated to metal music, and some nice journalism with interviews comparing backgrounds of musicians from both walks of life.

But this isn't new information. I came to Stockholm looking for these influences, as well as folk, myths, and political statements.

What I'm finding is different, but equally fascinating.

When I showed up for my first show at PĆ¼ssy A Go Go, I wasn't sure what to expect. Fellow-Fulbrighter Tom Ward is an avid metal fan, and having already been in town the year new the scene knew where to go. Can't even begin to thank Tom enough for pointing me to the right clubs. We met for that first concert, and he gave me some info: expect everyone to be pretty respectful; the moshpit is up front, but it's more fun than insane; for how hardcore the music is, it's laid back.

I wasn't sure what to expect. You hear stories like this from nearby Norwegian bands, or think about the first Ozzfest when it came to Indy, and how the entire center section of the GA grass section turning into a vortex of death, followed by the majority of sod being pulled up and thrown around. These are the experiences we hear about on the news, or see in person--yes, I was at that Ozzfest, got hit by sod, ran in the vortex, flipped off a camera, and a Coal Chamber shirt that had "Don't Fuck With Me!" printed on the back. Said shirt later got me in trouble...and sadly, I have no idea where it went.

But, as I'm finding out, it's not really how the Stockholm scene is dealing with these metal bands. Instead, I see correlations to classical music concerts.

1) Attire. Classical music has it's "specific formal wear." Onstage with an orchestra, it's a tux. And, boy, are there people who hate tuxes. So then we get the newer chamber groups, with flashy modern dress garb. You end up with two groups--concert black, which now means an all black clothing, something a little nice, but no suits; or black with flair, some sort of bright accented colour. No matter what people try to do with classical music, we still end up conforming to our little groups. And that's not always a bad thing.

Go to a metal concert with three bands, what do you see? Everyone on stage is probably wearing a band shirt--and not necessarily for their band. In fact, it's often NOT for their band. In the audience? Band shirts, leather jackets, leather vests with patches from a hundred bands. Surprisingly uniform. Sadly, I left my couple band tees in the US, and I tend to leave my hoody on, so I stand out like a sore thumb. If it wasn't for my long hair and bushy beard, I probably wouldn't fit in at all. Though, that's more a stereotype and not something I see that often.

I'm seeing this less as a class issue--there is of course issues of class attached to types of clothing. I always chaffed at wearing tuxes because I am most definitely not of a class of people who would normally wear a tux. And I have a thick neck.

I'm seeing it as a form of bonding, creating a unique experience, and adding to the "ritual" of the occasion. Shared dress, shared mannerisms, a community made manifest in the physical world.

2) Respect. It's interesting, there's always a fight about not knowing when to clap, and people feeling awkward at a classical concert because they don't understand the conventions. And then there are interruptions via cell-phone, no flash photography, and other rules. As a classical musician, I never cared if people clapped between movements, even though it can ruin the flow...and I think part of that falls on performers on how they choreograph the movement changes. People regard orchestra concerts as stuck up and stiff. During many new music concerts, the paradigm has shifted to a more relaxed attitude. But, one should still be respectful (don't yell in the middle of the song)

Flash to a metal concert in Stockholm. Crazy concerts, intense bands, screaming, headbanging, photography...Well...kind of.

There's definitely headbanging. The majority is up front. Wanna headbang? Join the group doing it up front! Want to do it where you are? Also fine, but keep to your own area.

Screaming! Haven't heard it at all. Not even a lot of talking during songs--there's a little, usually in the next room (where the bar is). But if you're in the live room, you're there for the music. There's no need for a convention saying "Don't talk," because the people there aren't talking--they're attending to the music. There's some singing along, but not often (Well, except when someone is pulled on stage).

Mosh pit! What's a metal show without a mosh pit?!?

I've been in moshpits in the US. They're grungy, nasty things--elbows and fists fly. I take the glasses off when I go in because they will come flying off...and then someone will step on them, then punch me in the face.

Ok, hyperbole...a bit. But even for tame "pop-metal" groups like Bullet for My Valentine, the mosh pits can be dangerous places.

A most pit in Stockholm? Well, there's a lot of head banging. Then someone will start pinballing, hitting shoulders. Arms are tucked. Fists and elbows are not flying. There's shoving...and laughing. Lots of laughing. in fact, I've never been to concerts with so many happy people.

When someone crowd surfs, it's amazing. The group comes together and holds the person up. There's no jerk trying to pull him down. There's no "inappropriate" touching. When someone stage dives, they are caught and carried, laughing, the length of the club...to be carefully set down with everyone involved almost falling over in pure mirth.

I actually almost have a tear in my eye because, to me, that scene was beautiful.

It was pure respect and fun. Here are these guys, screaming about death, murder, Satan, dark pacts, etc...and they're all smiling ear to ear and laughing. Even when the bar got so packed I couldn't move, and there was some light shoving to get to the bar...it was always light, with a nod and a smile.

Respect, pure and simple. The people have come to hear this music, with all its thrash and doom. And that's what they want to do. If you're at the bar, talk away. If you're screaming in the club, you get a few looks--no shooshes or someone yelling "STFU," but a look of "Hey, aren't you here for the concert?"

Oh, there is flash photography, but no one seems to mind. But then, for all those groups, playing their music is second nature--you'd have to rip the guitar from their hands to have them miss a note. With a new music group with three or four rehearsals to put together the latest "new complexity" piece, it takes every ounce of concentration. So, I'll defend the "please, as few distractions as possible."

3) Small groups, made up of other musicians and a few hardcore followers.

I went to a new club last night. I saw a ton of the same people. Some have even started smiling at me in recognition (Soon, I'll be in the group!). And, as I'm finding out, many are in their own bands, or were in bands. Then there are the followers--obvious family members, or significant others. Then, there are the people like me, who will go to just about every concert. All in all, for the concert last night which was packed, probably 150 people. Considering how "big" Nominon and Protector are (in the niche), it'd seem like there'd be more...

But it's important to remember, even in the land of metal, it's still niche. I still got made fun of by a  prick in a rugby shirt coming out of a club--"Have a good time? Rock on! " "Hej hej! Thanks, the concert was awesome. Have a pleasant evening " Pretty sure he was more confused by my reaction than I was surprised by his. It's a niche that's demonized (though not as much in Sweden), and misunderstood (everywhere).

This sounds so much like what we hear in the "Crisis of Classical Music" conversation. The audience is getting older. We're playing mostly to ourselves. Any slight deviation from the norm will scare the audience, and we'll lose them. Find alternate venues and ways to put your music on!

It's interesting, because metal takes the opposite approach in some ways. They've stuck to their traditional attitudes--death metal from the late 80s sounds a lot like death metal being written now. They still play tiny, hole in the wall clubs...when, honestly, the concert last night would have done well someplace a bit larger. Definitely someplace where more than 75 people can be in the live room. 

The audience is the same, and yet, the metal audience doesn't shrink, it stays about the same size. Why? Two bands I've seen were pretty young, Obscyria and Insane (Sweden, not Italy). New music, traditional modes, younger audience following the younger bands. Why are younger generations still interested?

No answers, just questions to ponder.

4) Traditionalism. You won't find two groups more based in the traditional.

When Opeth came out with "Heritage" it was automatically decreed as not being death metal, not even really being metal. Maybe prog metal or melodic metal, but definitely not death metal. This upset some of their base. It also brought in the audience for more prog metal styles. Yes, they are different audiences, though there is overlap (just like the audience for Brahms may not be the audience for Mozart).

As musicians grow, change, and evolve, there's push-back from the traditional crowd. There's a reason bands from the late 80s like Protector still tour actively--the traditional group loves them. They have the attire, lyrics, amazing instrumentals, screaming. If there's a derivation, it's something else.

Orchestra vs. new music. Death metal vs. prog metal. Cassettes vs CDs. Live concerts vs. streaming. It's the question of traditional vs. progressive. The fight over attire can be seen in this light. The evolution of the music itself can be seen this way.

There will always been audience for the traditional. There will always been an audience for progressive. There will, invariable, always be an audience for any given style or genre of music. It may not be a large audience, audiences will overlap, and people's tastes are fickle, but there will be an audience. And there will always been an audience for concerts that like to mix everything up.

And, yes, I still see cassettes being sold at concerts.


These are just a few points where I'm seeing nice correlation. There's also a very good chance these ideas could be spread to broader generalizations of how people interact with music in general. In fact, there are at least three or four general theories above that I've encountered in my studies. But, sometimes, more specific (thought still broad) examples can help see that we're not alone.

That is perhaps the biggest issue I'm having in the "musician of the 21st century" talk--too often the conversations seem to have blinders on; we think the challenge is unique to classical music; that it's the first time in history; that we have to reinvent the wheel.

But what's happening is not isolated to classical music. Trends, ideas, and experiences are much more widely spread than we are taking into account. We do need to prepare classical musicians for modern trends in music--we're already far too late. And we should be looking to other groups to see how they've kept their scene together, melding traditional and progressive. All this without reinventing the art-form itself.

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