Scholarly heavy metal conference comes to BGSUWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
The first in the U.S. academic conference on heavy metal will bring the grit and glory of the genre to Bowling Green State University from April 4-7.
The idea for an American conference began in the late 2000s when BGSU’s Jeremy Wallach, Esther Clinton and Brian Hickam traveled to a scholarly heavy metal conferences in Europe.
“It was clear the whole metal studies thing was taking off and we had this idea that we would do a conference on heavy metal here in Bowling Green, which made sense for a lot of reasons,” said Wallach, an associate popular culture professor.
“Toledo’s always been a metal town and Ohio’s a metal state, especially in the northern part of the state. Toledo is part of the Rust Belt and industrial wastelands have always been a part of the heavy metal mythos from the beginning.”
He added that it also made sense because he, Clinton and Hickam all worked at BGSU, although Hickam has since moved on to become the director of the Springfield Campus Library at Benedictine University in Springfield, Ill.
“The focus [of the conference] is on heavy metal, music and culture and it’s completely scholarly,” Hickam said.
The Heavy Metal and Popular Culture International Conference is free to attend. Registration is encouraged although not required.
Matt Donahue, an instructor at BSGU and a member of the local heavy metal band MAD 45, said, “What’s awesome and a little bit different about this [conference] is it’s an international conference and people are coming in from all over the world. And the other awesome part about it is that it’s free.”
Donahue, who is also filming the conference for a potential documentary on heavy metal T-shirts, said he is especially looking forward to “Roundtable: The Toledo Heavy Metal Scene,” set for 1 p.m. April 7 at the Bowen-Thompson Student Union. Donahue will moderate the panel, which will feature several members of the Glass City music scene.
Clinton, a visiting assistant professor at BGSU, said she’s excited to see other members of the academic heavy metal community.
“A lot of the people who are coming are personal friends. We’ve known them for a while. There’s only so many people who study heavy metal from an academic perspective,” she said.
Wallach said, “I’m very excited to hear the keynote speakers that we’ve brought in. They’re all, in their own way, very accomplished and brilliant commentators on heavy metal.”
Those speakers are Laina Dawes, author of “What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal,” Keith Kahn-Harris, author of “Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge” and Robert Walser, author of “Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music.”
Dawes, who is based out of Toronto, said it’s an honor to speak at the conference.
“It is really important and really special that this is happening in North America,” she said.
Dawes will present “Race, Gender and Authenticity in Extreme Music” at 11 a.m. April 6 in the BGSU Student Union Theater.
The author said she would address some of the reactions her book received. She said she was surprised by how many black men, who were heavy metal fans, approached and thanked her for the book.
“There’s an emphasis on them feeling very alone and not feeling that they have someone they really can talk to,” Dawes said. “This book to them represents, ‘Hey there’s somebody else who has felt the same way I feel’.”
Many of the women she interviewed for her book said they faced criticism of heavy metal not being “black” enough.
“The interesting thing … was that everyone I met and I interviewed was very adamant of the fact that they were very proud of their cultural heritages, and they also made great pains to track heavy back to the blues era,” she said. “There’s always been a black presence in extreme music.”
Kahn-Harris will present his new paper, “Metal After Metal Studies: What Comes Next?” at 5 p.m. April 5 in the BGSU Student Union Theater.
Metal faces a potential crisis and is expanding in several different directions, Kahn-Harris said, adding that the Internet has also impacted how the music scene works.
“What we’re seeing is that while innovation is still possible of metal, we’re not seeing much in the way of historical progress,” he said. “It’s quite possible heavy metal will simply exhaust itself.”
Heavy metal has gone underground in the United States to an extent, Wallach said. He co-edited and wrote for the book, “Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy Metal Music around the World,” which profiles the music scene in several different countries.
“A lot of bands skip the United States when they tour. They go to Latin America or Southeast Asia where they actually draw huge crowds,” he said.
Clinton added that the book and conference are alike in that people from several different countries are contributing.
Wallach emphasized that metal has not disappeared in the U.S.
“The biggest misconception about metal in the United States is that is doesn’t exist, that it’s gone the way of the T-rex and the velociraptor,” he said. “But it hasn’t. In fact, it’s more popular now worldwide than it’s ever been.”
For a complete schedule and to register, visit http://bit.ly/bgconference13.