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Name 3 songs by Eximperituserqethhzebibšiptugakkathšulweliarzaxułum
Gatekeeping in Rock & Metal. Why it happens and why it's counterproductive.
A few years back I saw the band name Eximperituserqethhzebibšiptugakkathšulweliarzaxułum. I guffawed and scrolled on through the website I was browsing. Then a few weeks later I saw it again. This time I risked a click. It was great technical Death Metal. I also learned it’s acceptable to shorten the band name to Eximperitus. I now have three of their albums in my music collection and I’ve listened to each of them several times. I love them. Gimmicky name aside, they are not a gimmick band. They play atmospheric, skilful, (and it’s not too much of a stretch to say) soulful Death Metal.
But I can never remember what any of their song titles are. Does this make me a bad metal fan? If I’m describing the band to a non-Metal friend, do I use the full band name? Do I describe with great detail their album artwork? Do I need to talk about how Newcastle metallers Venom more or less invented extreme metal back in 1979? If I’m in the mood I fucking will! But that’s the thing… that is in itself an accidental form of Gatekeeping.
I recently wrote an article about legendary Californian thrashers Megadeth. When they played Cork (my home city in Ireland) back in 2010, I mentioned to a non-metal friend that I was going to the gig. She thought for a moment, before commenting that Megadeth made great t-shirts. She had obviously seen the various cool album covers on t-shirts worn by metal heads over the years.
Recently enough Dave Mustaine of Megadeth was in the Netherlands, when he encountered two young women. One was wearing a dress emblazoned with the Megadeth logo. Things got awkward as you can learn in this article. tl:dr (the girl wasn’t familiar with Megadeth). Mustaine was apparently disgusted.
I can understand Dave Mustaine getting annoyed in some respects. He started the band in 1983, so a solid 39 years of his life have gone into the brand. He’s incredibly famous in metal circles, though not so much to two young Dutch women apparently. I reckon that he is savvy enough to know his licensing deals mean $$ in his bank balance, but his pride was hurt.
The below meme is a pretty famous one in metal circles and there is an actual story behind it. Usually the meme is portrayed in such a way that Exodus (and Slayer) guitar player Gary Holt is calling out Kendall Jenner for wearing a Slayer t-shirt as a fashion item. The truth seems to be a tad more complicated. Kendall may have been accidentally wearing the Slayer t-shirt, or it may be a zinging riposte to Holt’s earlier t-shirt picture. She is turning Slayer into a fashion statement as revenge for his t-shirt! That’s rather meta to be fair.
Most of us have been victims of Gatekeeping at some point in our lives. We most likely, have all been that very gatekeeper as well, even unwittingly. In its simplest usage Gatekeeping is the practise of using certain criteria to determine if someone is a ‘real’ fan of a niche interest or not. “Oh you like the Marvel movies do you? I’ll bet you can’t name the original comic Spiderman appeared in!” That kind of stuff.
Why do people Gatekeep? It’s because they love the thing they’re gatekeeping. The thing has been with them when they weren’t popular. It was there when they had bad times. The thing may even have saved their life. This is powerful stuff and not to be sneered at. Then suddenly other people are (from their point of view) appropriating the thing.
There are two sides to this apparent appropriation.
New fans. Say for example you are a teenager. You hear a song you instantly fall in love with. You don’t know the bands history, but the song is so great that you go out and buy the t-shirt. You literally cannot name three songs by the band. This has occurred many, many times throughout the history of popular music.
In my early teens movie director Oliver Stone released a biopic of 60s psychedelic act The Doors. ‘Light my Fire’ made it’s way back into the charts all over the world. Every teenager became a fan of The Doors. Some actually investigated the band and went through their back catalogue from ‘Break on Through’ to ‘Roadhouse Blues’. Others just thought Jim Morrison was sexy. Mostly they were just lusting after Val Kilmer’s portrayal of him in the movie. I imagine real Doors fans were horrified.
The same thing happened with Queen when Bohemian Rhapsody was used in Waynes World, with AC/DC in Iron Man II, and today of course with Kate Bush in Stranger Things. (spoiler warnings for all 3 if somehow, you haven’t seen these scenes). The final episode in the current season of Stranger Things was (kinda) spoilered for me by seeing Metallica hash tagged on Social Media with that show. This is going to both trigger and delight metal fans for a number of reasons, mostly because ‘Master of Puppets’ is to modern metal music what Moby Dick is to novels about whales.
People buying merchandise with a band name on it when they aren’t an expert on said band. One of my very best friends once purchased a 'Paradise Lost’ t-shirt. It had the album cover of their epic fourth album ‘Icon’ on it. He had definitely heard a few songs from it, but was by no means a metal fan. The t-shirt purchase was a ‘I like this band and the t-shirt is cool’ sentiment. I doubt he could ever name one song by Paradise Lost.
What about buying a t-shirt or (like the Dutch woman) a dress with a band logo on it, where you haven’t heard any songs? Is that bad? Is that a sort of cultural appropriation? Who is actually being hurt here?
As a teenager I was into grunge, hard-rock, and metal. Even within those sub-genres there was gatekeeping and musical snobbery. Some people hated Pearl Jam. Others hated The Smashing Pumpkins. Like many, I loved both. Some kids couldn’t stand this apparent fence sitting. You couldn't like both. You had to be in a particular tribe. As a teenager I was also into Table-Top Roleplaying Games and comic books. I’m personally delighted that both of these hobbies have hit the big time and the mainstream in the ‘00s and ‘10s.
Personally I believe everyone should be allowed to find nice things in their own time. If Stranger Things brings both Kate Bush and Metallica to a new generation, that’s just brilliant in my opinion. I won’t even ask your kid to name three songs from ‘Master of Puppets’. I’ll ask them to name three songs from ‘Ride the Lightning’ instead and mutter noob under my breath.
The point is, that I’m protective of the things I love. I understand the urge to Gatekeep, but without new blood to support the music or hobby it will become stagnant and eventually die. If Stranger Things is the phenomena that gets kids into roleplaying games or good music from the 80s, then that’s great. Roll on Season 5. Maybe it’ll feature a few tracks from a new artist this time. Maybe it’ll be Eximperituserqethhzebibšiptugakkathšulweliarzaxułum!
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Are you a Noob or a hardcore Gatekeeper of Norwegian Black Metal? Let me know in the comments!
Next week: Leather, lace, and war-paint!