Metal and glam: Music subcultures in Boston

by Beacon Staff • December 5, 2007

by Christopher Thompson

Metal was one of the most popular music forms in the world in the late '80s, birthed of off-shoot punk and poofy hair. Overtime though, it has become a music critic's ironic bullseye and pop culture's symbol for youth degradation.,METAL

by Christopher Thompson

Metal was one of the most popular music forms in the world in the late '80s, birthed of off-shoot punk and poofy hair. Overtime though, it has become a music critic's ironic bullseye and pop culture's symbol for youth degradation.

Its greatest media attention now comes in the form of reported correlations to school shootings and the late-evening animated spoof Metalocalypse on Cartoon Network. Thus, metal as you know it - advertised by big hair, AC/DC, apolitical skinheads and Slayer - is essentially dead.

But with a growing interest from obsessive - compulsive guitar video-game players as well as the artistic, indie-rock elite, metal has adapted and found a new audience on its own terms. The hatred these fans harbor still exists - it has a sound, power and tone and the Boston music scene is the place to find the expression of fury in its heavy metal sect.

Around the Hub there is a specific taste for old-vein evil. Many bands from the greater Boston area, like Witchtomb, pursue the no-frills, no-breaks, little-to-no dynamics style of metal.

"We're not your shitty gothenburg style/melodic metal or more generic pizza party thrash," said guitarist/vocalist Ninkaszi. "We're one of the only real black metal bands in the area."

And they dress the part, too. Witchtomb is often seen on-stage in leftover late-90s metal garb-a hooded robe, or their entire body in smoky black paint. Their recordings are exceptionally lo-fi and it's nearly impossible to find much definition between the notes. But, as Ninkaszi points out, the music isn't the point of metal sometimes. And he sees why that can irk some critics.

"We do what we want and ignore everyone," he said. "Most people find metal to be a joke. I can't disagree with them. There are many horrible bands out there."

Those who find the genre laughable might point to the album title of Framingham-based quartet Sexcrement's album, Genitales From the Porno Potty. But there is an audience for this. The abrasively-named debut fulfills the deepest desires for perverted gore and killer riffs for the heaviest of death metal fans.

In all of this aggressive, violent, vulgar rhetoric, though, there is an in to this underground community. With tight rhythms and technically impressive time signature prowess, bands like Revocation collide skilled musicianship with the desire to stay aggressive and raw. And he sees a bustling group of young music lovers willing to join in, if they were given the chance.

"I think the metal community is pretty good in Boston," said Revocation's vocalist/guitarist Dave Davidson. "But the main thing I would like to see is more all-ages venues in Boston."

That area-wide 21-plus age limit has become the one true impasse in Boston' heavy metal realm, killing the hopes of many college-aged fans. O'Brien's Pub on Harvard Ave. in Allston, home of a showcase of local heavy metal nearly every week, abides by it. Allston's Great Scott and The Middle East's upstairs showroom in Cambridge are other would-be hot spots of heavy metal in the Boston area, if they didn't cater to the more-popular and less-polarizing indie and acoustic rock communities in the area.

This week, Great Scott will host one of the final performances by Boston-based thrash group Watchmaker.

A constant in the scene for several years now, with two full length records and national name recognition, the foursome are set to split up this week. But first, they'll be playing on stage at a mainstream bar in Boston, It will not be ironic. It will not be a symbol for angst.

Because, although one thrash icon is set to split, metal in Boston is the furthest thing from dead.

GLAM

by Ben Collins

Thirty years ago the idea of having an event like Glamstravaganza on a regular basis had legs. Long, spandex-covered legs.

Synthesizers. Countless covers of Queen and Pulp songs, along with the strong possibility of hearing "Bohemian Rhapsody" twice. A glam rock outfit contest with pounds of makeup and a football fields worth of fishnet stockings on both sexes. A press release touting the host, Mika Cooper, as a "local singer/songwriter and tranny, uh, personality." A headlining band, MEandJOANCOLLINS, who write songs called "Come Take Your Boyfriend from Behind." A raffle with a grand prize David Bowie doll from the movie "Labyrinth," spandex bulge and all.

But Electric Warriors Glamstravaganza didn't take place in 1977.

It's on Saturday. This Saturday.

"It was really a theme here-the glam rock scene in Boston," said Glamstravaganza promoter Nick Balkin, who is also a guitarist for Logan 5 The Runners, one of Saturday night's performers at Great Scott in Allston. "All we had to do was put together a night and give it a name. But glam is not just about getting dressed up. It has a distinctive sound and it's starting to come back around here."

That sound came from the falsetto vocals, synthesizers and bright guitar-infused sounds of artists David Bowie and bands T-Rex, Queen and Pulp. And the Brit-pop, anti-punk feel carved out an accessible musical form for many youths in the mid-to-late-'70s. And those founders brought with them a culture of feminine-leaning unisexual attire, overt sexuality and passive political rebellion.

But now that transsexuality is far more accepted than it was during glam's arrival, Glamstravaganza is less about mutiny and more about the music. And it's mostly about having fun.

"This isn't like 1973," said Bo Barringer, the vocalist for Cambridge-based glam rockers MEandJOANCOLLINS. "Your parents aren't gonna be shocked at some guy wearing makeup. Hell, a lot of people's parents' parents are not shocked by that sort of thing. The bands that pioneered the whole glam rock movement were going for something very overt. It was really cool, very transgressive and very original at the time. While a lot of the music [on Saturday] kind of touches upon a lot of elements of what they were doing, a lot of these bands aren't going to be completely over the top. We're just interested in making good music."

The focus on making catchy music is what makes Balkin think Saturday's 9:30 show will be the first of many.

"Look at our bill. MEandJOANCOLLINS are influenced by Of Montreal and Spoon," said the 2005 Berklee graduate. "Indie rock is some of [Logan 5 and the Runners'] biggest influences. Almost all of our band names include some pretty accessible pop culture references."

These androgynous artists aren't simply making shallow allusions, however-they're also recreating what they believe is the most powerful pop. "With these bands, it's not a facsimile of what's been done before," said Barringer. "We're just trying to write great songs with strong hooks. And great pop bands are ones that aren't afraid to put in glam elements."

So Balkin and Barringer would like to invite you to their s

how on Saturday. And although there is no dress code for the night's extravaganza they think you'd probably have more fun if you gave glam a chance.

"It's gonna be a really fun night of rock and roll," said Barringer. "It will allow people to try on different identities, step out and step into something they're uncomfortable doing. It's about transformation into something you want to be for the night and let a lot of personality out. It'll be a night where people can feel free to get their glamrock freak on."