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Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey

By Bhavita Bhatia | March 22, 2007

Split Magazine: Sam Dunn at Razz RhinoPhotographs by Akshay Sharma

Down the ages, metal heads have been stereotyped into characterless, savage, dim-witted brutes with piercings and tattoos in unmentionable places, followers of ear-splitting, incoherent, raucous, raspings sounds. Not that it in any way, diminished or impaired the musical appetite of the metal followers, most of them brushing off the ostracism, some even embracing it, basking in the glory of banishment from society.

But the perceptible damage it did to metal music itself is deplorable. Often criticised for being “harmful to impressionable kids and sparking off violent behaviour among youth”, if not “causing damage to ears”!

Metal connoisseur, a lifelong metal fan and an anthropologist, Sam Dunn took it upon himself to unveil the largely underground metal scene and to answer the question of why metal is consistently stereotyped and condemned. That led to the making of his exceptional documentary, ‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey‘, which attempted to understand the reasons for discriminatory treatment meted out to the denounced metal community.

Post the success of his first film, he’s now taken on an epochal task — his next journey explores the global metal scene, for which he has already toured across Japan, Israel, Indonesia, Brazil, China, Dubai, and various other countries. Titled ‘Global Metal’, it is slated to release early next year. He stopped over in Mumbai recently for the ‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey: India tour‘ gig at Razzberry Rhinoceros, Mumbai, and then of course, made his way to the phenomenal Iron Maiden show in Bangalore. “The Iron Maiden concert marks the arrival of metal in India,” the lanky 30-year-old Dunn says. A metal fan myself, I ask him what his tours to the metal scene in other countries has exposed to him. What is metal like in other countries? He replies, “Metal is a form of music that reflects or captures issues or struggles people go through depending on their own societies. And people in different countries have different reasons to rebel. In Indonesia, it’s dictatorship, among other things. In Israel, it’s the political and religious conflict. And in India, I have noticed two things. Firstly, it’s the rebellion against tradition.” He takes his camera to the back of the venue, where a wedding was being held (in the Razz lawns). Amused, he exclaims, “I’ve never seen anything like this before!”, as the ‘baarat‘ belted out Himesh Reshammiya’s songs. “Also, the musicians I’ve met here want to be forward-thinking, and are looking outside of India to rebel against what’s popular or mainstream. What amazes me is the huge film and music culture that India has, and people here seem to be tired of that.”

So does he find any commonality in metal heads the world over? “That’s an interesting question. My second film tries to explore that,” he replies, “Metal is about unity… sticking together and standing up for what you believe in. It’s about being your own person, being autonomous. Only the ways in which people are rebelling and what they are rebelling against is different. You know, what was great was that I see all these different faces, in different countries, but what they’re wearing, the music they listen to, is the same.”

“Also, the aggression that emanates from metal helps you vent a side of you. We all have our own shit that we need to get out.” He adds later as I’m scribbling down in my diary, “Sheesh, that’s not the most politically correct statement!”

So why are metalheads constantly stereotyped, I ask him. This is prevalent not only in the Indian media, but also in the United States, to which he agrees. “The most common impression is that metal fans are dumb. That our music is not thought-provoking or intelligent. That we worship Satan. And that we are violent. But you see, music is a vehicle for expressing onself — and metal confronts taboos like evil, sexuality, death — the kind of issues that society shoves aside. Metal confronts it in the most visual and spectacular way. Really, after coming out of the mosh pit in a metal show, the last thing you want to do is go out and pick a fight!”

What’s interesting, though, is the response of the people who don’t listen to metal. Sam responds, “I had these people coming up to me and telling me they never thought they would like a film on metal! Metal is just another form of music, like jazz or hip-hop. We shouldn’t try and force it down anyone’s throat. But at least if they give it a chance, it perhaps brings the curious outsider in.”

His first film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and was released in 20 other countries. Indian metal fans walk up to him, and floor him by saying, “You’ve made a film that metal fans can be proud of.” Others tell him, “I’m jealous of you — you’ve got the coolest job in the world!” He later tells me, “Honestly, I wasn’t expecting the Indian crowd to be so passionate here.” Although what interested him the most was the Hindi metal band, Prakalp. “I’m a fan of Demonic Resurrection, Bhayanak Maut, though Prakalp was quite interesting!” he signs off.

Comments

16 Comments. Post Yours Here.
  1. March 22, 2007, 6:12 pm Shraddha

    thats a very well laid out article!

  2. March 22, 2007, 8:35 pm Vikas

    Nice interview mate.

    I watched Sam’s first documentary 2 weeks after it was aired in toronto film festival. a friend of mine in canada calls me and tells me that she saw this amazing documentary about metal and i had to watch it. i somehow get hold of it from the net in the next 2 weeks and i myself was pretty amused by how well the documentary was made. from opening credits to the last interview, everything done perfectly.

    i met Sam at Eddfest and i spoke to him about his next documentary. he surely dint expect the indian crowd to rock so hard. he was with me and a couple of friend during the complete iron maiden set. he was shooting in the pit for his next documentary. dont be surprised to see me in it :P … either way, all the best to sam and wat he’s doing to metal is really really inspiring.

  3. March 23, 2007, 9:41 am Frank

    gr8 goin Bhavita.. nicely done..

  4. March 23, 2007, 10:25 am Uday Dutt

    Who is Sam Dunn ??

  5. March 23, 2007, 6:56 pm satchit

    Hey Good article.

    Cheers,
    Satchit

  6. March 24, 2007, 3:51 pm Vimmi

    very well written, Bhavita!

  7. March 24, 2007, 11:59 pm Bindi

    Bhavita, very articulate and nicely laid out article. It was nice to know about metal and metal heads….had not heard about it before. Good luck to Sam.

  8. March 29, 2007, 7:35 pm 2Blue

    When I met the author of this article at the last VAYU gig at Hard Rock cafe, I smiled and told myself “Wow, reporters can really be pretty!” After having read this, I’m now telling myself that there’s so much more to her. :)

    Awesome read, this! Quite a repertoire of words! Very fluid too!

  9. March 29, 2007, 9:17 pm Bhavita

    jesus…thanx u guys!(except 4 MR. uday dutt)
    But the pt of this piece is really to understand and believe in the power that music holds..on the meaning behind it all…and to BELIEVE in it..however preachy that sounds!

  10. April 2, 2007, 11:52 am Squid

    Very interesting indeed, especially the point about how the raison d’etre for metal bands varies with their socio-cultural milieu. But do you guys agree with Sam that Indian bands are primarily rebelling against tradition? To me, ire against ‘The System’ and inner angst seem to be the chief issues therein…
    Anyway, look forward to more such stuff from you Bhavita. Cheers!

  11. April 6, 2007, 3:14 pm Varun

    I think so bhavita has beautifully tried to capture the pulse of what metal is all about and how it is wrongly percieved all over the world…….gr8 article ..well written….

  12. April 13, 2007, 6:39 pm CruciFire

    Yeah, nice article and I HAVE THIS FCKNG CD and trust me its way too AWESOME!!! If there is a BIBLE (or rather e-Bible) that all metalheads should read/watch, THIS IS IT!!!

  13. May 8, 2007, 4:40 pm Sai

    Yes i luckily was one among the 3 bands selected by Sam Dunn to be interviewed in Bangalore. he is very chilled out and had lots of interesting questions to ask. I think this documentary is going to showcase the Metal scene in India. he too had the same expectations.

  14. May 11, 2007, 12:28 am preeti

    hey bhavita i jus read ths article of urs and juz loved it….so articulate and very well written…keep up the good wrk

  15. February 12, 2008, 4:37 pm Mobster

    Hmmm… I a newbie here and i see samul dunn has made it here too, eh?
    but people, don’t you see a striking similarity between this article and samuel’s movie’s opening???

    You score a negative here dude…

    This article could’ve had been done in a far better manner both in terms of content and crativity…

  16. November 30, 2009, 6:50 am Natash

    pheewwwww…. i never had imagined such a potential is hidden in Bhavita….well i underestimated u baby, but ur work here simply swept me of my feet…humty dumpty had a big fall……keep up the gr8 work honey…..

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