The internet has brought many wonderful people into my life that I may never have met otherwise, and one of those fine folks is Jo T. From my earliest exposure to her on Twitter, she has been a passionate advocate of feminism and an equally ardent fan of black metal. She never shies away from jumping into a tough debate, and I have always admired her forthrightness and directness. Jo currently serves as an editor for the much-respected heavy metal site Invisible Oranges.
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How did you first fall in love with heavy metal? What is your metal origin story?
I was a huge Nirvana fan as a young teenager, and then I skirted the edges of the metal scene for many years without breaking through into its centre, I’m sad to say. I had a vague inkling that maybe I’d like metal, so I listened to Metallica, Iron Maiden and Slayer. Metallica I liked, and a friend’s dad taped the Black Album for me , but the other two I did not get on with. I hated Maiden‘s vocals (far too high!) and never really got into Slayer, and so I thought that metal wasn’t for me, as everyone said those bands were iconic. I drifted along listening to Rammstein and System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine and other hard rock/”metal”-esque bands, dissatisfied with my music collection but not knowing where to turn next.
Then, about six years ago, I signed up for Last.fm, and it transformed my life. I used Last.fm radio at the temp job I was doing at the time, and discovered new kinds of music I didn’t even know existed, namely black metal, death metal, folk metal and doom metal. I was overjoyed, and started spending all my spare cash on CDs and gigs. I think Opeth were my major gateway band. They were the group that taught me to love growled vocals, to the extent that it’s rare for me to listen to metal with clean vocals these days.
I also started chatting with and getting recommendations from a friendly (and good-looking!) metalhead from Birmingham; we met in person a few years later and, well, it was love at first IRL meeting, more or less. So now metal is an important part of my relationship, and I couldn’t imagine life without it.
I wish I hadn’t been put off metal as a whole in those pre-internet days, by having the bad luck to try out bands from genres I’m not too fond of even today. Although, if I could go back in time and give younger me a playlist of the stuff I’m currently obsessed with, like Moonsorrow, Endstille, Dark Fortress, The Great Old Ones, Ash Borer, Anicon, Evoken and Bolt Thrower, I’m not sure how younger me would react.
How did listening to metal gradually translate into writing about it?
My day job is freelancing as a writer, so it seemed a natural transition. I wrote a few gig reviews for Londonist, and carried on in a low-key way from there.
Tell us about your work. How did you come to work with the respected site Invisible Oranges? What is it about that site that captured your energy and attention?
My main formal involvement in the scene is as a sub-editor for Invisible Oranges. I’d long enjoyed reading the site, then when I saw [former Editor-in-Chief] Cosmo [Lee] call for new people to join the IO team after he (semi-)retired, I thought, “why the hey not?” It really was that simple. I’m really proud of the material that IO publishes, and it’s a good feeling to know that I’m helping the site maintain its high standards behind the scenes.
I’m considering writing more in the future. I’m working on building up my confidence, and my knowledge of the metal scene. Working in the background is one thing, but putting your opinions out there for the internet to rip to pieces takes a lot of courage!
What is it about black metal in particular that draws you?
Ah, the million pound question. I wish I knew. I can’t explain it. I just know that when I listen to really good, really loud black metal, it hits me like nothing else. I’m far from being a mystic woo-woo type, but there really is something about the best black metal that seems to come from another place.
Do you ever feel conflicted about your love of metal? Is metal ever hard to love?
Oh, all the time. Metal is a misunderstood genre, and some of its more outspoken participants don’t do the rest of us any favours when they make public statements (Dave Mustaine, I’m looking at you). It’s a scene that is pretty un-diverse, in general, but at the same time a scene that I, personally, have found welcoming and friendly. My metal life started and has continued in London, and I’ve made some really great friends from bumping into people at gigs, and recognizing others from Last.fm event pages, and so on. I also avoid NSBM, as frankly life is too short to give time and attention (not to mention financial support) to music made by Nazis. Call it self-censorship, I’m fine with that; there is so much good music out there, I don’t feel like I’m missing out. So on one level I’m very happy with my personal metal bubble, but I also recognize that there are structural problems within the wider scene that need to be addressed.
What are some of the unique ideological/conceptual challenges of listening to and loving black metal, especially from a feminist perspective?
Ha, I wrote a whole article on just that topic, for feminist/pop culture site Bad Reputation. I don’t think I have much more to add to that, just that I have no problem now with borrowing my boyfriend’s Sólstafir t-shirt, because they’re an awesome band, and I am happy to advertise them in public.
I’m currently studying for a Master’s degree in cultural and critical studies, and hope to write my dissertation on black metal. I haven’t narrowed down the topic yet, but I do know that feminist theory will be in there somewhere, along with a bit of Baudrillard, Bataille and Deleuze.
You’re an extremely outspoken, active and informed feminist voice online. What makes you step forward and speak up?
I’ve always been a bolshy, mouthy sort. When the red mist descends, I will speak up, whatever the situation. As I have become more and more educated about feminist issues (another thing I have to thank the internet for) my tolerance for sexist, bigoted bullshit has declined even more. In the context of online arguments about feminist issues, I am acutely aware that my own former prejudices were challenged and changed by people who were willing to step up and say hey, this isn’t cool. So when I argue with someone about something feminist-related, I’m not necessarily looking to ‘win’ that argument there and then, or even to convince the other person that they are wrong (although it’s always nice when that happens!); I’m looking more to speak to the silent majority of non-commenting readers, and to show them that it’s okay to speak out, and that tolerating bigotry is not a great option.
Have you ever found being openly feminist challenging, online or off, especially in the metal community?
In real life: not so much. As I said above, I’m pretty happy with my little London metal community, such as it is. But I am definitely insulated from various kinds of prejudice by the many privileges I enjoy, as I’m white, cis, able-bodied, in a relationship with a white cis man, middle class, British and so on. I don’t want to speak for other metalheads who may not benefit from all the privileges that I do by saying that London’s metal gig-going crowd are uniquely tolerant and welcoming. I’m also lucky in that my metal scene friends are either implicitly or outspokenly feminist, so we’ve created a more-or-less-safe space for feminist outlooks and perspectives.
Online is another matter, really. The internet allows any immature person who thinks women shouldn’t be ‘allowed’ to like metal to air his (let’s face it, it’s usually blokes!) prejudices in the comments sections of pretty much any metal site you care to name, so it’s much harder to escape the pervasive anti-woman sentiment that can be found in various pockets of metal.
I’ll give one recent, illustrative example. After Beth Winegarner published her fantastic piece “Do Not Betray A Metal Woman” on IO (submitted by yours truly), there was a ferocious reaction on IO itself, and on Twitter and Facebook and so on. I got very involved in the debate, as it’s a subject close to my heart. I actually lost a few internet ‘friends’ over that piece — not that I lost any sleep or anything, as I don’t really give a shit if people are offended by my advocation of feminist points of view.
People who are willing to stand up and name themselves feminists or feminist allies are definitely a minority in metal circles. I think attitudes are changing for the better, but there’s a long way to go, as there is in every aspect of life. Metal reflects the wider values of the community, however much we like to think of ourselves as outsiders, misfits, rebels, what have you. So while society as a whole is structurally biased against women (to name just one vector of oppression), metal will reflect that.
I’m happy to stay in the scene, listening to music, supporting bands, going to concerts and having a blast and drinking beer and chatting to my friends, starting to contribute more in terms of writing, even, and recognizing that things aren’t perfect, but playing my part in working to make metal a better place for minorities of all stripes. There’s not much I can do alone, but that’s why I’m such a fan of this column (and so honoured to be included!), and other signs that slowly, the culture of metal is changing to be more feminist-friendly. I’m also in awe of the trail-blazers, like Doro and the Jo Bench, the women who were there from the start, carving out a space for themselves, and showing us all how it’s done.
What advice would you give to women who were interested in writing about metal, working as an editor or otherwise becoming more deeply entrenched in the metal community?
Think about your skills, and what you want to contribute. Can you take photos, do you like organizing events, are you a talented writer? Start a blog, or write to an established outlet and see if they’ll give you space. Go to gigs, take photos, see if anywhere will publish them. The internet has made it easier than ever to get involved. Just have fun doing it, and you’ll be okay.
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Jo T lives in London, UK, and is hopelessly obsessed with Moonsorrow. Laugh at her terrible music taste on Last.fm.
Natalie Zina Walschots writes. Her base of diabolical operations is located in Toronto, ON. Her interests include poetry, heavy metal, comic books, video games, gastroporn, sadomasochism, feminism, and supervillainry. www.nataliezed.ca