The Crooked Scene
Gus Mather explores the gender politics of the Australian Metalcore community
Disclaimer: The following piece describes sexism, sexual assault, and sexual harassment frequently. There is also strong course language.
It was perhaps the smallest venue I had ever been in for a concert. It seems to correlate with how bone-crunching the guitar riffs are; the more they make you mosh, the less room they give you to do it in. The Worker’s Club in Fitzroy is filled to the brim with skinny, sweaty white men, a combination of those bullied in high school and those who bullied others. The headlining act, Dealer, concludes their first-ever show in Melbourne, their second live performance since forming the year before. Everyone in the room was waiting for this song, Crooked, to be performed.
“But in this dog-eat-dog world,” the singer cries out. We’re ready. There wasn’t a soul in the crowd who didn’t know the next line of the song.
“You’re still the fucking bitch!” The crowd finishes. I refrain, I’m filming the set, and I plan on showing others; I don’t want people hearing me swear.
The room erupts into a brutal mosh, but only for a moment.
“No. No. No.” He waves his fingers as the music stops suddenly. “Side to fucking side,” he demands.
He was trying to choreograph a wall of death, a common phenomenon that involves splitting the audience in half, pushing them up against the wall, and ordering them to run into the middle. The crowd obliges, and I’m squished up against the wall, phone in hand and blood on my face. I had copped a blow to the head earlier, but I wasn’t going to leave and waste the $9 I spent on the tickets.
“To the back-stabbers,” he yells. “To the fucking snakes.” The drummer smashes the cymbals with eagerness. “But in this dog-eat-dog world,” He repeats, slower and more menacingly. The crowd is rabid with anticipation.
“You’re still the fucking bitch,” I catch myself calling out with the crowd.
The wall of death charges in and collides in the middle. Men, most of them twice my size, are swinging their arms and fists around at anything and anyone. Some of them are swinging their legs around. The atmosphere is electrifying, and I’m buzzing for the rest of the night, but something isn’t right.
The concert draws to a close. My ears are ringing as the lights come on. The spilt alcohol on the floor is sticking to my sneakers, and I have to lift my legs to exit. With the lights on and the crowd in full view, I notice how few women there are at this gig. It’s not uncommon for these concerts to be male-dominated, but the absence is striking. I’ve been to enough concerts to know that at least some women are usually in the pit. I’m oblivious to the reality of the situation. This kind of gig was not especially welcoming for women. The energy may have been electrifying for everyone there, but what’s more important is considering who wasn’t there. The physical barrier for women at a concert was not as obvious to me. I never had to worry about being grabbed, touched, and harassed. But the threat is frighteningly real.
Dealer was a short-lived supergroup that rose from the ashes of the singer’s shattered career. He was once the lead vocalist for Melbourne-based heavy act Alpha Wolf, but in early 2018 allegations were released claiming that he had sexually assaulted a woman. He parted ways with the band, and I was heartbroken. But for the wrong reasons. Alpha Wolf was going to be a supporting act for the first concert I would ever attend, and I was cut that they were not going to appear on what I considered an all-star lineup. The fact that there were allegations went over my head, and I was ignorant of the gravity of the situation.
“Due to the seriousness of the allegations,” He posts on Facebook using the official Alpha Wolf page, “I have not been able to respond or present my version of what actually occurred.”
“What actually occurred.” He’s commenting on the allegations without directly commenting. He’s finding any way he can to kick the legs out from his victim’s argument. The comments on the post are a feeding frenzy, with men commenting that the victim is making these allegations up for attention. Women occasionally comment on the post, defending the victim. They are mostly shot down and buried by their aggressive male counterparts. One year after this post is made, Dealer is formed. Their fanbase consists of those who supported the singer from the start and were overwhelmingly excited for his return. Crooked is the first song they release, and it’s no secret that the song is about the allegations.
A video on YouTube uploaded by Mister Buzz shows a metalcore concert in a larger venue (2017). British heavyweights Architects pause after playing a song. The audience is confused and exhausted; they’re sweaty from moshing on a hot summer’s day. But front-man Sam Carter is furious. He’s pacing up and down the stage.
“I saw a woman crowd surfing over here,” he starts, pointing to the crowd. “And I’m not going to point the piece of fucking shit out who did it, but I saw you fucking grab at her boob. I saw it. It is fucking disgusting and there is no fucking place for that shit.”
The crowd erupts into a cheer. There are notably more women in this crowd. Sam isn’t smiling. He isn’t waiting for the crowd to settle down.
“It is not your fucking body,” he continues, becoming more and more enraged. “It is not your fucking body, and you do not fucking grab at someone.” The crowd hasn’t stopped cheering; in fact, it gets louder. “Not at my fucking show.”
The crowd dies down. There is a look of awe painted on their faces. Looks of pride, looks of relief. “So if you feel like doing that again, walk out there, fuck off, and don’t come back,” he concludes, pointing to the exit.
The crowd is pumped up and invigorated, ready to continue their mosh, yet I wonder how many appreciated the message that Sam had to raise. I wonder how many of them blamed her for putting herself in that situation. I wonder if they would have changed their perspectives if that happened to their girlfriends, sisters, and daughters.
“Fucking coward!” Another band, Make Them Suffer, writes. “That’s somebody’s daughter!”
Make Them Suffer writes their song Hollowed Heart following a similar event. While performing at a concert, a crowd surfer finds himself on the stage with the band. Claiming this territory for his own, he moves for the keyboardist and backup vocalist, Booka Nile. According to her Twitter post, the man groped her on stage (Booka Nile @lebooke).
“I’m a person and this is my job,” she writes. “If you think it’s okay to come to my work and act with such gross disrespect then stay at home because you’re not fucking welcome at our shows.” The final phrase sounds strikingly similar to the conclusion of Sam Carter’s rant against sexual assault at his concert. Make Them Suffer re-tweeted her post and supported her, confirming the incident and further hammering the point that “Anyone who thinks this is in any way okay is not welcome at our shows.” (Make Them Suffer @makethemsuffer). Booka’s response is powerful in this scenario. It makes it real for those who are ignorant or haven’t experienced this before. But not everyone knows this band from Western Australia, and only a small percentage of their fans would follow them on Twitter. What can be done for people who don’t listen to this band and attend concerts with the threat of being harassed?
Australian band In Hearts Wake had an idea for how to make concerts safer for women. To support their single Nomad in 2017, they held a concert in Melbourne and allowed only women to attend. The music video for this song depicts women moshing carefree and (relatively) safely without having to worry about the intimidating presence of men. It’s a unique take on making concerts, and the scene in general, more welcoming for women. It is undoubtedly an idea that should be explored more, but the comments on the video subtract from the experience. Too many men comment on how “sexy” and “appealing” it is to watch women dance at a concert for five minutes. “So much pretty girls” (sic) really captures the sleazy energy of the comment section.
The metalcore music scene is far from perfect. It is a relatively young genre, and it has morphed incredibly over the past two decades. The younger bands from the early 2000s had their heyday of writing songs about sex, drugs and rock and roll (I’m looking at you, Not the American Average), and their time has come and gone. While the themes of sexism are few and far between by today’s standards, small amounts of it trickle into the scene. Songs like Crooked by Dealer still circulate popular music sharing sites like Reddit, and they create the idea that metalcore is still this tainted genre. The audience’s attitudes fail to improve the situation, with the few bad apples spoiling the bunch. But it is the small responses, the calling out of sexual assault in the middle of the concert, the tweets made after getting harassed, the inclusivity of women in audiences and in mosh pits all work together to take down the awful sexism that alienates women in a scene where inclusiveness is everything.