SocioHeavyology, Pt. 1 – Why Do We Clap?
Through years of experience and observation, I have come to the conclusion that no one knows what the hell to do with themselves at a metal show. Not a single one of us; not even you or me.
Here’s my proof.
You are in a darkened space, surrounded by a crowd dressed in uniform black, all of whom are staring expectantly in the same cardinal direction. Directional lights turn on from overhead to illuminate four long haired humans performing music amid a pluralith of amplifiers and drums. Their slow, haunting tones and hypnotic thuds are drawing you into a nihilistic trance. The vocalist’s animalistic shrieks and growls prevent you from returning your mind to the material realm; there is no room for distraction here. All your mind knows in this moment is the pain and emotion this musical collective is drawing from your reluctant subconcious. The musicians look to each other expectedly; they break a moment of suspenseful quiet to reach the climax of the piece. With Satan in their heart and hatred on their mind, they massacre their instruments in the worship of Fear. Chords are a shower of knives. Percussion is a volley of cannonfire. Vocalizations announce the arriving extinction of our selfish and puny species at the behest of the contemptuous natural world and the unstoppable march of Time. This riff extends, and mercifully allows you an infinite moment to bask in your sublime agony and its complete meaninglessness. Then, as soon as you are wholly consumed into this anti-space and are certain there has never been another place or time and never will be, the performers abruptly end the piece. In a single picosecond your trance is ended, and the mental blindfold you have woven for yourself through years of jaded acceptance of the mundane and corporeal is burnt to ashes, leaving you with newfound unclouded sight and enlightenment.
Then, after an all too brief pause, the silence is broken as you set your beer on a nearby table, bring your hands together at waist-height, and begin to politely clap. A collective smattering of applause follows, a dismal and awkward gesture given the circumstance. A regrettable instinct from the back of your mind causes you to raise your voice above the pathetic din of manual self-slapping to whimper in your most non-committal falsetto, “Woo!”.
Applause is a perfectly fine method of communicating pleasure and respect, but so often it just feels wrong as a response to intense, dark art. A genuine moment of silence would be a more compelling gesture. No really, it’s ok to be silent after a piece is performed; the Applause Police are not going to come after you and lock you up for crimes against civility.
Standing in a dark room and watching longhairs make loud, abrasive music from atop a raised stage is a bizarre ritual that doesn’t really relate to any other facet of our lives, which is part of why it’s exciting, but also means that none of us has any cultural capital to bring to the experience until we actually attend a show. We can default to what we’ve been conditioned to do in other performance settings and high-five ourselves a couple dozen times, or we can take the opportunity to, as a subculture, do something that feels genuine to how we express ourselves musically.
So what, then? If we want to pay homage to those on stage, what can we do besides mindlessly slap our hands together like trained seals? If the music genuinely draws you to create sound in response to it, perhaps we ought to take after Walt Whitman and sound out a deep “barbaric yawp” that fills the venue with our primordial sound (lol). Depending on the show’s vibe/subgenre, the audience could go full Turisas and clang melee weapons together over their iron helms. You know, Vildhjarta may have really been on to something with creating their own signature cry of “thall“.
To be clear, I’m not arguing that clapping is never an appropriate response to rock music made with distorted electric guitars. After some sweet mosh-worthy d-beat tunes or triumphant black metal, I am absolutely drawn to cheer and applaud because I am happy, excited, and surrounded by other happy and excited people. Rather, the crux of my argument is this; I believe that if you want to show genuine appreciation for musicians who have moved you, then your physical response should be related to how the music made you feel. If you were dragged into dark and unknown corners of your decaying heart, then nod solemnly while you ponder your innate human state of misery and unimportance. If you were left soaring high above the clouds On Wings of Steel, then clap, or jump, or raise a fist, or flap your fucking arms like little birdie wings, but for fuck’s sake just do something that actually comes from your heart.
Coming soon to a Toilet near you: SocioHeavyology, Pt. 2. What inexplicable behavior within metal culture will HessianHunter pick apart with his sexy, sexy brain made of sex this time??? Stay tuned…