During my interview with Francesca we have been surrounded by the band, no longer Francesca now Manea, I have the exciting opportunity to interview Denigrata herself:
"I am Denigrata herself and I am a senior lecturer in popular music and have just finished a Phd on women in black metal".
"Women that love music that doesn't love them back"
Could you explain to me a bit about the difference in the female experience of black metal in contrast to other metal genres?
The difference between black metal and other sub genres of extreme metal, is that whilst it has had significant problems with racism, it has never really had the specific excription (writing out of) women. In contrast, if you look at genres like porn grind and death metal in particular. They very obviously, not all of them, but there are some very interesting specific examples that are misogynist, there is literally no way of getting around it. Cannibal corpse is one of the first ones and there is a band out at the moment called Prostitute Disfigurment that is a band that I have a particular problem with, I have actually written a paper about them that is coming out in a book called ‘under my thumb’, about the women that love music that doesn’t love them back. That’s due out in September. They have song titles like ‘cum covered stab wounds’ ,‘she’s not coming home tonight’, ‘dismember the transgender’ and your like okay so at some point is this expressive freedom or is this you just being an awful and you are using that to hide behind. Its Stuart Hall’s encoding and decoding, isn’t it. What do you encode into that message and what is it that the person is decoding, because the band could defend that all they like. But someone sitting at home listening to the CD in their bedroom, they might not have access to that kind of information and they are just taking it as that piece of cultural text as it is and that is dangerous!
How did you become involved in death metal?
I was a death metal guitarist for ten years before I started playing black metal and increasingly I saw a rise over that period of sexism. I didn’t notice it to begin with, maybe that was because I wasn’t looking for it. I was so interested in playing the guitar and being in the band and giging and the rest of it that if someone was a dick to me I would let it go. There was a turning point and I was playing in graves end and we were on stage and this guy tried to get on stage and he was trying to grab at my feet and I was looking around at the band to help me. But it is very loud at a metal gig and no one could hear me. In the end I had to kick the guy to get him off and that was a turning point. When I went to the loo after the gig their were two men waiting outside the loo for me. That was a turning point for me and that was when I started to notice a difference. In that moment I wasn’t a guitarist I was a women. The fact that I could use my instrument on stage, it is between me and the audience. As soon as I was off stage I didn’t have it on me and I felt kind of naked.
"All we can ever do with the system that we have got is create a crisis point or a breach"
That is awful, was this while you were doing your PHD?
No, this was a long time ago. I started Denigrata originally as the methodology for my PHD.
But that was done and dusted very quickly and the band has taken on a life of its own. What I was looking at in my PHD was not just women’s representation but there is a huge difference between fandom and being a performer. There has always been women metal fans, there has very rarely been female performers. Even though it looks like there is more now it doesn’t mean anything has changed.
All we can ever do with the system that we have got is create a crisis point or a breach in the way that the hegemony works. Metal is nothing more than the extension of the dominant discourse and as miserable as it is to admit that, its not going to change. I don’t think it will change, the hegemony was never designed to represent anybody other than itself. It wasn’t made to engage with women, it wasn’t made to engage with LGBT communities, it wasn’t made to engage with different ethnic minorities. It has always been white male. How do you go about doing something about it? The best way is to get on the stage.
Metal academia is relatively new. Black metal theory has only really been going since 2010. Metal music studies has been going since the 90s and you have some early authors and theorists who are now, looking back quite problematic but they are right in what they say, women have always been signified as girlfriends or groupies, you go to a death metal gig and it is no different. There is the odd band like mortals or castrator from Brooklyn, but we are the minority. You go to black metal gigs and me and Manea (Francesca Stevens) are the only women there.
The universal is male and it doesn't recognise that women have different experiences.
Why aren’t women getting involved?
There is an assumption that women should be into pop and that’s it. Women are told they shouldn’t like feeling powerful and death metal is powerful. Looking at the work of Rosmary Hillm and she does work on hard rock and metal, there is something called the imagined community where metal heads are very passionate about including everybody - ‘We call each other brother’s and sisters’ and all that kind of crap. But the idea of it being a universalism just isn’t true. That universal is male and it doesn’t recognise that women have different experiences. So while Manea (Francesca Stevens) says she thinks things are changing, I don’t think they are, all they are doing is fluctuating. There are points when it is better and there are points when it is worse. That is what it is when you are existing in the hegemony, when you are existing within patriarchal captilaism. It wont be until those systems are removed that there will be a genuine way forward for everybody.
When you are teaching what are you drawing on?
Exactly what I just said. We teach about feminism, about post-structuralism and Marxism, all those sort of parts of cultural or critical theory. One of my strands for my PHD was feminist structural analysis so I used Judith Butler and Julia Kristeva ‘the powers of horror’ and it was hard work but worth it. One of the reasons I love Julia Kristeva so much is that she doesn’t hide how angry she is. Judith butler is very academic, Kristeva doesn’t do that and it really resonated with me, and you know you have made a connection.
Do you think that is important, emotions in academia?
Yes, you have to otherwise it is cold and dead. You read Julia Kristeva and you will get it instantly and you will be hooked. I find her extraordinary.
The abject is the hegemonic representation of all things that are disgusting, in other words it is the female body.
How important is it to look at music through a gender focus?
You can try and ignore gender but you can’t. I did for a long time but while it doesn’t matter to you it matters to everyone who is engaging with you. So, I think one of the interesting things is that previously I used to dress like the boys, never really wore make up. Now one of the interesting things about Denigrata is that we all wear corpse paint on stage and outfits so you couldn’t tell anyway. That is is a buffer zone, we all have our stage names and our costumes on stage. It is a doubling of the self, it allows you to leave your normal self behind and do something extraordinary because that is what this is. So that also means that we get an opportunity to leave that gendered essentialist bullshit behind.
Manea and I experience abjection. Between the subject and the object lies the abject. The abject is the hegemonic representation of all things that are disgusting, in other words it is the female body. We experience this kind of essentialist attitude. Women are abjectified and objectified but never subjectified.
What is the difference?
Objectification is being seen through the male gaze, abjectification is the disgusting body that cannot be kept clean and proper. Because I wear corpse paint and antlers on stage I am exceeding a lot of boundaries. And the abjection and objection that Manea experiences is actually quite a gendered one because she sings Coltrane soprano and she plays keys. Both two historically engender roles but the shit that she gets for it is still crap. What I get though is because I am seen as doing a man’s job, because I am a front women and because I am screaming which I shouldn’t be doing . So we put all of those things together and you are confronted by people in antlers and corpse paint and you can see that some people are trying like crazy to process it and they can’t. Well tough.