“Race, Heavy Metal and Engaged Aggression: Creating a New Black Music Vernacular”

The Department of Music will host a talk with Laina Dawes, the John P. Murphy Postdoctoral Fellow at Case Western Reserve University, titled “Race, Heavy Metal and Engaged Aggression: Creating a New Black Music Vernacular” Friday, Nov. 17, from 4 to 5 p.m. in Harkness Chapel.

Dawes is author of What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal (Bazillion Points, 2012). She also is a music and cultural critic whose writing can be found in print and online magazines, such Refinery29, The Wire UK, NPR and the Toronto Star. 

Prior to completing her PhD at Columbia University, Dawes graduated with a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from The New School for Social Research in New York City and completed her undergraduate studies in political science and sociology from York University in Toronto.

During her talk, Dawes will explore “engaged aggression,” a concept that explores how Black music listeners can use extreme music genres to channel internalized anger and aggression in a healthy manner. The concept is centered on the theory that extreme or “underground” music sub-genres, such as heavy metal, hardcore and punk—and their accompanying cultures—can provide a safe outlet, specifically for Black youth, to explore emotions that when expressed within public spaces can be perceived as a threat, often leading to the public policing of behavior centered on racialized stereotypes about race and aggression.

This talk will review previous research conducted with Black heavy metal, hardcore and punk fans, and how active participation within these music cultures has served as an therapeutic outlet and cultivated community among Black underground music listeners. Dawes will argue that a “new Black music vernacular,” comprised from the recent emergence of several all-Black hardcore and punk bands, challenge the traditional “scripts” of recognizable characteristics within these musical subgenres and sonically acknowledge the need for spaces where Black musicians and fans can temporarily escape societal racial oppression and prescribed racial popular culture categorizations. Dawes also will explore how this new Black vernacular also empowers a young generation of Black music listeners who reject race-based and static music categorizations which tie racial authenticity with music listening preferences.