Lebanon's Metalheads Aren't All Satanists
It seems this bizarre new cultural amalgamation of dubstep, breakcore, IDM and metal has worked its way out of lank-haired Black Bloc protesters' iPods and suburban America, and into dilapidated buildings in the Lebanese countryside. Finally, right?
A couple of weeks ago, around 250 people headed to Massacore – a Halloween-themed rave – to bop along mildly to international breakcore acts with the kind of names you only ever hear in breakcore (stuff like Drumcorps, Rotator and Goretech), a bit of dubstep and sets from Lebanese metal bands Blaakyum and Kimaera.
I went down to interview a few of the artists and revel in the unique spectacle that is a breakcore/metal gig in the Middle Eastern countryside, but – aside from the tame, eight-person moshpit and insanely cheap vodka – there wasn't really much to report. The vibe was sort of "family day at Glastonbury", with studded gas masks instead of pacifiers and theatrical, twiddly thrash metal rather than a Mr Scruff DJ set and Phil Jupitus reading his self-penned jazz poetry.
The Internal Security Forces – Lebanon's camouflaged, M16-wielding police force – turned up at one point, immediately harshing the minor buzz that was starting to develop. But once everyone realised they'd just popped in to ask the organisers to turn the music down a bit, proceedings carried on in the entirely inoffensive manner they had been before.
Besides being a little poorly attended because of another festival happening the same day, the event was a success in most people's eyes. A tranquil success, but when the scene is as small as it is in Lebanon, that's kind of to be expected. The next day, however, that placid tranquility had somehow been warped by the Lebanese media into an illicit Satanist gathering, with camera crews desperately scouring through the site to find one crudely drawn pentagram and a Monster energy drink sticker that, without absolutely any shadow of a doubt, proved that this old bunker had been victim to a meeting of the most evil minds this side of Hades.
Following the news report, a talk show on Lebanese MTV also claimed that the festival had been a smokescreen for an evening of Satanic rituals. Host Joe Maalouf – a man who once publicly outed a load of Lebanese homosexuals on television, prompting the country's only LBGT association to regretfully out him in retaliation – was spouting the kind of religious rhetoric that made Glenn Beck sound like Christopher Hitchens' foreword in a Richard Dawkins book. He then held a seemingly bogus interview with some guy called Eddie who claimed to have been at the festival, uncovering a load more totally believable revelations about the true nature of the evening.
The news report that first claimed Massacore was the setting for a ritualistic Satanic event.
The lead singer of Blaakyum, Bassem Deaibess, saw the report and called the show to defend the concert, before Maalouf berated him for the fact that the venue apparently used to be a monastery (it didn't), then claimed that the crowd were all on drugs and that moshing was subversive, dangerous and Satanic.
Obviously these claims were bordering on the complete delusional already, but considering the event was backed by big name sponsors like Monster, Poliakov vodka and Kun Hadi, an NGO focusing on the drink-driving problem in Lebanon, it was clear that either Maalouf has some kind of religious agenda, a desperate need for ratings, or is just a complete idiot.
The event was 100 percent legal, had appropriate permission from the municipality and had employed a security team on the door. I'm not sure what kind of secret Satanic sect would happily welcome a clean-cut NGO into their fold, but I'm sure Anton LaVey would be spinning in his spooky, crushed velvet grave if he ever found out.
When I spoke to one of the organisers of the concert, he told me, "The area where the event happened is a small town and people there aren't as intellectual or worldly as those in big cities. So what happened was three people from the town bought tickets and came along, not knowing what they were going to stumble into, and were probably shocked by this kind of music that they'd never heard before.
"The first thing they did was tell everyone an exaggerated story about what they'd seen, which is where all of the demonic, Satanist rumours came from. Local parents got angry, gathered at the event's location and called the police, who then contacted me. I gave them all the information I had and everything ran smoothly."
As laughable and ridiculous as the whole situation seems, it has much sinister undertones: over the course of my time in Lebanon, I've seen several public witch-hunts against the small alternative community. Between 1996 and 2010, 700 people were detained, beaten up and forced into cutting their hair after pressure from politicians and religious groups.
This time was clearly the last straw in the gargantuan hay bale of abuse they've already had to put up with. The concert organisers, local artists and members of the community have since united to take action, contacting local media outlets and sympathetic members of society to get their voices heard.
"I've been locked up and beaten five times over the last 15 years, just for having long hair," said one of the group, "and I'm not going to stand for it again."
Elia Mssawir, one of the most active spokespeople for the Lebanese metal community, said, "We believe that this issue has come in at the right time, as it's time for people to understand once and for all that metalheads are not Satan worshippers. This music is propping up a whole culture that's new to our society, but hopefully people will start to get it soon. They need to sit down with metalheads, hear about the culture and realise that we actually dedicate most of our time to helping our country and communities."
A week later, the TV stations that had attacked the concert goers pulled a comprehensive backtrack, publicly apologising for making shit up and voicing it to the nation. The small triumph has been a long time coming for Lebanon, a country that often panders to the needs of religious fundamentalists. In fact, this kind of direct social mobility from such a small community in the face of widespread discrimination is something subcultures in the West could take note of, and utilise themselves to actually start making a change to all the societal issues they lament in their songs.
Follow Oz on Twitter: @OzKaterji
Photos by Alex Potter
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