German photographer Jörg Brüggemann spent three years traveling the world to photograph metalheads in their natural environments—at home, on the streets, at shows, in tents. Now he's got a book of it all, called Metalheads, which comes out Friday in tandem with a gallery exhibition in Berlin. We talked to him about that, Death Vomit, Indonesian textile workers, globalism, Muslim teens, and whether or not metal is a safe place for everyone.
VICE: Do you identify as a metalhead? Is that how this book came about?
Jörg Brüggemann: Not exactly, but I remember first seeing the video for Guns N’ Roses’ “You Could be Mine” and remember the raw power—back then when I was 12 it felt like raw power, Guns and Roses. I got on it. I started to listen to Sepultura when I was 13, then Pantera. I got more into hardcore as a teenager through friends.
I came up with the idea of doing the project after I saw the documentary Global Metal by Sam Dunn. I was interested in globalization of youth culture. I’m a typical kid of the MTV generation from Germany, that was the first step of the globalization of youth culture, but through the internet the whole thing has sped up a lot. A friend of mine is the manager of a German metalcore band and I asked them if they could take me on tour. With them I went to festivals in Austria and Switzerland and Germany. From then on, every half a year when I had the money I took a trip to some of these countries.
So the thesis of the book is this idea of a global metal scene. In what country did you find the most enthusiasm among the fans?
I can definitely say Indonesia. I was really blown away by what I found there. I didn’t expect it. I flew to Jakarta and went to Yogyakarta and Bandung. I first went to Yogyakarta because a friend of mine lived there and it was already like, Wow, what’s going on here? Yogyakarta, it’s an amazing city with so much going on, not just with metal, but also punk and the art scene. They are really what you’d call cutting edge. These people know what’s going on in the world.
Did you find anything you didn’t expect?
They told me I should go to Bandung, which is an industrial city in Java. They always talked about Ujung Berung, which is a part of the city that they said was the cradle of the metal scene. I went there overnight on the train, someone picked me up at six in the morning on his motorcycle, then I stayed there for another couple weeks. It’s just amazing what’s going on in Ujung Berung. I don’t know, in that place there might be 300 or 400,000 people living in that part of the city, and someone told me that there are 120 brutal death metal bands. Every second kid on the street has a death metal shirt on because the shirts are being produced there in the textile industry and all these young metal heads, they work in screen printing workshops and they do the metal shirts for the international scene. Everyone is in a band, everyone is playing an instrument. They are all technically amazingly good and very close.
There are a lot of social problems too, so these young guys, there’s this need for them to let off steam. Somehow metal got in there in the late 80s, and at the beginning of the 90s there was a first wave. Now through the internet it’s just exploding. Still, there’s not one of them that really can make money with it, although they have thousands of people coming to their concerts because there’s a lot going on with corruption. They have to pay the police to set up a gig. So what they do instead is they have these small studio gigs. They have rehearsal rooms in which 25 bands are rehearsing and every now and then on a weekend they’ll set up a studio gig. The PA is complete shit, but it’s like 100 people in a 30-square-meter room and it’s 80 degrees Celsius and everyone is sweating, but you know they’re going crazy and they just love it.
What’s your take on the US metal scene? From an international perspective, a lot of the bands people are into come from the US, but the actual scene in America seems very different than the one in, say, Brazil.
I don’t know if I can really talk about the US scene in general because I’ve only been to the Bay Area and from what I’ve been told and from what I feel I think that the Bay Area is special. It’s not America. There are two things that I would say that were different.
The first thing that was something that I really recognized was that the concerts were a lot more brutal. There was a lot more aggression. Anywhere else in the world people are “happy violent”—if someone’s on the ground there’s always someone picking the other one up. People do that in America as well, but you always have these two or three crazy guys at the shows who just come to beat someone up. I saw the worst fight I’ve ever seen in my life at an underground show in San Francisco. Some Salvadorian metalheads and some Mexican metalheads got into a fight at a concert the night before, and there was a guy faded away on the ground and people were still jumping on his head. It was gross. I saw that at almost every concert I went to in the US. It may be because of the current financial situation of the people. There seems to be a lot of pressure in America. I felt the pressure.
The other thing was that the whole concert culture seems to be very different. You have these 10 or 20 bands that are able to play in front of 20,000 or 30,000 people. Rammstein was playing when I was there at the Oakland football arena or something, but I saw Sepultura and there were like only 400 or 500 people there. But from what I felt, that lead to an interesting development—the scene seems to go underground again. They are cutting ties to the industry, and especially in Oakland there was a lot of DIY going on with the black metal scene and the grind scene, which was mixing with the punk and the noise scenes as well.
About this idea of global metal, do you think there’s a little bit of disconnect? I mean you said in your conversation with Grant Willing** that metalheads are “part of a community where religion, social origin, and nationality play no role at all.” You were talking about this idea of metal as a place where outsiders can go and have their own community and feel accepted. At the same time there’s a lot of sub-genres of metal that have, for instance, overt white nationalist themes or do deal with religious or political factions. Your idea of global metal being a happy emergent world seems like it might be a little more complicated than that, no?** You really might be right with that. My take on it is that I didn’t experience it. I went out to make my own image. I didn’t go there having a cliché in my head that I wanted to photograph. I went out to see what’s going on and then photograph it. I haven’t met anything like that wherever I went. Also there are fundamental Muslim black metal bands in Indonesia that are singing about Jihad and killing Christians.
I think metal is like a container. You can put everything inside that you want to. It’s very open. That picture of the couple where’s he’s dressed up like a medieval Viking warrior—there might be a different view on those guys that an American has than a German would. I didn’t talk to him but I felt that he doesn’t have anything to do with being Nazi or White Power or anything. These guys are more into medieval weird stuff. It’s not political in that sense.
If you come up with Burzum and the Norwegian scene, I haven’t been to Norway, I haven’t talked to people there. I saw Until the Light Takes Us and different other stuff and I saw the True Norwegian Black Metal book, but as I didn’t talk to the people I don’t really know. I would say that a lot of that stuff is just provocation, about selling records through provocation. I’m not in favor of it. It is a very tough thing. I’m not listening to Burzum, but I do like black metal. But I would say, for me, Varg is an idiot. I’m sorry, there’s nothing fascinating for me about him.
I agree with you, a lot of it is provocation, but it’s also a big part of the story of metal. There is a fascination within the American scene with Norwegian black metal. There’s also a resurgent pagan metal scene that is very racially separatist.
But the pagan scene in Germany at least is not. I’ve heard that in Russia it is very nationalist but in Germany it is not. The other way around, if you ever go to Wacken it’s just amazing. There are people from I don’t know how many countries. You have all these tents and there’s all these flags from the countries. There’s a flag from Colombia. I met some guys from Malaysia that knew the guys I met in Indonesia. From everywhere in the world people are coming there. I can really say that metal does unite them. They wear the same shirts, they go crazy for the same music. It really feels like Woodstock, or how I would imagine it did. It’s 80,000 drunken young males and I haven’t seen one fight in two years. It’s so peaceful it’s crazy.
I was surprised at the number of women you photographed at shows. You just talked about the festival being however many thousand drunken young males and this aggressive male energy in the US.
I shouldn’t have said it like that.
No, but it’s true. At certain shows here 80% of people are male and unfortunately many of the 20% of them who are women are girlfriends. You did have a lot of photos of women in the book. I appreciate that. Did you find, especially in Muslim communities, more women than you expected?
I didn’t really expect anything. I was really surprised when I saw those girls at the show in Egypt. But it seemed to be quite normal for them. It was nothing special. In Indonesia there are even fewer because it is a Muslim country. Maybe there are more girls listening to the music at home, but they don’t go to the concerts or put on a shirt. It might be male dominated, but girls are there. Especially in Brazil, [audiences] were probably like 30% or maybe even 40% girls. I would say from what I’ve seen it would be 5-10% girls in Indonesia, 15-20% in Germany and the US, and 30-40% in Brazil.
Were there any local bands that you found while you were traveling that you were excited about?
Yeah, from Indonesia there’s Death Vomit. There’s also Jasad. Death Vomit is a pretty nice name, huh? They’re really big, probably the biggest band there, they’ve actually toured Australia, cool guys. There’s a band from Egypt called Scarab; they’re really good. They’re also mixing traditional Arab music with death metal, quite brutal death metal. From Brazil, I’ve checked out Korzus—they’re quite big there, a thrash metal band. From the US, these guys from an early Sepultura cover band called Crucifixtion, it was technically very good, but it was a cover band. They’re cool guys, I’m still in contact with them. I love them.
Everyone should go to Indonesia.
Are you going to start a metal tourism movement to Indonesia?
Check out these bands there. They might not be very innovative or creative in what they do, but technically they are just…wow. I’ve never seen so many, especially the drummers, these guys must be doing nothing else but double bass training, it’s completely crazy.
I recognized a lot of t-shirts in the photos. That’s really interesting what you mentioned with the kids working, printing the t-shirts. I had no idea that was such a big part of the economy of Indonesia, it makes a lot of sense. I’m curious about more in South America, you only went to Brazil and Argentina?
It just seems more universal there. I have a friend who was on a bus in Ecuador that was hijacked and everything of his was stolen and he went to a hostel in a tiny village and the 15-year-old kid working there had a Kreator shirt.
This is a quote I think from Lemmy: “There’s a certain percentage of every generation that just wants to go ARRRGH.” That’s true, wherever you go in the world, you find these guys. At a certain age people seem to really like that kind of music. It seems to fit their lifestyle, it seems to fit their emotions. They have that let-off. It’s kind of like a ritualized catharsis they are going through. They can really let off power and aggression without hurting someone else, without doing something that is immoral.
Metalheads will be exhibited at Gestalten Space from __March 16th to April 21.
If you're in Berlin, don't miss the opening tomorrow from 6 pm to 20 pm f__eaturing a live performance by SUN WORSHIP. __And if you are not in Berlin, well, you might want to buy the book here!