Tomorrow marks the first day of Black Flags Over Brooklyn 2019, an anti-fascist, anti-racist extreme metal festival that I’ve been working on with a couple of friends since last September and that takes place on January 26-26 at Brooklyn Bazaar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Fifteen artists from around the US, Canada, and the UK will gather to loudly (very loudly) proclaim that this scene is ours, that fascism and hateful, oppressive rhetoric is not welcome, and that metal is for everyone (except Nazis). Anarchist black metallers Dawn Ray’d and progressive grind trio Cloud Rat will headline, with appearances from a litany of Noisey favorites: Racetraitor, Vile Creature, Chepang, White Phosphorous, Ragana, Closet Witch, Morne, Glacial Tomb, Occultist, Pulsatile Tinnitus, Sunrot, Trophy Hunt, Niuta, and Axebreaker. There will also be a vendor market featuring almost two dozen radical publishers, local activist organizations, artists, and craftspeople that will be free and open to the public all day on Saturday. It will be great.
It’s essentially a physical manifestation of everything I write about here, and to say that I am excited about it is a gargantuan understatement. This is a drum I’ve been beating here in To Hell And Back since its inception, and for many years before that. The new wave of anti-fascist heavy metal has been one of the most exciting developments I’ve seen in my 16 (!) years covering this genre, and I feel very lucky to have the space to promote these artists in an impactful way.
I’ve done a couple of interviews about the fest (which, as someone who is generally on the other side of the audio recorder, feels very strange), and the question that sticks out the most is, Why? Why am I doing this? Why did I attach such an explicit political intent to what could otherwise have been just another lovingly curated metal event? Why am I shouting the quiet part?
It’s true that many metal festivals and gigs are already inherently inhospitable to Nazis and in opposition to bigotry and oppression, simply by dint of who is booking and who is playing—which is great! Our community wouldn’t be as strong and righteous as it is if that weren’t already the case. Metal and its acolytes have many sins to answer for—but that shouldn’t overshadow all the brilliance, positivity, and joy that this genre and its culture have brought to millions of people around the world. Sometimes we forget to see the forest for the trees, and that the vast majority of metalheads are good, caring people who want to listen to their favorite music without having to worry that they’re enabling poisonous genocidal rhetoric.
I also think that it’s very easy to get caught up in the constant, punishing feedback loop of rediscovering over and over (and over…) that racists, neo-Nazis, bigots, abusers, and other trash people walk amongst us when we’re at a show, or in a record shop, or just trying to walk down the fucking street. Burnout is real, and I understand why some metal folk would rather just ignore the whole thing and burrow into their record collections. I used to be the same way when I was younger and more blind to my privilege (and as a result, made some mistakes in terms of supporting or covering bands that now I’d never touch); however, as I’ve grown up and become more politically active, I’ve realized that—for me, at least—that approach is just not going to cut it anymore. Zero tolerance is the only approach that makes sense when it comes to cleaning up our scene, and it’s been incredible to witness more and more metalheads standing up to say as much, online and in song.
That’s why we’re doing this: to give those people a real-world space to gather and connect, to support artists who are out there fighting the good fight on- and off-stage, and to enjoy the music we all love so much without a shred of worry that someone on the wrong side of history might come in and try to fuck it up. It’s hard enough be politically outspoken in your day-to-day life under this extraordinarily divisive fascist regime, but doing so within a metal context carries its own burdens. We want to create a space where it isn’t hard—and where leftist revolutionary thought is not only allowed, it’s encouraged!
A lot of metal fans say that they “just don’t care about politics,” or prefer to separate the art from the artist, or would like to keep politics out of metal in general (which is a bit of a nonstarter, considering, you know… metal’s entire history), and they don’t like it when you try to argue with that. Though their views are not exactly helpful (and, in a way, are actually harmful), I am less concerned with those folks than the ones who actively, vehemently push fucked-up, toxic rhetoric: the reactionary jagoffs, white power boneheads, spooky crypto-fascists, and outright fucking Nazis who occupy a small, piss-stained corner of our community. They do not deserve heavy metal. They must be eradicated, through education or other means. Now is not the time to sit on the fence.
To be honest, my big mouth and inflexible attitude towards Nazi bullshit have certainly cost me a few friends and business opportunities, and I’d wager that other folks out there can relate. It sucks, but that’s the beauty of finding yourself—in doing so, you may lose some “friends,” but find others who feel the same way as you, and who want to work towards making things better together. I’ve been immensely lucky in that I have found those friends and comrades, and I want everyone who feels the same way I do about heavy metal to find their's.
Metal gave me that feeling back when I was a young teenager. Then came anarchism and NYC’s radical community. Now, finally, I’m able to merge them all into one big heavy metal party with dozens of my favorite people and hundreds of new comrades-to-be, three blocks down from one of my favorite pizza joints. The world’s on fire, but we are building something beautiful.
Besides a people’s revolution, what more could a gal ask for in 2019?
Check out a few of the bands we've got playing this weekend—if you're reading this column, you're probably familiar with names like Racetraitor, Morne, Sunrot, Cloud Rat, Ragana, Dawn Ray'd, and Vile Creature, but here are a few other BFOB bands who deserve your undivided attention, both this weekend and in general—from Locrian/The Holy Circle member Terence Hannum's anti-fascist power electronic project Axebreaker to Chepang's furious "immigrindcore."
Kim Kelly is Noisey's resident metalhead; follow her on Twitter for more lefty bullshit.