Refugee Metalby Max Barashenkov / Images by Kevin Goss-Ross / 26.10.2011
On Friday the 21st, ABC7, the San Francisco Bay Area news channel, ran a story on the Alliance For Artist Rescue, a semi-humanitarian effort to help metal musicians escape prosecution in various countries around the world. The article featured ArtakOzan, an Iranian heavy metal guitarist, and his account of suffering. Beatings at the hands of his government and his eventual escape, with the help of AFAR, to the United States. A noble effort, no doubt. The story then proceeds to describe the plight of a South African band, Contrast The Water, also currently in the US, and how their “political message… has put them and other metal bands on their government’s radar!” Naturally, when the news hit the South African social media channels and the local metal scene erupted in a flurry of violence.
Liters of comment-bile were dished out onto the Contrast The Water (CTW) and AFAR walls, accusations flew like bricks, the words “traitors” and “liars” flashed like knives. The metal crowd flexed their outraged muscles in all their petty and ugly glory. CTW and Chris Kontos, the man behind AFAR, responded in an equally childish manner, at first trying to brush the attack off by deleting the various comment threads and banning users from the Facebook page and then, when good judgment took hold, issuing apologetic statements citing the fact that they were severely misquoted by the US news channel and proclaiming their love for the South African metal scene. At that, a sour stalemate was reached. One reading is that we have a band, whose dedication to South African music can hardly be doubted (the CTW vocalist and his wife own Durban live music institution, Burn), who have stupidly blundered into a PR fiasco while trying to honestly achieve something few local bands have. On the other, the story raises parallels with Brandon Huntley, and CTW can be perceived as a band of assholes who would do anything to claw their way out of the metal doldrums of South Africa, selling out their country for a few minutes of media attention and perhaps a prized celebrity-refugee status in the States. Which perception is right is hard to tell. The Bay Area is a hotbed of metal music in the States, but it’s also home to a whole horde of burnt-out acidhead opportunists who love adopting causes such as AFAR for commercial and social gain. Only time will tell how honest Kontos’ intentions are, but for now, one can only wish him to be more cautious before issuing statements such as the one below.
The real matter of this story is not the happening itself, but the way with which the happening was dealt with, a way that is very revealing of the problems plaguing local metal. However you spin it, the scene is infantile, fractured by squabbles, strangled by bands gnawing on each others throats for the limited gigs and audience. A brush with the savage nature of international media highlighted how unprepared we are for a proper metal industry – the fans and other bands too quick to judge and attack; CTW too media illiterate to know that deleting threads on Facebook only incites more anger and puts them on the defensive. With all the semi-recent bitchfests over local metal, with all the chest-beating and electronic devil horns thrown in the air, conducted on this very website, people don’t seem to realize that such a thing as South African metal does not exist, not in musical terms. South African metal is not the bands, who barely produce anything of international value, or quality, and disappear after a few frustrating years. South African metal is the clubs, the promoters and the dwindling fanbase.
The pond is small and it is not going to get any bigger anytime soon. If the internet zealots are serious about their pride in the local scene, attention needs to be shifted away from the bands and onto the logistics. Say what you will about the indie-rock wankers, but they did introduce an element of professionalism to their sandpit, an element that is so lacking in the SA metal circles. A stable gig circuit needs to be established, with trusted promoters and bands that realize their own limitations. Realistically a metal band in this country should aim to play a good show to around a hundred people, and everyone of those people needs to go home satisfied. Enough with the badly organized shows that run ungodly late, with shitty sound that leaves the bands themselves fuming, while cramming six acts on a line-up with three of them not being worthy of the stage time. Before these hurdles are overcome, there is no point in fighting over who is more metal, who is more South African and thus deserves the limelight. Only from a stable and down-to-earth culture will bands arise that are able to compete internationally, without sneaking in the backdoor, or raising outrage, concern and the spectre of “white genocide” as their means of getting there.
*Contrast the Water images © Kevin Goss-Ross.