Interview with the organizers of the upcoming Metal conference Boundaries and Ties

Interview with the organizers of the Metal conference ‘Boundaries and Ties’

by JP

In conjunction with the International Society of Metal Music Studies (ISMMS), and The University of Victoria (BC, Canada) the UVIC Metal Studies Department is hosting a Heavy Metal Conference from June 9-11, 2017 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

I interviewed the three main organizers behind this cool event for academics and fans alike.   Featuring keynote speakers, guests lecturers and authors from around the world, a film screening, panel sessions and a concert will all ensure this event will be a landmark occasion.

Shamma Boyarin  (University of Victoria)

Anna Chilewska (University of Alberta)

Gabby Riches (University of Alberta)

For more information or to register go to.

How did you first become involved in Metal academics?

Gabby Riches: I kind of dipped my toes in metal academics when I did an undergraduate research project on the comparative experiences of female metal fans in Edmonton and Europe. This project exposed me to a range of academic literature and research on heavy metal. My critical curiosity about metal music practices and popular culture led me to do my Masters (2009) on moshpit culture in the Edmonton metal scene. But it wasn’t until I began my PhD (2012), which explored women’s participation in moshpit practices within the UK, at Leeds Beckett University that I became actively involved in what is known as the field of Metal Music Studies. My involvements in Metal Music Studies has ranged from attending and presenting at national and international metal music conferences, co-editing books and special issues for journals with other metal academics to publishing book reviews and pieces of my research in the journal of Metal Music Studies. I am also one of the journal’s editorial advisory board members.

Anna Chilewska: I have been a fan of metal music for a long time and started thinking how I could include this interest into my academic life. The disciplines that I teach – Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and English literature – have very little to do with metal music, but metal music has a lot to do with those disciplines (think of how many bands have been influenced by John Milton’s 1667 masterpiece Paradise Lost). This desire of incorporating metal music into my teaching has resulted in my looking at how metal music is seen through an academic lens. And thus I started researching academic articles about metal music, its history and its social and cultural significance. I ended up organizing several metal music-related workshops, proposed a course called “Rhetoric of Metal Music” to my department, and began attending metal music conferences.

Shamma Boyarin: I was already teaching courses on religion and popular culture as part of my work teaching in Religious Studies, when I happened to watch the documentary “Global Metal” one day when I was channel surfing on TV. I was not a metal fan back then, but I was interested in metal and had lots of friends who were metal heads, which is why I stopped to watch it. When I saw the segments about metal in India, Japan, Israel and the Arab world, I realized that there is an interesting angle to look at how metal’s complicated relationship with religion plays out in places where Christianity is not the dominant religion. I started talking about this with people at UVic, and encountered some scholars who were interested and knew more about metal studies. From there it just kind of rolled. I organized a one day symposium about metal and religion, started going to local metal shows, met more scholars and students who were metal heads and just really fell in love both with metal and with metal studies. You can say that for me metal and metal studies kind of go together.

Where do you currently lecture?

Gabby Riches: For the most part I am an Independent Scholar and Researcher but I am also a sessional lecturer at the University of Alberta in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation.

Anna Chilewska: I teach at the University of Alberta, in the department of Interdisciplinary Studies, and at Grant MacEwan University, in the department of English.

Shame Boyarin: I teach at the University of Victoria.


How did you become involved in the ISMMS?  

Gabby Riches: It was my PhD supervisor Karl Spracklen who made me aware of ISMMS (International Society for Metal Music Studies) and encouraged me to get involved with the society. Most active metal academics are members of ISMMS. ISMMS has a Facebook Page and a mailing list which is a terrific platform for metal fans and academics to remain engaged by sharing links and posting information about metal conferences, workshops, seminars, and publications.

Anna Chilewska: I am not directly involved in the ISMMS. I read its publications, follow their website to find out about up-coming conferences, and have been getting to know some of its scholars.

Shamma Boyarin: As I became more interested in studying metal I became aware that there were people who published articles in metal studies, and organized conferences etc. I have taught a metal themed course at UVic twice- so I had to find readings for the course and so on- so I found more and more metal studies related materials, as part of that I found the ISMMS bibliography- a resource cataloging publications in the area of metal studies. Then through social media and other means I made contact with scholars involved in ISMMS and things went from there.


Have you been to any other Metal conferences?

Gabby Riches: Yes I have and they have all been amazing! My first metal conference was in 2011 at the University of Wolverhampton, UK where I had the chance to go to the ‘home of metal’ in Birmingham. Since then I’ve presented at other metal conferences in Ohio, Finland, and the UK. Being a metal academic can take you places!

Anna Chilewska: Yes, I have attended several in Europe, two in Canada, and one in the USA, and I have also presented at a few.

Shamma Boyarin: Yes, in addition to the symposium on metal and religion I organized here at UVic, which was called “South of Heaven” (in 2013), I helped students at UVic organize one here called “Tribe and Rite” (which took place in 2014), also I attended a conference called Legion of Steel, which was organized by Sara Sutler-Cohen in Berkeley in 2015.

Tell us a bit how you came to be involved with B&T?

Gabby Riches: I was contacted by my doctoral supervisor Karl Spracklen, an established scholar within metal music studies and editor of the Metal Music Studies journal, who recommended that I get in touch with Shamma Boyarin so I could be part of the organizing committee. I thought that this was a fantastic opportunity for me as a Canadian metal music scholar, who has had previous experience in planning and presenting at metal conferences in the UK, to be involved in planning the first Canadian ISMMS conference.

Anna Chilewska: I came to be involved through Shamma Boyarin, whom I met at a conference called Legion of Steel, which was organized by Sara Sutler-Cohen in Berkeley, CA, in 2015. He was looking for co-organizers, and I had jumped at the opportunity as I have always wanted to organize a Metal Music conference.

Shamma Boyarin: Last summer me and some students started to organize another conference- which we were calling Tribe and Rite II (or something)- but one of the students- Casey Lazar noticed that the ISMMS was looking for a host institution so hold their biannual conference. We quickly decided to apply to be the hosts of it, and after they agreed we took things from there.


What were a couple of the highlights (or challenges) of helping organizing B&T?

Gabby Riches: Planning and putting on this conference with Shamma and Anna has been a wonderful experience and I have gained a lot of knowledge and experience throughout the process because this is the largest conference I have helped organize. One of the main advantages of the conference is that it is the first ISMMS conference to be held in Canada which provides us with the opportunity to highlight metal music research within a Canadian context. I am very pleased with the variety of presentation topics and the global reach of metal music scholarship as many of the presenters are from the United Kingdom, Europe, South America and the United States. One of the main challenges for us in planning the Boundaries and Ties conference was obtaining sufficient funding and financial support. Some of our grant applications were not successful and I think this reflects how heavy metal scholarship tends to be passed off as ‘not impactful research’ and therefore marginalized, for the most part, within the social sciences and humanities.


Anna Chilewska: The highlight of organizing this conference has been in the process: working with Gabby and Shamma, creating Call For Papers, discussing how everything should be organized, and deciding on keynote speakers. I think the three of us have been working well together, even though we don’t really know each other all that well. Our passion for metal music is what makes this process very enjoyable.

The biggest challenge has been applying and securing funding. There are not a lot of funding opportunities for such conferences because Metal Studies is sometimes seen as not an important academic field.

Shamma Boyarin: First I can’t say enough about how it’s been to collaborate with Anna and Gabby. We don’t really know each other. I have not met Gabby ever in person, and only met Anna once at Legion of Steel; further we are doing things long distance over Facebook and email and still we work really well together. Also I love working with students, which is part of why I ended up being more involved in organizing metal studies events here at UVic. At UVic there is an active community of students who are into metal, and they are so supportive of metal studies.

The biggest challenge is funding, although we have been able to find funding for most of what we planned for this conference, it was not easy. Further we applied for a grant to help scholars with little or no means to attend the conference, and we did not receive it, which meant we could do very little for such scholars.


What are you most looking forward to at B&T?

Gabby Riches: The conference presentations, panels and keynote speakers are very diverse and the presenters are speaking about metal from a range of perspectives and experiences so I’m very eager to listen to and engage in the discussions that will emerge throughout the duration of the conference. I am also looking forward to meeting up with fellow metal academics who I only get to see at these annual metal conferences. On a more personal note, I’ve never been to Victoria before so I’m excited to explore that part of Vancouver Island.

Anna Chilewska: To be honest, I am really looking forward to meeting our keynote speakers, Keith Kahn-Harris, whose books I have been reading for a while now, and to Brittney Slayes, whose music I have always enjoyed. I am also looking forward to presentations, especially one in particular about female metalheads in Turkey, and, of course, to learning more about different aspects of metal music.

Shamma Boyarin: I think we have gathered interesting scholars from all over the world who will be presenting on a range of interesting topics, and reflecting the potential for metal studies that I sensed when I watched Global Metal and thought to myself “wow this is an intellectually stimulating area”. Also the social aspect: metal studies is still a new area, and it is great to meet scholars from around the world who are passionate about it.

Last but not least, one of the things that I have come to love as I became more and more involved in metal studies is the music. So I’m looking forward to the Unleash the Archers concert that takes place on the Friday of the first day of the conference. I think it will start of things with a great energy.


Why should a non-academic Metal fan consider attending a great event like this?

Gabby Riches: Most metal academics, such as myself, are metal fans to begin with so their research on different metal music scenes will, to some degree, resonate with the everyday experiences of metal fans. The conference can also be a wonderful opportunity for metal fans to further enhance our understandings of what it means to be a metal fan, especially within Canadian metal scenes, by sharing their own experiences. Attending the conference could offer critical insights into aspects of heavy metal culture, its practices and forms of metal identity that metal fans may not have considered before. Metal fans might also be surprised to find out how expansive the experience of being part of heavy metal culture and identifying as a metal fan can truly be. Participating in the conference gives metal fans the opportunity to interact with each other, and metal academics that goes beyond the concert setting. And lastly, non-academic metal fans should attend this conference because it can offer them a more nuanced perspective about their favourite genre of music that they would not otherwise be exposed to. By having more metal fans in attendance at this conference helps to bridge the divide between ‘fans’ and ‘academics’.

Anna Chilewska: I believe that too often academic conferences get this reputation of being dry and boring. This might be true of some; however, metal music conferences are fun, have lots of energy, and are rarely self-censored. What I mean by this is that we are not afraid of talking about what and how we really feel about or love for and interest in metal music. Our academic metal music community and non-judgmental and inclusive. We welcome everyone and are interested in what other people have to say. In addition, metal music conferences are a great place to meet metal music fans – not just scholars. They are a great place to learn about new bands, new directions in metal music, and to create personal networks. I have met many people at such conferences, which whom I have become friends.

Shamma Boyarin: I’ve learned that most metal fans – even non-academic ones – love to talk and argue about metal, whether it’s about ranking Metallica albums from best to worse, or is “Cascadian Black Metal” a real genre, or a million other topics. In some ways metal studies is taking that impulse and directing it a bit by suing the training we as academics receive to make those arguments and provide backing to them. So I think metal fans will find something they recognize in a conference like this.

Second, and I am not a good example of this, the scholars who end up being involved in metal studies were metal fans long before they were scholars (again I’m the exception), so they still come at it from that place; even when they might be critiquing aspects of metal culture, it is out of love for the culture as a whole. Also, because metal studies is not rooted in one specific scholarly discipline, we find ways to communicate with each other without using too much specialized terminology, while maintaining a high level of scholarship. This means that non-academics won’t feel excluded.