A death-metal band dedicating a song to survivors of sexual assault. A vocalist screaming out lyrics about struggles with body image over her bandmates’ rampaging grindcore. An artist at work mid-show, painting a mural depicting a goblin-like creature tossing a swastika in a garbage can. These were just a few of the signs that Black Flags Over Brooklyn, a marathon event held Friday and Saturday at New York’s Brooklyn Bazaar, was a metal fest with a unique agenda.
The brainchild of metal writer and activist Kim Kelly (who has contributed to Rolling Stone), Black Flags was specifically billed as an anti-fascist gathering. And that aspect of the fest came through loudly and clearly. Available merch items included tote bags printed with the gothic-font phrase “Fuck NSBM” — a reference to National Socialist black metal, an unofficial movement, sadly still rearing its head in recent years, that promotes openly racist or bigoted views. (NSBM is just one of a number of metal sub-subcultures in which “extremity” too often takes on a toxic bent, e.g., a fixation on images of misogynistic violence.) In a pre-fest interview, Kelly described her own path to a more conscientious brand of metal fandom. “When I was younger, before I really became politically educated, some of the bands I covered or worked with had views or lyrics I would never in a million years condone or give a platform to now,” she said.
But as much as Black Flags embodied a communal stand against an insidious influence — briefly taking the stage near the end of the fest, Kelly proclaimed that the fest was about “taking our scene back” — it also felt like a proud statement of self-sufficiency. Bands, organizers and attendees alike seemed intent on demonstrating that a metal-oriented event explicitly lacking not just in outright prejudice but also in the everyday inequalities that most metal fans simply take for granted — for example: a stifling preponderance of straight white males, both onstage and in the crowd — could actually feel more urgent, more ferocious, more fun, in short more metal, than a gig without this kind of social-justice focus. Ultimately, it wasn’t just fascism in the crosshairs; it was any element that might make anyone in the building feel anything less than welcome and vital. A couple pointlessly aggro mosh outbursts aside, Black Flags succeeded in its inclusive vision.