Being a child of the 80s, and embracing the later 90s nu-metal explosion, got me thinking as to why those old school metal clubs are no longer around.
I recently walked past the Ruskin Arms in Manor Park, London, a gastropub. At one stage in its life, this was a vibrant club frequented by metal fans from all over, even local lads Iron Maiden were known to frequent to club. Above the bar was half a motorcycle looking as if it crashed through the wall, metal nights were busy evenings of headbanging, drinking, passing out and embracing riffs from guitar gods such as Tony Iommi, K.K Downing, Dimebag Darryl, Eddie Van Halen, Zakk Wylde, Angus Young, and Phil Lynott. An infinate list of heavy metal, baby.
The Ruskin Arms, The Island, in Ilford, The Standard in Walthamstow – all venues attended by a community who listened to behemoths from Sabbath to Slayer, discussing whether Paul Di’Anno or Bruce Dickenson is preferred, or sharing best Lemmy stories and favourite Hell-looking record covers. A dark night of togetherness, horn signs and a much-appreciated evening of headbanging by people who embraced the entity of heavy metal.
A Quick Guide To Headbanging:
Simple lunge, left leg in front, right leg behind. Body leans over left leg, one hand resting on the knee. Right arm raised with little and index fingers pointing skywards resembling horns. Throw head back and forth vigerously, making sure hair flips with it. This, ladies and gentlemen, is headbanging with technique and the rhythm of the riff, the bass and the drums all strengthen those neck muscles.
But in reality, it’s less about technique and more about heart, fun, camaraderie and occasionally passing out due to high intake of Newky Brown or Snakebite. Full of old school tattoos, long hair, and denim and leather jackets with bands monikers emblazoned, as the DJ bellows anthems from Motorhead and Metallica, a metal club was home to groups of people who couldn’t or didn’t want to mix with the overground music scene. We were in the background discussing what metal is, was and who is part of it.
What many of us didn’t know is how this was all about to change. The moment Korn exploded in the mid-90s it opened the door to a new and unique sound, they came at us with something fresh and maybe metal needed an overhaul…but bagpipes?
The genre of nu-metal opened the mainstream doors and proceeded to change the vibe and fantasy of pure metal. The clubs we loved started to play a bizarre mix of rock, metal, hip-hop and funk, the operatic equivalent of Hell and Iron Maiden and Judas Priest slowly left the DJ’s playlist. Metal didn’t need to be tampered with it was reissued for a new gang of people who didn’t feel the emotional release metal gave.
Nu-metal, the arrogant child with a bad attitude, overtook the headbanging stance with a superiority complex of hip-hop moves to a drum machine rather than a Kerry King riff. The nu-metal following grew with Limp Bizkit fans appearing at clubs and fashion became imperative, chains attached to baggy shorts replaced sleeveless Iron Maiden shirts. The “nu-metallers” brought aggression to the pit and drained it of fun.
Nu-metal is reality music while metal was fantasy of the underground giving us unique moments. Linkin Park, Alien Ant Farm, Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach and Coal Chamber fans had no love for the sound of metal, they were only interested in this mainstream flow, roaming the floors with disregard to a Steve Harris bass line. Egotism screamed in like a tsunami, it wasn’t about music it was about fashion, the arrogance of dance moves, the sneakers, the Bizkit red caps. Our metal nights dwindled, and it felt like nu-metal removed the soul of the club and added a hip-hop beat to it.
But the future is dark and the devil horns are raised high once more as our air guitaring, headbanging, beer-swigging metal heroes are back and the club has a new lease of life. It is slowly entering the field of where we can chat shit and headbang to Painkiller once again. The Nu-Metal phase hasn’t the power it once had as the craze slowly died.
Keeping metal alive is those who never left it. Once a month in East London, Sonic Rebellion holds a metal/rock night playing some of the best metal sounds, attended by old school boys and girls headbanging the night away.
The metal club will never truly die.