A hard road: the craftmanship of heavy metal

A hard road

Dr Stephen Timmons (Nottingham University Business School) and Dr Andy Meal (School of Health Sciences) present the lecture, ‘A hard road: the craftmanship of heavy metal’.

Blurb from the speakers: Richard Sennett’s book The Craftsman has attracted a degree of media attention unusual for a sociological work. In this paper we will take some of his analytical insights, and apply them to heavy metal.

Sennett argues for a conceptualisation of craftsmanship wider than just manual skills – it can be used to understand activities as varied as programming, cooking, architecture and medicine. He defines craftsmanship as “an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake”. Though craftsmanship is still alive in the post-industrial world, Sennett believes that it is still under threat, both from the increasing rationalisation in all forms of life, but also from a general suspicion of authority. We do not have the space to give a more detailed exegesis of what is a complex and subtle book.

Heavy metal, as a genre, has several aspects to its broader culture which are relatively unusual in contemporary popular music. By contrast with “manufactured pop” so prevalent on television and radio, metal places an emphasis on an apprenticeship. Aspiring metal bands continue to build an audience via extensive touring, with the (genuinely) live performance enduring as the yardstick by which metal is judged. Even the most successful bands, with 40 year careers, tour regularly. A similar work ethic is applied to the production of albums. Metal does not emphasise the relentless re-invention that characterises more critically-acclaimed ‘artists’, but instead sets a greater store by the values of craftsmanship and the idea of the virtuoso.

These values reflect the working-class, industrial origins of metal. It is perhaps ironic that as this class has declined in the UK, its values – of (inter alia) hard work, craftsmanship, and seeking respect within a community, have been exported to the wider world, via the medium of heavy metal.

Admission free, all welcome.

Part of the Popular Culture Lecture Series. For more information, visit their website. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Art by Pestmeester

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