A couple of weeks ago, I attended a Megadeth concert here in the Philippines. It was the first time they came here in the 30 years that they've existed in the metal scene so it was very exciting seeing one of my favorite bands, widely recognized as legends, perform for the very first time in the country. The show was great; I was surrounded by fans singing along, headbanging, moshing, raising fists and horns, all of whom probably didn't know each other but were united by the music and thus created memorable experiences out of it. I, of course, was more than obliged to partake in the action so that by the end of the night, I had a stiff neck, my body was aching and I was wet from a combination of sweat, wildly-tossed beer and rainfall (there was a typhoon during the concert!). But like any other metal fan would tell you, it was all worth it.
We were somewhere in the middle of the concert hall, a little far off from the stage, but I guess it didn't matter that much to us if we were close to the stage or not because it was the experience that made it count. But looking at the people who were closer to the stage, it didn't seem that most of them shared our state of mind. While we were farther from the stage but still having a hell of a time, most of those at the other side of the hall had other things in mind... Or rather, in their hands: cellphones, digital cameras and other recording equipment, which stand out among the others who had nothing but their mere fists and horns raised in the air. From the first song onward, it was practically impossible to not see a small screen attached to a hand of a member of the audience.
This knack of bringing in cameras and phones to concerts is commonplace nowadays, but nowhere does it affect tradition more than in metal concerts. Sam Dunn's documentary "Metal: a Headbanger's Journey" showed how metal fans, however they may be considered to be one of the most misunderstood subcultures, are one of the most passionate fans in the world. To many of them, metal is not only a genre of music but a code, an ideology, a state of mind, a lifestyle. This reflects in how they treat concerts; no other concert is as interactive and unifying as a metal concert. Other people would attend other shows to see their favorite stars perform live, sing along to their tunes and, of course, capture a moment through their cameras, and that's it. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. But a metal concert is entirely different. Yes, it's given that it's different for having mosh pits and mass headbanging as staples, but it is through these that allow it to bond its audience with each other and the audience with the performer like no other show can. It would be difficult to find any other concert where audiences, most of whom do not know each other, enter a mosh pit, maybe even hurt each other unintentionally, and still find it possible to share high fives and hugs with their fellow attendees after the smoke has cleared. Here lies the beauty and glory of the metal concert: more than a stage show to be watched, it is a tradition. A ritual. One that bonds its attendees through their shared passion with the music, their adherence to the culture it propagates and their acceptance as outsiders. Any other show builds an audience. A metal show builds a nation.
The introduction of digital cameras has allowed the concertgoer to preserve his/her experience of the show so that he/she may re-view it when nostalgia calls. Moreover, the digital camera affirms his presence in the concert. The concertgoer says “I was here!” with the camera acting as the medium for this message, whether the picture or video he/she took was of himself/herself in the middle of the crowd, of the performers, or a combination of both. Understandably, one’s presence in a concert of his/her favorite band is something to be proud of. And true enough, in the context of a metal concert, pride is what gets between the concertgoer and other attendees, more or less disabling him/her from partaking in the ritual of the metal concert, the sharing of the metal experience. Through the camera, the concertgoer sets a narrower viewpoint where the only people in the concert are the performers and he/she who has the camera, plus a few other friends if they are permitted. The camera judges before including something into what it sees, and the lens covers a very limited parameter. On the other hand, the only ones excluded from a mosh pit are those with the direct intention of inflicting pain on others.
By looking back on the history of technological advancement, it can be seen that this phenomenon’s purpose has changed from making daily living more convenient to bordering between convenience and self-importance. Technological advancement has gone from making lives easier to influencing individuals to assert themselves as above others. The widespread diffusion of new technology has also spread this egoistic mentality. Nowadays, technology is saving man time and effort as much as it is raising his social status through material and technological wealth.
We now begin to see how technology divides an individual from others in the context of a metal concert. Back then, digital cameras didn’t exist and taking photographs of a concert in the middle of the crowd was extremely difficult, if not impossible. Certain people were thus tapped to cover these concerts and all the audience had to do was immerse itself in the concert – to be part of the show and not just a spectator. Today, we still have concert photographers and videographers tasked with documenting the event. But technological advancement has convinced some concertgoers that this is not enough – it should be THEIR cameras taking the pictures and videos so that all who see it will know that THEY were in that concert. Thus, they cannot fully throw themselves into the show; half of them is there and half of them isn’t. They are physically present but in the context of a metal concert, essentially absent. There is an irregularity in the connection between audience and performer.
In this age where technological advancement promotes self-importance, this is what the metal concert has become. More than an interactive show, it has become a venue where attendees tend to focus more on immortalizing their memory through artificial means and less on relishing in the moment and sharing the experience with other concertgoers who also have such passion for great metal. Concerts, especially metal concerts nowadays have become more of a spectacle, a simple show to be watched where members of the audience with a functioning digital camera or a built-in camera in their cellphones subconsciously seperate themselves from the rest of the audience, far from the much embraced tradition of the metal concert as a ritual, a unifying experience to be shared among the attendees which elicits a strong appreciation from the performers, thus forming a symbiotic relationship between performer and audience. Recently, a meme has been spreading on the internet portraying how concerts have evolved over the decades, from the gestures that fans enthusiastically raise back then (peace signs, fists, devil horns) to finally the phones and cameras which have substituted these gestures as the banners of pride of concert attendees. Hilarious, but true.