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Heavy Metal on the Airwaves and Show No Mersey - why February 2nd was a special date for us



Spitfyre at Show No Mersey (photo credit: Phil Vidamour)



 

February 2nd saw two major events on the Metal on Merseyside calendar in the same day - the Heavy Metal on the Airwaves symposium and the Show No Mersey concert, which was a showcase of the cream of Merseyside talent.


In a contemporary climate with a multitude of FM, digital, online, independent and community stations, alongside a growing number of podcasts, the Heavy Metal on the Airwaves symposium at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) in the UK provided an opportune moment to assess heavy metal’s relationship with radio.


To accomplish this, LJMU in partnership with Metal on Merseyside sought to bring together for this one-day event presenters and attendees from fields such as metal music studies, popular music studies, media and radio studies, communication, and cultural studies, as well as practitioners from music, radio and broadcasting related industries.


The combination of people who attended the event ensured that it featured lively exchange through engagement with communities involved in both production and scholarship. In particular, it was encouraging to see international scholars and practitioners who had travelled to the UK solely to attend the event and this was indicative of the appetite for the subject matter.


Keynote speaker for Heavy Metal on the Airwaves was Loz Guest, the Head of Music at Planet Rock and Kerrang! radio in the UK, which are stations owned by Bauer Media Group, one of the major publishers of media content in the country. At the other end of the scale, the event also attracted contributors involved with community radio and with independent podcasting.




Heavy Metal on the Airwaves during the Q&A with Loz Guest


Although at points in its history metal may have been considered as an outcast genre on radio, from the outset of Heavy Metal on the Airwaves it seemed that contributors agreed on one thing – the medium has in the words of Loz Guest at the event ‘never been more important’ to the genre. Programmers at major commercial stations in the UK such as Planet Rock and Kerrang! remain crucial intermediaries that can shape the landscape for modern rock and metal.


During an in-conversation style event with Metal on Merseyside's Mark Cooper (host of the Spoken Metal Show), Loz Guest discussed how evening playlists on Kerrang! feature a healthy number of new artists and their unsigned band competition – ‘The Deal’ – also provides an opportunity for an unknown artist to get on one of their playlists. Guest also illustrated how Planet Rock has nurtured a new movement in the form of the ‘new wave of classic rock’ (NWOCR), a movement that has facilitated opportunities for bands such as the Dust Coda, Massive Wagons, and Mason Hill. Away from national commercial radio, Metal on Merseyside’s own Jim Johnson, one of the presenters of The My T Rock Show on community station Radio Northwich, eloquently highlighted how radio exposure can be pivotal for unknown artists.


In an era when many peoples’ music listening is structured by algorithmic curation via social media and streaming services, at the symposium independent scholar Indrani Sharangi asserted that online and community radio programmes provide the ‘potential to serve as an algorithm alternative’. Similarly, Holly Frances Royle from University of Chester emphasized how more recent online radio stations provided valuable virtual spaces for the cultivation of metal music subcultures.


Outlining contemporary UK policy debates about misogyny in music and recent research into women’s concerns about gender diversity, inclusion, and equity, award winning Kerrang! presenter Hope Lynes made several important recommendations for enhancing diversity within rock radio. Inspired by her own professional practice in presenting the show Punk Princesses, Lynes called for more diversity in radio playlists; wider representations of voices, images, and sound on contemporary radio; as well as for more diversity within senior management at radio stations.


Finally, there were several papers presented at Heavy Metal on the Airwaves that emphasized how there remain partially hidden histories of radio stations and shows. Livy Onalee Synder’s ongoing research that involves working with the archives at WHPK 88.5 FM Chicago was testimony to this. Her scrutiny of the handwritten reviews and listening notes on CD covers within the WHPK archival collection not only revealed some of the lesser-known acts from Chicago’s alternative music scene in the early 2000s, it underlined how DJs were highly invested in constructing value systems in relation to specific bands and genres.


Symposium organiser and Metal on Merseyside member, Nedim Hassan, illustrated that rock shows on Independent Local Radio in the UK were crucial for the development of emerging metal music scenes. Examining interviews with artists, DJs and radio pluggers from the era, Hassan revealed how The Great Easton Express, a programme first broadcast on Liverpool’s Radio City in 1975, quickly became a vital and respected source of exposure for both local and national hard rock and metal acts.


In contrast, Mike Brocken’s absorbing paper concluded proceedings by exploring the production of Brock 'n' Roll, a specialist music show he presented which was broadcast on BBC Radio Merseyside between 1997 and 2007. Shedding light on the relative freedom given to presenters of specialist music programming on the BBC in this period, which enabled Brocken to cultivate a listenership partly interested in rock and metal, the paper provided a snapshot of a period that is now almost unrecognisable given how BBC local radio stations have largely removed specialist music programming in recent years.


After the daytime event had finished, all symposium delegates had the opportunity in the evening to attend a special showcase concert event entitled Show No Mersey at District. Headlined by Merseyside sludge doom metal heavyweights, Conan, but also placing the spotlight on emerging talent, the concert was a fitting way to bring people together and keep the dialogue flowing.




Conan at Show No Mersey (photo credit: Phil Vidamour)


Stellar performances from rising stars, Spitfyre, Utopia and Novacrow lit up the District stage. Then, slam death metal maniacs Crepitation brought their brand of insanity to proceedings before the Conan juggernaut swept all before it to send everyone home with their headbanging muscles truly aching.


Special thanks must go to UK Slam Fest eventsJoe Mortimer for all his hard work towards Show No Mersey and everyone involved with Metal on Merseyside for supporting both Heavy Metal on the Airwaves and Show No Mersey. Roll on the next one…

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