United, not divided

We are all part of different communities. From our local communities (your street) right up to nationwide groupings (your political party, consumer demographics etc), we are all part of something. While many of the communities are non-interactive and just being part of the audience makes you a member, there are of course communities that we actively choose to be a part of. As many of you will know, I am part of two distinctive communities that I participate in – Free Software and Metal.

I often compare and contrast the two communities, and when I was younger I felt quite emotionally torn between the two. I remember being 16 and battling with myself as to whether I enjoyed playing my guitar more or enjoyed using BBSs more. On one side, the guitar thing was cool, likely to attract women and more of a physical and artistic endeavour that played to my creative side. I am also a physical person and the buzz I get from playing a guitar (creative but defined) and from playing drums (raw physicality) appeal to my different sides. Then, contrast this with computers. Obviously far less cool in the minds of most, but my interest in computers flexed my mental muscles and a different type of social muscle. On one side the music side of me gets me out to gigs, drinking with people, headbanging, dancing, stage diving etc, but the computer side, and particularly around that time, put me in touch with people all over the world. This was a huge buzz and incredibly exciting.

But, I was torn. Which group did I want to fit into? Life could have certainly turned out quite different if I had picked one over the other, and I found it difficult to figure out what I wanted from life and which box I wanted to fall into. As time went on, my interests naturally moved me in different directions as I explored these different areas.

One such example is that I totally screwed up my A-Levels. I joined a band (called Conspiracy) which was well established and spent lots of time performing live. Although I was always a consistent worker at school, this experience was so mind blowing that it got in the way of school work and my mind was always focused on playing to crowds of sweaty metallers who would elegantly beat the shit of each other on the dancefloor to our music (for a better explanation of such beatings, see the Wikipedia Moshing article). Likewise, as time went on, I found myself increasingly interested in Linux. I spent my year out between A-Levels and University working in Cranfield Bookshop in Milton Keynes, and with very little work to do and a business that was being sold to Waterstones, I spent my days just reading the computer books there. After the year was out, I had read most of the books I was interested in, and I used to wear self-printed Linux t-shirts to advocate Linux to people who came into the shop.

I was two people – Linux t-shirt wearing Linux fan by day, Overkill t-shirt wearing metaller by night. Mentally, the two sides were still separate, but as time meandered on, they meshed into the same person. Why should I have these separate sides? Why can’t I be one person with both? Surely it would be good to influence both sides with their merits? The stuffier technical corners of the Linux world could do with some of the raw social input from the metal world, and the metal world could do with some of the thinking and structure of the Linux world. It was then that I realised that community cannot live in a vacuum; well, it can, but it suffers greatly if it does.

Even within specific sub-communities, internal bickering can cause divides. A great example is the metal world. There are a great many styles of metal, such as:

  • Heavy Metal – traditionally anthemic, like a heavy version of rock. Examples include Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath.
  • Thrash Metal – a combination of Heavy Metal and Punk, fast, speedy metal, clear vocals and chunky-ish guitars. Examples include Metallica, Megadeth and Exodus.
  • Black Metal – metal that focuses on Satan and upside down crosses, screechy growly high vocals, often deliberately produced to sound like it was recorded in a dustbin, aside from Satan the subject is often cold weather, artists wear make-up and look like badgers. Examples include Immortal, Cradle Of Filth and Mayhem.
  • Death Metal – thick, chunky, aggressive metal with growly vocals where the vocals are more of an instrument than a vocal (less melody and more rhythm), often subjects are about violence and squalor, very cool. Examples include Decapitated, Cannibal Corpse, Deicide and Napalm Death.
  • Power Metal – anthemic, German sounding, speedy, high singing vocals, often sing about being a brother of true metal, spandex essential, excellent. Examples include Manowar, Stratovarius, Primal Fear and Helloween.
  • Hardcore – thick, crunchy, rhythmic, shouty vocals, subject matter typically rebellion and honour, dancing is a combination of moshing and karate, listeners often look like chavs, very cool. Examples include Hatebreed, Raging Speedhorn and Stamping Ground.
  • Stoner Rock – does exactly what it says on the tin, loose, groovy, usually sung vocals. Examples include Black Label Society, Down and Spiritual Beggars.
  • Industrial – slightly dancy, machine like, very rhythmic and accessible, listeners are often strange. Examples include Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein.
  • Mathcore – take Hardcore or Death Metal and apply crazy time signatures that make it impossible to headbang to. Examples include Cryptopsy and Meshuggah.
  • Speed Metal – thrash turned upto 11. Examples include Cacophony and The Great Kat.

Each of these different sub-styles of metal are often very cynical to the other sub-communities. As an example, a Thrash Metal fan may be sneering to an Industrial fan, despite having so much in common. Each community has this view because a community not only instills an ethic, but also a gauge of how true you are to that community. Power Metal fans are particularly affected by this as their style is not just about music but about being a real brother or sister of metal. This may sound crazy to many of you, but it is deep in the hearts of people who listen to that style of music. If you are not into metal, you are not my friend.

This is all understandable – we are social creatures and we form our own groupings, but when we break these barriers down and work together interesting things happen. Take for example Slipknot. Traditionally from Death Metal bands, the jumpsuit-masked nutters combined Death Metal, Hardcore, Nu Metal, Thrash and bits of Drum n’ Bass to create a unique and interesting sound. They broke down the barriers, explored how they could combine different styles and community and hit on a winning formula. Not only did they creatively innovate but they broke down social barriers in the metal world – they opened peoples minds.

In recent years this kind of change has been rampant in the free software world. We are seeing different communities working together, breaking down social and technical barriers and exploring how we can do different things in different ways. While this is great, we need to always remain open to those outside our community – breaking down the barriers within the free software community is one thing, but we also need to realise that outside our wonderful community are so many interesting opinions, ideas and opportunities. It is an exciting time for free software and if we can harness our similarities and revel in our differences, we can do some amazing things.

  • http://weblog.obso1337.org seele

    Industrial – slightly dancy, machine like, very rhythmic and accessible, listeners are often strange…

    Hmm.. thank you? πŸ˜€

  • Rob

    Many Black Metalers would disagree with your definition claiming that true Black Metal is about nature, based on old scandinavian mythical religion, and that the satan and upside down crosses thing is misguided.

  • http://www.whiz.se Sven Arvidsson

    When did Meshuggah start playing power metal? :mrgreen:

  • http://pvanhoof.be/blog Philip Van Hoof

    As a (free) software developer who was once a skateboarder who listened to skate-punk, Thrash-Metal and hardcore … like NOFX, Metallica and Sick of it All (to use the more famous ones) but now enjoys electro parties and electro music like what Dr. Lektroluv puts on his releases

    And to take it more close to the subject and the point that you try to make, Jono:

    … As a software developer who developed within a company that hated Linux, after that in another company that was interested in Linux through Mono and after that in another company that is almost religious about Linux and now in another company that makes custom softwares for mobile devices using mostly the Compact Framework .NET but also soon Linux technologies like Maemo, Hiker and GPE-Phone ….

    … As the nitwit who once started that crazy DConf discussion on xdg-list and who wanted to create a configuration and settings framework, like KConfig, OpenOffice’s configuration system, Mozilla’s configuration system and GConf (regretfully the discussion became a victim of the “not-do” but “talk”-people) ….

    … As the nitwit who wanted to create a E-mail framework and had to choose between GObject, KObject, C++, D, Java, C#, Python, Perl, PHP, Ruby and as the same nitwit who had to spend a vast majority of his time in trying to get all these different platforms AND their communities (as a lot of psychologically telling people that I’m NOT against their platforms is involved too) to be supported by that E-mail framework ….

    I fully agree.

    The fact that we are different communities with a lot diversities is extremely interesting. The fact that we compete against each other makes our softwares AND the individuals behind it much more competent than how they would have been if we wouldn’t have this competition.

    But it’s also a huge burden that we have put on ourselves. Abnormally huge. And most of that burden is absolutely not necessary. Most of it is pure irrational and religious. Not rational at all.

    I’m silently believing (and hoping) that going to conferences of those other communities and even more importantly: inviting them to our conferences, helps a lot. Most of those ‘other’ communities have a very small amount of ‘important’ people (the do-people who actually “do” the things that have to be done, not the talk-people who eventually usually only “talk” about it).

    Which is why I urge organizers of of hybrid conferences, like FOSDEM, not to put us in different rooms. But rather to put us, the technical “do” people, together.

    Because we need to work together. We simply have to if we respect for our own achievements and if we don’t want all of the hard work to be in vain in a near future.

  • http://www.soulsphere.org/ fraggle

    Ò€œGreat music completely obliterates any conceptions of genre.Ò€ – Billy Corgan

  • jono

    Sven – oops, paste error!

  • Matthew Barnes

    Don’t forget Progressive Metal!


  • http://eye48.com Haschek

    That long post about your personal “MrHyde/DrJekyll” and living in different scenes/worlds but the comments just “complaining” about your personal definition of the metal sub-genres :)

    I know what you want, I also would not wear my shirt with the message in PHP code on stage (http://farmers-boulevard.de/) … two different aspects of life. But they can interleave — you can find a topic like “freedom” everythere, in life, in music/lyrics, in software.

    btw: Hardcore is not a style of metal!


  • http://jakob.petsovits.at Jakob Petsovits

    Oh yeah… I gotta smile every time I read about those micro-differences in the metal scene that cause such great segmentation.

    I’m enjoying the more recent kinds of Jazz (say, Jazzanova or E.S.T.) just like good singer-/songwriter music (e.g., Tim Hutton) and traditional bands (Radiohead, dEUS, Phoenix or Air), or heavier stuff like Tool or NIN. Those are all different approaches to making music, but in fact it’s all about creating great music, not only great $PREFERRED_STYLE. Sure, I don’t appreciate all kinds of music as much as it would deserve it, but there’s goodness everywhere, far too much to only dive into one narrow subset.

    That said, I still struggle with belonging to different communities, also concerning Free Software and music. The main difficulty is getting people to understand why Free Software is a good thing and important to me, because it’s really hard to explain. On the other hand, immersing yourself in music is widely known and accepted in today’s society.

    I find your article very interesting, it hit the right nerve with me πŸ˜›

  • http://bluey.livejournal.com Mikey Cooper


    We’re all nerds, in the end.

  • http://jehaisleprintemps.net kNo’

    Free software and Metal music.. HA HA HA… You’re unbelievable, Jono. People enjoy metaphors, but this one, I’ve never read that kind of analogy before… (still laughing…)

  • http://www.stratos-online.nl Erik Snoeijs


    So does that mean we will have to organise a Linux party at wacken open air? http://www.wacken.com/

  • http://thejf.blogspot.com JF

    Excellent, excellent post Jono. When I’m not jamming your inbox with janitorial stuff from Launchpad’s bug database, I’m actually a political science student focused on nationalism. And unlike the vast majority of people studying nationalism, I actually talk about what I call “non-traditional nations” (although, I need to find a better term for it), which is actually subcultural nations. They’re not as permanent as things like ethnic and civic nations, but subcultural nations, like being a metalhead, the metal nation, or a geek with the geek nation, function exactly the same way than ethnic, civic, and religious nations do. They’re social entities with a culture, often their own language (or lingo), traditions and so forth.

    The purpose of my studying these nations, beyond the pleasure I get out of it, is to demonstrate that national affiliation is inherently pluralistic and even more diverse than we thought. You can’t just be an American, a Canadian, a British (well, you guys have pluralistic national identities already with English, Scots, Welsh, etc.), Chinese or Japanese. You’re always part of many national groups and some of them are transnational. For example, the metal nation is transnational. Wherever you are in the world, a metalhead is a metalhead. There’s obviously influences from his own surrounding and so forth, but you’ll likely feel a certain bond with a metalhead regardless of how foreign his ethnic or civic culture is to you. In Canada, we have a seperatist movement in Quebec, and its leaders claim that you can only be Canadian or Quebecois, you can’t be both. That national identity is mutually exclusive. My goal is to show that, no, national identities are inclusive and that you don’t have to choose between any of them, that personally, I can be Acadian, Canadian, North American, a geek, a junglist, an otaku (a moderate one, but still), and a world citizen and this is entirely normal and healthy. And I mean, that’s only scratching the surface of my identity which is complex, like all identities.

    This post illustrates superbly that the personal emotional dynamics regarding subcultural nations is exactly the same than any other nation. If you had been for example, a Chinese-Canadian, you can substitute the inner conflict between being Canadian and Chinese and having to choose which is most important to you. So, I’m not sure I can use blogposts in essays, but if I can, I might use this sometimes, thanks. πŸ˜›

  • http://thejf.blogspot.com JF

    I also want to note that, in the 21st century, we may actually see manifestations of subcultural nationalism have an effect on world politics, but this is less likely than ethnic or civic nationalism, for they’re more volatile. There is one non-traditional nationalism that’s a permanent characteristic of an individual, and it’s taking a transnational form, and that’s queer nationalism. It’s gaining steam and pushing for an end to discrimination to members of the queer nation, with things like chamber of commerces and everything, so that’s kind of an example of these… new nationalisms, I suppose.

  • http://www.adamzap.com/blog adamzap

    Jono, good post as always, but I must say…Black Metal should be described by it’s musical characteristics (tremelo picking, etc), not its religious affiliation.

    Believe it or not there are some Christian black metal bands that are as brutal as ever.

  • aodhagan

    So, while I’m sure in the volume of your rant and the comments that followed, I was supposed to take something Metal away from this process. However, what I really think is the interesting concept here is the movement to create collaborative software and the competing camps within. Is it Free Software or Open Source? We can’t even agree on a name for the worldview. Is it really even one unified worldview at all? Gnome or KDE? Vi or Emacs? Bash or Korn shell? GPL or CDDL, or maybe MPL/BSD/Artistic? Choice can be amazingly powerful and ideas grow by incorporating new information. I wonder though where the line is drawn between the segmentation being constructive to becoming destructive. Are competing software projects inherently aiding one another by providing alternate perspectives? Does half joking/half serious bickering between projects actually further grow the affinity concerned parties have with each project? Linux distributions have become like protestant denominations. There are a lot of flavors, that everyone plays lip service to as being quite acceptable, but yet the divisions remain all the same. While individual initiative is absolutely required for a movement like Free Software to succeed, I wonder if that same individualism is the source of apparent fragmentation within the community. Is the communities greatest strength also its greatest weakness?

  • EvilDead

    You forgot grindcore.

    (just my useless 2 cents :)

  • Relation of Ronan Keating

    I’m glad that’s been cleared up, now where did I leave my Boyzone CD?

  • http://blog.thegrieve.co.uk Aeth

    Where’s the mention of Rhapsody and Fantasy Metal :P?

    “For the King, for the land, for the mountains, For the green valleys where dragons fly, For the glory, the power to win the black lord, I will search for the Emerald Sword.”


  • Nils Winkler

    Good article, but you couldn’t be more wrong about “Industrial”. Time for a history lesson? :smile:


  • James Stephenson

    Excellent! I particularly enjoyed this post. The analogy is awesome. So as a follow Free Software guy and Metal fan I only have one more thing to say. Rock On.

  • Stoffe

    The one band that has opened my mind the most was Die Krupps in the early 90’s, when they successfully combined and popularized metal and electronic music in a way that fans of both genres could appreciate. At least among people I know, they created a lot of bridges, as at least in Sweden in the 80’s, you were either metal or electronic, and never should the two meet, in fact they were mortal enemies. πŸ˜‰ Silly when you look back at it, but that’s the way it was (and we were mostly teenagers taking small stuff waaay too seriously).

    Anyhow, from a metal background (which I retain) I then proceeded to discover lots of other interesting music, starting with stuff like Depeche and after a while pretty much listening to anything. Nowadays I don’t listen to genres at all, just divide music into “good” and “bad” according to my taste. πŸ˜‰