It was tough getting a ticket for System of a Down at the London Astoria on April 4th because, despite their integrity, they're a chart topping act also topping bills at festivals which take place in fields.
When I started work on my book about moshing five years ago I knew a great deal about certain strands of guitar driven rock - particularly punk rock - but I was somewhat vague about the plethora of metal sub-genres then sprouting like mushrooms at dawn. I soon learned that the broad church once known as heavy metal is populated by a wide range of bitter vindictive Republican assholes with long hair and poor attitudes. Real "good guy" bands were thin on the ground. Slipknot, Queens of the Stone Age, and System of a Down all had things going for them. They seemed personally flaky, and therefore exciting, but SOAD were stranger than the rest. Motivated teenagers were always mentioning them to me or lending me their albums, especially Toxicity. At one stage I had Toxicity on vinyl, CD, Special Limited Edition With Cd-Rom, and Minidisc.
The aforementioned bands gave something back to their fans in a way that went beyond the rhetoric which is the most sickening thing about nu metal. As they grew in stature and influence, the good bands proved their essentially democratic nature. There came a time - a very good time - when you could see members of Slipknot or the Queens promoting solo/side projects in modestly sized venues all over the world.
System of a Down, heading off into the world of Ozzfest headline slots, proved their mettle in an alternative way. They recorded, in the company of the rarely wrong Rick Rubin, music that involved real thought processes. Socially aware Armenian-Americans, they held on to a strong campaigning political spirit. Their site refers their fans to countless righteous causes and issues, Metal bands who campaign on behalf of feminists in Turkey and against the malign extremes of American capitalism are thin on the ground.
I like this somewhat brash, uncouth, band. I like their fans, who are not the usual self-pitying mournful nancy boys you bump into in nu metal pits. The Astoria mob were largely male, a good clean cross section of what constitutes a rock crowd. Generally aged between 15 and 25, they didn't allow themselves much room for moshing or for breathing. I think they were so freaked to be watching a festival band in an intimate club that they clustered tight around the stage in disbelief. This was a pity because SOAD were laying out some pretty sophisticated and toe tapping rhythms; a danceable contribution to teenage revolution. The music is not quite as challenging as I remember it, and I'd be damned if I would name one of their songs, but they sure sounded fine in their chainsaw-amphetamine way.
They're doing a benefit concert, "Souls 2005," at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, April 24th. Proceeds will benefit organizations working to end genocide worldwide. The show sold out in less than two minutes. Suck on that Fred Durst, you macho, militaristic, posturing, has-been.
Joe Ambroses's book, Moshpit Culture, extreme travel writing from within the moshing subculture, is published by Omnibus Press.