sensory, material, & digital anthropology

CultureCast: Hairy Metal

“Hairy Metal” is our first Sensible Culture podcast, and my first proper exploration into how sound can evoke sensory experience; in this case, the experience of having hair. While many anthropologists have written about hair (Leach 1958, Peers 2003) and heavy metal (Walser 1993, Bayer 2009, Dunn 2004, Kahn-Harris 2007), and many more have explored musical practice through a grounding in the body (e.g. Downey 2002), as far as I know anthropologists have not so far explored heavy metal musicianship primarily through the lens of the body.

My interviewees – all heavy metal fans and musicians – consistently expressed a common theme: that hair is a crucial part of “being metal.” They expressed typical sentiments of symbolic inclusion and exclusion that anthropologists will recognise (“I feel like if I went to a gig without big hair people would be judging me, thinking I looked ‘too normal’”); but, of course, there is more to “being metal” than symbolism. They stressed the importance of the sensation of having long, quintessentially “metal” hair. In a piece of an interview that didn’t make the final edit, a metal guitarist explained that long hair added an “extra dimension to playing.” While anthropologists have widely explored embodiment and sensory experience in their written and filmic works, here I use sound to let my interviewees explain in their own voices the bodily experience of “being metal.”



Bayer, Gerd (2009) Heavy Metal Music in Britain. Farnham: Ashgate.

Downey, Greg (2002) “Listening to capoeira: Phenomenology, embodiment, and the materiality of music.” Ethnomusicology 46(3): 487-509.

Dunn, Sam (2004) “Lands of Fire and Ice: an exploration of death metal scenes” Public: New Localities 29/2004, pp. 107–125,

Kahn-Harris, Keith (2007) Extreme metal: music and culture on the edge. Oxford: Berg.

Leach, Edmund A. (1958) “Magical Hair”, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 88, Pt. II, July-December, 147-54.

Peers, Laura (2003) Strands Which Refuse to be Braided: Hair Samples from Beatrice Blackwood’s Ojibwe Collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Journal of Material Culture 8(1): 75-96.

Walser, Robert (1993) Running with the Devil: Power, Gender and Madness in Heavy Metal Music Wesleyan University Press

Small Print

Music by Jabroni Sandwich (, Still Pluto (, and the Soni Ventorum Wind Quintet (

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license

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This entry was posted on 22/04/2014 by in Catherine Brinkworth and tagged , , , , .


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