Red Metal. Heavy Metal as an East German Subculture between Conflict and Integration

Associated PhD project

The global revival of Heavy Metal music in the early 1980s did not stop at the Elbe River. Looked down upon by state media, Heavy Metal fans emerged in every GDR district. In their spare time, almost exclusively dedicated to the collective consumption of music, these groups may have formed the biggest youth subculture in the socialist state. Especially alarming to party officials was the fact that most members seemed to have a working-class background – yet they displayed little or no interest in official socialist culture.

Within this doctoral project, I will examine the emergence and development of the Heavy Metal subculture and its practices under the prevailing conditions of socialism. The emphasis is on the role of newly privatised and military broadcasting stations and of modern media, such as the compact cassette. Furthermore, the observation of GDR sociology on the masculine and blue-collar identity of the ‘Heavies’ will be tested. The goal is to draw conclusions about a possible non-discursive and emotional dimension of subcultural practices that forced the regime to take action even though Heavy Metal fans rarely desired to take part in open political opposition. In a final step, I will examine the fate of the Heavy Metal subculture, which paradoxically seemed to dissolve within a matter of months in the autumn and winter of 1989/90.

In order to answer these questions, I will consult sources from the Stasi Record Agency (BStU), documents from the German Radio Archive (Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv Babelsberg) and academic works from ZIJ, the GDR’s Central Institute for Youth Research (Zentralinsitut für Jugendforschung), and conduct interviews with (former) Heavy Metal fans.

Nikolai Okunew

Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History
Am Neuen Markt 1
14467 Potsdam

Email: okunew [at] zzf-potsdam.de

Forschung

Red Metal. Heavy Metal as an East German Subculture between Conflict and Integration

Associated PhD project

The global revival of Heavy Metal music in the early 1980s did not stop at the Elbe River. Looked down upon by state media, Heavy Metal fans emerged in every GDR district. In their spare time, almost exclusively dedicated to the collective consumption of music, these groups may have formed the biggest youth subculture in the socialist state. Especially alarming to party officials was the fact that most members seemed to have a working-class background – yet they displayed little or no interest in official socialist culture.

Within this doctoral project, I will examine the emergence and development of the Heavy Metal subculture and its practices under the prevailing conditions of socialism. The emphasis is on the role of newly privatised and military broadcasting stations and of modern media, such as the compact cassette. Furthermore, the observation of GDR sociology on the masculine and blue-collar identity of the ‘Heavies’ will be tested. The goal is to draw conclusions about a possible non-discursive and emotional dimension of subcultural practices that forced the regime to take action even though Heavy Metal fans rarely desired to take part in open political opposition. In a final step, I will examine the fate of the Heavy Metal subculture, which paradoxically seemed to dissolve within a matter of months in the autumn and winter of 1989/90.

In order to answer these questions, I will consult sources from the Stasi Record Agency (BStU), documents from the German Radio Archive (Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv Babelsberg) and academic works from ZIJ, the GDR’s Central Institute for Youth Research (Zentralinsitut für Jugendforschung), and conduct interviews with (former) Heavy Metal fans.

Nikolai Okunew

Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History
Am Neuen Markt 1
14467 Potsdam

Email: okunew [at] zzf-potsdam.de

Forschung