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Interviews : The truth about the Black Mass Festival cancellation

By on January 4, 2011

The cancellation of the rather awesome Black Mass Festival, due to be held in Sydney last November, turned into one of the biggest stories in the local metal scene in 2010. Met with a wide and conflicting array of stories spreading across social networking sites and music forums, the whole fiasco had metal fans furious. With replacement shows having been announced (details at the end of the post), we caught up with organiser Seance Records to clear up exactly what happened.

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First things first, what aspects of the Black Mass festival were the actual cause of the initial complaints?

Predominantly the name Black Mass was an issue to these people who viewed it as being anti Christian, discriminatory & in their words promoting hate against Catholics due to the act of the Black Mass being the inversion of the traditional Catholic Mass. Yet they failed to understand or indeed ignored the fact that this was not an actual black mass or religious rite or act at all but only a music festival featuring Black Metal bands.

They also found issue with ALL associated artwork, the written press release and ALL bands performing (in other words everything). They scoured the web for information on the event and performers and commandeered artwork posted to private forums to spread amongst their peers and heighten their ‘outrage’. They took all press releases out of context claiming that it was a gathering of Satanists who were assembling in Sydney to actually cast evil spells on the city in order to promote “evil and anarchy”. They additionally made claims of animal sacrifice and other utterly ridiculous stereo types & misconceptions that should have gone the way of the dinosaur by 2010.
It is important to note that we did approach the RSL offering to change the name and remove all advertising for the show in order for it to proceed & to minimize offense however this offer was rejected by both the Christians and the RSL.

The hypocrisy is that in their own actions they have propagated hatred, bigotry and discrimination far more than we ever could have with begin horror inspired imagery & terms such as ‘Black Mass’. These are the same people who openly admit to being against homosexuality in all forms, freedom of speech, religion & the control of women’s reproductive rights.

There have been a number of different parties blamed by all sorts of people on the internet, were any of the publicly blamed parties actually those that placed the original complaints?

The few key players in the cancellation of the event come from various fringe religious organizations within Australia. We will decline to name the parties involved, both persons and organizations because we do not condone witch hunts and respect their privacy.

One of these persons was interviewed in the Sydney Morning Herald and was quoted as being behind the campaign to have the show shut down. There was another who started the initial facebook protest page against the show. They both belong to organizations who openly state on their websites that they are against homosexuality, gay & lesbian rights, contraception, abortion, euthanasia & pornography among other right wing conservative views.

They frequently protest against anything they deem ‘anti catholic’ or ‘offensive’. Recent protests and actions have targeted gay & lesbian events, gay & lesbian Christians, the Paddington art gallery & channel 9 among others.

They launched their campaign via facebook encouraging their facebook friends to join a protest page and send a generic pre written email to the RSL and RSL board in order to have the show cancelled.

It saddens us that the majority of complains came from overseas, the USA, London and even the Middle East. Less than 10% of complains were from Sydney let alone the local community in the Inner West. Sadly the RSL buckled under the pressure from these minority right wing players and their campaign of harassment as they bombarded the poor RSL employees with 100s of nuisance carbon copied emails sent over & over along with generic phone calls, they even had a script for callers to read in complaint over the phone!

The RSL has held a large number of metal events in the past, did they show any indication that this could be the end of that, or is it simply a one-off occasion?

No there has been no indication in regards to this however I’m sure this has left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth and the end result has sadly been that a large number of metal heads and open minded Australian’s no longer feel welcome at RSLs due the way that this event has unfortunately aligned them with groups who peddle right wing ideals, homophobia & censorship.
This is a blow because many metal heads including myself have at least one RSL membership and live show’s have been one of Newtown RSL’s prime incomes since they renovated the band room. Now it may be ruined for everyone.
This is a lack of foresight on the RSL’s behalf as they should have looked into who and where the complaints were actually coming from rather than accept anonymous complaints at face value.

There was quite an uproar from fans (and keyboard warriors) who responded with everything from politely written letters to rather immature Facebook attacks. What are your thoughts on how people responded, and your advice to them if something like this occurred again?

We urged people to complain in a constructive and polite manner. We stated in all press and online posts that we do not and never will condone abuse, threats or profanity.
The alleged ‘threats’ made have received a lot of hype however I know for a fact that these were in the absolute minority. The cancellation was widely publicized and they could have come from anywhere. They just made a good headline and the media would rather talk about crazy satanic metal heads making deranged death threats rather than investigate the actual core issues of censorship & freedom for artists which surrounded the cancellation.

I’m sure the so called ‘threats’ of which there has been no evidence were immature pranks rather than serious threats of violence. The ‘threats’ received were conveniently deleted I might add.

I have had many emails and letters forwarded to me that were submitted to in complaint to the RSL and they were all passionate, intelligent & heartfelt. It actually made me proud to be a metal head and a young Australian to see young people and metal heads taking an interest in what is happening to them and at large in this country and standing up for themselves in an intelligent and literate way. The support was overwhelming and only helps crush some of the stero types commonly associated with this genre of music and subculture at large.

If something positive came of this incident is has been these letters and the open discussion which it created on the internet. For days it was the hub of discussion on forums & facebooks. Eyes have been opened and minds stimulated in debate of issues such as censorship, freedom of speech, artists rights, religion, gay/ lesbian rights, & politics. To take such an avid interest, read about, asses and come to ones own conclusions on the incident and all issues at hand shows that we are not just a generation of brain dead TV junkies after all we are much more and we should be proud of that.

Speaking generally, what are your personal thoughts on cancellations and restrictions of something as innocent as a gig due to personal ideologies and views? Particularly when it impacts financially on local bands, promoters and music fans.

It should not happen; it is a simple matter of one person telling another person what to do because it does not fit in with their beliefs. They don’t care if the people that they impact do not share their beliefs they feel that they are righteous and have the right to tell others what they can & can’t do. In history there have been famous incidents of this and words like dictatorships & fascism have used to describe them.

Artists and musicians need to be able to express themselves without fear of religious interference or censorship.

At the end of the day the RSL should not have taken the booking if it was not the kind of entertainment that they deem appropriate for their facilities. All gig information was presented to them from day one but instead they pulled the plug with no warning 2 weeks out from the show leaving promoters, bands and fans inconvenienced with no room to move in such a short window of time.

Though we personally lost money it is the bands and fans that we are most upset about. These are people who lose money rather than make money on a regular basis because of their passion for creating this kind of music. They spend money and time jamming, buying equipment & traveling around to shows while people download the little profit that they could potentially make. Bands traveled from Perth, Melbourne, & QLD to play. Whilst fans came from Perth, Adelaide, QLD, Melbourne, Tasmania & even New Zealand!

These are the people who have had to suffer because of these complaints, they have taken time off work, re-arranged family life & commitments to spend money they probably have little of in the pursuit of a fun weekend and to satisfy their passion for heavy metal. The RSL has lost drink sales, food sales, memberships & PA hire over this. It has tarnished their reputation and their staff have suffered unduly due to this. Other people who miss out are the stall holders, local food vendors, retailers, Street press who loose advertising dollars, sound engineers, lighting techs, merch girls, equipment hire companies… all these people did not get paid because of this cancellation. So those who are responsible for this whole cancellation fiasco have caused far more trouble and chaos than any one metal show ever could!

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Replacement event:

SATURDAY FEB 5TH
The Factory Theatre

NAZXUL (NSW)
ASTRIAAL (QLD)
DROWNING THE LIGHT (NSW)
DESTRUKTOR (MELB)
WARDAEMONIC (PER)
EREBUS ENTHRONED (NSW)

FRIDAY FEB 4TH
The Bald Faced Stag Hotel

SPECIAL GUEST PERFORMANCE
PESTILENTIAL SHADOWS (NSW)
ARKHETH (NSW)
NAETU (PER)
BLEAKWOOD (NSW)

For ticketing information and descriptions of the performing bands, head over to the official Facebook event page.

About

Mitch Booth is the owner, designer and grand overlord of Metal Obsession. In the few seconds of spare time he has outside of this site, he also hosts a metal radio show over on PBS 106.7fm in Melbourne (Australia) and organises shows under the name Untitled Touring. You should follow him on Twitter.