Hear from musicians that have made the D.C. metal music scene their home.
For as long as he has been interested in music, Chris Moore has been a fan of metal. He’s played drums in more than half a dozen bands in D.C. over the past 20 years, including death metal band Kontusion, punk band Coke Bust and darkwave heavy metal band VOSH.
But it wasn’t until the past several years that the D.C. metal scene became the welcoming place it is today.
“I had this really negative relationship with the local metal scene,” Moore says. “So if I was enjoying live metal stuff, it was in another state, or on tour, but not usually in D.C.”
Venues at the time didn’t have the sound equipment necessary to make a metal band sound good, he says, and they generally weren’t cool places to be. These were also the spaces Moore experienced hateful subcultures that sometimes find homes in metal scenes.
“It was the first time that I saw Nazis at a show, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is not chill,’” Moore says.
For music enthusiasts seeing their first metal shows in D.C. today, the experience will look much different.
“Right now, the D.C. metal scene is one of the most diverse,” Moore says. “We play lots of metal shows in the area and the vibe is amazing. We can’t do that in all parts of the country or world and have that same vibe.”
The shift began about 10 years ago when new show promoters began working in the area.
“They’re not booking racist, homophobic or transphobic bands that we don’t need to be wasting our time with,” Moore says. “They’re creating a community that is also not supporting that stuff.”
Guitarist Demir Soyer adds, “D.C. is traditionally a punk city. I think this alternative scene already existed and all the weirdos just kind of gravitated towards it.”
Music teacher by day, death metal guitarist by night, Soyer was one of the so-called weirdos that found his place in the local scene of metalheads.
“It’s the only setting where I feel very comfortable in,” he says. “It’s strange; I’m pretty shy and reserved in real life. But on stage I’m pretty animated and just into it. I feel super comfortable there.”
Ensembles dressed as medieval warriors or executioners perform shows at venues like The Runaway, Atlas Brew Works and house basements to a similarly dressed audience. The shows are a place for fans to let loose and drop the uniform of their daily work lives.
“D.C. in general is a square city, and then all the weirdos just get drawn into this scene,” Soyer says. “It’s not just like a metal scene. Or a punk scene or alternative. If you’re weird, you go to these shows and hang out with each other and everyone has different interests.”
Soyer’s band, Goetia, released their first EP this past March. Fittingly, a Bandcamp review of Goetia’s self-titled EP calls it, “As good as it gets in this lane. Hits on so many genres but doesn’t feel like a salad.”
The inclusion of so many sub-genres contributes to the gravitational nature of the metal scene, as well as the low barrier to entry.
“I think there’s no barrier honestly,” Moore says. “I think the D.C. metal scene in particular is one of the most welcoming communities. The metal community is insanely supportive of art and music that is metal adjacent. It’s the people and communities like that who keep art and music living.”
Moore sees every concert ticket bought and every merch sale made as an investment into the community.
“To me, it’s like a bunch of mini potentially longterm relationships being started,” Moore says. “I’m investing in this band that may or may not be cool. Maybe you’re taking a chance on it. I’m gonna come out to all their shows, or I’m gonna follow them online. Maybe check out the other bands that they’re going on tour with. It’s a community of nerds and diehard fans. I’m a nerd, and I’m a diehard fan of many things. It’s just nice to be around those people.”
A Wednesday night concert might not draw the biggest turnout, but for the fans of this scene any opportunity to show support for their favorite artists is an opportunity taken.
Such was the case on a Wednesday when gothic metal band Torvus came to a popular destination for alternative shows in the district, the Runaway, and fans and friends filled the venue.
“I find my community in places like D.C. metal, specifically the shows that I go to because it really creates an environment where you feel comfortable,” Bileh Dougsiyeh, Torvus’s drummer, says. “If you’re a Black metalhead, you kind of have accepted that there’s not a lot of you out there. I think there’s an expectation in metal music that it’ll be white men with long hair. That’s just what the norm is.”
But when he sees another Black person at a metal show, he feels glad to make that connection with someone in the same world as him. He’s made lifelong friends in the D.C. metal scene, simply by saying hi and introducing himself.
“It’s really cool to meet other Black people in the nerd world,” Dougsiyeh says.
Dougsiyeh says he feels extremely proud to be a Black person playing in a metal band.
“I think a lot of people in this scene — in the community I find myself in here in D.C. — think really highly of bands with Black and brown people in them,” Dougsiyeh says. “It’s just awesome to play in a community like that.”
Moore will be on a Northeast tour this summer with VOSH, and they’ll play Metro Gallery in Baltimore on August 30. Goetia will be on an East Coast tour this August, starting at Pie Shop on August 11. Torvus plans to record a new full-length album early this fall.
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