As a black woman raised on a steady diet of metal music, Laina Dawes is used to getting stares in the mosh pit. So as music writer and cultural critic is was just a matter of time before she looked to herself – and fans like her – as an ideal subject to write about.
What Are You Doing Here? is a fascinating look at the double outsider status black women face as fans of metal, hardcore and punk music and Dawes’ knack for personal exploration and her general openness in her writing make the book a riveting read. Through interviews with others and an almost scholarly exploration into an already misunderstood genre (let’s be honest most metal and punk fans are already used to the clueless criticism leveled at their music by those who wouldn’t know Opeth from Otep).
As a black child adopted by white parents, Dawes talks about spending time in her childhood bedroom, dealing with her anger by listening to loud metal. “I channeled my frustrations and counteracted my powerlessness by listening to the loudest, most aggressive music I could get my hands on, a habit I retain to this day,” she recounts early on in the book. “The music overrode my experiences of not belonging to either the white or black communities in my hometown.” Being drawn to the metal community – a group with its own questionable past in dealing with sexism and racism – also brought about ostracism from the black community.
Though the premise alone is interesting enough, it’s the author’s personal experiences that make What Are You Doing Here? such a compelling read.