Of all of the most isolated places on Earth, Norfolk Island is not one you would expect to have tasted heavy metal history. Sure it's proximity to Australia and New Zealand would probably argue against that, but it's the same with Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the latter owing to an active metal scene and the former with no metal music history at all.
It's only a matter of time before other Oceanian nations / areas get tinged by metal music, it's progression to Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and Hawaii suggests this. But for now our focus is on Norfolk Island, a dependency of Australia with a population of just under 2,000 (the UK's smallest city St.Davids in Wales only matches this with a hundred or so difference). GMA spoke to Ben Boerboom, a former Norfolk Islander about his experience growing up on this almost-isolated island, the struggles of the metal scene and his thoughts on metal music as a whole.
"The [Norfolk] island has a pretty laid back mentality, and the islanders will support anything local, whether it be metal or otherwise"
Can you tell us how you first got into metal music? Who inspired you and what are you listening to now?
"I've been into metal since I was 2 years old (according to family - I wouldn't know!) I used to share a room with my older brother, who would listen to AC/DC & Iron Maiden around me all the time. My dad was also into a mixed bag listening to everything from ABBA & Creedence, through to Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Uriah Heep. Mum was into everything Woodstock plus Led Zeppelin, whilst my older sister loved 80's pop like A-HA, Madonna & Duran Duran. So, I had a very mixed musical upbringing, but it was metal that struck a chord. I don't know whether it was the dark imagery or just the music itself, but everything else failed in comparison. Plus it was always cool to be the outcast at primary school when most boys & girls my age loved music in the charts, whilst I would bring in WASP & Iron Maiden to listen to in class.
As I got older, I yearned for heavier (as I believe most metalheads do) and I discovered Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth & Slayer, which eventually progressed to the darker sh*t like Deicide, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary etc.
Iron Maiden was the band that made me want to drum. Metallica was the band that made me want to learn guitar. Nirvana, Green Day & Pennywise were the bands that made me want to form a band. I don't know why, probably the sheer simplicity of punk & grunge made me realise, you didn't have to play like Kirk Hammett, you just need to write a good tune.
Right now I listen to pretty much everything rock / metal and I can tolerate any type of music due to having a 9 year old daughter (except country - although southern blues rock is almighty close, and I don't mind that). Basically my phone has a 64GB SD card full of albums, and it sits on random play. Everything from Richard Cheese (awesome lounge / comedy act) & TISM (Aussie music at it best) through to Whitechapel and Impaled Nazarene."
You were situated on Norfolk Island for a period of time, was the metal scene you were a part of short-lived or is still active?
"Norfolk didn't have a metal scene as such. At one point (around the late 90's) there was a select few who listened to punk & metal - mostly surfers and my mates. It was also around this time I started a radio drive-time show playing rock & metal for an hour & a half, which gained a small, but loyal following. I also started a band with a couple of mates called Caktus. We recorded and sold a demo tape around the island and played a couple of gigs before disbanding due to my mates moving off the island for work / university. Its then I began to write, play and record everything myself, only playing live in cover bands. I haven't lived or been back to Norfolk Island for over 10 years, so whether there's still a following over there, I'm not so sure. However, the island has a pretty laid back mentality, and the islanders will support anything local, whether it be metal or otherwise. Country music is the genre that is most popular."
What are the challenges of being a metal music fan or band in the Australasian continent?
"With today's technology, there really is no challenge any-more. Everything is available 24-7, music videos on YouTube, online shopping etc. When I was younger, things were a little different. Any band that wasn't on a major label was hard to obtain and very expensive.
Live gigs in Australia were limited to major rock / metal bands, and with no dedicated metal festivals, smaller bands didn't have a chance in hell of getting here. Even Iron Maiden, struggled to get out here, I think they toured Australia in '82 then '84 then didn't come back until the early 90's. The only upside to never seeing bands or struggling to get material, was it added a certain mystique. I still remember that at 10 years old, I believed that Alice Cooper killed people on stage. Now, you can watch last night's gig from Montreal, Canada - learn the set-list and buy the tour shirt online. PUT YOUR PHONES DOWN PEOPLE!! ha-ha."
Outside of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and French Polynesia, do you know of any metal bands from other countries in Oceania e.g. Fiji, Tuvalu, etc?
"Unfortunately, no. But there is a really cool metal band in New Zealand that sings in Maori, can't remember their name though (ed. it's Alien Weaponry), one of their songs made the NZ mainstream charts...very cool."
Are you surprised about the global spread of metal music? What for you does metal music represent?
"No, I'm not. Metal was destined to be big. It strikes a chord with people on so many levels. Ask any metalhead what their favourite song is, and most will struggle. It's not a flash in the pan thing, fans genuinely love the music, the scene and the people involved, whether that be the band or other fans. It has longevity, chart music is here today, gone tomorrow. Hell, even I hear chart songs from the 90's / 00's and go "Shit, I'd forgotten about that song!"
However, again, with today's technology, metal may be spreading a little thin. People want shit now now now, and when they get it, they just want more more more. I'm just as guilty. I couldn't tell you the last time I absorbed an entire album over and over until I knew every word and riff back to front - but that's because I'm not a moody teenager any-more, lying on my bed all day listening to CD's! I guess that's just age though, most of the old stuff brings various memories back, so the new stuff has to be really good for me to take notice. (I really liked Decapitated's new album & COF's new one too)
Metal, for me, represents opposition in numbers. Whether its political, social or religious, metal seems to be the perfect outlet / release for anger, negativity or any sort of anti / "f*ck you" attitude. It represents musical freedom, with no set boundaries or rules. A genre that can mix with anything and still kick arse. Rap metal, Symphonic Metal, Metal / Reggae, Industrial, etc etc. A genre that can provide 15 minutes epics and still be taken seriously. Band members can wear codpieces, spikes & weaponry and not be laughed at. As long as the music is good, the fans will follow. That is why I love Metal."
Would you ever try to setup a metal band and or scene on Norfolk Island in the future?
"No, I have no real plans of heading back there, although, I think it would be awesome to organize a huge festival over there. But, airfares etc are just way too overpriced, and it would cost an absolute fortune to do. Also, its hard enough to get bands to Australia & New Zealand, let alone a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific. But you never know, maybe one day in the future when they have figured out teleportation."