A decade of heavy metal classes with MIT’s Joe Diaz

Matt Zappa demonstrates drumming techniques as a guest lecturer at MIT's Metal 101 class on Jan. 29, 2018. Photo by Meaghan T'ao/BU News Service

By Meaghan T’ao
BU News Service

CAMBRIDGE – Last month, MIT’s Heavy Metal 101 class returned for its thirteenth year. This year’s edition featured ten different classes on everything ranging from mixing and mastering, drumming technique, to metal fashion and a look at the behind-the-scenes work of being a promoter in the Boston metal scene.

The classes were started in 2006 by MIT departmental systems administrator Jeffrey Pearlin but were suspended after a few years when he moved to pursue a job at Apple.  Luckily, pk-12 Action Group program coordinator Joe Diaz and Tushar Swamy, at the time an MIT PhD student, revived the program in 2016, and now the classes are bigger and better than ever. According to Diaz, Heavy Metal 101 started out as a one to two-hour class, before increasing to four sections, then eight sections in the past years, and 12 separate sessions in its latest iteration this year.

MIT welcomed guest lecturers such as musicians Paul Buckley, Görebläster Körpse-härvest Lunden, Tim Ma, Matt Zappa, as well as metal fan and venue staff Laura Filippi and local promoter Aaron Gray. Each speaker focused on his area of expertise; many provided live demonstrations and opened up the floor for Q&A sessions.

MIT Heavy Metal 101 organizer Joe Diaz poses for the camera on Jan. 29, 2019. (Photo by Meaghan T’ao/BU News Service)

“I think it brings a great educational aspect to a genre of music that so many people love, and with the guest lecturers, it’s a glimpse into what makes the music happen,” said Ma.

Lunden agrees. “I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from attendees,” he said. “Many attendees later came out to a performance of one of my bands, and purchased media or merchandise!”

Gray is a Boston-based metal concert promoter with his independent agency Grayskull Booking.  According to him, “if you have been to a bigger metal show in the last 5 plus years in and around Boston, [he] probably either directly made it happen or helped in some fashion.”

During his class, Gray detailed the work of a promoter, gave tips to aspiring local bands and regaled them with his own tour stories from being on the road.

Zappa, an accomplished drummer, gave similar direction during his session. He demonstrated drumming technique on an electronic drum set, jokingly citing noise complaints from last year as the reason for his choice.

Organizer Joe Diaz and drummer Matt Zappa at MIT’s Heavy Metal 101 class on Jan. 29, 2019. Photo by Meaghan T’ao/BU News Service

“It was great,” replied Diaz with a laugh.

“The noise complaints?”

“It was great!”

Even though a good majority of the class participants have had some experience with the metal genre and surrounding subculture, Diaz said that sometimes non-fans would wander into his classroom to take part.

“We often get people who aren’t sure what they’re looking for when they come to class,” he said. “One time, we got someone who thought she was in a Chemistry lecture, but she ended up being the best student we had – asking great questions, and going to almost every class.”

Matt Zappa demonstrates drumming techniques as a guest lecturer at MIT’s Metal 101 class on Jan. 29, 2018. Photo by Meaghan T’ao/BU News Service

Buckley has similar stories. “One direct impact [the classes] have had is that we now see people that were introduced to the Boston Metal scene at shows, because [they] learnt about them at MIT Metal 101,” he said.

“Even if you’re just trying out something new, it’s the idea that metal is pretty broad and includes a lot of different things – maybe you’re a metalhead and you don’t even know it,” said Diaz, “It’s a cultural experience where you can have people answer your questions, if you have any.”

Correction: This article was updated to also credit Tushar Swamy for the 2016 revival of the MIT Heavy Metal 101 classes.

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