A CALL TO ARMS
If the neofolk scene wants to survive, it has to take up resistance against Fascist entryism – and reclaim its sense of humour while doing so.
By Alexander Nym
This text may contain much (background) information and terminology familiar to neofolkers, which may be unfamiliar to those less involved in the scene. So please, bear with me through the necessarily lengthy and dreary introduction. All cited instances of aggression, discrimination and closed-mindedness during the event described were reported to me first-hand by those who experienced them. Though I attended, I was unaware of most of them until afterwards. As I was unable to counteract or challenge them there and I'm now writing this text, which I hope will be a useful contribution to this ongoing debate.
First, allow me to discuss briefly the extent and history of my involvement with the so-called neofolk-scene in order to prevent misreadings of what I'll say here. Despite the fact that a good deal (though certainly not all) of my friends are fans of and/or musicians within the field termed neofolk, those personal connections largely date back to when that particular strand of underground music was considered a part of (Dark) Wave, post-punk/industrial, and the term “apocalyptic folk” was in use (a term I found to be a more precise description than the more general neofolk meme), and I readily admit to having been what I'd call a post-goth, for what it's worth. For when I changed garment colours from simple black to hippie/psychedelic camouflage colours and patterns at the start of 1993, it was first and foremost due to personal dissatisfaction with the contemporary Goth scene in Germany, which I perceived as becoming increasingly “trendy” and conformist (coinciding with the rapid revival of Goth in Germany during the early 90s), and while the solemn, and by comparison extreme expression of fundamental disagreement with and resistance to mainstream “pop“ culture was becoming a mere reproduction (if dressed all in black) of intrinsically hierarchical and conservative patterns of wider society, I found the transition from dark and withdrawn to militant uniform garb a natural one.
If a scene priding itself on individualist freedom of expression and critically minded distance from the rest of society was turning into a self-referential mockery of the wider pop-culture of which it had always been a part anyway (if, perhaps in the role of devil's advocate), why not mirror the subtle process of that erosion by taking the logical step and, instead of using the banishing charm of Black, use the very signifier of uniformity by its deconstructive abuse into a militant signal of disagreement with what everyone else was doing unconsciously (or, even willingly) regarding submission to style- and dress-codes which had erected clear “ideological” boundaries between youth subcultures like punks, goths, psychobillies, teds, mods, skinheads, metalheads, etc. By the mid-90s, the all-absorbing sweep of techno had made such boundaries superfluous and instead spawned a new array of more or less utopian countercultural patterns such as FOPI (Family of Psychick Individuals), goa raves, dreadlocked neo-hippie grunge rockers, medievalists, dawning cyberculture, urban shamanism, in short: the Awakening of the Tribes in line with the “Archaic Revival” celebrated by people like Terrence McKenna, RU Sirius, Hakim Bey and Douglas Rushkoff. Among the last remaining aesthetic fronts not engaged in technophilia, neo-futurism and a generally optimistic vision of the future, “neofolk” emerged as their evil twin brother: a neo-primitivist, mythologically inclined and by its very nature irrational DIY-movement for disenfranchised youth who had exchanged the suddenly ubiquituous sequencers and samplers for acoustic guitars and kettle drums, protesting against the sellout of their hard-earned individualist ideas and an unclear idea of pan-European identity to the spectre of all-pervading consumerism and corporatism (both of which, it must be stressed, are strong vectors in the hyper-marketing of youth-/counter-cultural codes and styles resulting in their commodification and neutralisation; a poison which the neofolk scene has shown a resolute immunity against).
Yet another twist in the complicated history of youthful revolt: in an era when (in both absolute and relative terms) far more people were ingesting psychedelic entheogens and realising their dyonysian potential at large-scale raves, the counterpoint to this counterculture invested itself in outdated aesthetics, controversial imagery and anything but progressive philosophies, taking further the conservative twist post-punk had taken with the Goth scene after its formative phase. From this perspective, it might not seem too incidental that the surge of neofolk's popularity in the burgeoning Goth scene of the early 90s originated in the traditionally conservative minded Bavaria in Southern Germany, and was taken to new heights by youths in the Eastern part of the country who had little to no historical identity models at their disposal, be it the failed GDR or the Federal Republic of (Western) Germany, which had simply taken over what was left after the GDR's demise. No surprise then, that those kids developed an interest in what had been before, spanning the German experience from pagan times to the infamous Third Reich, and the more provoking the references were to the new reunified bourgeoisie, the better. In a country run by the veterans of the 1968 student revolts, what better oppositional stance was there to adopt than to display interest in the dark era of German history, the one which had spawned the uneasy post-war truce their parents had rebelled against 25 years before?
However, while there were undoubtedly very unconventional notions of conservatism around (one need only look at the topics covered by the scene's most infamous zine, “Sigill”), in my experience, this milieu nevertheless managed to attract particularly the disenfranchised, the alienated, the introverted individualists, regardless of whether they shared a solid upper-middle class upbringing (as sociological observations indicate), or how they positioned themselves in relation to their household's intrinsic conservatism, the church etc., it is in my experience safe to say that higher education, intelligence and cultural awareness, together with a certain sarcastic, sometimes cynical sense of humour (not lacking a dark streak) are shared traits of that particular subculture.
2) Fascist Entryism is not a myth
During the 1990s, the emerging neofolk-controversy revealed both the actually existing neo-fascist/third positionist entryism (aimed at the whole spectrum of youth subcultures, not limited to neofolk, but certainly attracted by it) and the sometimes hysterical reactions to it, usually articulated by outsiders, or presented in ridiculously generalistic ways, thus alienating a good percentage of those at whom such reactions were directed. Those concerned certainly debated the same issues among themselves, but agreeing on a few givens (DIJ are not Nazi, don't judge a book by its cover, enjoyment of “controversial/transgressive” art; the sweet taste of “forbidden fruit” – especially when growing up in Germany!) meant that further discussion with hysterical and ideologically dogmatic activists of any sort was utterly useless, resulting in accusations that the scene was holding back from discussing the initial charges (which had focussed on individual musicians or groups, not their audience), and was failing to address the Nazi-problem which, for many, seemed to be blown out of proportion.
By applying ideological pressure and coercive tactics, the antifascist protesters would only succeed in creating more aversion towards their arguments and thus ease access for right wing entryism, enabling and nurturing an informal alliance along the lines of “my enemy's enemy is my friend” with people whose agenda, if allowed to prevail, would systematically destroy the very same tolerance, open mindedness and peacefulness which are characteristics of both goth and neofolk, just as antifa-activists tried to push their own ideas of “valid” art & entertainment onto what they perceive as an anti-modernist, crypto-fascist elitist bunch of would-be-Übermenschen, despite (or because of) the fact that many of the latter have roots in the anarchist/antifa-spectrum themselves. The few cases of structural/financial neonazi-/fascist dabblings in the scene are well known and, thankfully, isolated incidents, but nevertheless they did take place. But back to those most concerned, the fans of the music itself.
A good deal of the pleasure those people get out of openly reactionary ideas is the abhorrence they create in their uninitiated peers. Add to this brew the youthful confusion of fascinated newcomers, some from (NS-)Black Metal, some from the neopagan scene, but still mostly from (ex-)goth and industrial circles, which entails an almost natural interest in fringe ideas, “extreme” art and gloomy aesthetics like dark romanticism, occultism/mysticism, satanism, social darwinism, chaos magick, eco-terrorism etc. All this can easily lapse into dabbling in völkisch runic cults, Black-Sun-mythopoiesis, and the immersion in Heinrich Himmler's rather childish esoteric fantasies. This creates a field of references so broad and open to interpretation that tolerating other's readings of the same sources becomes a necessary tool of survival. Yet, this is also the key to opening the gates of entryism.
3) If you don't give a shit, why should I?
Tolerance is being abused and turned against itself when simple-minded ideological types, be they from the left or right, appear at neofolk/industrial gatherings, which enable a community of people of the most diverse interests to get together to enjoy the textual poaching of their own controversial narrative, rather than the tiresome political game that so many on the scene have discarded and dropped out of anyway. However, while transcending mundane party politics to celebrate tolerance and diversity might be an admirable social practice, it is exactly that tolerance that begins to enable its abusers to infiltrate and promote/show open support for ignorant and bigoted belief systems from a century that's past for many good reasons. Then the scene starts to endanger its own subcultural niche of existence. That's the point when it stops being funny, witty, provocative, playful, irresponsible, you name it, and becomes a danger to itself.
Based on my knowledge of the neofolk scene and the individuals that compose it to be, these people aren't “Wolves”, they are rather the sensitive, the hurt, the unconventional, the outcast and the ostracised, generally speaking the more brainy/emotional types than your regular testosterone-drenched rock audience. When repeatedly confronted with openly aggressive behaviour patterns like those demonstrated at this year's New Year's Eve “Neofolk Rauhnacht“ at Leipzig's Theaterfabrik, where it is reported that there was repeated Sieg-Heiling during TRIARII's performance. Austrian “Pan-Germanic” thugs harrassed a concert-goer for not speaking German (not the only incident of this kind) and some drank toasts for a “Jew-free new year“ without the slightest hint of self-irony, political satire or black humour (not that any of those would excuse such bad taste). If such incidents were to become the norm rather than the exception (and it should be emphasised that the troublemakers were NOT those costumed in uniforms) the rather mild-mannered, friendly-minded neofolker (who very often has above average education and income) would probably rather avoid getting into potentially harmful situations, and would not travel hundreds of kilometres and pay for a hostel to see weird acts and meet like-minded friends from afar and risk being harassed for *not being Nazi enough*. All this would thus, let's face it, make events like the Neofolk Rauhnacht impossible in the most mundane financial way. This scene is too small in numbers to be able to survive without the frenetic long-distance audiences from abroad. There were people from literally all over Europe present at the event – evidence that the “Sons (and daughters) of Europe” have indeed arisen and a united Europe has already manifested itself. But without its character of exclusivity, its air of dark cabaret and the thrill of participating in a controversial, potentially “dangerous“ game while practicing its difference (and indifference) to the cultural mainstream, the neofolk scene would either dissolve, or fall into the hands of neonazi thugs, be they rootless East-Germans looking for identity, völkisch pagan radicalists or “racially aware“ NSBM-fans or coming from wherever else such infiltrators have sprung from.
4) “I've seen the future, brother...” – it's a dead end!
While neofolk as a music genre and community and its perceived entry points for backward thinking might not be the actual problem, for racism, bigotry and ignorance tend to thrive among the simple-minded, the uneducated and the socially disadvantaged, neither is it a solution. Philosophically, its frame of reference increasingly limits itself to referencing a “provocative“ (often more offending than offensive) canon of figures from the conservative revolution, WW2 and the new right, despite the abundant richness of European culture they could easily draw from instead. Aesthetically, the last ship had already sailed when the term “neofolk“ was first coined, and there's no fresh blood in sight. When “Europa“ is invoked nowadays, it is done in ways that appear remote and redundant rather than being pertinent to the current overall situation in Europa and beyond. If anyone should find a truly relevant social commentary to the world THIS summer in any recent neofolk or martial/military outfit, please drop me a line. To quote LAIBACH, “it's a burnt aesthetic“, and musically its apex in the post-cold war, post-apocalyptic yet millenarian 1990s has never been surpassed.
Counteracting this artistic nullity, there were only few acoustic guitars at play at the “Neofolk Rauhnacht“, and one of them came from TRIARII's backing track. Pathetic and pitiful, to say the least. Why not have the stiff affirmative “fans“ standing to attention with staring but empty gaze throughout the show perform actual military service and get their asses shot off in some dirty ditch? People voicing support for the “re-militarisation“ of Europa's nations (a notion that's sooo 19th century, but ah no we chose to call it “anti-modernist critique“, wtf) should be held true to their words and forced to join up. If they really get off on authoritarian hierarchy, outmoded gender roles and clichéd ideas of glory and heroism, they deserve nothing less than being confined to barracks – for that authentic camp feeling!
5) So, this laughter kills fascists?
Seriously people, it's essentially the ability to laugh at oneself that sorts the illuminated, truly meta-political people from those who need ideologies of strength and power to make up for their own feelings of inadequacy, weakness and frustration. Isn't it strange that social darwinism, if taken literally, would put precisely those at evolutionary risk who are fondest of loudmouthing it?
Yet, they don't get the joke, and if you were to tell them, you'd be likely to get into trouble, but certainly not the kind of noisy but abstract nuisance that the antifa occasionally likes to stage, but a concrete and physical danger. Not merely on the personal level, but for the scene as a whole. How would you react if someone next to you at a neofolk/martial gig were to give the “Roman salute“ or shout “Sieg Heil!“ at the stage?
Right, you wouldn't care. Perhaps you'd shrug at such a misplaced sign of lack of independent thinking, but you probably wouldn't dare confront such behaviour, because it doesn't concern you, or worse, you might get into an ugly situation.
How do we cope with such a threat, most of my peers including myself being peaceful intellectuals who can't remember the last time they got into a fight – and wouldn't exactly love to repeat experiences made after the demise of real existing socialism, when actually existing skinheads used to attack unusual looking people and hunt them with baseball bats – threatening, among others, THOSE FAGS FROM DEATH IN JUNE in Leipzig in 1992, believe it or not. Ask Ossian Brown about it, if you run into him (this, of course, is not mentioned in Aldo Chimenti's DIJ biography).i
Frankly, I'm turned off by the way that people like WMTN are trying to scrutinise, gauge and judge from the outside; I'd much rather plead for clear consciousness within, and the courage to take a strong and proud stand wherever racism, ignorance and bigotry rear their ugly heads and threaten people, or the expression of their ideas, even if they're as stale as TRIARII's. Instead, I suggest a Discordian, chaos-magickal and fun approach.
What were to happen if neofolk acts suddenly jumped the “crypto-communist“ train and acted out all kinds of Warsaw-pact-style rallies, seemingly glorifying Stalin etc? The fans would certainly enjoy it, yet not the stiff ones. And a whole good deal of the population of Leipzig, now that I come to think of it. A goldmine of provocation waiting to be harvested. Another strategy could be exaggeration ad extremum, following LAIBACH's example of overidentification, to systematically unveil the absurdity of supremacist ideologies – turn the wheel of extremism too far for even the extremists. Next time when someone makes a racist remark or gives a Nazi salute, why not recommend killing *everyone* and be done with it (to give a really simple example)? Challenge stupidity and close-mindedness to mock them by uncovering the inherent absurdity of their mindset, instead of having them spoil our fun.
What would happen if, as an ultra-true neofolk-dinosaur friend of mine suggested, people started wearing brown clown's noses at such events? Would that be enough of an in-joke to put off the real fascists effectively enough to drive them away for good? For, in my experience, it is exactly this ability to laugh at oneself and not take oneself so seriously as to spoil the fun of controversial attitudinising, which divides the ironic connoisseurs of neofolk et al from those folks who simply take it in as a reification of their supposed stance? Or have some of them even become recognisable faces, distant friends of friends; is the enemy already within? Where does the “coeur noir“ really beat?
I for one choose not to retreat, nor to submit; even though I'm not into most of this music, I have no intention of letting this subcultural haven, this bizarre tribe, this unique community of truly committed and colourful beings some of whom I'm proud to call my friends fall into the dominion of the blind. And knowing the actual personal politics of many of those who put on, perform at and visit such events, neither will they.