This article by John Eden of Uncarved, originally posted on the Who Makes The Nazis? blog, examines the industrial/neofolk music scenes and the effects of their extended flirtation with fascist imagery and ideas over a period of time.
One of the devices used by people who defend neo-Folk is the claim that its critics are outsiders who don’t understand the nuances of the genre. I’ve written this piece for a number of reasons, but mainly to show my perspective as someone who was there as a fan at the outset. Another argument is that none of the rhetoric and imagery matters, that it’s all a bit of a laugh which doesn’t make any difference in the real world. I would counter this by saying that it certainly made a difference to the beliefs of some of the people I knew.
What's Behind the Mask?
In 1987, at the ripe old age of 17, I asked the bloke behind the counter of Our Price if I could hear The Brown Book, an LP by a band called Death In June. I knew nothing about the group except that people from slightly less obscure bands in the industrial music scene made guest appearances. The sleeve gave very little away – a skull and the title of the album, embossed in gold leaf. The inserts were seriously weird – leaflets about occult supplies and some very sinister T-shirts. It sounded fantastic – nice and loud over the shop’s great system and headphones: dark ballads, weird imagery and simple folky songs.
The final track on side one was a dreamlike spoken word piece over a haunting soundscape. When it finished I handed over my cash. Death In June were one of the ultimate bands for fans who liked a bit of a treasure hunt. Very few clues were ever given away. Before Google or Discogs had even been thought of, this was quite exciting.
Putting the pieces of the jigsaw together became my new obsession, but when I saw the finished picture I was older and wiser and didn’t like what I saw. The skull on the cover was a Totenkopf and one of the songs on the album was an acapella version of 'Horst Wessel'. These were the first steps in the “are they dodgy or aren’t they?” game that Death In June plays with their fans. The consensus seems to be that those in the know can get off on this elitist / faux-Nazi imagery without actually being a Fascist.
And of course, I wasn’t a Fascist. I’d spent a typical British seventies childhood playing with model soldiers, Action Men and Airfix models. I read 'Commando Comics' which were available in all the local newsagents. Me and my mates played 'war' and we knew that the Nazis were the bad guys. Not least because my grandfather had died fighting them in World War 2. I’d had my first encounter with actual Fascists at the tender age of 11. I was in the school canteen for lunch and the only available seat was next to three older boys who I didn’t know. When I sat down one of them asked me, with a disgusted sneer on his face, if I liked “little black boys?”. To my eternal shame I replied that I didn’t. I guess it was partly his tone of voice and the fact that they were bigger than me. I certainly had no problem with the black kids in my class. My reply animated my fellow diners. They told me it was cool to sit with them and asked if I interested in joining the Young National Front. One of them started listing, from memory, the NF’s manifesto. I realised this was pretty fucked up and started making my excuses. They didn’t seem to mind that much.
Lots of the desks at school had 'NF' written on them and you’d see their stickers on bus stops, as graffiti etc. It was part of the landscape, along with anarchy or CND symbols and the iconography of various bands. As I got older and bolder I used tear down racist stickers and cover up the graffiti.
I Ain't Nuthin' But A Gorehound
I had an enquiring mind. Actually that’s a rationalisation. I had (and still have) a tendency to be slightly obsessive. This is a trait I have in common with a lot of people who collect records or are involved with other subcultures. I used to devour the music press, trying to find out everything I could about music I liked the sound of. If it was attached to an extreme ideology then all the better, more stuff to delve into.There were swathes of other music I liked – synthpop, punk, postpunk, hip hop, goth, indie, reggae, whatever. But industrial music was unique in giving me access to an entire subterranean world of strangeness – art, magick, revolution, sexual deviance. There was a lot to get your teeth into.
I felt that Throbbing Gristle’s concept of an Information War was useful – that some things were kept hidden because they were so powerful. This was a good rationale, before the internet, for checking out all manner of extreme phenomena.
I liked the starkness of Death In June’s imagery, words and music – probably in that order. I guess there might have been something in there which reminded me of those childhood war games. Something heroic and male – romantic and bleak. I bought their records and defended them in discussions with friends. I rationalised, with lines fed from interviews in fanzines, that they were simply exploring the darker side of human nature – they didn't believe any of this stuff themselves. And anyway, Douglas P was gay, so there was no way he or anyone he worked with could be a Nazi, right?
When I moved to London in the late eighties I regularly visited the Vinyl Experience record store in Hanway Street. The shop was a focal point for the emerging 'apocalyptic folk' genre (it later evolved into World Serpent Distribution). I picked up a bunch of records and ended up going to what I guess are now legendary gigs like Current 93 and Sol Invictus at Chislehurst caves. I was also involved with the fringes of anti-Fascist campaigning at that time. The Nazi skinhead group Blood & Honour had opened a shop near my college and its bonehead customers were causing some grief in the area. I remember getting some funny looks off people I was protesting with when they saw my Death In June totenkopf badge. I removed it, telling myself that they wouldn’t understand the ambiguity of it all.
I suppose it’s fair to say that I had a fascination with the aesthetics of Fascism but was, like most people, repelled by the ideas and practise. Unfortunately it soon emerged that not everyone was quite so discerning.
Don’t Eat That Stuff Off The Sidewalk
In the early nineties some cassettes of US Christian radio talkshows circulated around the underground scene I had immersed myself in. Evangelical preacher and self-publicist Bob Larson had taken it upon himself to interview Nikolas Schreck (of the group Radio Werewolf) and industrial noise stalwart Boyd Rice (who had launched a 'think tank' called the Abraxas Foundation). Both were involved with the Church of Satan, which I knew little of. The cassettes were very entertaining, with Nikolas and Boyd being relentless in their criticism of Christianity and a whole heap more.
So far so good, but Schreck and Rice also expressed social Darwinist ideas and a 'might is right' philosophy. Boyd described himself as 'an occult Fascist' but went on to say that he didn’t mean that in a political way. These concepts also formed the basis of his album Music, Martinis and Misanthropy. At the time they seemed quite exciting: daring, but also troubling. I don’t remember fully embracing it all, but it certainly piqued my obsessive curiosity.
I inevitably stocked up on Church of Satan reading material to have a look. Other books like Apocalypse Culture and Schreck’s Manson File added a new slant to what I’d previously seen as being an anarchist or left wing perspective. Slowly, friends who were more into this scene than me started spouting a load of old bollocks:
“All this stuff about how ‘the weak should be crushed by the strong’ – you’d understand that if you sat on the top deck of bus with me in South London.”
“I truly believe in having society run by a nobility – especially when I see all the human waste queuing up to buy their lottery tickets on a Saturday afternoon.”
“Why should I have to come in at night and turn on the TV to see a bunch of stuff about bhangra – this is London!”
People who might previously have talked about anarchism, or William Burroughs, or Situationist theory were now coming out with the sort of right wing shit you’d read in the Daily Express. This led to a number of heated debates in pubs and at parties, with predictably mixed results. (Each of those quotes is real, I remember them clearly because they wound me up so much. But I'm not going to name and shame people – at least two of them have since expressed regret about talking such rubbish.)
How Far Can Too Far Go?
In the mid-nineties there was a gradual intensification of what was being said in fanzine interviews. I’m still not clear if the artists were trying to outdo each other, or if there was a testing of boundaries involved – seeing how much of an already existing agenda could be revealed without any comeback.
The arrival of Michael Moynihan’s Blood Axis project in 1995 marked a significant gear change. I picked up the notorious issue of No Longer, a FANzine from Tower Records in Piccadilly, and read Moynihan’s comments about wanting to reopen the gas chambers, but how he’d be a lot more lenient in terms of the admission criteria. The 'zine also had an interview with James Mason, an actual Nazi who clearly wasn’t exploring any ambiguities. Blood Axis’ first album got rave reviews in all the right places, but was laughably awful.
Around this time I also found out about Tony Wakeford having been a member of the National Front. He brushed this aside in interviews saying that he hadn’t really been a member – he’d just been knocking about with some people who were into historical re-enactments, some of whom knew some people who were a bit dodgy. Which more recently has been revealed as being an outright lie. The fanzines I was reading also started to pick up on Black Metal. I sent away for some Burzum 'zines and was revolted by Varg Vikernes’ blatant anti-Semitism.
Gradually all this stuff started to become de rigueur, like a new fashion. It was actually comical how rapidly the subculture became an identikit set of ideas and themes. I satirised this with a pretend fanzine called Blood & Fire (named after the reggae tune by Niney The Observer, but also very similar to the title of an early NON album). It seemed to amuse the right people, but there wasn’t nearly enough criticism going on.
A lot of the howls of protest were from the mainstream anti-Fascist sources who'd also had problems with Joy Division, New Order, Throbbing Gristle, and even Front 242 in the past. People who were actually fans of the music displayed a staggering lack of political nous. Despite priding themselves on being independently minded (not being part of the 'herd mentality' was the new thing, right?) they swallowed any old bollocks which was on offer as long as it was wrapped up in a limited edition embossed runic cover.
The final straw for me came with the arrival of issue 6 of Esoterra magazine. This had started out as a really good occulture fanzine that had amazing graphics and in depth features and interviews with all sorts of interesting people. I’d been distributing a few copies in the UK (alongside a bunch of other stuff) and had baulked a little at the obligatory Blood Axis feature in issue 5. Issue 6 of Esoterra included a full page advert for Canadian Nazi skinhead band Rahowa. Their name was an acronym for RAcial HOly WAr. Here was a group with blatant connections to political Fascism (in the form of the wacko World Church of the Creator). Rahowa’s singer, George Burdi, founded Resistance Records, the biggest neo-Nazi skinhead label and distributor outside of Europe. He was imprisoned for violently assaulting a female anti-Fascist protestor.
It was clear to me that the more articulate parts of the Nazi music scene were trying converge with the more retarded parts of the industrial/occulture scene. These were people I didn’t want anything to do with. The same shitheads I’d shared a school canteen table with, the same knuckle dragging boneheads who had assaulted Asian students near my college. All of them worshipping the regime that killed my grandfather. I ended up having an argument with the editor of Esoterra and not distributing that issue. He informed me that the group had offered him money for a whole lot more advertising if he published an interview with them, but he had declined.
The next issue featured my interview with Amodali of Mother Destruction – a brilliant group who managed to avoid all the stiff-right-arm posturing which seemed to be becoming the norm. In retrospect this was probably my last ditch attempt to draw a line in the sand and show that it was possible to be concerned with dark, occult material, but not be a Fascist. I was particularly encouraged that the group included Patrick Leagas, formerly of Death In June, who also expressed his frustration to me with the nudge nudge, wink wink nature of what was unfolding. But we were both pushing against the tide. I climbed the cliffs to dry land whilst Patrick seems to have re-immersed himself in the icy waters of neovolkisch runic twiddling.
It gradually dawned on me that the music was becoming less and less interesting. It was pointless hanging about and watching an entire scene go down the toilet musically and ideologically at such an exciting time for dance music. My philosophical needs continued to be satisfied by the whole 'post-situ' scene, including the refreshingly un-sinister Association of Autonomous Astronauts, London Psychogeographical Association and many others.
Tear It Up
I never formally 'left' the industrial / neofolk scene, I just found more interesting things to do. Things which involved people who were less grim and music that was much better. Towards the end of the nineties I’d have a pop at things which came my way, but I no longer went looking for trouble. A good example would be my (quite ranty, in retrospect) review of the third issue of the UK fanzine Compulsion:
"The subtitle is 'Surveying the Heretical', which I think highlights my problems with this (and the 'scene' as a whole). Doing a survey suggests that it's just a report of what's going on – someone else has to analyse it all. But obviously this isn't the whole story. Anyone who puts out a 'zine goes through a process of selection, deciding what goes in and what stays out. It isn't like someone went through the racks at Tower Records and pulled out every 10th CD or something, is it? So the editor must either like the material, or at the very least find it intriguing. But, oh no, there's a 'Views and beliefs expressed' statement on page 2, so we have to guess, eh?
This wouldn't be a problem were it not for the fact that Compulsion contains some pretty dubious people, some of whom have worldviews that I consider thoroughly objectionable. For example there's a puff piece on ex-American Nazi Party organiser James Mason and his Manson-inspired Universal Order. I'm sure James is fantastically exciting, but it fucks me off that he can blandly suggest that the Tate killings were great because they were all "drug users, drug dealers, Jews, anti-racists and homosexuals" without even the teeniest bit of editorial comment.
Mason's publisher is also interviewed. Unsurprisingly he's also happy to be called a Fascist and we even get to read his (ooh how heretical!) views, though thankfully we're spared his usual spiel about re-opening the concentration camps this time. Admittedly Compulsion isn't all blokes with an unhealthy fixation with uniforms and the music of Wagner. The Boredoms, Foetus, Jim Rose and the excellent Somewhere in Europe are also covered. It's just that anyone who expresses an ideology in any depth is completely reactionary. That is clearly one of the editor's major interests, but any conclusions he's made or insights he's gained are missing completely.
It's not even as if the editor is a Fascist, it's just the usual laziness that seems to permeate industrial culture these days. Nobody is ever challenged about their views, not because people agree with them, but because people just aren't bothered. The 'scene' seems to have ditched Throbbing Gristle's ideas of actively researching extremes and is now just a darker version of MTV, spoon-feeding extremity for the sake of it. The excuse is always that people can make up their own minds, which no doubt is true – there just doesn't seem to be any evidence of it happening.
Most of the people I've discussed this with have a pretty unsophisticated analysis of it all, despite all the elitist "oh we are so much more intelligent than the masses" bollocks that goes with the territory. The fans either just get off on the 'mystery' of whether such and such a group is 'dodgy', nudge nudge, wink wink, or try to get themselves off the hook by arguing that so and so can't be a Fascist because he isn't racist (as if the two were the same thing). There are too many people who still think that Nazis are all evil, stupid and ugly. That sort of liberalism just leaves them ill-equipped to critically examine anything resembling a considered argument for (for example) racial segregation, or stopping all welfare and letting people starve to death. I'm not suggesting that every paragraph should come with a dogmatic PC analysis, or that such views shouldn't be allowed to appear in print. That isn't a situation I will ever be able to (or want to) enforce.
However, I am not happy to just uncritically consume people's ideas. It is not in my interest to give Fascists or their fans an easy ride. Perhaps that makes me the biggest heretic of all."
Sometime shortly afterwards, the editor of Compulsion started distributing a US industrial fanzine called Ohm Clock which featured Rahowa on the front cover, and had an extensive interview with them inside. Oh, and quite a lot of adverts for them.
In the summer of 1998 someone else who I had considered a good friend called me up to discuss some industrial CDs he was releasing to see if I would be interested in reviewing them. I wasn't. He went on to have a rant about the power of the media and how 'they' never told the whole truth. Sentiments I wholly agreed with, until he started referring to the brutal racist murder of James Byrd Jnr. My friend was outraged that none of the media reports had mentioned that Byrd had been in prison previously with his murderers. I felt that the salient point was that three white men (two of whom were known white supremacists) had chained a black man to the back of their truck and dragged him two miles along a road, killing him. We were clearly getting our analysis and worldview from completely different sources.
Since then neofolk seems to have continued in this vein with people getting less and less shy about describing themselves as Fascists, working with former members of the National Front, namedropping Evola, bandying about terms like eurocentrism (aka “white pride”) and dressing up in uniforms like an amateur tribute to “’Allo ‘Allo”. I sold my Death in June / Current 93, etc., collection on Ebay (or tried to; “The Brown Book” is banned for being “hateful or discriminatory”). I did this partly to finance new projects and partly just to get rid of it all. Quite a few of the people who emailed me to discuss my auctions reminded me of my younger enthusiastic self. I wasn’t about to give them a lecture or stop them having fun. If someone had done that to me 25 years ago it would just have confirmed how 'out there' and dangerous I was. Let’s be clear – enjoying Death In June records as a teenager didn’t make me a Fascist. What I hope this piece has shown is that there is a bigger picture, a wider context than that. There is merit in extreme music and culture, but there are also pitfalls.
A lot of people in 'alternative' scenes like to pretend that politics don’t matter to them. To me that means that they just haven’t thought through their politics. It is precisely this kind of ignorance that can provide a cover for people who are explicitly political to operate and influence the cultural landscape.
History shows us that people are attracted to far right politics for all sorts of reasons, some of them ideological, some of them social. Any mass movement will happily incorporate “apolitical” people who like the violence, or the uniforms, or the music, or the kudos of being weird, the feeling of belonging to an exclusive club.
I think the critique being developed on this blog and elsewhere is long overdue. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the contributions here and the discussions they have provoked. Ultimately it's up to people to decide for themselves where they draw the line, which artists they support and what they believe in. I don't really regret my dalliance with neofolk (bar having given my money to some people I now despise) because I think ultimately I made the right decisions.