As swathes of the metal scene continue to progress in an effort to make the genre more inclusive, more and more of us are drawing the all important line and shutting out artists with problematic ties. For some, this essential step can be tough. It can mean turning your back on some of your favourite music after all, but it’s undoubtedly something that can only be to the scene’s benefit. A lot of this, naturally, centres around black metal, but just as overrun (perhaps more so) with crypto-fascism and the like is neofolk, an industrialised version of folk that many enjoy for its tendency to embrace dark atmospheres and haunting songwriting.
In one corner of the scene, a handful of sites and journalists have been pushing progressive metal artists for some time, meaning that those of us who care about shutting out the bigots have had places to source artists that reflect those views – the progression, though many still fight against it, is palpable. Neofolk fans have perhaps had a tougher time. Some will have inevitably turned their back on the genre almost entirely in an attempt to distance themselves from any problematic artists, and that’s fair, but it’s important that we don’t submit cultural ground to fascists. As supporters of an ideology that is in direct opposition to the mere existence of anyone they see as beneath them, they quite simply don’t deserve a safe space. And so, anti-fascist neofolk needs a swell of support, but who’s creating it, and how can we find them?
Enter A Blaze Ansuz, a new blog focusing solely on anti-fascist neofolk and the artists who make it. The site started earlier this year, but is already building an impressive catalogue of interviews, profiles and features on bands who’ve in some way taken a stand against right-wing sentiments within the genre.
“I wanted to visit a website like this, and it didn’t exist,” says creator Shane Burley. “So I decided to make it.” A journalist and the author of Fascism Today: What It Is And How To End It, Burley is a big fan of neofolk, but the overwhelming fascist influence has greatly impeded his and many others’ ability to find new artists. “There is a general assumption that neofolk is bought and sold by fascists entirely, which is untrue,” he notes. “But their large public presence in the scene has forced many people to write it off as a wholly fascist art space.”
In some ways, he tells us, this mirrors what happened in the ‘80s with Oi! or in the ‘90s with black metal. “It took the leftist musicians and fans in those scenes to come out and force their way into the scene while also countering the nationalist element,” Burley says. “So part of what this blog is is an effort to intentionally create an anti-fascist neofolk scene that may not be very accessible, and now that we have a name and a place people are coming together quickly. The other part of this is that without our presence in these neofolk spaces, the far-right can recruit entirely unopposed, so we have the ability to shut them down inside of the music space and to create expectations of venues, musicians, and fans to speak out against white supremacy.”
Also notable is how great neofolk is as a genre for expressing left-wing sentiments. “There’s a romantic tradition of the left that can be represented inside of neofolk,” Burley explains. “With its dramatic imagery, celebration of community and nature, and Utopian ideals. Instead, fascists have captured that romantic spirit for their own vision, but we have a vision too. The romantic nature of neofolk, its look at pagan religion and environmentalism and community, has a strong (if not stronger) left-wing corollary, and so we sincerely have a place in this music. The fact that it has been heavily infiltrated by the right does not give them license over it naturally.”
So why is this necessary – why is neofolk so rampant with problematic ideologies and crypto-fascism? For one thing, some of its biggest names, including post-industrial acts like Sol Invictus and Death in June, had fascist perspectives to begin with. Burley notes that many of these bands’ motivations were to romanticise Europe’s past and prop up a European nationalist idealism. “This is what is often called ‘metapolitics,’” he tells us. “Creating a philosophy or way of thinking and identifying that is pre-political. If you can affect how people think of themselves, their history, their communities, then that will affect their political decisions down the line. Fascists have focused on this kind of ‘cultural struggle’ since their loss in WWII, where they acknowledge that they have to shift people’s mentality away from liberal democracy if they are ever to gain a mass movement.”
This they do through philosophy and art, and – of course – through music. And neofolk, Burley notes, is inherently well suited to this. It has allowed them to spin tales of a heroic European people that has been degenerated by multiculturalism and egalitarianism. And with this as a starting point, the genre then evolved following that tone. This romanticism of Europe, its people and its history has made the genre a meeting point for fascists, as has white nationalists’ continued focus on European paganism and heathenry, which are prominent themes within the genre.
The demand for the counter-movement to this sentiment is clearly high – when Burley first tweeted about the idea he was inundated with replies urging him to pursue it. “There has been a huge outpouring of support for the project, way more than I expected,” he tell us. “Bands are contacting me left and right to be a part of this, and they often were going by genre names like ‘experimental folk’ so as not to be assumed to be fascist because they were playing neofolk. There are a lot of bands out there that are openly anti-fascist, but have not been welcome in many neofolk spaces because of the far-right artists involved. Likewise, many people are suspicious of those bands because there is a uniform suspicion of neofolk.”
This now has the ability to change. The arrival of a staunchly anti-fascist blog for neofolk musicians and fans is exciting to those who have long wished for such a space. Burley points out that there are also anti-fascist organisers interested in a left-wing space, one that could allow them to stop neo-nazis from gaining access to the genre’s fans and thus spread their message of hatred. One blog may not change the scene overnight, but the influx of support shows how overdue something like this is. A Blaze Anzus has given a movement that was spread out, its members isolated from each other, a name and a face, and as such has laid the groundwork for a new left-neofolk scene. This will force those who use the evergreen “apolitical” excuse off the fence and help build a community for left-leaning artists who have been shunned by the genre. It could even force the existing scene to stand up against fascism, a goal that is reflected in A Blaze Ansuz’s commitment to covering not just bands who aren’t fascists, but specifically anti-fascist bands.
“There are a lot of bands that seem to not hold any right-wing politics, but that is not a major achievement,” Burley suggests. “Instead, we want a space that is divisive, to a degree, and where fascist politics are not just not present, but instead, not tolerated. So we are focusing on highlighting bands that have, in some way or another, made it clear that they are not going to tolerate the far-right. This intentionally politicises the space and creates an impetus for those other bands, who don’t have any politics, to make a choice about who they are going to support.”
In a contested space that’s occupied by both those on the left and the right, Burley believes that anti-fascists mustn’t abandon a space, rather stand their ground and fight for it: “we should not let the far-right have this space, or any other.” His words mirror a piece written for A Blaze Ansuz by Margaret Killjoy of Feminazgul and Nomadic War Machine, in which she made a compelling point about why we shouldn’t concede ground to nazis. Burley’s stance on this is also clear: “no legitimate art form or spirituality should be ceded to the far-right, their mission is not one that should succeed, and so we should work to combat their influence.”
This influence can be powerful. Our initial reactions to music are largely emotional, as Burley points out. “When someone is drawn into a musical scene and the only political force there is the far-right, there is often a backward form of thinking that develops to justify the fandom,” he says. These mental gymnastics are similar to those we see from black metal fans, who claim to oppose fascism then openly support NSBM artists. Whilst a part of those scenes, even if they somehow think they are participating apolitically, a fan can be exposed to far-right propaganda unchallenged. “Those spaces, if left alone, become wholly the property of the right, which can then use the draw music has to recruit.”
But those who oppose the far-right within neofolk can be the alternative, offering different ideas and a different worldview. Though Burley already knew of enough bands to ensure the project would be ongoing, finding new ones has been easier than he expected due to artists coming out of the woodwork and seeking him out rather than the other way around. “It is tough because neofolk bands have often been penalised by the scene for coming out as explicitly anti-fascist,” he explains. “They are often accused of being on a ‘witch hunt’. But that is changing, and more and more bands want to stand out and be open as intolerant of white nationalist ideas. And now that we are here to pose the question to them, people are really taking this moment to stand up and separate themselves from the pack.”
Though it is still early days, the potential that one simple blog has opened up is staggering. A Blaze Ansuz plans to start by profiling a large number of bands, so that interested fans can compile a list of artists to follow: “in doing this we want to help foster a connection between bands and fans and to help the development of an anti-fascist neofolk music scene.” There is also the Antifascist Neofolk playlist Burley started on Spotify as well as a Faceboook group for like-minded neofolk fans, and in the long-term he hopes to expand their content beyond profiles and interviews. Moving beyond that, he has dreams of creating an anti-fascist neofolk music festival, “but the logistics of making that kind of thing happen are a distance away,” he notes. “It may be that we start by having shows at a more local level. The best thing we can do is highlight anti-fascist efforts in neofolk, help to raise the profile of the bands involved, and really increase the presence of an anti-fascist neofolk music scene that is able to stand on its own artistically.”
Check out A Blaze Ansuz here. For further reading, check out our piece on the problem with the “apolitical” excuse that is thrown around all too often in metal.
Words: George Parr