The edges of neofolk are populated by the renegade avant-garde, dissidents from new wave, industrial, metal, and other progenitors of discord. That describes no one better than Florian-Ayala Fauna, an experimental post-industrial musician and visual artist who has been putting together incredible work for over fifteen years. We talked with them about what inspires them, their collaborations with Coil and . Throbbing Gristle, and how hermeticism and Thelema informs their music.
Oh, and why we need to kick out all Nazis everywhere.
Your music has an incredibly long history, how did it get started?
Well, I’ve been doing music of some sort since I was 12, experimenting with samples and rough recordings of sounds with a cheap mic. Industrial and post-industrial acts like Coil, Throbbing Gristle, and others really inspired me to start doing music, as well as avant-garde visual artists like the Surrealists being formative for me as well.
I kind of messed around with tracks on and off for a while before really wanting to establish a project around 2007. I started working with Ableton, which really changed everything as far as production and more complex elements goes. My first album was “glass fawn” in 2009, a 60 minute track with an abstract narrative of a deer getting lost in a dark forest and finding solace towards the end. I used a lot of sound manipulation and field recordings I found and morphed them into a strange organic ambient soundscape. My work evolved from there over time, eventually moving towards more complex work with neoclassical compositions including sampled piano, strings, etc.
What is your working process like, is it mostly a solo project? What kind of tools are you using to produce it?
It is mostly a solo project, though my boyfriend Felix Keigh does vocals for me as well at times (both live and in studio). He’s also queer and trans, so I feel like being a duo at times is a very powerful thing in that sense. As I mentioned, I use Ableton for almost everything along with plug-ins for different purposes running through it. It’s very useful for live shows as well. I use sample libraries with Kontakt to create the compositions involving things like classical instruments, percussion elements, choirs, etc. To be honest, I’m terrible with instruments aside from purposely playing strange sounds with them.
I have a number of instruments I use live and in production work which functions more as providing material for strange sounds and the like . Things I have include a mizmar, Tibetan ritual bells, a violin, rattles, gongs, and more. They’re quite fun to improvise with, even without “properly” playing them. I’ve worked quite a bit with damaged tape recordings as well, including doing numerous loops with a reel-to-reel tape machine in the past.
Does spirituality play into your project?
Most definitely, really in every aspect even before I really started practicing formally. It’s hard to articulate how, because I’m an abstract thinker and part of that is why I do music the way I do. Everything has been esoteric in some way, with my narratives of animal-beings in spiritual journeys or generally wanting to create an otherworldly experience that takes the listener into a different place.
Becoming more formally acquainted with the occult after studying Hermetic magick definitely shaped things as well. It gives me a lot to work with, such as ideas from different world religions, esoteric correspondences, and numerous forms of symbolism. The experiences I’ve had with it became very formative and inspiring, working its way into my work. The occult is intrinsically tied into much of my life, so it will definitely be in my music as well one way or another.
What bands inspired you in doing the work?
As I mentioned, definitely Coil from the start. I first listened to them when I was around 13 and they simply changed the way I looked at music. I think a lot of the British post-industrial scene really played a role early on. Throbbing Gristle and others really opened my eyes to using strange sounds and noise in a confrontational manner. Cyclobe also got me interested in using strange, organic sounds in my work. Current 93 and composers like Arvo Pärt got me looking into classical elements also, those of a particularly religious and somber nature. I think a lot of experimental artists miss the opportunity of placing a great emphasis on emotions and really pushing things in that regard. I’ve become interested in more pounding electronic sounds also, listening to the work of Ben Frost, Pharmakon, and Surgeon. Being inspired by techno may seem like a giant left turn to some, but I really see it as a natural evolution as part of me wants to touch on every genre possible. Involving more electronic elements into my work has flowed in seamlessly in my opinion. We should approach every tool we can get our hands on.
How did you develop your sound, and how do you define it?
I think a slow evolution in my music tastes, art, and religious views really defined things overtime. They’re all interconnected for me, so there comes with that a lot of possibilities and inspiration. I started doing dark ambient for a while since I was listening to that a lot as a young teen, but then I became very much interested in sacred minimalism.
I think my passion for expressing emotional rawness through sound is really important to me in countless ways. I’ve had to deal with traumatic events and intense psychological and physical issues in the past (and present). I feel that has prompted me to make my music and art as emotionally intense as possible. I do this especially for live performances, as my music for those tends to be towards the noisy spectrum with most visceral screaming and use of extreme bass. I’d like to use infrasound, though I’d be worried about blowing out the PA system to be honest.
How did your collaboration with Throbbing Gristle come together?
I’ve seen people mention this before in writings but there’s been some misunderstanding with that. I provided some tape recordings while they briefly became X-TG, though I’m not sure how much they used them. I did casually talk about art ideas for a while with Peter Christopherson, but that sort of ended when he unfortunately passed away. I’d say it’s a matter of association more than anything else.
I did however do a piece with former Coil member Stephen Thrower, who is also in Cyclobe and UnicaZürn. What he did with it was stunning, and made for a good opener for the EP “dark night of the soul (the pile of bodies)”. It was a collection of older tracks, but I compiled it specifically for the winter solstice soon after the election of Donald Trump and during the rise of US fascism.
What role does Aleister Crowley and Thelema play in your music? How can you counter the far-right influence in Thelema?
I think it inspires a sense of transcendence that could be both dark and light, sacred and profane, etc. Some focus too heavily on one or the other in my opinion, but that’s just me. I’m heavily into Hermetic occultism, and his version of it very much strips away previous forms that adhere too strictly to orthodox, moralist conventions. Thelema also involves elements from Eastern traditions which definitely appeals to me. I feel the involvement of queer sex magick is very important, as with identifying with the sexually-liberated Babalon archetype and Baphomet.
With that said, that leads me to answer your second question on the far-right’s presence there. I truly feel that queer and trans identity along with feminism is really how we tackle it. The OTO (a Thelemic esoteric order) has had to make official statements on their site addressing this problem, making it clear that fascist views clash with the ideals of Thelemic philosophy. Despite Crowley having said some very terrible things during his time, his organizations have really made a point of addressing that bigoted views of the early century do not figure in to today’s sociopolitical climate.
There is certainly a strong presence of women in Thelema who identify closely with deities like Babalon, Kali, and so on. They are often of an apocalyptic, war-like, and sexually-liberated nature which I really appreciate and admire. I’ve also noticed a growing number of queer and trans people involved, seeing that icons like Baphomet and principles of androgyny are important esoteric concepts. These are rightfully being highlighted in Western occult traditions now. The OTO has in fact made many policy changes and updates to offices and rituals to be more inclusive towards transgender and non-binary people. This includes gender neutral titles, notes on discrimination, and matters with gender roles in ritual.
How does your experience of Chronic Fatigue play a role in your music, and what kind of challenges does it bring to the creative process?
I would definitely say by far the biggest drawback is being able to tour. I’ve been able to play some very well-received shows in other cities in the past (NYC, Boston, and Cincinnati), but only as a singular moment during a trip of some sort. I’m certain it’s affect the ability to get more listeners for sure, but that’s just how things are. I generally just gotta hope that more opportunities come up.
In addition, my ability to work on music is certainly an issue with it. Struggles with it on an emotional level definitely plays a role in both my art and music. Being disabled and moving around the world in a capitalist context is miserable, and generally has great restrictions on life in general. The US system with regards to how it treats disabled is fucking vile.
There seems to be a strong spirit of resistance in the music, particularly in how shifting the sound is. Do you see this project as inherently tied to politics, or collective liberation?
I wouldn’t say inherently so, but the personal can indeed be a reflection on the oppression of one’s life by various sociopolitical powers in play. My music is definitely a means of processing and liberation against despair of any form. This can be on a personal emotional level, in reaction to world chaos, or as a response to transphobia and other LGBTQ+ issues, etc. Becoming an anarchist and leftist in general really opened my eyes to what I can do with my work, and how extremes can translate into how I approach music. Issues with being trans and queer in the US especially have been a more prominent subject in my work now, as well as future releases I’ve been meaning to finish. I definitely feel like making visceral noise as a trans/queer person is an important thing for me to do now.
There is a huge variety, it moves from frenetic synth inspired tracks to very slow and plotting melancholy sound, do you feel like you are constantly reinventing your sound?
I think it’s extremely important to reinvent your sound at times in my personal opinion. I think a lot of projects and groups get stale over time for trying to tether themselves to one specific style. I tend to have an overall consistent sound to my music, but while it is also shifting constantly in some ways also. I enjoy having it go into different genres and styles with more minor releases like singles and EPs online. I genuinely enjoy listening to a huge variety of music genres such as techno, metal, hip-hop, noise, and so on. So, naturally I’d want to experiment with that while keeping an overall distinct nature to it.
How does mixed media art play into the music? Do you see the visual art as being connected to your music?
Oh most certainly, I think it plays a crucial role to it. The artwork sets out to establish the narrative and nature of my music before anything else. My art career has always been as important and parallel to my work as a musician. I think they really help with telling the story of the album. There is cross-referencing of different symbols being present in both the art and music. I often use symbolism with animals a great deal, whether as generally fitting the mood or being a character or archetype within the album. I often do my very best in creating cover art that truly encapsulates the release.
I’d like to someday do strange art editions of albums, definitely adding layers of ritual-like symbolism and strange imagery. Creating something talisman-like is most certainly a goal at some point for sure. There’s a lot of possibilities I’d love to mess with.
What drives your commitment to antifascism? Have you experienced a lot of white supremacist attitudes in the pagan and neofolk scene?
I think that being among a number of several marginalized groups at once really gave me perspective on such matters. Facing issues of transphobia and queerness is definitely part of this drive, as well as simply wanting to combat all forms of oppression for the sake of compassion. In some ways my religious/esoteric views play a role into it as well. Seeing the rise of fascism in 2016 really radicalized me as a whole, especially as a queer trans-femme facing a great threat by this. I’ve only done a few actions, but I am absolutely committed for sure. Seeing the enemy up close is really something.
I haven’t interacted with the pagan/neofolk scene to be honest, but I’ve encountered some disgusting, fascist views while briefly involved in the noise scene in the past. The man behind Praying for Oblivion talked to me a ton, only for him to start rambling about Jews controlling everything and jokes about sending people to Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz. Generally speaking, a lot of toxic masculinity is involved in that scene.
Why do you think it is important to be a publicly antifascist band? How does antifascism inform your music?
I think only recently have I been more transparent about it honestly. I’ve started using art with references to guillotines and vultures in them, going into my views of revolution and occultism. I wish to fight fire with fire against fascism with visceral music as I’ve said. I want to make music that others can relate to in struggles of fighting oppression. My recent transparency with being transgender has been important with this as well.
I think being anti-fascist informs my music in the sense that my intense approach to music is a means to present a vicious, cathartic voice in the world. Even when moodier and somber, I still want something strong enough to affect someone a great deal. To present the suffering within a destructive world full on is very important and makes sure we never forget through art.
What other social issues play into your music? There is a strong sense of a need to a return to a cyclical, grounded way of life in communities.
I think generally speaking, seeing the world and all of its different disasters plays a significant role . It feeds into me and plays a role in my emotions, either wanting to make something darker and abrasive, or some sort of somber beauty. I really enjoy pushing things and myself with my work, and seeing the world become most apocalyptic has been apart this.
I do try to reach towards some transcendental utopia with my work as well. It goes into my beliefs of mutual-aid, solidarity, etc. I don’t think it’s an explicitly political matter, but wishing for a better world is in some ways.
I also bring up some of topical subjects in obscure ways at times. For example, I referenced the “massacre of the innocents” and the ICE concentration camps through a backwards sample of the Coventry Carol in one song.
What’s coming next for you?
Well, I had to take a long break from music for a bit due to health issues after an ear infection. It was a devastating time, but I’ve recovered a great deal thankfully. I still have to take breaks, but things have definitely improved. I’ve been working on the last album of the “Fox’s Funeral” cycle, which is a series of concept albums revolving around a family of foxes and their transcendence. I’ve been working with esoteric music theory, Gregorian music modes, and Qabalistic correspondences in how they relate to the story of the album. I sometimes make things needlessly complicated, but I’m like that with a lot of things.
I’ve been meaning to soon formally release more aggressive, intense, and noisier music dealing with transgender/queer rights, current events, and anarchist belief. I expect some to drop out seeing that my music is becoming more “politicized”, but frankly I don’t care. My entire life and existence is a political matter, facing numerous challenges now is a political matter, seeing a truly apocalyptic world is a political matter.
I think fighting this through vicious noise, agitating and disturbing the comfortable is absolutely needed now. I know I keep saying this, but it’s true. Many art movements during political distress were combating the status quo by shocking works of art and music, including the early industrial movement and queer performance artists.
I definitely think we need that sort of art now, certainly with discernment with how we approach things, but also not “safe” for conservative society. Really, something that shakes the life out of people whether through a sense of dread and grief, or by a violent outburst reflecting a destructive, bleak world.
What other bands do you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?
I am honestly not too familiar with things happening with the neofolk scene and the like. However, there’s definitely other things I think we should really look at and aspire to in different post-industrial genres. A lot of female artists from the noise scene are definitely recent inspirations. Pharmakon, Puce Mary, and (recently) Lingua Ignota are women who produce some of the most terrifying, vicious, and raw sounds today. I think being able to exist and rise up in a largely toxic and often misogynistic scene is a political act in of itself. Women in techno like Paula Temple are aggressively reacting to subjects like the concentration camps, the refugee crisis, and ecological disaster as with her last album also/
I played an amazing show with trans-femme POC artist TRNSGNDR/VHS who was great to meet. I definitely dig the work of Dreamcrusher as well, being another openly trans/non-binary POC artist working right now. Noise and industrial is definitely something that would be hard to be involved in as a queer person, so I really appreciate the two and the work they do. I try to fill in that blank of being a post-industrial trans/queer artist also.
I definitely think raising the voices and highlighting the work of different marginalized groups is a must now. Women, POC, and trans/queer artists have a wildly different perspective than those of a cishet white male. It’s really about time that we do, because folks like myself have a lot to say and scream during these horrifying times of fascism and despair.
We are adding quite a few albums below from Florian’s Bandcamp, and we are adding some to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify. Make sure to also support us on Patreon if you got some pennies, we really appreciate it and you can get interview early!