Invoking Your True Self: An Interview With Poppet

Abe Goren is one of the most prolific artists we have ever covered. In just a few years they have released a couple of dozen albums and EPs under a number of different projects and genres. We first came into contact when writing about their masonic Dungeon Synth project Lodge of Research, our first endeavor into the growing world of Dungeon Synth that borders on the edges of much of the post-industrial that is our bread and butter. Now their syncretic style is back here with Poppet, a project that shifts between neofolk, Dungeon Synth, metal, and just strange eclectic weirdness, and so we wanted to jump back into it and talk with Abe about some of the concepts behind this project, which ranges from nordic mythology to the personal search for gender identity. Abe’s own journey is especially informative for us since it talks about the process many people have gone through in the edge genres where political consciousness clashes right up against the presence of far-right bands in the scene, and maybe even our playlists.
How did this project Poppet form?  What was the thinking behind it?
I started getting heavily into black metal around late 2015. Interest in projects such as Mütiilation, Aniroe, Summoning, I Shalt Become, Bal-Sagoth and sadly, some sketchier bands like Inquisition and Burzum were primary influences for making ambient black metal. I was using GarageBand at the time, and I had no access to drums or guitar sounds, so I used a monosynth VST called “festival lead” to create black metal noises, and then did vocals and synth pads over it. A Poppet is a doll used in British folk magic, essentially the Western equivalent to a so-called “voodoo doll,” I was very into occultism in high school, and as I started college, I got heavily back into occultism. I wanted a venue of music to discuss religions such as Tibetan Buddhism, Ethiopian Orthodoxy, Santeria, Rastafari, Sufism and Left-Hand Path Satanism, and started the product as such. I had released several songs from this project on Soundcloud before, but 2017 was the real watershed moment. I was friends at the time with a fairly right-wing friend, and I was in a black metal band themed around the civil war with him, called Quantrill. I was the resident keyboardist, but it was a full band, suprisingly multi-ethnic for such a sketch band too. It was probably the sketchiest project I was in, and it wasn’t that good either, essentially sounding like a worse produced Peste Noire. This project was posted on Atmospheric Black Metal albums and got terrible reviews. This inspired me to seek feedback for my music as Poppet, and in early 2018, I posted my Enter the Numinous Realm album on Bandcamp. A couple of weeks later, I got feedback from the dungeon synth community, saying that they really enjoyed my project and how weird it was. This inspired me to hang out with the dungeon synth crowd, and release more dungeon synth inspired music on a regular basis, I continued to use it as a basis for discussing Sufism, Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, Kabbalah and Tibetan Buddhism, and made several friends I am still in correspondence with these days. I keep Poppet as a form of discipline, where I will constantly try to better myself and write more engaging and challenging works.
What challenged you to stand up against the right wing bands? What motivated you to stop supporting far-right musicians?
Back in 2015 and 2016, my politics could be understood as provocative. I had a very neoliberal attitude, thinking that whatever riled people up was the way to go. That said, I never dipped fully into reactionary territory due to me being Jewish, and having a close friend in high school who transitioned her gender. I had my first romantic partner in 2017, and being around that person allowed me to see how reactionary and provocatory politics were exactly that, and that in order to understand people you have to listen to them. In 2018, being around dungeon synth people actually exposed me to a wide gamut of more left wing ideas, and since I had such a plethora of amazing and non-sketchy bands in black metal, neofolk and dungeon synth to check out from that community I didn’t need to support sketchy bands. Whenever I listened to a far-right band and enjoy the music, it’s always tainted by the fact they’d kill me if they got the chance. Listening to non-sketchy bands I get the same pleasure with none of the guilt. This is why it’s important to build spaces with innovative music inspired by those bands but with none of those messages.
How did your own politics evolve in this time?
In 2015 I lived on my own for the first time, as I started college. Living in an independent space without my parents, I was exposed ot a lot of ideas on the left and on the right, and I was annoyed by a lot of the “radical ideologies” on the left. I had close friends with right wing beliefs, and the friends I had who were left-wing I grew distant from at this time from seeing them post on Facebook about bad shit all the time. My shift to the right was also motivated by me being a frequent user of the KiwiFarms from 2014 until mid-2017, a trolling website, which I maintain when it started wasn’t a hotbed of transphobia, islamobhobia, racism and ableism but rather an outgrowth of the same people who obsess over Chris-Chan. The site while intially funny, wore off quick and became a heavy obsession of mine. I posted bad deviantart pictures there constantly as a sort of discipline. Whenever I tried to correctly gender someone there, I was bombarded by many transphobes saying “don’t feed into their delusions.” I am glad I left that shithole. Even if it wasn’t as bad when it started, it was still really bad, and it just got worse as it continued. Around this time I started picking up on more and more esoteric far-right ideologies, which I liked because they were mystical and magical, and as a religion major, I didn’t like how communism as I knew it was “atheistic.” Around 2017, my politics matured after finding a partner, I read less about traditionalism and the esoteric far-right and cared more about being a good person than wanting to pick an ideology to shock. In 2018, when I was exposed to the dungeon synth community, I began reading about various kinds of leftism, and at the same time I was exposed to Marxist theories in my criminology class (despite the teacher having a lot of criticisms of Marx), which made me more motivated to read about Marxism. From there I’ve moved more to the left, which I find is a funny coincidence because it had to do with me becoming part of the DS scene at the same time.
Why do you think its important for other artists to do the same and speak out against sketchy bands?
I believe that everyone who isn’t a nazi (which is most people) into extreme music should be able to have their voices heard. If we support “free speech” the widest variety of opinions will be heard if nazis don’t get a platform. This is why I support bands that carve out a unique space in music, leftist or not, as long as they’re not nazis. We need to create a space where nazis aren’t the only people making creative and innovative music. I love this blog for this very reason, neofolk is an amazingly beautiful genre, ruined by some of the most backwards simpletons and yahoos into extreme music. If we want all ideas to be heard, we must remove people who will censor all other opinions if they got a chance to.
Why did you turn towards neofolk? How do you define this project?

Neofolk was something I was always aware of, even before I was aware of DS. I was a fan of Agalloch’s neofolk output, as well as Wolves in the Throne Room. Neofolk to me occupies a similar role to dungeon synth in how interludes of both sorts are often used in black metal songs. My album Infernally, I Wander, which we will discuss in more depth eventually, was created not out of a love for neofolk (that came more in 2019 when I dug deep into the works of David Tibet and Ulver) but out of me playing around with guitar sounds on Garageband, to create a sort of medieval vibe. My album Chapter I was a more conscious effort to recreate the sounds of neofolk at large, to capture a more singer/songwriter vibe of my music, rather than simple improvisation.

What relationship does dungeon synth have to neofolk?
Neofolk is unique as a genre in that it started out of the industrial scene, but got revived thanks to black metal fans listening to old neofolk records. Dungeon Synth grew out of black metal fans (sometimes the same ones) listening to industrial and ambient records and creating fantasy soundscapes out of it. Both genres attempt to paint classical and artistic music in the context of extreme music. There’s a reason why Wongraven’s Fjelltronen is both dungeon synth and neofolk, the dark folk scene grew out of Norway at the same time DS artists like Mortiis were making some rounds. I think both genres excel at capturing a haunting ambience, but both generes are flexible enough to also become agressive, intense and extreme in an occult context. They certainly both love their forests. Both genres are also similar because Dungeon Synth is largely distinct from the rest of synth and electronic music, you don’t hear as many drops, acid bass or drum patterns. Likewise, neofolk is distinct from folk music because it’s less “homey” and “rugged” and more decidedly “ethereal” and “ominous” in its sound. To compare Sangre de Muerdago to The Lumineers is like comparing Aphex Twin to Fogweaver.
How does the Norse tradition inform Þrymskviða? 
Þrymskviða was created when I was in Ireland, and getting heavily into the Norse Tradition. At around the same time, I was begining to question my gender and transition, which lead me to reading about certain kinds of runes such as Peord, Berkano and Gebo which weren’t as commonly touched by Heathens due to their feminine nature. I was especially drawn to the story of Odin living his (her?) last years as a woman, because of their Seidr practice, and as such was considered “unmanly” by Loki. I had always been drawn to Odin, and this more feminine aspect of Odin, was far more engaging than anything NSBM cultivated. I sought to tell a story of Norse and Germanic people defying roles of toxic masculinity rather than falling within those traps. Gender divergence has always existed, and I’d like to think that I captured an aspect of the mythos most metal bands either ignore or don’t know about.
How did your own personal journey inform Þrymskviða?
As mentioned before, when I was living in Ireland, I began to heavily question my gender, and identify less as a man and more as what I believe to be myself, to live authentically. The choral parts of this album were informed by a sketchy (and shitty) DS tape, that I thought I could improve on heavily. In one track, I started with male voices chanting but eventually changed them to female voices through my DAW. This is a not-so-subtle hint at the early stages of my transition at the time. These interests and new found interest in shifting my identity led me to learning about aspects of the Norse traditions that appeal more towards LGBTQ peoples than your average Brodinist.
What speaks to you from the Norse traditions?

I’m not too sure where to define my religion today, but its a fluid part of my identity. Like with most mythologies, I appreciate the nature of gender divergence within the Norse deities. They’re not fixed in one aspect. Many people hate Loki, but I find how he lived his life as a mare and got pregnant to bare Slepnir a fascinating case of how even in ancient tales, gender isn’t fixed. The runes are also endlessly fascinating, being very similar to my native Hebrew, in how each character serves a spritiual meaning and signifcance. Reading about them when first coming to a realization of my gender identity made me resonate with the far more obscure runes Nazis didn’t use. I did a split with a project called Peord, and Peord is inherently connected to women’s issues.

Your music really developed with Infernally, I wander? Why did you go in this direction? What was the thinking behind it?
That album was started while I was writing another album called Future Tense. I was messing around with guitar presets and ended up creating a beautiful medieval piece. That piece is the last on that album. For Infernally, I Wander I limited myself to two sounds on Garageband, a guitar and a flute. This limitation ended up making some bizarre music, and for this album, I leaned into my project’s outsider nature, of which I skirted around before. This embrace of weirdness, coupled with free flowing and creative song structures made an album I’m truly proud of. Afterwards I started to listen to more neofolk in order to bolster more creativity out of myself.
Walk me thorough how you are producing the music? What does the production process entail? Is it purely a solo project?
I initially started producing music through Garageband, using a midi controller, although often I use the Musical Typing setting. I will typically record an improvisation and then record another improvisation over that improvisation, but as I have learned more skills of how to edit sounds, I’ve been pushing myself to make more challenging and competent works of synthery. I will often include my vocals, and increasingly include drums. It is a solo project, but I actually have some group projects and remixes in store, not just with Poppet but with other projects. Now, I use Logic, which has multi-tracking, a stronger editing system and more VSTs, most of which are easily editable. This has greatly expanded my array of sounds.
How does your antifascist politics inform May the Braying of the Horn Smite Those of Hatred Great?
This album was created for three reasons, the first being how I felt there was a deficit in my music that wasn’t tackling political issues, around this time Dungeon Synth: No Fash Edition was created as a group, which I appreciate, but was also controversial as the group was mostly drama. Created on a bus ride to Belfast, I thought I wanted to make a tough and industrial album from my project. There was a micro scene called “tuff synth” embodied by bands like Xuthal of the Dusk, that revolve around distorted horns. The third reason I created the album was the most important. I was sick and tired of seeing antisemitic memes and sentiment across the internet. I am Jewish ethnically, and it should come as no surprise that I stand against Nazism and white supremacy as a result. As such, this album acted as a “diss track” towards people thinking dungeon synth needs to have more Pro-European themes, whatever that means. May the Braying of the Horn Smite Those of Hatred Great is a call to destroy those who destroy marginalized peoples and communities, using Biblical themes as an epic, sword-and-sandal backdrop from which to juxtapose conflicts against trans people, people of color, queer people, Jews, Muslims and politcal radicals against hegemonic powers-that-be.
What’s coming next for you?
Under one of my many other projects, Wagemage, I have a remix album of gabber versions of black metal tracks coming out soon. Under Poppet, I’m working on drum heavy dungeon synth, inspired by an irl friend’s Witch House project, wwithout. As long as I’m here, I’m gonna be pumping out more albums, and who knows what might greet you in the future!

We are embedding the albums that were mentioned here and we encourage you to check out all of Poppet’s library. We have also added Poppet tracks to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify, so remember to add that as well.


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