An Anti-Fascist Revolt: An Interview With Ashera

The goal with A Blaze Ansuz was to help give a name to an emerging music scene, antifascist neofolk and related genres that were bucking the trend of far-right romantics taking over our music. The hope was that once this became a real current then more bands would feel comfortable emerging into this space, and Ashera, from Cascadia (Portland, Oregon), is definitely a part of this trend. Created by Deborah and Justin Norton-Kertson, two organizers in Portland, this music was explicitly political from the start.

In this interview we talk about their background, what fuels their antifascist commitment, and how this new project came together.

How did Ashera come together? What was the inspiration to start it?

The two of us have known each other and lived together as partners for almost 15 years, and Ashera is the latest in a number of bands and music projects we have created together. Interestingly enough, this particular project was inspired by A Blaze Anzuz and your attempt to consciously create the genre of antifascist neofolk.

When you first announced the creation of A Blaze Anzuz and this new genre of music, we were excited to learn about other musicians engaging in this work. It wasn’t long though before the thought occurred to us that it had been six years since we had created any music of our own, and for the first time in years we were actually inspired to do so.

During the Occupy movement in 2011 we shifted heavily into activism and found ourselves spending most of our free time out in the streets protesting Wall Street and police brutality. We formed a band from that movement called Patchwork Family Band, but it fizzled out over the course of the next year as we all moved on to other things. After the end of our local Occupy Portland we were disillusioned, broken spirited, and tired. We stopped creating music for a while and became full-time activists. However, we have realized that we have lost a huge part of our identity by stopping making music together, and Ashera is our moment to reclaim that identity and merge it with our passion for social justice and antifascism. It’s a perfect moment for us to channel our energies into music that can change the world. We are inspired again and it feels great. So without trying to sound like a couple of suck ups, thank you!

What history do you have in songwriting? Is this your first musical project?

Well no, this is not our first musical project. As we said, we have been together as companions and musical partners for about 15 years. The first groups we started playing music with together were pagan neofolk bands like Anam Cara, The Music Committee, and Happy Death Band back in the early 2000s. I don’t think though that either of us were particularly aware of neofolk as a specific genre at the time. It was just what we happened to be doing, and in retrospect we recognize it for what it was.

After a few years, we and some of the other musicians in those early projects moved away from pagan neofolk into folk rock, dream pop, and shoegaze with bands like 7 Story Sound and Azure Down. During those years we spent quite a bit of time at a cabin near Lake Gregory in Crestline, CA just jamming and composing music together.

Our band Azure Down came to an abrupt and unwanted end in 2009 when the two of us moved to Portland for work during “The Great Recession.” A few years went by without us playing much music before we helped form Patchwork Family Band in late 2011.

Tell me about the first single, “1,000 Dead Fascists.” What inspired you to use this shocking title? Is there a bit of humor at play here?

We very much believe that it is vital to come together through grassroots organizing and movement building to defend our communities against fascist incursion and stop the rise of fascism by any means necessary, and that is what this song is about, albeit it in exaggerated form. We aren’t pacifists. In fact, we would argue that pacifism is an immoral and unethical philosophy, particularly in the face of fascism with its ideologies of violent ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, and supremacy (most often but not limited to white supremacy) that historically have resulted in mass atrocities, ethnic cleansing, and genocides here in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere in the world. So we aren’t entirely sure that it would be accurate to say humor is at play here.

At the same time—in the sense of shock value, exaggeration, and the unexpected—emphatic irony is certainly at play here in the song and its title. You expect calls for genocide to come from fascists. You don’t necessarily expect people who claim to be antifascists to call for something like a thousand of dead bodies in the streets. And no, we aren’t actually calling for the genocide of fascists or anyone else, we aren’t advocating that people start killing fascists. We definitely want to make that clear despite the purposefully shocking nature of the song and its title. At the same time though, like we said, we believe that we must defend our communities against fascism by any means necessary in order to prevent horrors such as the Holocaust from ever occurring again, and that is what this song is about. Of course, we want to see that happen through grassroots movement building that brings tens, hundreds of thousands of people into the streets to confront and stop fascism before it’s too late, and we actively engage in that kind of movement building work in our community. In the 1930s and 1940s it took a world war, hundreds of millions of deaths through that war, and a horribly atrocious Holocaust before fascism was finally stopped. We absolutely can’t make the mistake of appeasement a second time. We need to draw a line in the sand so to speak. We need to stop this new rise of fascism before another Holocaust happens. So let’s come together and build a movement that can do that through sheer overwhelming numbers so that we don’t ever again come to a place where we need 1,000 Dead Fascists in the streets to become a reality in order to stop them.

Why do you think it is important to bring antifascism to neofolk?

It is important to bring antifascism into everything we do, whether that is music, sports, literature, television, theater, or other kinds of art and cultural expressions. In these times where we are experiencing a serious and rapid resurgence of fascist ideology and organizing, so it is vital that we create an antifascism that comes to dominate the cultural expressions of our society.

We happen to be musicians, and it so happens that we have been neofolk musicians since our earliest projects together. Given the particular tendency of fascism to try and co-opt the romanticism, the dreams, and the vision of neofolk music, we feel a particular responsibility to help develop this extremely important genre of specifically antifascist neofolk music.

We feel that music is particularly important in this new antifascist cultural project. Music has always been a means of eliciting emotional responses, of bringing people together around a common interest and sentiment. If we leave this music to the fascists, that is a victory for racism, xenophobia, and violent nationalism.

With the incursion of fascists into the neofolk scene and their blatant attempt to pervert its vision, it is all the more important that we take back this genre of music and use it to fuel the antifascist movement and to create a deeply ingrained culture of antifascism that can and will be an important factor in beating back the fascist creep and creating the better, more just and equitable world that those of us on the radical left so emphatically and sincerely envision.

What ways do you think people can fight fascism in the neofolk scene?

We must not be silent. We must create purposefully and blatantly antifascist neofolk music. We need to confront and challenge fascists at neofolk shows and festivals whenever and wherever we encounter them. And we need to consciously create a purposeful antifascist neofolk scene that brings antifascist neofolk bands and musicians together in community and confederation.

As we were raising our two now adult children together and trying to navigate how to handle situations when they had done something wrong, one piece of advice we were given by Deb’s Dad was “be sure to get their attention.” This has never been more true than it is right now, and it is part of the reason for the title of our song 1,000 Dead Fascists. If you don’t grab the attention of people when harm is being done, then no will look up and fight back. Too many people are all too happy to keep their heads buried in the sand and go about their lives so long as the harm isn’t affecting them directly.

Look at how long the current immigrant and refugee concentration camps have already existed here in the US. Right now, there might not be a movement to close those camps without the bold, attention grabbing, and (to some people) controversial actions of Occupy ICE for example, which was started right here in our city of Portland, Oregon. We must rage, fight, and scream into the void in order to hopefully get people to wake the fuck up and get involved in the fight to crush fascism before it is too late.

What bands are inspiring your work?

Indigo Girls has been a huge inspiration since they hit the scene in the early 90’s. With songs like Our Deliverance, Shame on You, and Pendulum Swinger, they have mastered the art of combining their folk roots with activism and anti-fascist ideology. In fact, the first song we played together when we began hanging out almost two decades ago was an Indigo Girls song called World Falls.

The other obvious and classic inspiration in terms of antifascism and folk music would have to be Woody Guthrie. He is such a giant in the genre of antifascist folk music that it seems cliché, it is impossible for us not to mention him. After all, who doesn’t love songs like All You Fascists Bound to Lose and Solidarity Forever? Also we must mention Bob Dylan. The first song Deb ever learned on guitar was “The Times They are a Changin.”

Another more recent inspiration is Wadruna, a Norwegian neofolk group formed in 2006 that has also been written about by A Blaze Anzuz. We first saw them perform a few of years ago at a music festival outside Portland, and were blown away by their raw connection to their Nordic roots, which we both share in our own ancestry. In fact, our song 1,000 Dead Fascist is very much inspired by their sound. Apart from their amazing music, we have been inspired by their stance against the use of Nordic culture and traditions to promote fascism and racist, nationalistic rhetoric. When we first heard them we weren’t sure where they fell on this, and we felt that we needed to do our homework and find out if they were part of the fascist tendencies in the neofolk music scene. We were thrilled to learn that they have made statements to the contrary, condemning such ideologies embraced by their some of their fellow Nordic musicians. Their courage to take back their rich musical, cultural traditions has inspired us to do the same here in the US.

Finally, we also feel like we have to mention Pink Floyd and Roger Waters as big inspirations of ours. Waters has a long history of antifascism in the music he writes, and his bold stance on the need for the music community and the rest of the world to support the people of Palestine in their struggle against Israeli apartheid through the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement is more than admirable.

What is next for Ashera?

We have releases two singles (1,000 Dead Fascists and Capitalism Must Burn) off of our upcoming antifascist lullabies EP. We’ll be releasing that EP at the end of this summer or sometime in the fall, depending on how the remaining recording and mixing sessions go. After that, we have a vision for another album or series of albums called Fan The Flames, which will be an antifascist neofolk re-envisioning of labor and anticapitalist songs from the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

At the same time, we are continually being fired up by the daily news and we firmly believe that neofolk music needs to branch out beyond its Western, Eurocentric roots. We’d like to explore topics such as immigration, the Water is Life movement, the events occurring on the Big Island of Hawaii at Mauna Kea, and do so in a way that does not involve cultural appropriation. Not only are these topics directly related to both the problems of fascism and capitalism, but it seems that time is speeding up and the stakes get higher with each passing minute. We must continue to channel our outrage into music for the unheard masses in hopes that we can do our part to bring real anti-imperialist freedom to every corner of the globe. Lofty goals for sure, but what is at stake is the future of humanity on this planet and it doesn’t get much bigger than that.

A Story on the Wind: An Interview With Anna Vo

There is a magickal experimentation in Anna Vo’s twelve-string guitar, a mix of chimes and voices and echo and wind. The tapestry they brings together is a form of circular and rythmic narrative, part of personal inspiration and the influences of the Vietnamese diaspora, Buddhist prayer traditions, and a well of energy from around the world. There is often a high-concept at play in their work, such as the cycles of grief and mourning, but it never strays from the deep emotional fountain that feeds it.

We spoke with Anna Vo about their work and the antifascist label they has started developing to create an intentional counter-culture for marginalized artists to emerge in.

How did you first begin as a musician, how did your creative space come together?

I was bed-bound with a spinal injury for many months, which gave me the perspective of finally doing something that mattered to me that I had previously stifled.

Due to how I was socialized, I had centered my work and output around other people (like my record label) and deferring to their creative control (playing in anarcho-crust bands with white dudes) and it took this injury for me to take steps towards centering my own voice and creative desire. For example, I borrowed my housemate’s janky laptop and ordered two pedals online and when they arrived I started writing music horizontal, playing guitar from bed.

 

How did your current musical project come together?  Is it mainly just you as a solo performer, or do you work with collaborators?

It is a solo project that I have been tinkering with for several years, each person I’ve invited as a collaborator, usually about a week before the recording dates, and usually without any pre-writing or rehearsal. My work is largely improvisation-based, and I field record things that interest me in my environment for textures.

 

What bands inspired you in doing the work?

The only band or person that I had heard of that plays guitar in a similar fashion is John Fahey. I only play 12 string guitar, and he is definitely my primary role model in that regard. He also writes pretty far out, honest, cool short stories. I’m self-taught, I have no musical schooling, and I purposely sing “kind of badly”/discordantly. I was not permitted to play music growing up as a teenager, so my time bed-bound was the most formative in my music practice.

 

How did you develop your sound, and how do you define it?

I would say I’m accidentally influenced by the circular, meditative structures of Buddhist prayer that I was exposed to by my grandmother taking me to temple, and the Vietnamese pop music my parents listened to, which was predominantly formulated after US troops exposed Vietnamese people to 60s rock and folk. There are parallels between artists like Simon and Garfunkel, and Vietnamese popular music. Sadness was and is a common tone for the Viet diaspora, whether we are talking about “post-war” music, or other inter-generational Viet art.

 

You live in the Pacific Northwest now, does that region influence your music, or is it pulled together from international spaces?

I’m from New Zealand, and my albums were mainly in places outside of the PNW. I’ve only lived in the States a few years, and actually found it more difficult to find places to play given that my music doesn’t clearly fit into the “noise” scene, or the neofolk scene. Being from Aoteoroa (NZ) has aesthetic relations with living in the PNW (and its associated localized patriotism): namely majestic landscapes and lush woodland.

 

What does the album The Condition come from, what’s the overarching theme?

It is made of of 9 songs, 3 x 3 songs, 3 parts or movements with afore-mentioned circular structure. The first refers to a mourning period, reflection and scrutiny. The second part is a zooming out of time and space, looking at the scale of a lifetime; and the third continues to zoom out and considers intergenerational ramifications beyond smaller incidents of trauma. The last track is designed to play into the first track again, aesthetically and thematically, and the record works as a 9 track prayer or meditation on the nature of the human condition.

 

There is a strong sense of anti-patriarchal spirit in the work, what issues and forces inspire the music?

I’m not sure how that spirit is evident, but I appreciate the observation. I’m non-binary, and like most categorizations I believe gender is restrictive in our we conceptualize our experiences and knowledge. Perhaps inherent in the work is *my* spirit, which is outwardly not patriarchal?

 

How has your music changed over the years?  What instruments do you regularly use?

I mainly use 12-string guitar, and a collection of field recordings I have made in different spaces – the ocean, the city, on volcanoes. I play in bands, which is separate from this project- where I use my body/voice/presence, and also electric guitar, drums and several instruments I have built.

 

Your lyrics and singing border on spoken word poetry at times, what themes draw you together and how do you write your songs?

I think of music as collage, and I don’t know much about songwriting or classically structured musical works, so I would say that my approach typically looks like layers being placed adjacent and over one another until there is a narrative of some sore. Each layer or piece can be the chirping of a cricket, the chatter of children, or my mumbling something about whatever is on my mind at the time.

 

What drives your commitment to antifascism?  Have you experienced a lot of white supremacist attitudes in the pagan and neofolk scene?

I started my label as a black metal and doom label in Australia over 10 years ago because the metal scene there defaults to white supremacy, which culturally invisibilizes the conversation. I wanted to visibilize the dichotomy, whilst creating visible space for people with similar tastes in music, who did not want to actively participate in what was an automatic state of white supremacy. That’s the cultural answer to your question. The personal answer is that through my lived experience, through myself and my parents/family being targeted daily, and through us being immigrants and refugees, we are not given a choice in being anti-racist and anti-fascist. To not make that choice, to default to dominant culture, and shrug my shoulders and promote hipster apathy is antithesis to my existence, and betrays my being.

The answer to the second question is yes. In various continents, and in ways that include and extend beyond militarized fascism. The obvious is that there are people present at shows and in music scenes who are parts of organized groups of people who work to intentionally and violently vicitimize people of color and queer people. The less obvious is when those same people go under the radar. Specifically I would like to call to attention the scenes I have been a part of where the very existence of punk or metal are politically suppressed – and going to a show and playing in a band means staring down the barrel of a rifle held my military government officials. My point is that fascism is a broad term that defines many states (as you know) including racism and including dictatorship, and I want to be clear that I am referring to a broad range of types of fascism, and its presence and relationship to music (and art).

 

Why is it not enough to be “not racist” or “not fascist?”

I believe you already know the answer to this question. Mainly that it is not a choice for me to not be anti-fascist.

 

Why do you think it is important to be a publicly antifascist band?  How does antifascism inform your music?

See above re: the formation of the label. As a person I was silenced through my formative years when in punk and metal scenes attempting to address racism and casual fascism in music communities. So instead of trying to be heard or validated by others, I made clear and public my stance, in order to attract like-minded people to me. Which worked.

 

What’s coming next for you?

I’m releasing an anti-fascist Swedish band called Lands Sorg in August, and I hope to record a new solo album this coming winter: if grad school and my visual art career allows.

I also am in a duo as drummer and co-vocalist with Marit on viola. Marit also plays in Sangre De Muerdago, Cinderwell, Ekstasis and a billion other bands. We haven’t named the project yet.

 

What other bands do you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?

Good question! I enjoy Cinderwell and Sangre De Muerdago.

 

What kind of bands are on the label and how are they strung together?

There are 33 releases on the label, and they are from 5 continents, and anti-fascist. They comprise of some established and well-known bands, and include lesser-known bands as a platform for them. The label highlights and seeks to include anti-fascist queer and trans people, people of color, women internationally.

***

Anna Vo’s label is An Our Recordings, and hosts many antifascist doom/black metal/neofolk bands like Ragana, Thou, and Nightwitches. We are putting some of their releases below, Vo has been incredibly prolific and has ten releases on their Bandcamp. Anna is unfortunately not on Spotify yet so we cannot add them to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify, but we are adding several other great tracks (and have added some recent ones, like Elk), so you should check it out!

 

Against the Witch Hunts: An Interview With A Stick and A Stone

 

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A defining feature of the neofolk scene and the genres surrounding it is the revolving door of musicians, based in the shifting sands of collaboration. This has been the power of the scene of experimental neofolk, dark folk, ambient, and otherwise bands we have been covering recently, working out new musical terrain together. A Stick and A Stone has been one of these projects that we have been watching for a long time, and with their upcoming release we thought it was a perfect moment to sit down with them and talk about how this incredible project came together, how folk music draws inspiration, and how they are existing in the new antifascist world.

 

How did this project come together, and how did the relationship form with your collaborators?

Elliott: I formed A Stick And A Stone in 2007 as a solo project, though frequently collaborating with a wide range of guest musicians. When I started playing with drummers in 2013, and first with Dani in Philly, I got a taste of what it was like to have more participatory collaborators, because writing rhythmically was foreign to me, and I couldn’t play those songs solo.  

I met Myles in Portland through playing shows together, and in 2015, I started working with him on recording viola for The Long Lost Art of Getting Lost. (Oddly enough, after a year of playing together, we found out that both of our estranged dads also coincidentally play in a jazz band together back in Philly!)

Soon after, I met violist/vocalist Maria through working on the Black Lives Matter-inspired recording project of our mutual friend Sina. Then, we met violinist/cellist Stelleaux through a queer classifieds post that Myles made. Suddenly this magical string trio was formed, and when we all started practicing and performing together, something clicked. Four years later, they’re all somehow still putting up with me (mostly, hahah).

I also still love playing with guest musicians, and hope to find more drummers to work with soon.  

 

How does your music and lyrical writing process work?  Does it come together in collaboration, or is it very solitary?

Elliott: Mostly pretty solitary, though I always welcome input in fleshing things out. I write best when I am alone and in motion, with very little distraction. These days, this often looks like walking in the woods and belting at the top of my lungs when I think no one is around, then hiding behind a tree when I see other humans approaching, hahah. Back in Philly, I didn’t have any nearby woods to walk in, so I wrote by singing while I rode my bike through the streets late at night.

Unless I’m playing piano or bass when lyrics come through, I usually start with the vocals. The lyrics unfold simultaneously with the vocal melodies, the same way that the cadence of speech comes through naturally when you’re in a conversation. Most of my songs are some sort of conversation, even if just a conversation I’m having with myself.  

The instrumental arrangements I write often start off as vocal harmonies, then later get transferred to whichever instruments fit the part. I used to notate my ideas on sheet music, but I’ve been spoiled with collaborators who can mostly learn everything by ear.  

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What folk traditions do you draw on for inspiration?  

Elliott: Melodically, I’m definitely influenced by the Jewish traditional music I grew up immersed in, and still listen to. Some of my first experiences on stage as a child involved singing Hebrew songs at religious gatherings. (My religious upbringing is really complicated, though, so I’m not going to unpack that can-of-worms here!)  

I’m also largely inspired by the droning harmonies of traditional Balkan choral music, which I was first introduced to while singing in a protest choir, then got to know more deeply when I later formed an acapella Balkan trio. I was fascinated by the ways the lower harmonies seem to move up and down throughout the scale, but when you look at the sheet music, it’s all just one note.   

Myles: Interesting — I’m part Lithuanian, and something that struck me recently was learning about the Lithuanian dainos vocal tradition of Sutartinės, which are these very layered old cannon melodies chanted on top of each other in groups. The vocal intervals are alternately dissonant and harmonic, depending on where they intersect. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of recording my viola parts knows how much I love creating a similar wall of sound.

I also crawled out of a major depression once by impulsively joining a Georgian polyphonic choir that rehearsed in a friend’s house who had been singing the music since she was a child. In Baltimore, I  played in a Gamelan group that raised money for tsunami relief performing inside the embassy of Indonesia in Washington DC. 

A current bandmate of mine who’s involved in radical Jewish music preservation in Philly was nice enough to teach me some Klezmer music this year. I’m really grateful for all these experiences.

 

Paganism, particularly heathenry, immediately jumps out in the music, largely from the art and the instrumentation.  How present is that in the music for you?

Elliott: This depends on how you define Paganism. I don’t worship any gods or goddesses, and I actually don’t know much about Heathenry. I do know that the word pagan originally came from the Latin word ‘paganus’ which meant rural, rustic, or ‘of the countryside.’ To me, this speaks to the relationship of pagans with plant and animal spirits, the animist nature of paganism. I’m an animist in the sense that I experience everything as alive in some way. Not just plants and animals, but all material existence,  everything.

I used to do rituals with some activist pagan communities (of the Reclaiming tradition, mostly). I was originally drawn to paganism because it is a Mystery tradition. After leaving the fundamentalist religion I was raised in, I became a devoted agnostic, as a path of striving to embrace the unknown and let go of the urge to explain or define everything. Over time, though, I have started to feel weird about the religious conviction and Eurocentrism I’ve encountered in many pagan spaces.

These days, I feel most at home in “Jewitch” circles, and still practice what some might refer to as witchcraft, though the increasing commodification of  “witchy-ness” has left me seeking other language for my practices.

Myles: I am not a pagan, or religious at all for that matter. I feel no void of faith there, personally. I do have distant relatives on the Lithuanian side who practiced elements of Romuva. I’m wary of a lot of elements of paganism and heathenry for the same reasons Elliott described. 

 

There is a mention of witch hunting in your tracks, is that a theme that plays in the music?

Elliott: I wrote Witch Hunter when I was thinking about the commonalities between witch burnings and modern-day police repression. Though that’s the only song that directly alludes to what we think of as witch hunting, a lot of the issues confronted in my music have roots in the same imperialist ideologies that fueled witch hunting. (Silvia Federici’s work, particularly Caliban and the Witch, probably makes these connections better than I can explain here.)

 

How does antifascism inform the project? How does the climate crisis play into your work?

Elliott:  Well, we currently live under a fascist regime. There is a very small oligarchy of the mega-rich who own and control everything, including armies of cops and military forces to keep it that way. We live in a post-apocalyptic era; the ongoing genocide of indigenous peoples and cultures was, and is, an apocalypse. Climate crisis, already underway, is inextricably linked to fascist colonization, and so much knowledge on how to live with the land has been burned and destroyed.

These are crushingly devastating times to be alive in.  

I write music as a means to get through these dark times. Not just to survive them, but to grieve them, to heal through them, to keep building the strength to protect what is left of land and culture. Grieving all that has been lost to fascist colonization is necessary to move forward and keep fighting it, and there is very little room for grief in a capitalist system that profits off of every form of distraction possible.

One of the radical potentials I see of dark, emotionally heavy music is that it can make space for such mourning. It can de-stigmatize openness around death, or the emotions we’re supposed to hide in order to uphold the status quo. It can be a rebellion against the pressure to put on a happy face and pretend this is all ok, just business as usual.

That said, I’m not trying to get stuck being bogged down by this shit, either. I also write music to honor and uplift what I hold sacred, what I love fiercely, what I am fighting to hold together and defend. This is especially apparent in our upcoming album, Versatile, which we’re releasing this summer.

Click here to pre-order on the Kickstarter

 

Why is it important to be publicly an antifascist band?

Elliott: In this white supremacist culture, it’s important for all white people, whether in a band or not, to be publicly and outspokenly anti-racist. Put simply, silence is compliance.

In the context of the music scene, this is particularly important because there are unfortunately a lot of crypto-fascist bands who are very discreet and covert about it, and we want to do everything we can to separate ourselves from them. Our violist Maria’s other band, Aradia, whose art and merch is now adorned with anti-fascist symbols, were inspired to make their values more explicitly identifiable after cancelling a performance when they discovered that another band on the bill were crypto-fascists.   

Aside from visibly representing ourselves as anti-fascists, it is also important for us to actively engage in anti-racist organizing and resistance. Many of us who play in A Stick And A Stone also work with various grassroots activist groups, such as Critical Resistance, an organization working to dismantle the prison industrial complex, which is one of the main tools that the current fascist regime uses to control us.  

I’m going to include viola collaborator Myles for the rest of these questions because he’s had more encounters with the neofolk scene than I have.

Myles: We’re culturally nearing a boiling point where being apathetic and not having some solid position against fascism is becoming less and less of an option for anyone sharing this planet, given the extremity of some people’s increasingly “proud” negative racist misogynist politics.

 

Have you experienced any far-right or racist attitudes in the neofolk scene?

Elliott: This is an interesting question because we actually have never referred to our music as neofolk or considered ourselves to be a part of the neofolk scene. To me, ‘neo-folk’ has always been primarily  associated with neo-nazism. That said, some people have classified our music as neofolk because bands in that genre tend to use somewhat similar instrumentation and minor-key tonalities as us, though often hold vastly different values.

I do want to note that we are a band of mostly white people, usually performing to audiences of mostly white people, and wherever you have a group of white people, you’re inevitably going to confront racist attitudes. Whether they’re outright bigots or well-meaning liberals, no white person is completely immune to racial ignorance. We all have ongoing work to do to unlearn colonialist mentalities, and it’s our responsibility as white people to educate and challenge each other.  

Myles: While trying to find a home for the previous A Stick And A Stone release, Elliott and I dropped an offer from a European record label when we found out they were also pressing Death in June recordings. More specifically, although I don’t consider any bands I’ve played in to be neofolk, I have had the misfortune of problematic people from the neofolk subculture lampreying onto some my bands, mainly my old chamber group Disemballerina.

Like A Stick And A Stone, we were made up of all queer people, but at one point magnetized this fringe population of embarassing Nordic-pagan folk-music enthusiasts with closeted racist politics.

On more than one occasion, a band I was in got asked to play private events, only to later learn, with great disgust, that we had inadvertently shared the room with random attendees who wrote for alt-right publications and hosted holocaust-denier author events. We got the fuck out of that whole scene pretty fast, burned some bridges with sketchy people and eventually, after some friends reported alt-right book tabling at the neofolk festival Stella Natura, reached a point where we wouldn’t play with any band under the “neo folk” banner whatsoever, just to be safe.  

As a disclaimer, I have plenty of friends who are involved in that subculture who aren’t alt-right racist garbage bags, I know they exist. We just weren’t taking our chances. The patriarchy and homophobia we encountered being a part of metal scene is bad enough.  

 

What is next for you?  

Elliott: After we finish releasing our next album Versatile, I have enough songs written for two new E.P.’s that I’m looking forward to record. One will be an acapella album akin to Björk’s Medulla. The other will be louder, with doom-inspired bass riffs, drum collaborations, and of course, more string arrangements.]

Myles: I’m about to move to New York for my boyfriend. I’m excited for A Stick And A Stone’s new record! I built a glass harp for this one and really love the lyrics on this new album.

Elliott: Thanks, Myles!

 

Are there any bands, or antifascist neofolk bands, we should be checking out?

Elliott: I don’t know of any neofolk, but I can recommend some anti-fascist folk music.

(Of course, since it is Euro-centeric to use the term ‘folk’ only in reference to European folk music, I’m using ‘Folk’ in its true definition here, to mean any traditional cultural music that is played by the common people, that is accessible and speaks from the people’s experience.)

Some folk-inspired musicians at the top of my list include the Turkish revolutionary psych-folk-rock of Selda Bağcan (especially Selda 1976), who was imprisoned three times due to the radical political nature of her music. Or Miriam Makeba, who used her music to raise awareness about apartheid and, after being exiled from South Africa, became active in the US civil rights and Black Power movements. Both of these singers have really powerful vocals. As a vocalist primarily, I’m always seeking out vocal inspirations of any genre.

Other examples include Syrian protest singer Samih Choukeir, or the anti-colonial music collective  Tinariwen, whose cassette tapes were used to pass tactical communications between scattered Tuareg independence fighters. The list goes on…  Our cellist on the new record, Sei Harris, runs a show of non-European music on Freeform Radio under the moniker DJ Mock Duck, which could be another resource for finding other anti-fascist folk musicians from across the globe.

I also want to highlight the music of a couple of our fellow anti-fascist transgender musician friends who died this year: Nia of Displaced who was sent frequent death threats from alt-right bigots, and Dani SummersI actually met Dani on the street at a counter-demonstration to a march organized by an alt-right group. We were both walking with canes that day, and he came up to me, saying, “Hey! Us anti-fascist cripples gotta stick together!”

Myles:  I play viola now in a two piece band called Forgotten Bottom. We’re named after a Philadelphia neighborhood and are inspired by working in the city shelter system here, the extremely depressing level of gentrification happening in my home city, and the opiod crisis that has killed many people I  love. We have a tape coming out this summer

I’m also in an A/V improv project called Ominous Cloud Ensemble, which has a rotating lineup of musicians, currently and perhaps most proudly including members of Sun Ra Arkestra.

Apart from that, some current bands I like a lot: Jupiter Blue, Leya, Ala Muerte, Ooloi, Spires That In The Sunset Rise, Persephone (dc), Show me the body, Las Sucias, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Eartheater, Du.0, Darsombra, Lurch and Holler, Rectrix, Moodie Black, The Dreebs, Like A Villain, Ariadne, Solarized, Blew Velvet, Dolphin Midwives, Madam Data, Human Beast, Irreversible Entanglements, Dream Crusher, Burning Axis, Møllehøj, Mal Devisa, Caspar Sonnett, Daes, B.L.A.C.K.I.E, Hermit High Priestess… I’ll stop.

 

Neofolk Against Fascism (CTRL+D Podcast)

Check out this episode of the CTL + D, which does a lot of episodes regarding technology, gaming, history, and a range of other topics.  They wanted to jump right into the story of neofolk and black metal, and their status as a “contested space.”  This gets to the heart of what A Blaze Ansuz is, building our own space both to create a home for ourselves musically and to effectively combat the “cultural struggle” of the far-right.

A conversation with Shane Burley, author of Fascism Today and founder of antifascist neofolk blog A Blaze Ansuz, about the present day effort of antifascists to break neofolk and black metal’s ties to the far right.

If you want to know more about the initiative, you can visit A Blaze Ansuz, and follow the blog, as well as Shane himself, on Twitter.

Also, don’t forget to give The Antifascist Neofolk Playlist a spin. 🙂

+ TIME (2019-04-12): White Supremacists Have Weaponized an Imaginary Viking Past. It’s Time to Reclaim the Real History

P.S. Apologies for the light audio glitching.

 

Sparrowhawk’s Brief Life Is a Milestone in Antifascist Neofolk

In this intersecting world of hidden genres, projects come and go, sometimes in only a brief instant.  We are trying to unearth some hidden gems in the world of antifascist neofolk and to bring something original, not just major bands that stand against the far-right, but also from a DIY neofolk scene that is under documented.  Sparrowhawk fits this definition perfectly, an ensemble that came together for just two legendary tracks.

We first discovered Sparrowhawk on the Red and Anarchist Black Metal blog, dissidents from the rest of the music featured.  Their two-song EP Harvest acts both as a demo and a coming out party, but the musicians involved moved on quickly after this 2013 debut and we have yet to hear anything new.  Started by members of Nuwisha and Plantrae, it is a three person collaboration that they say began “in the majestic Siskiyou Wilderness in the autumn of 2013. Rowan WalkingWolf ( Walks-With-the-Wind of Nuwisha), Zacharias AElfston (of Plantrae), and Ursula are pleased to bring you this symphonic soundscape of Cascadian folk.”  The influential (but microscopic) “cascadian” scene brought in other bands we have profiled, like Ionncaish.  vocals entirely, instead treating their instruments

The music starts with the sound of rain and sets its own pace, never rushing, relying on plucking acoustic guitar for its texture, while the violin really drives it forward.  Both tracks, “Siskyou Malaise” and “Starlit Fires, Surrender the Equinox” are both long and slow, but even though the sound is stripped down to acoustic instruments playing off of each other it stays incredibly emotive and completely blots out whatever is around you.

In Sparrowhawk’s brief moment of life they also did a split cassette with Skalunda, which you can still pick up on Bandcamp.  It is this world of small issue splits that still helps neofolk to build up a cult following, something the band planned for from the start.  The passionate complexity of Sparrowhawk’s brief collaboration makes these songs instantly classics in our canon, and they deserve to be pulled from out from the past to give it the recognition it deserves.

We are embedding the EP here, and because it was such a brief project, we were not able to add any Sparrowhawk songs to the Antifascist Neofolk playlist on Spotify.

Terrorfest Brings Antifascist Black Metal and Grindcore to the Pacific Northwest

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2019 is set to be the year that explicitly antifascist metal takes over the scene.  In January, former Noisey metal editor Kim Kelly launched the first ever Black Flags Over Brooklyn antifascist metal festival, highlighting bands that were down with an antiracist and left-wing bent.  This helped to coagulate a trend that has existed for years, metal bands that are shutting off the small racist corner who tries to twist the music for their own recruitment.  Over the past year, bands that have taken their antifascist position a step further, like Gaylord and Neckbeard Deathcamp, have made headlines, meaning that it is no longer enough to simply reject white nationalist politics, musicians are being asked to take a stand.

Just a few months later, many of the bands that have led the way in this antifascist metal and grind scene are being featured at Northwest Terrorfest (May 30th-June 2nd), one of the biggest black metal and grindcore festivals of the year.  Terrorfest has happened annually the past few years in Seattle, Washington, bringing in 3-4 of aggressive edge music that mixes some of the most experimental loud bands touring right now.

Terrorfest is headlined by grindcore behemoth Pig Destroyer, and features a number of bands known throughout the antifascist scene, and several who were also featured at Black Flags Over Brooklyn.  

We wanted to highlight a few of these bands who will be at the festival, and who cross our paths in the murky world of neofolk/black metal/”extreme” sound.  We will put Bandcamp links to each band below, and are starting a Northwest Terrorfest Spotify playlist to highlight a few of these bands (unfortunately, not all of them are on Spotify).  Take note, these are (mostly) not neofolk acts so we are not adding them to the Antifascist Neofolk Spotify playlist (except for Dawn Ray’d and Panopticon, which is already on there).
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Dawn Ray’d

This may be the most well known of this slate of antifascist black metal bands since it is one of the most upfront about their politics, while also being well situated in a more traditional black metal sound.  Britain’s Dawn Ray’d will be headlining the Barboza stage on Thursday (5/30) night, along with bands like Ken Mode, Addaura, and Dead to a Dying World.  Their aggressive, working-class anarchist politics drive Dawn Ray’d’s uniquely different take on black metal iconoclastic misanthropy, and have stood on conviction in a scene often screaming to “not make things political.”  The symphonic side of their music will set well with with neofolk fans, which is why we are adding a single song to the Antifascist Neofolk Spotify playlist.

 

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Closet Witch

Closet Witch is one of the most aggressive power violence our right now, led by a woman, has always had a certain up-front consciousness about pushing out Nazis in the scene and highlighting marginalized musicians.  Their short blasts of ultraviolence are a stray from the neofolk scene, but will be perfectly set along bands like Pig Destroyer at Terrorfest. This is pure musical violence all set into a DIY frenzy, perfect for coming out of Iowa’s heartland and shattering the boundaries in festivals like these.

 

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Photo Credit: Farrah Skeiky (http://farrahskeiky.com/)

Cloud Rat

A band like Cloud Rat is on the edge for a festival like this since it feels much more at home in a crust hardcore basement, brief blasts of punk fire.  Cloud Rat, like Dawn Ray’d and Closet Witch, were featured at Black Flags Over Brooklyn, a big statement of cross-fringe solidarity. Their frenetic sound will be a good match to some of the slower, symphonic noise tracks of bands like Addaura.

 

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Panopticon

The Terrorfest set by Panopticon may be the best situated for A Blaze Ansuz.  On Wednesday night, before the primary three days of the festival, A. Lunn of Panopticon will play an acoustic set more in line with the neofolk sound.  This is the kind of tracks we highlighted in our article about the pagan metal band Panopticon, known for its labor and anarchist folk songs out of Appalachia.  This is a unique treat, and one that can help to bridge the two scene, and if you can add the Wednesday night ticket to your package we highlighly recommend it.

 

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Photo by Suren Karapetyan

Despise You

This famous powerviolence five piece from Inglewood, California is known for being one of the most aggressively angry bands on the planets, both in sound and lyrics.  They are not known for their heavy political stance, but as they feature artists of color and have stood against racist assholes, we feel comfortable selling them as a part of this slate at Terrorfest.  Despise You has been one of the few bands in the genre that is well centered in communities of color that talks about the issues that actually affect them, like police and gang violence.  We are still waiting for the Capitalist Casualties/Despise You split that we are fantasizing about.

There are a ton of other great bands on the line-up that we haven’t seen much from politically, so hopefully playing with this great line-up will only grow the antifascist metal scene.  

Check out Northwest Terrorfest, and get your festival passes while they are still available.  There are two stages for the primary three days of the festival, and you can get tickets to both or either.  We also want to highlight that NW Terrofest has put that “attendees will be able to choose bathrooms which correspond to their gender identity” on their ticketing material, a move we encourage other promoters and venues to do as well.

Remember to check out our 2019 Northwest Terrorfest Spotify playlist, and always add our ongoing Antifascist Neofolk playlist!

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The Sounds of the Wild: An Interview With Nøkken + The Grim

There is an aura around the American neofolk band Nøkken + The Grim.  The cry of thunder, the animal shuffle through the trees, the underlying soundtrack of the forest.  Nøkken + The Grim is an open attempt to capture that, to rewild ourselves and to expand our view of community to the animals and the earth.  This spirit of resistance is alive in their animism, and it is what makes Nøkken + The Grim such an incredibly evocative ensemble, emotive in every quiet moment.

We interviewed Justin Gortva Scheibel, who acted as a spokesperson for the band, about exactly what drives his project, what the music means to him, and why we have to be public antifascists today.

 

How did your band come together?

The original seed for this was planted back in 2015. The band started as a solo project called Nøkken. I performed in a cheap, plastic horse mask, something like a scavenger using humanity’s discard. Stephen and I have been in a relationship since 2011, and I’ve known Karli for as long. We all lived together, working as musicians, so it made sense for us to start performing. There was a narrative forming on two levels. I was already performing as a nature spirit, and it was as if that had attracted other spirits out of the woodwork. So, we expanded the idea, and they became “The Grim,” other enraged nature spirits who have rallied against the desecration of nature and their homes. Each month brought about subtle growth, new conflicts, new possibilities, but, like watching a plant grow, there is no single “event” where it formed. It organically evolved into what it is now.

 

How does paganism and animism provide inspiration for the music?  Do you think the music itself is a ritual space?

Something that is often unexplored in music is the primality of expressions prior the violence that language and words inflict upon the world, cutting and dividing things into categories. People often want lyrics. They want things to “make sense.” They demand it of the world. But I want wild cries of animals led by instinct from one note to another, where human conventions of music and meaning no longer matter. It is why we focus on improvisation, on being animals speaking through music. Animism recognizes an interconnectedness of all things, and the presence of other-than-human spirits in everything. We see this in our music, and we join with the ways in which each animate being produces music as a form of primal communication. The Earth Mother moves in cycles, large and small, from the replication of cells to massive shifts in climate and tectonic movements. Right now, humanity is messing with cycles of life and causing global extinctions. It is an interruption of rhythm, as much as a musician who slips and misses a beat, except with dire consequences for all life. Our music is a miniature of all this rhythm, both the cycles and the cataclysmic destruction of these cycles, where we no longer distinguish our rhythms from the processes of life and death.

From a more personal perspective, I serve the Earth Mother, and I am an extension of the primal spirit of the horse. Modern thought would probably call me an “animal worshipper” with a bit of a sneer. I am ethnically Hungarian and German. My heritage in Magyar táltos tradition (‘shamanism’) and Norse heathenry serve as the folk roots of the characters we play on stage. For me, this music is deeply spiritual. Stephen and Karli, who join me are not pagan, but are an agnostic and a Christian deist respectively. What unifies us is our recognition that human oppression towards each other and the living world cannot be tolerated, that human beings cannot continue to destroy nature.

I think music in general is a powerful ritual space, and not enough people recognize the responsibility that musicians have. Music is a vehicle of attention, synchrony and transformation, a place where many different wills coincide. With all that intention collected in a single space, magic flows through our sensuous bodies and can be channeled, for better or for worse. I perform all my concerts in a trance state in which the illusions of being human have disappeared. I feel like there is no break between the stage and the audience. We become coils of ritualized rhythm.

 

What bands inspired you in doing the work?

It’s a strange mixture of things. I love the alienated beauty of Buckethead’s guitar playing. He originally inspired me to put on a mask. The integrity of Moddi and Tanya Tagaq are also sources of inspiration. The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók has been a huge influence in our thought and harmonies. He was one of the first ethnomusicologists documenting folk music traditions, but he also wrote his own strange contemporary versions of folk music. Bartók was an anti-fascist who sacrificed his music career in Hungary in protest. He eventually fled to the United States. Over the years, we’ve been influenced a lot by bands like Tengger Cavalry, Ulver, Garmarna and Heilung. Karli is huge into Neue Deutsche Härte, folk metal, basically anything from Scandinavia and Germany. Stephen, as a composer, also brings a ton of influences from film music, EDM, jazz and ambient into our sound. He and I work together to create the electronic soundscapes that permeate our music. Probably our most out-there influence is John Cage.

 

There is a beautifully quiet quality to your music, both haunting and curious.  How did you start to develop the uniqueness of your sound?  How do you define it?

We started out performing music that fit more into neoclassical styles, as classically trained musicians. We did improvisation and performed works by minimalist and modern composers, and then we thought, “fuck it, we could do whatever the hell we want with music.” I suppose I would call our music “uncivilized,” or perhaps, “undomesticated” music, “wild,” “bestial”. There is no guarantee that we will ever sound the same from one moment to another.

“Primal” is probably my favorite word to describe what we do, if there is to be a word. It is instinctual music, to create music in terms of our senses and emotions, our animal being. We lose the idea that there is ever a wrong or right note—just different notes in sensuous immediacy. Conventional music adheres to a pattern it justifies to itself, so it forms into a genre, a style, a normative imposition on what music “should be.” Musical conventions very easily slip into oppressive institutions. You see this all the time with people talking about how they hate this music or that music. Primal music may form patterns (just as the growth of nature forms chaotic patterns, sometimes tremendously complex), but they are not dictated by forethought, imposition, the tyranny of order, only chance and instinct, necessity and intuition. We are aware of many “musical rules” but simply do not care. Human conventions pretend to themselves they are not profoundly instinctual, irrational and accidental. So perhaps, primal music is music without this pretense. It has gone feral.

Our song “Blue Ritual” is a great example. Everything about it is “wrong,” strange meters, harmonies, off-kilter patterns of 7, live outdoor recordings mixed with studio electronics. It is like a weed that decides to grow in one’s perfectly manicured lawn, Mother Nature’s green middle finger to the need for control and order. I like weeds. I am happy to be a weed.

 

Why have you included actual sounds from nature, like rumbling thunderstorms, in the music?

We put thunderstorms in “Vox Terrae” to evoke nature in sublime way and to give the music connectedness with the living world. “Vox Terrae” means “Voice of the Earth,” the Earth as a singer. It’s this recognition that sound and nature have their own agency; I would say intention. There are many agents beyond the mere human, other species, animals, plants, microbes. Also, whole natural phenomena are recognized as part of this animate, living ecosystem. Human beings tend to try to differentiate between “music” and “sound” and operate under a pretense that “sound” occurs without agency, while “music” is this supposedly willed (exclusively human) thing. It’s all part of this colonialist objectification of the world. But all animals are producing music, the songs of birds, the rhythms of horses’ bodies. Moreover, everything that happens is rhythm. So-called ‘chance’ sounds, natural phenomena, are as much music as anything human beings produce. I see the world of sound as a world filled to the brim with agency, spirits, actors, where nature speaks and sings in all moments of resonance. Sound is itself a living environment, one in which a multitude of agencies are acting. For me, it is not strange at all to see a storm as a musician, a person, collaborating to produce music. Or moreso, we are invited by the Earth as collaborators, lent this moment of time to be alive.

 

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?

Personally, I would prefer to just to exist without having to have “a sound.” That is, I would like, in music, to follow every instinctual urge I have, whether that is violent, sensitive, sexual, explosive, playful. To the person listening, I think it probably sounds like we are constantly reinventing our sound, but to me, we are shapeshifters by nature. If I need to be violent in a song, then that is what happens. If I need to whisper, or yell, or seduce…our bodies produce the music. The concept of having a static sound is exactly what institutions impose upon our animal bodies, and those categories only serve to reinforce hierarchies in world.

 

What drives your commitment to antifascism?  Have you experienced a lot of white supremacist attitudes in the pagan and neofolk scene?

I would say that I have run into explicit white supremacists rather infrequently. The real fear lies in the undercurrents of racism and authoritarianism in ‘ordinary’ people whom supremacists are trying to win over. I feel that both the Pagan and neofolk scenes are very anti-fascist already and that the situation is not as bleak. All the Heathen and Pagan communities I partake in online and offline are working ceaselessly against supremacists. There is a recognition in much of the Pagan and Heathen communities that our own cultures and beliefs were colonized by Christian theo-political violence and oppression (and continue to be demonized to this day), and this unites us with the struggles of all other oppressed minorities. But there is fear across the Pagan communities to even talk about what we are doing. We are still afraid of being persecuted by mainstream religions as “devil worshippers.”

Within me, there is a deeper, personal anger at the fact that the Nazis appropriated our spiritual symbols and concepts. It was festering rot, feasting on the corpse of indigenous European traditions, appropriating our symbols and our heritage for their purpose of hate. It wasn’t enough that my cultural heritage was decimated by religious persecution throughout European history, especially my spirituality, which was thoroughly destroyed by Christianity. Our symbols then became corrupted and mutilated by honorless Nazi thugs who worshipped nothing but their own pettiness, driving them to hatred.

My love for all difference and my fury against injustice runs deeper than words or reason. Spiritually, I seek liberation of the natural world and other-than-human life, and I extend that to the struggles of all different human peoples. You could say it is in my blood to be anti-fascist, to be a freedom fighter. My family escaped from Hungary as refugees and came to the United States seeking asylum. Members of my family fought in the Hungarian underground resistance. My existence could never have been if they resist oppression and leave their homeland.

 

Why do you think it is important to be a publicly antifascist band?  How does antifascism inform your music?

I think people are getting complacent with hate. Silence is the real problem. Artists must be willing to stand up and show others that they are not alone. I also think that some music groups wait too long to disclose their stances on important subjects like this for fear that it will limit their audience. I don’t know about them, but we don’t want fascists and white supremacists in our audience. They can fuck right off.

Anti-fascism informs our music in loving and seeing beauty in difference and in the necessity to do what we can as artists against hatred. We see our music as undermining the colonization of the world—singing against the destruction of wildlands, the erasure of indigenous beliefs and peoples, against voracious and spiritually empty consumerism and authoritarianism.

 

What kind struggles drive your work?  There is a strong sense of a need to a return to a cyclical, grounded way of life in communities.

I agree. To add to that, our music expresses this need to recognize the entire world of other-than-human life as part of that community. A few concepts that are important to us are the idea of “re-wilding,” David Abram’s notion of “becoming animal” and what the ecofeminist philosopher Donna Haraway calls “kin-making” and “companion species.” I see modern society as having this ill ideology of trying to leave behind nature and animal being, of trying to transcend themselves, of trying to domesticate and dominate everything, warring with their own natures, consuming the world to feed industry and Ego eating itself. Humans fail to even recognize that other animals have forms of intelligence and cognition that exceed their own, something that is fortunately being corrected by the scientific field of cognitive ethology. Traditions and spiritualities that celebrate being kin with the world, with animal life—of being part of an ecosystem instead of holding dominion over it—end up as victims of modernization. This is especially true for indigenous peoples who are deprived of the natural cycles and resources needed to sustain their life-ways. I see our music as embracing and conjuring our own animality to rejoin with our other-than-human animal brothers and sisters, to relearn how to live alongside the more-than-human world instead of enslaving and destroying it.

 

What’s coming next for you?

We currently have two major projects in the works. We just finished shooting for a short film/music video for our song “Vox Terrae,” and we mastered a live performance of the track to release as a single alongside the video. We are also working on writing and recording our next album. (Well, really it is two albums to be released side-by-side. The concept behind them is kind of insane. Can’t say more than that, yet.)

 

What other bands do you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?

Ulvesang, Hanggai, Tengger Cavalry, Garmarna, Heilung, Wardruna, Soriah, Tanya Tagaq, Paleowolf, Forndom, Jambinai, Bohemian Betyars. Julius Eastman is an unsung hero whose entire life’s work as a composer was dedicated to fighting racism and homophobia.  He was a queer black performer, and today his work should probably come with a trigger warning because his song titles often included the racial slurs that were being thrown at him during his life.  Part of it was he wanted the classical music community to look their own racism in the face every time his music was performed.

Moddi has been a longtime favorite of the whole band, a folk singer from Norway who melds haunting melodies with political activism. His album “Unsongs” is a must for anti-fascist artists and activists. The album is entirely made of songs banned by oppressive regimes. There are also documentaries about each song and its historic context on YouTube.

Below we are putting tracks from the latest album, Trickster God, as well as the most recent album before that, Treason to Our Nature.  We have also added tracks from Treason to Our Nature to the Antifascist Neofolk playlist on Spotify.

Chamber Music and Memory: An Interview with Deliverer

Modern music has lost the ability to play a tone to its logical conclusion, to allow extended sounds to drive a narrative structure that can draw out feelings like dread and drama.  The orchestral-neofolk solo project Deliverer rests entirely on competing tones, achieved by recentering the accordion into a drawn out baroque sound that feels equal part Hammer films soundtrack and Eyes Wide Shut house band, and we mean that as a huge compliment.

We were able to speak with Adam Matlock, the artist behind Deliverer, on what drives his sounds, the influence of Jewish cultural music and black spirituals, and how antifascism has to remain central to his work given his own identity.

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How did Deliverer first come together?  Did the project have an earlier incarnation?
I work a lot in the style of dungeon synth, which is often similarly in the orbit of black metal/extreme metal in the way that neofolk is. At some point I was practicing some riffs on the accordion, and the acoustic sound was very alluring, so I started recording and composing on the spot. It was something I’d wanted to do for awhile, and as I wrote it, a story came together that it felt like I needed to tell.
You can see where pagan folk traditions have such a heavy influence in how neofolk has developed, and what keeps drawing people to it.  Were you drawn to folk music traditions when forming Deliverer?
I have always felt a connection to old folk traditions, although I never had a ton of personal connection through them in my upbringing – so many of them I have admired from a distance. But it is also so easy for these things to get wrapped up in nationalism that has also kept me a bit removed from them. There are many Black American folk magic and pagan traditions that I don’t have as much connection to.
I’m especially a fan of Scandinavian and similarly influenced projects like most of what Einar Selvik is connected to, Ulver’s Kveldssanger and the like. But I’ve also looked to bands like Deveykus and Zeal and Ardor who have tried to incorporate Hasidic music and Black spirituals respectively into a metal sound, insisting on making space for themselves and their sounds in the larger umbrella of the scene.
How did you develop your sound, and how do you define it?  What instruments do you use?
I had always wanted to make Neo folk, but never did because I didn’t play guitar. But as I’ve gotten older I guess I’ve been able to get less attached to my specific expectations of a sound or a project, so, getting purely beyond the very limited Scandinavian or English folk influences that often show up in neofolk. Once I started writing, the story drove me more than my doubts about the sound I was developing. It was important for me to keep it mostly acoustic, so it would feel separate from my dungeon synth projects, so for the debut release I used only accordion, voice, recorder, and percussion. Limiting the sound palette helped to keep the ideas flowing. And I was thinking of this project as a sort of imaginary neofolk, compiled from various musical influences as well as a kind of chaotic collage of impressions of cultures showing their opposition to an oppressor.
There is a real feel of classical organ or chamber music in the album.  Was classical or romantic era orchestral music important when you were writing it?
The accordion definitely has a chamber organ sound for sure. I listen to some organ music, but if that shows up in this release it was unconscious. I play a lot of Klezmer and so there were some conscious Jewish music influences, particularly Nign, which is a style of wordless melody that when sung in a group feels like time is stretching. I grew up singing Black spirituals which were passed through my family, and there are elements of that music that shows up behind the surface in a lot of my projects – in this project especially having some kind of call and response relationship between the voice and the instruments. I’m definitely very moved by Scandinavian fiddle music (which only seems to slightly influence Scandi inspired neofolk), but the way the fiddlers in that style pass their tunes down and harmonize together is really inspiring to me.
What drives your commitment to antifascism?  Have you experienced a lot of white supremacist attitudes in the pagan and neofolk scene?
I am Black and mixed race. It’s hard to think of fascism as a benign thing for me, whether or not the attitudes are sincere or just aesthetic based. For those reasons I’ve often been removed from the metal scenes except on the internet, which is where people are the worst about that sort of thing. I’ve probably been to less than 10 black metal shows in 20 years of listening to the music for that reason, so I’ve encountered only minimal amounts of it in person. But the way we’ve seen conversations about this sort of thing become more meme-y and less about sincere connection, I’ve found that I’ve run out of patience with the jokey edgy humor, with the kind of intellectual shell-game that people play with weaponized ideology.
Why is it important to you to remain a public antifascist in a scene so known for its far-right or “apolitical” stance??  How does antifascism inform your music?
It’s important to me because to some, my presence in the scene is unacceptable. This is why it’s important to me to assert myself as an artist in neofolk, in black metal, in dungeon synth.  Besides that, I think the attitudes in neofolk, of looking to the past as an explicit transgression of social norms, have their logical opposite in the assimilation of fascism, and I am frequently astonished at how often people forget that. We are already, as modern people, given the chance to learn from history even as we look to the past and tradition for liberation, so it doesn’t serve anyone to blindly recreate that without some sifting through.
What really moves you through writing music like this, is it a sense of story or social commitment?  What really drives the work?
For me a lot of what moves me is narrative, storytelling. To me all the most compelling arguments involve storytelling in some way.  Through a combination of music and accompanying flavor text, I hope to convey some of what occupies a lot my thought processes: about growth, resilience, and resistance in a world that is deeply biased, somehow, against most of its inhabitants. But I feel like talking about these things through narrative is a good reminder to all of us that this kind of work is an ongoing thing, not a constant state of being that, once attained, needs no further attention or maintenance.
Also, the transportive element of music like neofolk is a nice balm for some of the harsher elements of modern society, which is sometimes necessary for anybody with an active awareness of the world.
What’s coming next for you?
I’ve been performing some pieces live from the Deliverer debut (Smother) with a crew of people that I do some other styles of trad folk with. At this point it’s just a part of our repertoire, mixed in alongside other trad pieces at our shows.  But I hope to write and record more for this project, including some material with lyrics, and get a consistent set together for live performance if the opportunity arises.
What bands would your recommend for an antifascist neofolk audience?
I’ve found it hard to vet things myself since so many on the internet seem to thrive on obfuscation, which is one of the reasons I’m so grateful for the work you’re doing with this blog. I will have my answer as you keep updating!
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We are putting Deliverer’s new album, Smother, below so you can listen to it from Bandcamp.  Unfortunately, they are not available yet on Spotify so you will have to wait to add them to the Antifascist Neofolk Spotify playlist.  We will be adding a couple of new bands to that list later this week, so stay tuned!

Decolonize Neofolk With Aztra

Just as with we did with Panopticon, we are diverting from our focus a bit for a band that is not known primarily for its neofolk tracks, but is still so indebted to the genre that they deserve attention.  Aztra is an Ecuadorian metal band based out of Quito that has made regional folk music the core of their sound since their founding in 2005, drawing out in the same way that the revival of Northern European country folk music built the core of early neofolk bands.  This cultural revival has a point for Aztra, particularly drawing out the importance of the indigenous folkways of Ecuador that have been erased through centuries of settler colonialism.

It is that folk metal sound that links together their six full length albums, ranging between explosive and stagey metal songs and neofolk that sources much of its instrumentation and rhythm to the indigenous communities that the band members come from.  There is a certain fusion at work, between epic metal coming out of the late 80s American scene and regional folk music,patched together into a tapestry that is both wholly original and reminiscent of Latin American metal bands of the 90s. Aztra is not afraid to go over the top, to wail in the way that 3 Inches of Blood or Dragonforce did, which is why songs about liberation and class war are still so fun.  The infusion of Amorfino, Sanjuanito, and the kind of songwriter finger-picked guitar makes it feel as though anything could surface because there is such a well of musical history to pull from.

Because Aztra is definitely more of a metal band we are spending a little less time on them, but their anarchist and anti-colonial roots make them perfectly centered for our mission, and since they drive heavily into the neofolk scene we think they should be included.  This is especially true with albums like Guerreros (2016) and Raíces Latinoamérica (2012) where they allow the folk music to really bring us back to the stories of home.  It is their 2010 live album Acústico Vivo that we are going to embed because it so perfectly fits the neofolk parameters, especially when we think of neofolk as an international phenomenon that draws on folk music traditions of different regions.  This is important as we demolish the Eurocentric perspective on the genre that has been driven by the far-right scene and prioritize indigeneity around the globe.

It is also in Acústico Vivo where a certain passion erupts, the return to the Latin ballad, and a broad range of instrumentation, including the wooden flute that stands out in neofolk.  There is a rhythmic pacing to each song that never feels as though it is backing away from the epic intensity that their metal songs are branded with.

Aztra’s name comes from the sugar mill where workers went on strike in 1977, but were attacked by the dictatorial forces.  They are vocal in their opposition to the economic globalization offered by the World Bank and IMF, particularly how it affects indigenous communities in the global south.  Lyrics to songs like Hijos del Sol speak to this:

We sing for the child and because everything

And because some future and because the people

We sing because the survivors

And our dead want us to sing

We sing because the scream is not enough

And it’s not enough cry or anger

We sing because we believe in people

And because we will defeat defeat

We sing because the sun recognizes us

And because the field smells like spring

And because on this stem in that fruit

Every question has its answer

We sing because it rains over the groove

And we are militants of life

And because we can’t even want

Let the song become ash.

The band hopes that their music will serve as inspiration in the same way that music has always powered vibrancy and resistance in Ecuador.  The album Guerreros, which is ‘warrior’ in Spanish, burned this spirit into the record.

Warriors born as a proposal of social resistance, day by day we live constantly fighting from any space and from any stage, to each of the members and militants of our people, that makes us warriors. Our trench is art. We are warrior workers of the art that we are looking for day to day better conditions of life for our towns.

This means truly rethinking what struggle is, outside of the confines of what anarchism has offered before, and instead with  “each song we are always proposing new ways of building a different and fairer society.”

We are putting an Acústico Vivo track below for you to check out (but no Bandcamp, unfortunately), and we have added several Aztra songs to the Antifascist Neofolk Spotify playlist.  Check out both below:

And, as always, add the Spotify Antifascist Neofolk Playlist!

Nuwisha, Portland’s Eco-Neofolk Band Bringing DIY Back to the Scene

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The wooded strip of land that runs along the coast West of the Cascade Mountains seems to draw its own sound, meted out of the deep woods and the terror of deforestation and ecological collapse.  Nuwisha makes perfect sense as it is part and parcel of this environmental inspiration that comes from “cascadia,” the western region of Oregon and Washington that stands out as a unique bioregion.  Like other cascadian bands, particularly black metal projects like Wolves in the Throne Room, there is a “cascadia scene” of bands coming out of the woods, with their music tied deeply to what the natural world inspires and the fierce rage that is sparked in its defense.

We first came across Nuwisha on Red and Anarchist Black Metal (RABM), which noted that it really is a blackened neofolk project because of the black metal elements like a grinding guitar that appears as a layer under some songs or the screeching vocals.  These are really intermittent, and it feels more like Current 93 in the vocal style than Empyrium. You get the sense when listening to their debut demo and their 2013 album Solitary are the Winter Woods that this is a DIY project, driven people getting together and performing and recording it themselves.  

While it is a diverse and eclectic sound, there is a conscious effort to appeal to the neofolk scene, even including a musical interlude halfway through called “Winter Interlude (A Song of Ice and Fire).”  The lyrics are classic neofolk fare, focusing on the cycles of natures, the celebrations of the equinox and Ostara, and calling back to an earth-centered view of what creates vibrance in a community. The stifled cold of winter plays its own character in the album, which is the kind of mournful cry that often gives neofolk that bitter call, the kind of thing that is perfect for your Yule sunset playlist.

The band launched its first demo, Laughter on the Wind, 2012 in Portland, Oregon by Rowan WalkingWolf, who is noted by RABM to be one of their readers and how they were keyed into the band even though it may be a little past their scope.  The eco-anarchist perspective was highlighted there, saying that it was the “profound experiences in and deep ecological connections with the Cascadian landbase and by dreams of the inevitable annihilation of civilization and the aftermath thereof.”  This is reminiscent of many of the hardcore projects that lingered around Earth First! In the 1990s, like Earth Crisis. Rowan has a second neofolk project, Sparrowhawk, which we will profile in the future, which also has members of the Portland synth-folk ensemble Plantrae (we will probably get to them too).

Nuwisha seems to be on hold right now since they have not had a major release since 2013, which likely owes to the fact that Rowan is running around starting up new projects around cascadia.  This is common in this sort of scene, constantly reinventing the sound, starting new bands and solo projects, and finding any way of making something unique in a flurry of Bandcamp releases.

Nuwisha is not on Spotify, so we will just put the Bandcamp embedding here to check out.  We may start doing an alternative playlist function so we can keep bringing in bands not found on Spotify.