Sieben Has Created the Anthem of Antifascist Neofolk

In the entrenched world of neofolk, it takes a unique commitment to an individual vision for the solo-project Sieben to have stood against the far-right for this long.  Sieben is the work of musician Matt Howden, who is also behind the independent record label Redroom Records.  Howden has always described Sieben as “one-man rawchestra” with a heavy focus on layering samples into a collage that builds on itself over a songspace.  This is how we can best describe Sieben, as a musical painting that builds on its presence in a cycle of invention that you rarely find in an ensemble built on live performances.

In his new album, the rage-tinged crumbs, gets into his anger over the current state of Britain, primarily racist fake news, massively growing inequality, and the toxic xenophobia of Brexit.  

“Do you want crumbs from the rich man’s table?”

“A hundred men with half the world’s wealth is a sickness.”

The title of the album comes from “Crumbs from the rich man’s table,” and it is this rage about the xenophobia employed by the rich to exploit Britain’s working class that creates both the moral and passionate center of the album.  crumbs develops a looping tension that builds up steam, a feature that is common to Sieben’s entire catalogue, and with the shorter tracks it avoids the potential emotional burnout.  This makes sense for an album on a mission, one that forgoes the fluff so it can get to the heart of the matter.

The lyrics for the track “Liberal Snowflake, “a reference to the common insult of leftists by the Alt Right, make it clear what Howden sees as important.

Thought I’d just lay down some basic ground rules, being that all I’ve done is moan so far…Treat all people fairly. Men and women respected the same. Be kind, decent. No poor. None with less than enough. No shareholder, but all. Let there be rich, that do not flourish on the backs of others, nor nature, nor resource. None with more than one hundred times another. Beyond that, fund a sustainable world; water, food and power for all. Nature respected. The Earth, our home. Breed less, consume less, work less, play more. No war. A million tribes and no tribe, but all. No religion but our better nature. Defunct practice dropped, the true root embraced: Good thoughts, words, actions. Laws that enshrine these, minds that do not seek to circumvent these. Break the destructive pattern of humanity’s history. Harness our collective drive and will, our life force, our creativity. Sustain and build a world that truly works. Develop ourselves. Explore the stars. As one tribe, our limits are endless.

Brexit plays its own character in crumbs, which Howden clearly sees as a rightist disaster.  In “Sell Your Future” he lays out what the working class has been asked to do with Brexit, to sell out their dreams for petty nationalism

Leave guns and morals by the door. Here’s a heart, a spleen, a Brexit-ear in which to scream ‘sell your future’. Roll up, roll up, for cut-price stock. Govern-less, and out to hock.

Sieben’s motivation strays as far as possible from that of the obsessive and destructive nationalism of bands like Allerseelen and Spiritual Front, and instead rallies on a sort of left populism against racism and the ruling class, making it a universally left alternative to much of the scene.  He avoids a lot of the neofolk cliches (anyone want a Nordic sigil on the cover of a dark gray album?), which has allowed him to constantly reinvent his sound, moving from something more in line with the diffuse melodies of Fire + Ice (a Nazi band if there ever was one) to a sound that interweaves everything from shoegaze to darkwave.

The entire breadth of Sieben’s work is impressive, with more than a dozen albums going back almost twenty years.  We are particularly fans of The Old Magic (2016), which draws on 90s shoegaze and alt rock and mixes it with a true-to-form neofolk, a synthesis that feels sometimes like Smashing Pumpkins trying to play Rome songs.  

Howden has been been quite open about his own politics, particularly in reviling the fetishism of “European culture” so prevalent in the scene.

What Sieben is best known for (at least in our scene) is their public declaration against the far-right in their folk drone anthem “Rite Against the Right” off of their 2007 album Desire Rites.  This song was an intentional provocation to bands like Death in June, who are obsessed with their own pretentious Third Positionism and Strasserite Nazi symbolism.

You sad bands,

you poor Nazi boys,

I hope you get a history book

or lessons in consequences

Licking the dregs of evil-

it’s feeble

You sad bands,

you poor Nazi boys Using symbols to shock

because your music is cock

Using symbols to shock because your music is piss-poor

Desire Rites may be the perfect neofolk classic album, baked deeply in the symbolic melody of ritual, magic performed for headphones and the kind of silent contemplation that is better when shared.

Sieben’s work requires a commitment and journey, and we encourage you to really dive in to what is an underappreciated grandmaster in the world of neofolk.  It could be his perfect commitment to his own vision, both personally and politically, that has kept him out of the mainline neofolk scene dominated by brownshirts.  We are putting several choice selections here, and have include “Rite Against the Right” above, and we have added several additional Sieben tracks to the Antifascist Neofolk playlist on Spotify.  



‘Out of the Shadows’ is a Queer-Trans Inclusive Darkwave Festival Happening in Portland

Out of the Shadows popped onto our radar this last week out of nowhere with a fantastic line-up all backed up an incredible mission.  Focusing on bringing darkwave and similar music to Portland, the festival is now in its fifth year and will be taking place over three days (April 4th-6th at the Tonic Lounge) and is a fundraiser for the progressive radio station and Trans Lifeline, a support center for providing critical resources to the trans community.

Making darkwave a way to help mobilize support for a transgender community under siege by the far-right in the U.S. does more than just raise money: it creates a physical space that declares right up front that it is queer and trans inclusive.  We caught up with the organizer Dave Cantrell to ask about the festival and why it is important to build open LGBT support in the darkwave and post-punk scene.


So first, what got you started doing the festival, and how has it grown since you started?

Out From The Shadows (OFTS) began in 2015 as on outgrowth of Songs From Under the Floorboard, the post-punk/darkwave radio show I host on XRAY fm here in Portland. The local scene was blossoming so dynamically that it seemed a good idea, and the right time, for an event bringing everyone together to both give exposure to the bands and to, in a way, celebrate what was happening. That first event was just a one-night affair with seven local bands, one from Olympia and one from Vancouver B.C., but the reception was enthusiastic enough to propel it into becoming a yearly event. Word kind of got out and I started getting requests from bands from out-of-state, which, in turn, made me realize this could work on a bigger scale so I began inviting bands from around the country and beyond, at which point year two became a 2-nighter and in 2017 it became the 3-night festival it is now.


How did you get connected with Trans Lifeline, and why is it important to you?

OFTS has been a benefit since the beginning. All proceeds beyond paying the artists, the venue, and whatever other ancillary costs, go to the beneficiary, which for the first three years was XRAY, a progressive, non-profit, listener-supported community radio station. Beginning last year, however, I decided to incorporate a co-beneficiary from the local or local-impacting community of LGBQTIA organizations, due primarily to the fraught political environment we all now find ourselves in, but as well because both my daughters are gay and much of the darkwave community itself, both here and pretty much everywhere, locates themselves somewhere along that spectrum. As for how I got connected to Trans Lifeline, there was an article about their efforts in the local alt.weekly (Willamette Week) and, y’know, the light bulb went off.


Why is it important to create an inclusive space in the darkwave scene?

Well, for one because all spaces should be, by definition, inclusive, but since that is not always the case, it’s of course important to provide safe environments for those that, simply by identifying as ‘other’ in some way, continue to feel imperiled in the broader society. And the fact that there’s been a notable regression in this regard since the 2016 election makes it all the more crucial. But anyway, for the most part, punk and its off-shoots have always been a place for self-identified outsiders to find safe harbor. One of the aspects of OFTS that’s most rewarding, actually, is the atmosphere that permeates the festival. It’s not unusual to tangibly feel a kind of electric joy in the room. That alone is reason to keep it going.


‘Out of the Shadows V” is hosted by XRAY’s Songs From Under the Floorboard radio show and Soundcontrol PDX and will be held on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night at the Tonic Lounge (3100 NE Sandy, Portland)

Check out a few of this year’s bands on Bandcamp!