Folk Romantique: An Interview With I Sing to Barbelo

As the antifascist neofolk community continues to grow, we are seeing an intersecting web of artists and projects form, the hallmark of artistic subculture. With this we have been chasing new projects from what are now old friends. That is true of the neofolk project I Sing to Barbelo, the new endeavor from Abigail Maven Goren who we have interviewed before for their bands Poppet and Lodge of Research. Goren dove more fully into the world of neofolk for I Sing to Barbelo, and developed a hauntingly beautiful collage with her first album Cathartic Rebirth, which meditates on the subjective experiences of gender and the totality of love.

We talked with Goren about what experiences drove this album, how present the idea of love is in the work, and how this amazing step forward plays into the larger world of revolutionary neofolk.

How did this project first come together?

I Sing to Barbelo was thought of in the summer of 2020, when I fell back in love with neofolk as a genre. I really wanted to create more in that style, especially neofolk that captures progressve themes. Around the same time I was grappling with the COVID pandemic, and moved to Western Washington from NYC for a change of scenery after college. During all of this I was dealing with a lot of gender dysphoria and confusion with my identity. I Sing to Barbelo was made to reconcile the queer side of myself with the side of myself that loves extreme and uncompromising music. A cover of the at-the-time recent Dorian Electra song “Give Great Thanks” (about BDSM as a metaphor for social inequities) was the first track I worked on knowing it was for a neofolk project, right before I moved to Tacoma.

How does gender experiences influence this project?

I don’t think any trans person truly experiences transness in the same way, although there are often similarities. A major part of my experience was reconciling the me who loves bizarre metal, occultism, asceticism and gothic imagery with the me who is a bisexual trans woman. Back in 2016, I became incredibly hyperfixated on the concept of asceticism and being a monk. When I realized that I wasn’t male in 2019, I realized that these dreams of wanting to do and consume everything I had to give up. Ironically I had to renunciate being a monk. This is the meaning of “so too must I give up being a monk as I continue on the road to gnosis.” Barbelo, the “Triple Androgynous Name” and an explicitly gender non-conforming female principle in gnosticism was a major figure embodying this sort of grand contradiction. Building a deeply mystical and mythical transness instead of assimilating into the LGBTQ community was important for me.

How does the concept of romance play into this album? What is the love in the work?

The love is in two parts:love for one’s self and embracing yourself as a total person, as well as love and support between trans people. 2020 was a good year to no one, and I was not the same. The ways of getting myself through this pandemic often focused on me connecting with other trans people online and sharing, agreeing, and disagreeing with our experiences. Compassion is a virtue we all need to learn, not only for others going through struggles of identity, faith, and gender; but also for ourselves, even if we think we’re doing fine.
How do you understand the concept of romanticism in your music?

Romanticism was a major selling point for getting into neofolk – In I Sing To Barbelo, I’m trying to create a deeply loving, emotional and romantic aesthetic, continued in projects such as Jouissance. It is not only a 19th century aesthetic and cultural movement, but at the time was an important gathering place for anarchists. Percy Blythe Shelly and his poem “The Masque of Anarchy” shows how this imagery can be used for liberation rather than continuing hegemonic oppression. I see a lot of aspects of wild and free Romanticism in the art of Osamu Tezuka, whose art I loved as a child. Anime iconography is an important part of the trans milleu online, and I think Tezuka’s art helps bridge the gap.

Talk a bit about your production process, what does it look like? How does it work on the technical side? How do you plan on doing live performances?

The acoustic sections (and some martial segments) were made from me sampling acoustic guitar loops on Logic Pro X. Every sound you hear besides my heavily reverbed vocals were created on Logic without any external instruments. All of the vocals were done in one shot, as well as the performance of synths and strings, giving it a raw and unpolished flavor. I can’t play acoustic guitar well at all, so as such I decided to sample and loop presets and reinterpret them in a way that is uniquely me. Likewise all of the covers were done in one take. If I did live performances I would rely heavily on loops of guitar riffs while I play synth lines and sing.

How does this stray from your earlier work?

I’d like to think that I Sing To Barbelo is an important marker in my development as a musician. My early dungeon synth as Poppet was made without a knowledge of dungeon synth (or even black metal) as genres. With this project I am trying to come in as a music enthusiast, not only for neofolk and martial industrial, but also hyperpop, which I was listening to a lot of at the time.

How did you select the covers you did? What themes were significant to you?

During the summer of 2020, I got heavily back into the experimental maximalist pop of 100 Gecs and Dorian Electra. It felt almost utopian in the time of a vast and deadly global pandemic, as well as it having a very tight-knit community who loved and held experimental, genre-blending music in high regard. While I have seen a lot of lo-fi indie folk covers of these songs, it was hard to find covers and reinterpretations in genres that truly mattered to me, so I decided to take my own irreverent spin.

How did the shared experience of 2020 affect your process?

As referenced before, no one had a good time in 2020, and even though it was an incredibly significant year for almost every aspect of me, it’s important to recognize that even though we may be going through intensely deep and personal struggles, we are not alone, we have each others backs. In the word of Martin Prince from the Simpsons “Individually, we are small twigs, but together, we form a mighty faggot.” If queer people work together against oppression, we are unstoppable.

What track is going to be in the new Left Folk compilation? How did you select it?

“Our True Love is Revolutionary,” which is a love song made for my girlfriend Jenny. This spoken word track is focused around the sheer power of trans relationships, If we learn to love each other and ourselves, we shall prevail. A trans lesbian relationship, at least in my experience holds no dynamic you see in a traditional straight relationships, rather it is rhizomatic, as opposed to being arborescent .It’s always fun to do stuff for people you love, especially in your own unique way.

What do you think the impact of building this explicitly antifascist neofolk community has been?

I have been much more involved in the antifascist dungeon synth community, but these circles have major overlap. I hope eventually we can see a project prolific enough it can properly replace harmful yet admittedly stirring works. As of now antifascist neofolk seems to be more rooted in dark and nordic aesthetics rather than the strange lysergic industrial of Current 93 I so love. Neofolk, like any genre, can be used to express any emotion and through any lens. We shouldn’t let nazis have a genre so rich in imagery and emotion.

What’s coming next?

I have some dark, atmospheric tracks with Poppet I am working on putting out, but my computers are in a state of disrepair, and as such it may take a while for the new Barbelo. Expect something soon for certain though! Creating unique music is my life.

Click here to listen to I Sing to Barbelo on Bandcamp!

I Sing to Barbelo is not on Spotify yet, but we will add it to our playlist when it is. Make sure to follow the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify!