…but one thing is for sure: when I start wading through the thickets of accusations and counteraccusations, rumor-mongering, sectarian and factional grudge-slinging and post-Situationist po-faced “pranksterism” around the neo-folk / neo-pagan scene, I get the exact same headache I used to get when I was a teenager trying to figure out the American Communist left by reading RCP and SWP newspapers (if you don’t know those acronyms, good for you – all you need to know is that they were / are both claiming the True Marxist mantle for themselves, and they loathe each other).
Out on the fringes of politics and ideology there lies a sticky morass of extremism and paranoia that manifests itself in seemingly incomprehensible shifts in belief, where people will go from hard, statist left to hard, individualist right, without stopping at any point in between. It’s the same phenomenon that produces former-Trotskyite neocons like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, only with much less disastrous consequences (Douglas P may be a jerk, but he hasn’t (successfully) started any land wars in Asia lately). In the case of neo-folk, though, art is involved, and art necessarily involves ambiguity. The problem of figuring out who actually believes what and who is a lying sack of shit becomes completely intractable, so there’s this peculiar Schrödinger’s box, within which a group like Sol Invictus is either a bunch of neo-Nazi meat puppets or kindly, misunderstood friends to Jew and puppy alike, or Death In June are either in hock to Croatian war criminals or bemused visitors to the region who donated money to innocent victims of the Balkan war. If you care about not giving your time and money to people whose principles you abhor, sorting through these messes can be troubling and maddening in equal measure.
To get a flavor for the complete vacuum of truth this sort of churning strife engenders, first read this hatchet job on Sol Invictus by Stewart Home (his Wikipedia talk page is more germane than the Wikipedia entry itself), and then read this confused atttempt to grapple with it on the blog of some innocent bystander caught in the crossfire. To me, it seems inescapable that the neo-pagan crowd has an awful lot invested in keeping their politics as amorphous as possible (mostly to keep their audiences from devouring themselves in an orgy of mutual loathing – fans of neo-folk run across the political spectrum. Black shirts and jackboots for some, tiny pagan flags for others!); it’s more telling to me if (IF!) Albin Julius of Der Blutharsch is an admirer of Jörg Haider than if he’s gone out of his way to make friends with SOME Israelis (as my good buddy Joel forcefully pointed out to me recently, it’s possible to find Israelis who are fans of just about anything, which means that you can’t exactly treat Der Blutharsch having Israeli fans as being equivalent to them getting [K] stamped on their asses by the Rabbinate of Jerusalem).
More materially, Home wrote a foreword for a booklet of Sol Invictus lyrics in the 90s. If he thinks Tony Wakeford is a tubby sack of Nazi shit (he seems to be very fond of calling Tony Wakeford a fat man), what’s that all about? And then there’s the Green Anarchism controversy (search for “stewart home” down the page)… it’s all a big fucking mess, and I’m thankful I don’t have to care.
The thing to take away from this is the disorienting sensation that you have fallen completely through the rabbit hole into a world where nobody ever tells the truth if they can wrap it up in a few layers of obfuscatory ideological nonsense first. I’m no closer to determining whether or not Death In June, Sixth Comm, Sol Invictus and a bunch of the other World Serpent neo-folk bands are closet servants of Space Hitler. For now, the fact that nothing conclusive presents itself is probably good enough; I can’t plausibly be a fan of black metal and own records featuring participation by convicted hate criminals and object too strenuously to artists who at least attempt to keep their politics private. (To completely muddy the waters, the most entertaining English-language source on the violent origins of Scandinavian black metal is Lords of Chaos, written by Michael Moynihan, member of Blood Axis and himself despised as a fascist neo-pagan by much of the far left.)
Of course, it’s worth pointing out that my whole train of thought initially started from investigating Death In June’s use of the totenkopf as part of their visual identity – a symbol, paradoxically, that is much more loaded when it is adopted by an English musician than by a German of any stripe, even though its use is illegal in modern Germany. For good and for ill, the totenkopf is part of German cultural heritage, and is much more plausibly adopted as an ambiguous / problematic / “reclaimed” symbol by someone who inherits from that culture than a self-styled “history student” from outside the context – particularly when that same person, like Douglas P, carries around a four-foot-tall metallized version of the logo on a banner he carries with him when he plays live to this day.
Which illustrates, finally, a point that is obvious to me now but wasn’t when I got into the spooky stuff as a curious and alienated teenager, which is that one of the risks of being a fan of dark, marginal and extreme art is that it is easy to fall prey to mental contamination. For every romantic who finds passion in extremity, there is someone much colder seeking to speak to the darkness in others and manipulate it for their own ends. Some dark art is beautiful and much of it is compelling, but it requires confrontation and self-analysis if you’re to avoid succumbing to the bullshit that comes along with it. Just appreciating it for what it is and not paying attention to the context isn’t enough, if you want to keep your hands clean.
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