Historically, the name “neofolk” refers to the folk music wave in sixties of last century, when the folk music consults social anti-establishment dissenters of many kinds. Neofolk as a music genre and also as the cultural phenomenon generated much controversy and has both numerous opponents as well as hot supporters. We invite you to read entirely subjective, synthetic attempt to explain the phenomenon under the common name of “neofolk”.
- What is this neofolk?
- Check yourself, you lazy bastard
(Dialogue from archive of “Play Louder” web forum)
- Are you still "against the modern world”?
- I am a traditionalist, but I am very happy with the fact there is a modern stomatology for instance. "
(Interview with Ian Read (Fire + Ice) from the Swiss “Heimdallr” zin)
Neofolk history can be easily reduced to a few musical projects. Nay, a historic core of neofolk can even bring to a few personalities.
In 1976, the two musicians Tony Wakeford and Douglas Pearce (later known as Douglas P.) began their cooperation. It was not yet true neofolk project, but both gentlemen knew their capabilities, and this cooperation had put strong emphasis on their future music. Later on, they became important figures. Douglas P. founded “Death In June” and Tony Wakeford – “Sol Invictus”.
Ian Read was a singer on the “Current 93” and “Death In June”. This is yet another very important person of neofolk scene. Read together with Wakeford was the contributor to the “Sol Invictus”. David Tibet in 1985 started “Current 93”. You can also mention here Steven Stapleton which in 1985 started “Nurse With Wound” with the spiritual patronage of Genesis P. Orridge ''s. And it is pretty much entire company. In time there was of course more and more people but there is no sense to list everybody here.
Stylistic framework of genre
Neofolk in its classic form draws actually a little bit from original folk music. However, it is not easy to identify the framework of neofolk itself. For the newbie who listen to last “Ice Fire”, the old “Death In June” and “Tenhi” it is very difficult to believe that all of them are within the same musical style.
We can hear acoustic guitar chords, sometimes violin, flute, trumpet or Horn, often linked to delicate electronics. Sometimes you can also find light percussion lining (eg, bodhran). All covered with male (but not always!), pure vocals, which are modeled in a specific manner.
These instruments are heard especially in the music of German bands of neofolk second wave. Here you can mention such groups as “Forseti”, “Waldteufel”, late “Empyrium” (yes, the old metal Empyrium, as well), and “Tenhi” or “Scivias” from outside of Germany. Sure, they are only a few examples. It is not mistake to point out the “Empyrium” here. The band is behind one of the best doom metal albums, and they needed a couple of years to reorientation from metal to neofolk music. While the first album of the band after break is still an experiment, the "Weiland" is a great example of a mature neofolk record. Full of calm guitars, flute, oboe, etc. But not just those, because neofolk loves references to industrial or ambient music.
Another genre, related to neofolk (and sometimes even named as neofolk) is a martial music. It is a specific kind of music, based on pompous sounds: marching rhythms, massive instruments which bring into mind war machine (drums, speech samples and military songs elements etc. )
The albums covers abound in martial and martyrologic symbols, photos or pictures from World War II. Music contains heavy trance and industrial drones, looped sounds and sometimes typical neofolk inclusions.
The well-known representative of the genre is “Der Blutharsch” - side project of Albin Julius, the maker of heavy trance “The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath a Cloud”. The name “martial music” has been used by Gerhard, the creator of the band “Allerseelen”, somewhat well-known representative of the genre. Other representatives are Dernière Volonté, Blood Axis, Herr Von Thronstahl and more.
In terms of music it is difficult to designate the strict boundaries of neofolk music. Neofolk musicians are very happy to enter the field of other genres, especially industrial, (eg. Blutharsch), dark ambient, dark wave, neoclassical and medieval music. Somewhere on the boundaries of neofolk, you can come across such a different groups as “Ataraxia”, “Argine”, “Hagalaz''s Runedance”, “Endure” or “Protagonist”, despite the fact that they are not strictly neofolk bands.
Neofolk bands (including martial) cause a number of controversies because of the content accompanying their music. Indeed, on the records covers there are many graphics inspired by militarism, aesthetics of the Third Reich or Italian Novecento of Mussolinii. Also the samples of speeches related to Wehrmacht, Third Reich, cult of the fate in soldier may became for some people not acceptable. “Death In June” for example was prohibited to give a concerts Switzerland (in a joint route with the ”Fire and Ice” and “Der Blutharsch”, interestingly, the other Bands have not been banned). During one Wave Gotik Treffen edition in Leipzig one of the concerts was almost canceled due to the protests of collectivist organisations. The reason was a tradition of the presence of WGT nefolk bands on a separate stage. Death In June fans were brought into fight by against anti-racist activists before DIJ concert in Chicago and the concert was eventually canceled. The band is often accused of defamation by the famous Jewish Anti-Defamation League. In 2005, in Germany DIJ album "Rose Clouds of Holocaust" was officially withdrawn from sale. I fact the acquisitions neofolk bands of fascination and promotion of fascism is a major simplification. The heroic martial cult in the neofolk music is not strictly limited to history of Wehrmacht. Moreover, Douglas Pearce, the founder of DIJ is a declared homosexual, which is not ideally in line with the ideas of Nazism. Neofolk groups often refer to pan-germanism, neo-paganism and also esoteric contents.
Sometimes they are also fascinated with the philosophy of Baron Julius Evoli, Oswaldo Sprengler and the works of Leni Riefenstahl. It is hard to find better examples of neo-pagan anthem then "Wonderful Wonderful Sun", "Summer Solstice" and "Winter Solstice" of “The Wand And The Moon”. The creators of neofolk are inspired by common inheritance of Europe free from both Christian and Judeo-Christian influences. Many neofolk musicians had expressed their Pan-European and European based spiritual fascinations of domestic values and therefore not Judeo-Christian cultural inclusions.
Douglas Pearce (DIJ) noted: "I do not lie to myself. Ia a am terrified. I fear og the future of Europe and its security, European Union, full of beurocrats, businessman, and criminals seams to not matter a lot.”
Therefore, in 1993 Death In June, was supporting Croatian side conflict in Balkan conflict. According to the DIJ leader, Douglas Pearce, the Serbs represented an option that threatens European civilization. DIJ gave a concert in Croatia, recorded on the CD, and Pearce helped financially with the purchase of equipment for the rehabilitation clinic of wounded Croatian soldiers.
If you go back and take a look on Ian Read, the leader of “Fire Ice” you may realize that Read is very much involved in the Nordic beliefs, but also leads occultist magazine “Chaos International”. The keyboards and album covers of neofolk bands are often decorated by runic, swastikas and esoteric symbols. There is a general link to the Germanic neo-paganic odynism. In addition to German tradition, there are also links to Celtic, Slavic and also classical Greek and Roman.
As for the graphics layer, you can identify some recurring elements, which are roughly linked to the aesthetics of German Heimat. For example, the use gothic font, pictures and images from thirties of previous century showing glorification of nature and commitment to the traditional life-style, Wandervogel movement etc.
Neofolk definitely is not an easy to describe the phenomenon by simple typologies. It seems that in this case the matter controls form. For example, on one “Death In June” record, you can hear neofolk music, but also linked to industrial, ambient and even pop.
There are a lot of neofolk bands, whose names were not listed in this text. I had no intention to point out all of them, because it is simply a waste of space. I recommend looking for it your own. The article is only intended to signal issues largely based on my reflections, so I do not have intention to be an oracle in this matter. In nature there is no single homogeneous phenomenon, and this is also the case in neofolk music.
I am sure you have your own thoughts and experiences with neofolk, which can be shared on the forum here.
I had used the Wikipedia and individual bands sites, record companies sites and zines. The unquestionable help was provided by excellent publications of Krzysztof Azarewicz published in Anxious.exe Zine: "Death In June czyli Something is coming" and "Sol Invictus - apocalyptic folk in the last few days of known world."