By Arne Gräfrath
Originally from D-A-S-H.org
To start out with, an explanation of the term, ‘wave and gothic scene’, or subculture: in the following essay, this term refers to the whole spectrum of the so-called ‘black scene’ with all its sub-genres like dark wave, gothic, EBM, industrial, fetish, etc. This is done knowing that some will therefore be forced into a niche where they don’t belong.
Since about the end of the 1980s, far-right tendencies have been observed again and again in the bands of the wave and gothic scene. But neither general (far-right) developments can be defined in the wave/gothic scene (WGS), nor can the attitudes of or statements made by groups or individual people be seen to be representative of the musical and cultural scene as a whole. This article addresses accepted phenomena and appearances within the scene.
Far-right influences in the wave and gothic scene
Neo-Nazi attempts to infiltrate the wave scene have been around as long as the musical genre has. The wave/gothic scene developed out of the punk movement of the seventies – it saw itself however as an apolitical counter-culture. Every opinion that possessed connecting elements to the wave scene was tolerated (thereby allowing the extreme right’s first successes). It is striking in this context that tolerance is often confused with ignorance, disinterest and lack of criticism. It is the lack of criticism towards neo-fascist opinions and content that makes the contradiction within the scene so obvious – on the one hand, the WGS sees itself as a critique of and counter-culture to a technocratic society that is contemptuous of human life; on the other hand, it flirts with symbols that cannot be more contemptuous of human life. It shares with the neo-Nazi subculture elements of esotericism, occultism and neo-paganism.
When The Cure released the song ‘Killing An Arab’ in 1979, the British neo-Nazis (belonging to the BNP or British National Party) made their first attempts to break into the punk/wave scene and to claim the song and band for themselves. These attempts failed, however, thanks to The Cure’s immediate and vehement opposition to this development and due to regular conflicts between neo-Nazis and goths at concerts.
As so-called neo-folk bands became popular towards the end of the 1980s / beginning of the 90s, the WGS’s iconography was increasingly marked by paganism and elements of fascist ideology. A clear interest in the goths’ counter-culture could be seen on the part of the so-called ‘new right’ (and especially the far-right newspaper, Junge Freiheit or Young Freedom).
Roland Bubik, recipient of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung’s grant and a writer for the Junge Freiheit (JF), wrote in JF’s Culture section in the fall of 1993: “the youth culture of today offers promising approaches (..) A curious consciousness of living in a phase of decline is virulent. The ‘age of destruction’ is spoken of. Parties in the techno scene are like macabre funeral ceremonies for the era. One (…) mistrusts the explicability of the world, turns backwards even, for example in the forms of the various independent scenes.” In his texts, Bubik refers to the Italian cultural philosopher and representative of Anti-Modernism, Julius Evola (1898 – 1974), whom Umberto Eco called a ‘fascist guru’. Bubik believes he recognizes Evola’s Revolt against the Modern World in the dark wave scene.
After Bubik’s dreams of the techno scene (‘Stahlgewitter als Freizeitspaß’, or in English, ‘Storm of steel (i.e. battle) as a leisure activity’) turned out to be nonsense (‘mental rape by beat-computers and the masses’), he thought he found links in the neo-folk and gothic scene. He points to bands like Dead Can Dance or Qntal, whose ‘medieval ’music’ [speaks] a different, non-modern language’. The truth is that neither of the bands has anything to do with far-right ideology. Qntal belongs in the same category as German dark wave bands (e.g. Deine Lakaien, Estampie, Das Ich), which repeatedly and vehemently speak out against the far-right Kulturkampf (cultural war) (see also ‘Aufruf zum Dark-X-Mas-Festival 1992’). And Bubik’s co-editor, Peter Bossdorf (see below) had to concede that Dead Can Dance know no (musical) borders and cannot be reduced to the category of medieval music. On the release of their CD ‘Spiritchaser’ (4 AD/Rough Trade 1996), he is disappointed to find that: “the Orient is parodied in an affected pose, (…) accompanied by unsurpassably boring, jungle-type percussion. (…) If this is supposed to be world music, the world is not to be envied.” (JF 29/96)
But the scene did have real connections to the extreme right: Bubik’s girlfriend, Simone Satzger (alias Felicia), singer in the gothic band called Impressions of Winter, propagated far-right cultural instrumentalization in 1995, recommending that one “open oneself to current cultural and political phenomena in order to use them for one’s own purposes”(1). Beyond that, there existed even then a number of bands which were genuinely far-right. The gothic scene’s tendency towards mysticism was of particular interest to the ‘new right’. The relation to romanticism, paganism and esotericism on the part of certain gothic subcultures is also of interest to the right, as it can be exploited for the purposes of far-right propaganda.
(1) from ‘Elemente’, published in Bubik’s (ed.) Wir 89er, 1995, Bands, publishers, fanzines – the combination of commerce and ideology.
‘Operation Dark Wave’ took its course in the Junge Freiheit (a far-right newspaper). A writer who was familiar with the dark wave scene could be found via a ‘competition for new blood’; she soon threw in the towel. In an open letter to Rainer ‘Easy’ Ettler, the publisher of a fanzine called Zillo, she urgently warned of a far-right culture war and advised the goths that, for the right, they are only “useful wackos on the path to power.”(Unfortunately the letter was never published by Zillo, although it belonged right there in 1996 and a wider debate on the issue still hasn’t taken place.)
In the mid-90s, Peter Bossdorf, a Junge Freiheit editor who can look back to a long history with, among other institutions, the Thule Seminar and the Republikaner Party, was hired by the magazine, which had the highest circulation in the ‘independent scene’: Zillo was not above repeatedly printing far-right ads, among others for the Junge Freieheit (Zillo 2/96). Cooperation between Zillo and Junge Freiheit was well known due to protests within the scene: the Hamburg wave label, ‘Strange Ways’, (producer of the band, ‘Goethes Erben’, among others) and the distributor, Indigo, made the scandal public. After Rainer Ettler, Zillo’s editor-in-chief, died, Peter Bossdorf was finally thrown out in the spring of 1997.
But that does not signal the end of the far-right Kulturkampf. In the meantime, solid structures and networks have been developed. Publishers, magazines and a great number of bands have gained attention for their continued work for a far-right ‘cultural revolution’.
Excursus: Death in June
Death in June are the most important name in this context. They achieved a ‘first’: in 1997 an article on the band appeared in RockNord, the Nazi skinhead equivalent of Bravo (German teen magazine). The band’s name is their platform: they openly refer to the ‘national Bolshevik’ wing of the NSDAP, led by the head of the SA, Röhm, who was killed in the so-called Night of the Long Knives on 30 June, 1934, by order of the NSDAP leadership.
Also worthy of mention is the fanzine, Sigill (subtitled ‘Magazine for Europe’s Conservative Cultural Avant Garde’), which in its conception is perhaps the magazine most worthy of being taken seriously in the so-called ‘black scene’. The nucleus of the dark wave scene’s far-right faction expresses itself here: Death In June, Sol Invictus, Radio Werewolf, Kirlian Camera, Orplid, Strength Through Joy, Allerseelen, Forthcoming Fire, The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath a Cloud, etc. Even if Sigill places great value on not being seen as a Nazi publication, the choice of authors, including Markus Wolff (Waldteufel), Kadmon (Allerseelen) and Martin Schwarz, who also writes for the NPD (the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany) publication, Stimme, tells another story. So do their articles, fed as they are through the ‘German machine’: compact discs are not called CDs as they usually are, but the German literal equivalent of ‘Lichtscheiben’. This is linguistic preparation for what Sol Invictus has joyfully sung about: ‘The Death of the West’. The far-right label with an affiliated book publishing house, VAWS, is another example.
Many members of far-right neo-folk and industrial bands also work part-time for far-right publishers and magazines that intellectually deepen the far-right ideology already present in their lyrics. In the long run, fans don’t just buy the records of their favourite artists, but are also interested in what they have to say in writing. Almost all the magazines named above share a mix of reporting on new far-right band projects from neo-folk, black metal and industrial genres; pagan issues; Germanic, Celtic and Viking cults; the study of runes; and more or less clearly Nazi, anti-Semitic or national/revolutionary issues. They recurrently appeal to ‘freedom of expression’, ‘artistic freedom’ and ‘free thought’ independent of ‘clichés’ like left and right. At first glance, this makes things very confusing and contradictory, when people like Moynihan called themselves ‘anarchists’ while at the same time using liberal and democratic freedoms to spout Social-Darwinist, anti-Semitic and racist ‘Blood and Soil’ drivel, and to associate or even found far-right circles.
>Even if the circulation of all far-right ‘wave’ magazines are not a cause for panic, they are still important links between the far-right Kulturkampf and goths who are interested in featured bands or in paganism. The extreme right uses these links to rehabilitate the whole esoteric/mystical side of the Nazi regime (for example the SS Ahnenerbe and the school connected with it, Wewelsburg bei Paderborn); the national/revolutionary factions of the NS, like the SA; Italian fascism and the artistic genre of futurism that is so closely connected with it; the fascist Iron Guard from Romania and its founder, Corneliu Codreanu; Nazi artists like Riefenstahl, Thorak and Speer; Germanic cults; Social Darwinism; and anti-Semitism, and thereby the decisive ideological components of fascist, national/revolutionary and national socialist groups and organizations. Through the often playfully disguised removal of taboos associated with symbols like the swastika and the cross potent, and the establishment of Germanic runes, the extreme right is also trying step by step to change views on the Third Reich and ultimately world history in accordance with their own.
The magazines that have been mentioned can be obtained at certain festivals, like the International Wave Gothic Meeting in Leipzig, at concerts and in record stores. The records can be also be found in stores whose owners or managers are neither far-right nor unaware. Commercial interests make it especially easy for the far-right Kulturkampf.
It must be mentioned in this context that a large number of fans of bands like Death in June, Sol Invictus or Kirlian Camera are themselves not far-right, but simply enjoy these neo-folk bands’ music. Most people are aware of the bands’ ‘far-right image’. But especially in Germany, the fans fall back on the bands’ excuses and statements of disassociation that are published in music magazines and that claim their critics ‘misunderstand’ them. There are, however, documented cases of fans who, through their involvement with neo-folk bands, suddenly became interested in sponsored ideologues like Ernst Jünger or Julius Evola and, as a result of their fascination with them, became part of the far-right Kulturkampf themselves. Fans who sincerely don’t want to have anything to do with it often have real difficulties parting with ‘their band’. Again and again, we could observe genuinely painful parting processes, which anyone can understand who imagines ‘having to’ disassociate themselves from their own favourite band.