Folk and Volk
In a recent post on Transpontine's excellent "History is made at night" blog Transpontine wrote some interesting observations on gender issues in folk music: "There is a fey element (cf Joanna Newsom) but this is not fey in the sense of vaguely ‘girly’ and lacking in presence. This is fey in its original meaning, as in like the fairies, but not fairies in their diminutive Victorian chocolate box version. (...) behind some of the fey melodies of folk old and new lie sentiments of passion, jealousy, murder and bewitching. This is feycore".
I appreciate Transpontine's attempt to counter the V-chipping or whitewashing of folk, by stressing the eldritch aspect rather than the "twee/mimsy" (Blissblog). There is a regrettable tendency in some folk music to shy away from viscerality, to erase all traces of transgressivity, to present a past as genteel, balmy and innocent with all erotic, obscene, sadistic, cruel and licentious features of the past bleached out. Folk as conformist nostalgia, not hauntology, as far away as possible from the convulsive beauty of The Wicker Man and Comus.
On the other hand, I feel that Transpontine comes close - too close, perhaps - to creating a false contradiction between the 'girly' and the 'feycore'. Isn't sacral transgression of gender barriers, isn't the ceremonial montage of the feminine and masculine, isn't the ritualized collapse of gender polarization traditionally one of the ways shamans practice the fey physically? And isn't it exactly this aspect of folk traditions which lends itself to contemporary reframing, isn't it exactly this aspect which can enter into effervescent relationships with the present - as Coil have shown? Certainly Coil aren't 'folk' on a superficial musical level, but Coil culture is thoroughly informed by (pagan) folk-lore. Coil is the 'feycore' band par excellence, showing a continuity between sentiments of passion, jealousy, murder and bewitching on the one hand and queer transgression of gender limits on the other hand...
Coil show that putting gender center stage doesn't necessarily degrade an artistic endeavor to the world of "law and speeches" (Bataille), doesn't make that endeavor a homogenising bureaucratic project directed at 'mainstreaming' gender. The UN defines mainstreaming as a practice which "...involves ensuring that gender perspectives and attention to the goal of gender equality are central to all activities - policy development, research, advocacy/ dialogue, legislation, resource allocation, and planning, implementation and monitoring of programmes and projects..." - is anything further removed than this from the delirious world of Coil, where eroticism must be "the darkest and most bloody part" (Bataille) of being human? Coil show by example that the most likely space where the sacred can be encountered today is in the obscene, the violent, the sacrilegious yet ritual bending of genders (cf 'The Pope Held Upside Down' and 'The Auto-Asphyxiating Hierophant') - and never in the bureaucratic world.
The notion of 'feycore' itself needs close examination. The suffix -core having strong connotations of speed, aggression and masculinity, the introduction of the term 'feycore' can be interpreted as masculinizing folk. Is this really what folk music needs?
A musical genre which uses folk music in the context of a pathologically masculine ideology is Pagan Black Metal, also known as Folk Black Metal. Viking Metal is variant of this subgenre. Black Metal which uses (elements of) folk music are often associated with National Socialist (i.e. Nazi) ideology - in fact, Pagan/Folk Black Metal is often a synonym for NSBM: National Socialist Black Metal. Here, effeminate folk music becomes testosterone-swollen Volk music.
Ukrainian Black Metal band 'Drudkh' are a case in point. Their acclaimed 2006 album "The Blood In Our Wells" presents a particularly proggy strain of Black Metal blended with traditional Ukrainian folk music to create a sense of the epic - or the pompous, bordering on the silly.
While there are no explicitly nazi themes on the album, it is very nationalistic. The band uses for it's lyrics poetry by Oleksandr Oles (1878-1944), to portray Ukraine as a body wounded by enemies, a body which must assert it's honour through violence (the poem is reproduced below). The violence is directed outwards, against those enemies, and death is regarded as an external pleasure - and as such the music couldn't be more different from Abruptum's Black Metal which affirms it's internal absurdity.
This wounded body of Ukrainian nationalism is decidedly gendered - male, of course - and has a strong aversion to queerness: this month, angry Ukrainian nationalists have held protests against the selection of a transvestite to represent Ukraine in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Interestingly, the folk music on the album is sampled from the Ukrainian film 'Mamay', a 2003 Oscar nominee. 'Mamay' a historical drama, is a Romeo-and-Juliet-type story abut the love between a cossack and a beautiful Tatar woman. The film is said to point towards a new cultural identity for Ukrainians, not through the definition by negation but through inclusion of other ethnicities. Thus, Mamay's political message apparently points in an very different direction than that of Drudkh - (inadvertently?) introducing a multivocality in Drudkh's music that would be interesting to investigate. Alas, Drudkh never allow interviews.
And this multivocality draws attention to the fact that Drudkh's music can be read against it's nationalist grain - that while Drudkh strive after ethnic homogenizing, Drudkh's music can be liked for the inclusion of samples of 'exotic' (i.e. heterological) or 'world' (multicultural / ethnically different) music: Ukrainian folk. Drudkh can be liked for unintended reasons.
On Transpontine's blog post, he praises folk music for it's countercultural sensibilities: "Since Cecil Sharp began collecting songs in the early 20th century and defining a specific ‘folk music’ in opposition to other popular musics, folk revivals have invoked the spirits of gypsies, agricultural workers and miners against the evils of modernity or capitalism, depending on political perspective".
On Drudkh's record label, Supernal Music, Drudkh's sensibilities are described as "... nostalgic, anti-urban, conservative revolutionary. (...) Against the degenerate modern, liberal ideology of cosmopolitanism, urbanism, and secularism, and in favour of heroic, traditionalist values, living in harmony with nature rather than raping it".
Are these two really different? Let us not forget that Cecil Sharp's activities were directed towards a nationalist agenda!
For both Transpontine's folk and Drudkh's volk music, it can be said that "the ideology of authenticity disguised the fact the old songs were not simply a direct testimony from the past but were being reframed and understood according to contemporary needs". And perhaps one can even maintain that Drudkh use of crackly samples of Ukrainian folk music and half-forgotten poets means that the music "... employs certain strategies of disinternment - a disinternment of styles, sounds, even techniques and modes of production now abandoned, forgotten or erased by history" (Dissensus)? And doesn't the way Drudkh incorporates folk music samples in it's Black Metal music make dyschronia audible?
And doesn't this indicate that even the bewitching power of the hauntological can be harnessed for unsavoury purposes?
In the end, I hope and think the answer to these troubling questions can be found in the work of Walter Benjamin, whose oeuvre was obviously a major influence on the concept of the hauntological.
In his essay "On the Concept of History" Benjamin writes: "A chronicler who recites events without distinguishing between major and minor ones acts in accordance with the following truth: nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost for history music on the other: for truly ". Here, I feel, is one of the major differences between truly hauntological music on the one hand and Drudkh's on the other. For hauntological music no sound from the past is lost, whether major and heroic or minor and everyday... while Drudkh stresses only the major, the heroic, the pompous. For hauntological music, nothing should be regarded as lost for history, while Drudkh's nationalism can't wait to lose, to rid itself of, all that opposes a homogenized Ukrainian nation.
When The Flame Turns To Ashes
Formerly you seemed to me like a wounded eagle
That has been left in agony to die...
Your eyes are watching the damned enemy
Who wanted to trample you with their feet.
You're breathing with anger and burning, but not dying...
To dig you're shuffling ground with your claws,
With one wing you're beating off the rooks
And laying on the other one, thats' broken...
Formerly you seemed to me like a stately knight,
Who lay in steppe to rest on the stone...
You're hardly sleeping and delirious about the ruthless battle,
While your enemy is hissing like a snake...
My nation! And you - an eagle, that has been wounded at the night,
Why aren't you a knight, who has been captured?
Oh my eagle, my winged giant,
Oh my knight, who has been punished for the sleep!..
Why on earth, my eagle, don't you fly with eagles,
But dragging wings, as oars, by the ground?!
Why on earth, my knight, don't you go into action,
But such a wind, you're plaintively crying in the tillage?!
So what is an eagle, if his flock
Doesn't pluck from the earth into the blue of serene day,
And what kind of knight are you with smile of servant,
Without proud thoughts, without a honour and a name?!
Here is a link to indepth information about the film Mamay, sampled by Drudkh.
Here is a link to the Wikipedia page on Ukraine.
Here is a link to a news article on neofascism in Ukraine, and here and here are some other links to far-right activism in that country.