networking against exclusion
Extreme-right influence on youth music
admin 06/09/2005 - 00:57 Array
Shaping a musical genre’s political image
Pop music is seen as a natural part of democratic every-day life. But extreme-right groups have long recognized the significance of everyday culture and integrated it into their concepts of political strategy. Extreme-right Kulturkampf (i.e. culture war) directly targets infiltration of different music scenes and the youth styles associated with them. Whether it’s oi, singer-songwriters, dark wave, metal, techno or hip-hop, extreme-right groups can be found in any of these scenes. Their goal is clear: to attract young people to the wolf of right-wing extremism by dressing it in a kind of cultural sheep’s clothing; political organizations alone no longer attract young followers. Traditional extreme-right music, as represented in military music and played today mostly at neo-Nazi demonstrations, suffers the same problem. These stereotypically extreme-right sounds, evoking the military, men, and marching music, are hardly popular among today’s youth. Music is itself not politically predetermined: a chord is neither right nor left; it shows neither contempt for, nor solidarity with, mankind.
Music is nevertheless shaped by the way in which it is used and can thereby be a neutral form of dissemination for ideologies.(1) Simple substitution of lyrics in the 1930s turned communist workers’ songs into Nazi fight songs (and vice versa too) – it was the military aesthetic that both parties shared that enabled »takeovers« like this. Today too, extreme-right organizations look for such aesthetic similarities before entering the genre and giving its style an interpretation of their own. In the area of dark wave, the use of pagan and Germanic symbols as an expression of mystical connectedness with their ancestors and with death is very popular – their closeness to the Germanic cult made them attractive to extreme-right influence.(2)
The way that metal genres (heavy, black and speed metal) glorify violence and war, and the way that their lyrics are laced with Nordic mythologies, predestine these genres for (in particular, anti-Semitic) radicalization.(3)
The development of fascho-rock(4) makes it clear that fast, hard, loud music, combined with a cult of masculinity and simple racist prejudices can very well be an expression of an extreme-right, white youth culture, even if its musical roots are clearly black. Even hip-hop, the self-made culture of African Americans, was found in German far-right internet forums to be worthy of »occupation« because hip-hop with German lyrics has become so popular.
Bands like »Rammstein« and »Witt«, which are categorized as »Neue deutsche Härte« (New German Hardness) and are storming the charts, should be seen apart from politically motivated influence. They adopt the aesthetic of Nazi propaganda and symbolism in their videos and live performances primarily for commercial reasons and not out of real extreme-right convictions. Their dodgy flirtation with extreme-right consumers, paired with the music industry’s interest in a »German pop identity«, however, leaves the public unclear as to the artists’ true political intentions.(5)
Extreme-right influence – different dimensions of approach
The extreme-right’s infiltration of music scenes is not just a simple case of their entering areas of music that are new to them, but rather a much more complex social process. Extreme-right youth and pop culture comprises a many-faceted interplay of clothing, music, hairstyle, hobbies, political convictions, reading of texts, insider knowledge and knowledge of the »right« symbols. When »Rechtsrock« (far-right rock) makes headlines, usually only the genre’s spectacular and repulsive yet dazzling protagonists are reported on. The listeners and buyers are rarely the focus of attention, in part because they are hard to recognize: somebody with a »Landser« tape in his car tape-deck doesn’t necessarily look like a skinhead. If you want to deal with the phenomenon of »music as an expression of extreme-right youth culture« at a deeper level and look beyond the surface at causes, you have to answer three questions: who listens to extreme-right music? Who makes extreme-right music? Who makes extreme-right music well-known?
1. Who listens to extreme-right music?
To understand young people’s attitudes, you have to look at how are they socially, culturally and politically influenced. Social infrastructure (youth centers, local and state leisure facilities) plays an important role in how youth develop their own viewpoints. Even people who consider themselves to be more or less apolitical are sooner or later confronted by the question of whether they are »for or against foreigners«. Especially in rural areas or small towns, the position they take is not always determined by their own mindsets. Exercising cultural hegemony in connection with repressive structures is usually easier there for the right.(6)
In plain words, this means that whoever does not adopt a racist world view and consume the music that goes along with it soon becomes a threatened outsider (the threats ranging from insults to physical violence). In big cities, on the other hand, there are usually more and greatly varied alternative living spaces, so that young people do not necessarily have to conform to political pressure. Of course, greater possibilities for individual cultural orientation do not preclude that people don’t come into contact with attempts at disseminating far-right ideology. Indeed, the anonymity of the big city and the usually greater tolerance of adults there for young people’s clothing styles enables the consumers of far-right music to remain within the »heart of society«.(7)
If we take a closer look at the young people who listen to far-right music, it is possible to characterize three types: a person of firm political convictions does not care what format the music’s far-right ideology takes – the main thing is that the band’s statement is far-right and one they approve of. Whether the songs are played as dark wave, singer-songwriter or marching music plays less of a role. The historical origin of the music (e.g. rock and roll as a development of black rhythm and blues) and the current context (e.g. hip-hop as migrant culture) is deliberately suppressed. The clothing style of this type does not necessarily correspond to a particular dogma.
Apolitical music fans, on the other hand, focus on individual aesthetic context – the lyrics or content of the music are secondary. Their outfit will also always be determined by the scene they are involved in. Someone who listens to heavy metal can also listen to songs from Nazi bands as long as they are typical of their genre and he or she likes them. »Love of the music« in this case, always takes precedence over the (political) statements of its makers. It is this type that is the most important target group for the infiltration efforts of the far-right music makers.
2. Who makes far-right music?
As regards far-right music makers, we must distinguish between an independent underground and an »overground« oriented on the top ten charts. The former is marked by raw, coarse xenophobic lyrics and is not oriented on standard distribution strategies of the music industry: they copy, finance and distribute their cds, records or tapes themselves. Connections to local political groups and movements is close. The lyrics are not legally checked by their lawyer friends, as is the case with the sales-driven bands. Nevertheless, the underground bands (Oiphorie, Landser) enjoy great popularity in the far-right scene precisely because of their extreme and drastic lyrics.(8) With legally unobjectionable ambiguities in their lyrics, the representatives of the overground (e.g. Böhse Onkelz) try to attract as many listeners and buyers as possible. Instead of national socialist lyrics, they sing with a strong, emotional German nationalist patriotism. Recently the lyrics have contained a nationally motivated but simple critique of capitalism, globalization and the media. Arrangement and production conditions are high-level and in no way behind those of the popular mainstream.
3. Who makes far-right music well-known?
In 1992-93 attacks on foreigners in Germany (e.g. in Hoyerswerda, Solingen, Mölln) caused the mass media to take on the issue of the far-right subculture and its various forms. The media obviously found the most interesting form of the far-right youth’s self-expression to be their rock bands, with their bristling Nazi ideology. »Fascho-Rock« became the subject of media hype, turning into a trendsetter even the lowest-ranking garage band of the really quite clearly-organized far-right music scene. In so doing, they made this musical form of the far right’s »expression of opinion« really popular for the first time, and had the public believe that Nazi bands were a mass phenomenon. Television refused to acknowledge, or didn’t recognize, the amplifying function this had. Audience share and the hunt for the scandal of the day were always the first priority as regards the way the news was prepared. It’s not surprising that with the reduction in the numbers of attacks on refugee housing, the issue’s »attractivity« decreased for the media. In the mid-1990s, the public thought that this »uncomfortable issue« had been dealt with. This did not reflect real developments, however, as producers in the far-right music scene knew to exploit the media slipstreams and expanded sales, communication regarding methods of productions, and arrangements concerning concert organizations. During this time, the scene split in two: on the one hand, into the mainstream-oriented overground and on the other, into the underground, who did not resist the banning of their songs. Media coverage has become rarer, but the focus on the creepy, spooky appearances of »fascho rock bands« is still problematic: bad video recordings that federal institutions make of illegal Nazi skinhead concerts, as well as pictures of CD covers with military designs tend to attract, rather than repel, potentially interested people. Little attention is paid to the real, explosive importance of these concerts: as meetings of like-minded people, the concerts strengthen feelings of community and also serve as communication centers and forums for making contacts and exchanging information.(9)
Apolitical music fans are undeniably confronted with far-right politics and the rites associated with them (chanting of neo-Nazi battle cries and the singing of relevant refrains). Instead of addressing these issues, the mass media usually only connects (or assumes a connection between) far-right music makers and consumers when criminal youths wear outfits that clearly belong in the far-right category and when they listen to music that ostentatiously glorifies violence. One can hardly claim that the media deals analytically and responsibly with the issue, »far-right influence on the music of youth culture«.
Strategies against neo-Nazi infiltration concepts
Working strategies and initiatives against the far right’s efforts to infiltrate youth music culture usually come from the affected genre itself: activists’ experience shows that less superficial involvement with the origin, forms of expression, and history of development of the targeted culture can be worth it (see also the article on »good night white pride«). Awareness of the history of one’s own forms of cultural expression can clarify one’s understanding of far-right influences and have a preventative effect: »Goths« interested in dark wave will thus be better able to see what a fine line between art and politics their favourite bands are walking with issues like occultism and neo-paganism (see the article on »Goths against the Right«). Well-respected people within the scene can also have a successful symbolic effect by issuing written statements rejecting infiltration and re-interpretation concepts.(10)
If popular artists publicly insist on authenticity and integrity within their own genres, they educate the listeners of their music and draw their attention to the problem of infiltration (see also the interview with Brothers Keepers). As regards the extreme right’s intent to infiltrate current music styles and reinterpret them as expressions of far-right youth culture, it should be said again: neither far-right nor xenophobic positions can be found in the roots of hip-hop, rock’n'roll, techno, and reggae. Nevertheless, more or less successful attempts were and are made in all these areas. The charge of permanent plagiarism, i.e. the assimilation of forms of expression that are definitely »ungerman« and not racist, must hit the Nazis hard. The creative origin of almost all music genres is to be found among people that they actually want to oppose.
One can ascribe to some music genres a certain rebellious character, which ultimately mirrors youthful rejection of conservative social conditions, but the music itself does not have any political attributes. On the other hand, music is not without history – today, in fact, there is a veritable battle for the control of the stylistic devices used. Were it not for the lyrics, Nazi rock could hardly be distinguished from punk rock. While the pioneers of punk rock (like the Sex Pistols in the 1970s) refashioned safety pins as earrings and wore swastika T-shirts provoke the establishment, today fascist symbols are generally condemned. Right-wing extremists have adopted the rebellious and easily played 3-chord songs, not least because they grew up with them. Burkhard Schröder writes in »Der lange Marsch in den Mainstream« that »Rechtsrock is on the one hand an initiation ritual for the protesting underdogs on the margins of the affluent classes. (…) On the other hand, far-right music is one of the last refuges for young rebels, which is the source of its attraction.« But not only Nazis exploit this rebellious stylistic device: the music industry has been creating »punk bands« for some time, which, naturally more polished, have become an integral part of pop music.
The significance of this struggle for cultural identity, or hegemony over the stylistic devices and symbols of youth culture, should not be underestimated. First of all, though, we must become aware of it. The debate regarding original styles and their believable adoption and use can be an effective precondition for resisting appropriation by right-wing extremists or commercialization: by strengthening one’s own genre, through active creative cooperation and through a sense of responsibility towards the members and fans of the genre »Vernetzung in Sachsen« und »No Backspin«.
(1) see also text by Peter Wicke
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