Ashera
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Ashera

Eugene, Oregon, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2019 | SELF

Eugene, Oregon, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2019
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"Ashera’s New EP “Antifascist Lullabies” is a Declaration of War"

The Portland based neofolk duo Ashera evolved very consciously out of the explicitly antifascist neofolk trend that has been perc0lating (and we have been encouraging). There is an intentionality to this, to refuse nationalism a place in romantic post-punk and to allow for a romantic revolutionary music of our own. We interviewed them earlier when they released their first singles “1,000 Dead Fascists” and “Capitalism Must Burn,” but then dug in even deeper with them on this latest release. There are a lot of questions about how this thing known as antifasicst neofolk is going to develop, and they are trying to stand in front and draw a line between the complacency of the scene’s past.

Why is antifascism front and center in your music? Why is it not good enough to just be a non-fascist band?

We made a conscious decision to place antifascism at the center of our music because antifascism is where we are in life, it’s the social experience that we’re having and with which we’re engaging. It’s the story that we want to tell, the picture we want to paint, the song we want to sing. Antifascism is the values and legacy that we want to leave for our kids and for their children.

This moment that our society and our world is currently in is too important and too historic for us to be fence sitters and appeasers. The situation that has developed within the neofolk music scene is a microcosm of that. Fascists have taken over the scene. If the rest of us don’t speak up and act out to counter that—if we aren’t explicitly antifascist—then we are enabling fascism and conceding important ground in the struggle.

When the fascist creep is on the march and we can all see it gaining ground, then you are either explicitly anti-fascist or else at the very best you are actively choosing to enable the existence and the spread of fascism within this music scene and within our society. At some point someone must draw a line in the sand. That was done with the creation of antifascist neofolk.

What do you think radicals are missing by not engaging in art, spirituality, and romanticism?

As people who are skeptical of institutions of wealth, power, and religious doctrine, and as labor and social justice organizers in our communities we can understand the overwhelming sense of realism, mechanism, and historical materialism—the angst and anxiety of immediate economic necessity, social, and philosophical upheaval in which we can so easily get bogged down. But there is so much about the human experience that we miss out on when don’t take time to dream, when we don’t make room not just to appreciate but to engage with and actively cultivate art, spirituality, and romanticism in our lives and in our society.

We are both skeptical people, and Justin is an atheist. But when we see and hear our favorite music performed live, when we dance with hundreds or thousands of other people who are feeling the same ecstatic emotions created through a shared, live, interactive, tactile-audiovisual experience, we get a rush of adrenaline and emotion that is hard to describe as anything other than a spiritual experience. It’s an experience that fuels our own creative urges, our own music, our own will to dream.

On a personal level, we think radicals miss out on valuable experiences and lessons in this life when we don’t engage with art, poetry, and music. We miss out on feelings of insight and ecstasy when we don’t engage with and cultivate non-dogmatic spiritual experiences that aren’t rooted in hierarchical and patriarchal belief systems. We miss out on important moments with ourselves when we don’t take the time to lay in the grass, stare at the clouds, and dream.

On a societal level, when we don’t allow ourselves the room to play and have fun, to write stories, to romanticize and mythologize our histories and our lived experience—when we don’t create our own fables to tell our children with moral lessons in equity, anti-colonialism and anti-racism, in the ethics of radical cooperation, mutual aid, and antifascism, when we fail to engage in dreams of a better world and to create real or imagined utopias with beautifully diverse, just, and equitable communities—then the left and our movements are bound to lose. Then we are devoid of a very large and important part of the human experience, and we can be sure that the forces of fascism and other forms of reactionary authoritarianism will fill the void with songs and mythologies of national superiority, racial supremacy, and making America great again in the service of imperialism, wealth, and power.

How do folk traditions play into your music? Do they inform your politics in any way as well?

The whole bardic tradition and its modern singer-songwriter form has always inspired us. We love songs that aim to tell stories. Music is storytelling through melodic, harmonic, rhythmic sound. Music is poetry and auditory art that prompts us to feel, that explores the human condition and the whole range of possible emotions that we navigate in our late-stage capitalist society. Music is the expression of our dreams, our aspirations, our history. Music is the sharing of stories among people and across space and time, from one generation to the next. In that sense music is both folk tradition, and at the same time it is an expression and vital vehicle for the transmission of folk tradition.

As people who love storytelling, we both have a long fascination with folklore and mythology, from comic book superheroes to tales of ancient goddesses and gods. The cowboy consumerism and militantly blind patriotism of white-U.S. culture can be more than a bit vapid. So we binge watch TV shows about people with superpowers and we delve into ancient stories about magick and faery folk to try and connect with our past, with something larger than ourselves that is fantastic and inspiring. For both of us our first bands, and in some sense our lives as music artists began with pagan neofolk music that was rooted in a particular mythology, folklore, and spiritual tradition that we were both a part of, and which is where we actually first met. Through this new and modern incarnation of a presumably ancient spirituality, we hoped to find something in neopaganism that would help us connect with not just our cultural ancestry, but with the pagan ancestral roots shared in common by all cultures around the world, as well as provide us with a spiritual framework that—we hoped as pre-capitalist and pre-Christian—wouldn’t be as racist and patriarchal in nature as the religious tradition and culture we grew up with.

This tradition of covens that we were part of teaches that there are five magickal arts: agriculture, natural medicine, astrology, dancing, and music. So those of us who were musicians would get together and play folk music with guitars, flutes, mandolins, banjos, dulcimers, and bodhráns. We would provide music at seasonal rituals and other celebrations, and eventually we formed a band on the side called Cloverfields that played at pagan festivals around Southern California and spawned other future bands that we were both a part of.

But in addition to music and storytelling, another important folk tradition that we learned in part through neopaganism, a tradition that is important to our music and very much informs our politics is the folk tradition of resistance. Communities of rural and working class people have always been at the heart of resistance against institutionalized wealth, power, inequity, and hierarchy. That tradition of folk resistance goes back thousands of years and beyond to the slave revolts of antiquity, to resistance by common, rural, and indigenous folk around the world against forced conversion to Christianity, and more. In communities that practice neopaganism, at least here in the U.S., there is a strong sense of shared resistance against the patriarchal Christian juggernaut that upended our ancestors’ old way of life, that replaced and destroyed so much of our cultural heritage, an institution that has so deeply shaped and distorted the modern world we live in today. We practice the folk tradition of resistance to fascism, racism, patriarchy, hierarchy, and authoritarianism in our churches and our spirituality, in our schools and in our sports stadiums, in our places of work and our governments, in our streets and through the folk tradition of telling stories with music.



Neofolk is heavily infiltrated by fascists, what can we do to change that dynamic and remove them for good?

We don’t know if we can remove fascists from neofolk anymore than we can remove them from society in general without becoming one of the things we most despise as antifascists, genocidal authoritarians. But what we can do is resist them, shut them out, make them irrelevant in the neofolk music scene. We can send them crawling back into their holes.

To do that we need to cultivate an “everyday antifascist” value and attitude within the neofolk scene. That means we need more neofolk bands and artists to make statements that are explicitly antifascist if not in the content of their music and art, then at least in its other aspects. Refuse to perform with them. Refuse to book them. Refuse to record with them. Refuse to give them your money and your time. We can take this genre back by boxing out bands and artists who use romanticism and the mythologizing of our past to fuel white supremacy, immigrant hysteria, and fascism.

But if we do want to have any hope of truly defeating fascism, then we can’t just be against fascism as a reactionary default. We need to purposefully carve out space to be romantic, empathetic, passionate and emotional in the expression of our everyday antifascism. We need to find and create our own cultural mythologies rooted in the values of antifascism. We need to have bold visions and share our dreams with each other by writing antifascist poetry, singing antifascist songs, and telling stories of utopias built in the empty pockets of violent empires. We’re beginning to create it here in Portland with a strong antifascist presence at protests and the cultivation of everyday antifascism in our organizing spaces throughout the city, with the amazing antifascist displays, banners, flags, group chants and renditions of “Bella Ciao” at Timbers soccer games. We are beginning to create that here with music too, with the cultivation of Pacific Northwest antifascist neofolk. We can take back neofolk and make this scene a space that is as much explicitly antifascist as it is romantic, artistic, passionate, and visionary. - A Blaze Ansuz: Antifascist Neofolk


"An Anti-Fascist Revolt: An Interview With Ashera"

The goal with A Blaze Ansuz was to help give a name to an emerging music scene, antifascist neofolk and related genres that were bucking the trend of far-right romantics taking over our music. The hope was that once this became a real current then more bands would feel comfortable emerging into this space, and Ashera, from Cascadia (Portland, Oregon), is definitely a part of this trend. Created by Deborah and Justin Norton-Kertson, two organizers in Portland, this music was explicitly political from the start.

In this interview we talk about their background, what fuels their antifascist commitment, and how this new project came together.

How did Ashera come together? What was the inspiration to start it?

The two of us have known each other and lived together as partners for almost 15 years, and Ashera is the latest in a number of bands and music projects we have created together. Interestingly enough, this particular project was inspired by A Blaze Anzuz and your attempt to consciously create the genre of antifascist neofolk.

When you first announced the creation of A Blaze Anzuz and this new genre of music, we were excited to learn about other musicians engaging in this work. It wasn’t long though before the thought occurred to us that it had been six years since we had created any music of our own, and for the first time in years we were actually inspired to do so.

During the Occupy movement in 2011 we shifted heavily into activism and found ourselves spending most of our free time out in the streets protesting Wall Street and police brutality. We formed a band from that movement called Patchwork Family Band, but it fizzled out over the course of the next year as we all moved on to other things. After the end of our local Occupy Portland we were disillusioned, broken spirited, and tired. We stopped creating music for a while and became full-time activists. However, we have realized that we have lost a huge part of our identity by stopping making music together, and Ashera is our moment to reclaim that identity and merge it with our passion for social justice and antifascism. It’s a perfect moment for us to channel our energies into music that can change the world. We are inspired again and it feels great. So without trying to sound like a couple of suck ups, thank you!

What history do you have in songwriting? Is this your first musical project?

Well no, this is not our first musical project. As we said, we have been together as companions and musical partners for about 15 years. The first groups we started playing music with together were pagan neofolk bands like Anam Cara, The Music Committee, and Happy Death Band back in the early 2000s. I don’t think though that either of us were particularly aware of neofolk as a specific genre at the time. It was just what we happened to be doing, and in retrospect we recognize it for what it was.

After a few years, we and some of the other musicians in those early projects moved away from pagan neofolk into folk rock, dream pop, and shoegaze with bands like 7 Story Sound and Azure Down. During those years we spent quite a bit of time at a cabin near Lake Gregory in Crestline, CA just jamming and composing music together.

Our band Azure Down came to an abrupt and unwanted end in 2009 when the two of us moved to Portland for work during “The Great Recession.” A few years went by without us playing much music before we helped form Patchwork Family Band in late 2011.

Tell me about the first single, “1,000 Dead Fascists.” What inspired you to use this shocking title? Is there a bit of humor at play here?

We very much believe that it is vital to come together through grassroots organizing and movement building to defend our communities against fascist incursion and stop the rise of fascism by any means necessary, and that is what this song is about, albeit it in exaggerated form. We aren’t pacifists. In fact, we would argue that pacifism is an immoral and unethical philosophy, particularly in the face of fascism with its ideologies of violent ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, and supremacy (most often but not limited to white supremacy) that historically have resulted in mass atrocities, ethnic cleansing, and genocides here in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere in the world. So we aren’t entirely sure that it would be accurate to say humor is at play here.

At the same time—in the sense of shock value, exaggeration, and the unexpected—emphatic irony is certainly at play here in the song and its title. You expect calls for genocide to come from fascists. You don’t necessarily expect people who claim to be antifascists to call for something like a thousand of dead bodies in the streets. And no, we aren’t actually calling for the genocide of fascists or anyone else, we aren’t advocating that people start killing fascists. We definitely want to make that clear despite the purposefully shocking nature of the song and its title. At the same time though, like we said, we believe that we must defend our communities against fascism by any means necessary in order to prevent horrors such as the Holocaust from ever occurring again, and that is what this song is about. Of course, we want to see that happen through grassroots movement building that brings tens, hundreds of thousands of people into the streets to confront and stop fascism before it’s too late, and we actively engage in that kind of movement building work in our community. In the 1930s and 1940s it took a world war, hundreds of millions of deaths through that war, and a horribly atrocious Holocaust before fascism was finally stopped. We absolutely can’t make the mistake of appeasement a second time. We need to draw a line in the sand so to speak. We need to stop this new rise of fascism before another Holocaust happens. So let’s come together and build a movement that can do that through sheer overwhelming numbers so that we don’t ever again come to a place where we need 1,000 Dead Fascists in the streets to become a reality in order to stop them.

Why do you think it is important to bring antifascism to neofolk?

It is important to bring antifascism into everything we do, whether that is music, sports, literature, television, theater, or other kinds of art and cultural expressions. In these times where we are experiencing a serious and rapid resurgence of fascist ideology and organizing, so it is vital that we create an antifascism that comes to dominate the cultural expressions of our society.

We happen to be musicians, and it so happens that we have been neofolk musicians since our earliest projects together. Given the particular tendency of fascism to try and co-opt the romanticism, the dreams, and the vision of neofolk music, we feel a particular responsibility to help develop this extremely important genre of specifically antifascist neofolk music.

We feel that music is particularly important in this new antifascist cultural project. Music has always been a means of eliciting emotional responses, of bringing people together around a common interest and sentiment. If we leave this music to the fascists, that is a victory for racism, xenophobia, and violent nationalism.

With the incursion of fascists into the neofolk scene and their blatant attempt to pervert its vision, it is all the more important that we take back this genre of music and use it to fuel the antifascist movement and to create a deeply ingrained culture of antifascism that can and will be an important factor in beating back the fascist creep and creating the better, more just and equitable world that those of us on the radical left so emphatically and sincerely envision.

What ways do you think people can fight fascism in the neofolk scene?

We must not be silent. We must create purposefully and blatantly antifascist neofolk music. We need to confront and challenge fascists at neofolk shows and festivals whenever and wherever we encounter them. And we need to consciously create a purposeful antifascist neofolk scene that brings antifascist neofolk bands and musicians together in community and confederation.

As we were raising our two now adult children together and trying to navigate how to handle situations when they had done something wrong, one piece of advice we were given by Deb’s Dad was “be sure to get their attention.” This has never been more true than it is right now, and it is part of the reason for the title of our song 1,000 Dead Fascists. If you don’t grab the attention of people when harm is being done, then no will look up and fight back. Too many people are all too happy to keep their heads buried in the sand and go about their lives so long as the harm isn’t affecting them directly.

Look at how long the current immigrant and refugee concentration camps have already existed here in the US. Right now, there might not be a movement to close those camps without the bold, attention grabbing, and (to some people) controversial actions of Occupy ICE for example, which was started right here in our city of Portland, Oregon. We must rage, fight, and scream into the void in order to hopefully get people to wake the fuck up and get involved in the fight to crush fascism before it is too late.

What bands are inspiring your work?

Indigo Girls has been a huge inspiration since they hit the scene in the early 90’s. With songs like Our Deliverance, Shame on You, and Pendulum Swinger, they have mastered the art of combining their folk roots with activism and anti-fascist ideology. In fact, the first song we played together when we began hanging out almost two decades ago was an Indigo Girls song called World Falls.

The other obvious and classic inspiration in terms of antifascism and folk music would have to be Woody Guthrie. He is such a giant in the genre of antifascist folk music that it seems cliché, it is impossible for us not to mention him. After all, who doesn’t love songs like All You Fascists Bound to Lose and Solidarity Forever? Also we must mention Bob Dylan. The first song Deb ever learned on guitar was “The Times They are a Changin.”

Another more recent inspiration is Wadruna, a Norwegian neofolk group formed in 2006 that has also been written about by A Blaze Anzuz. We first saw them perform a few of years ago at a music festival outside Portland, and were blown away by their raw connection to their Nordic roots, which we both share in our own ancestry. In fact, our song 1,000 Dead Fascist is very much inspired by their sound. Apart from their amazing music, we have been inspired by their stance against the use of Nordic culture and traditions to promote fascism and racist, nationalistic rhetoric. When we first heard them we weren’t sure where they fell on this, and we felt that we needed to do our homework and find out if they were part of the fascist tendencies in the neofolk music scene. We were thrilled to learn that they have made statements to the contrary, condemning such ideologies embraced by their some of their fellow Nordic musicians. Their courage to take back their rich musical, cultural traditions has inspired us to do the same here in the US.

Finally, we also feel like we have to mention Pink Floyd and Roger Waters as big inspirations of ours. Waters has a long history of antifascism in the music he writes, and his bold stance on the need for the music community and the rest of the world to support the people of Palestine in their struggle against Israeli apartheid through the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement is more than admirable.

What is next for Ashera?

We have releases two singles (1,000 Dead Fascists and Capitalism Must Burn) off of our upcoming antifascist lullabies EP. We’ll be releasing that EP at the end of this summer or sometime in the fall, depending on how the remaining recording and mixing sessions go. After that, we have a vision for another album or series of albums called Fan The Flames, which will be an antifascist neofolk re-envisioning of labor and anticapitalist songs from the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

At the same time, we are continually being fired up by the daily news and we firmly believe that neofolk music needs to branch out beyond its Western, Eurocentric roots. We’d like to explore topics such as immigration, the Water is Life movement, the events occurring on the Big Island of Hawaii at Mauna Kea, and do so in a way that does not involve cultural appropriation. Not only are these topics directly related to both the problems of fascism and capitalism, but it seems that time is speeding up and the stakes get higher with each passing minute. We must continue to channel our outrage into music for the unheard masses in hopes that we can do our part to bring real anti-imperialist freedom to every corner of the globe. Lofty goals for sure, but what is at stake is the future of humanity on this planet and it doesn’t get much bigger than that. - A Blaze Ansuz: Antifascist Neofolk


"Resistance in the Ruins of Empire: Reclaiming Neofolk for Antifascism"

When the neofolk band Nøkken And The Grim take the stage, an air of beautiful confusion sets in among the uninitiated. The band, which emphasizes atmosphere over musical shock-and-awe, is fronted by a man wearing a horse mask and bowing a violin. A quiet mix of nature sounds and slow strings begins to emanate from the group. Drawing on a deep spiritual connection to horses, the band takes its name from the Norwegian shape-shifting water spirit who could inhabit the image of a Bäckahäst, or “brook horse.” The project is deeply experimental, finding inspiration in Magyar (Hungarian) and Norse pagan animism. It is folk and ritual music molded into an ecstatic frenzy, alternating between uplifting nature worship and the soundtrack to a sylvan horror film.

“[M]usic in ancient cultures was not just entertainment but was a deeply communal, spiritual and exploratory practice,” says Justin Gortva Scheibel of Nøkken And The Grim. “The whole concert has a very ritualistic atmosphere, but one which is open to cultural and spiritual sharing and diversity, much like how ancient ‘pagan’ peoples shared spiritualities, deities and culture with each other frequently.”

Nøkken And The Grim embody just about every feature of a dark music subculture that makes many uncomfortable. Paganism, romanticism, anti-modernity, deep ecology—a miasma of radical expressions that tend to hew either leftist or very, very far to the right. This is why so many have written off the neofolk genre entirely as the work of fascists, a form of emotional propaganda that renders nationalist historiography into musical prose. But that image of neofolk was promulgated by design—fascist activists entered the music scene with the intention of trading on folk traditions and iconoclastic subcultures to recruit a new class of rank-and-file nationalists. At the same time, a counter-tradition was forming—one that centered the revival of folk music, paganism, and ecological reverence in revolutionary anti-racism. One whose romanticism was founded on how to build a world free of oppression.

“Romanticism so often involves expressing relations to history. But the question always is, ‘Whose history? What history? Who wrote it?’ Often, it is written by those who have power, control, and have oppressed or destroyed others’ histories,” says Scheibel. “But what we find is there are so many histories, of different peoples and of the human species’ relations to the living world, that shed deep skepticism upon ‘history’ as written by oppressors. There is romanticism in our sensuous connections to the living world in all its diversity, through primal rhythms and upsurges of feeling.”

The New Folk

Neofolk is a “post-industrial” genre that was developed by treating folk music (as well as art and spiritual traditions) as the source of a completely new type of sound, albeit one grounded in earlier scenes, like goth rock, metal, dark wave, and experimental-industrial. What you end up with is a rich musical experience that pushes extremes in a way that Americana folk rarely does, focusing on darker themes and centered in the romantic tradition. Pre-Christian paganism, reverence for the environment, myths, and sagas all loom large in this world, as does the return of instrumental diversity: in particular, the use of the cello, violin, mandolin, and accordion, drawing from the well of thousands of years of traditional music. Tradition is again treated with reverence, to be remembered and celebrated rather than seen as a hindrance to creative freedom.

“For me there are is essence two ways to deal with traditions. One is to follow them and the other is to rebel against them,” says Bart Deryter of the neofolk band Awen. “[O]nly by knowing other traditions can you evaluate your own traditions and try to get to the best possible result for yourself. You could then say it is not the original tradition anymore. That is true of course, but I’ve always been told, and I agree with it: when something does not evolve anymore, it is dead.”

The genre then rests on the question of how folk traditions, the musical customs and sounds that were handed down informally through familial and social relationships outside of the cities, can be brought into a contemporary musical setting to facilitate collaboration across genres.

“I’ve always just sort of looked at it like I’m taking traditional instruments and playing them in nontraditional ways,” says Paul Ravenwood of Twilight Fauna, which mixes neofolk, bluegrass, and metal into an eclectic mashup of Appalachian hill noise. “I’ve always wanted to push the boundaries to see what kinds of sounds I can get with folk instruments used within a more varied soundscape.” The term neofolk may seem fairly cut-and-dried, but since many of the largest bands in the genre have been found to have direct ties to fascist political movements and white nationalism, the label has largely been avoided by bands that have no association with the world of reactionary fantasies.

And the detractors aren’t wrong. Neofolk is a genre not just heavily infiltrated by fascists, but founded by them. In every scene across the U.S. and Europe, you’ll find band iconography teeming with far-right imagery, nationalist lyrics, and connections to fascist parties both central and fringe. The best known example of these is Death in June, a darkwave staple in the early 1980s, which defined itself by using Nazi-appropriated pagan symbols in a way that straddled irony and sincerity. The band’s frontman, Douglas Pearce, became infatuated with the “Strasserite” wing of the Nazi party, the veritable anti-capitalist version of fascism that focused on romantic pre-modernism and opposed the both the economic disparity and cosmopolitan nature of capitalism.

I’m Just A-political

This brand of fascist neofolk eagerly located itself in the “Third Positionist” camp, a trend in fascist philosophy opposed to both capitalism and communism and looking for a “third way.” This ideology folds in a range of right-wing philosophers and artists that are committed to a romantic revival of Europe, all built on an idealized image of what the empire used to be and what the whites who ran its nations could again become. For the ideologues starting these neofolk bands in the 1980s and ’90s, the music represented a way to continue this romanticization, to build up a cultural image of Europe as a lost great civilization. Where their political arguments failed, they resorted to tugging at listeners’ heartstrings by proffering false and ahistorical notions of greatness and decline.

This phenomenon is part of what scholar of the far-right Anton Shekhovtsov labeled “apoliteic.” Following the work of fascist esoteric traditionalist Julius Evola, the trend was a fascistic politic that eschewed actual political struggle in favor of the battle for hearts and minds. Instead of building political parties to fight against the left for political hegemony, Evola would start with individuals and their sense of self.

“The excessive mythologization of the nation as well as the impetuous thrust towards its palingenesis results in fascism having the appearance of a political religion,” writes Shekhovtsov, noting how fascism moved from a political program to a motivating feeling about the world that influenced a person’s underlying values, not just their external politics. “While apoliteia does not necessarily imply abstention from socio-political activities, an apoliteic individual, an ‘aristocrat of the soul’ (to cite the subtitle of the English translation of Cavalcare la tigre), should always embody his ‘irrevocable internal distance from this [modern] society and its ‘values.’” In essence, this represents a means by which fascism can fashion an individual by reshaping their sense of self. To do so, it must recreate myths of a once-glorious past that has been lost in the degeneracy of modernity. This objection mainly comes down to fascists’ kneej

The European New Right, a collection of far-right philosophers that came out of late-’60s France, would label this “metapolitics”—the struggle over ideas in a culture that influence politics down the line. If the New Right could change how people of European descent think of themselves, change their values and their sense of identity, could they change the kind of societies those people build in the future? For years, fascist academics and artists have tried to reshape this consciousness, furthering nationalist ideas by eschewing political language and instead focusing on how people form identities, relationships, and emotional triggers. While the left bargained over power in the streets, fascists went straight to the struggle in people’s minds.

Looking for Europe

And this is the world from which a huge range of neofolk’s forerunners emerged from: people looking to inject their politics into the culture through subterfuge and subtlety. Tony Wakeford’s band Sol Invictus was one of the pioneering projects of this movement in the 1980s, taking ideas from Evola and German Conservative Revolution philosophers and mixing in Tolkien, Nordic paganism, and medieval iconography to construct neofolk albums the underlying message of which, if you weren’t looking closely, would be easy to miss. Allerseelen, Ostara and Spiritual Front made albums that focused on the esoteric and metaphysical side of life, recruiting from the industrial and goth scenes to generate eclectic and morally ambiguous music and lyrics. In the world of extreme music subcultures, where people are used to challenging their basic assumptions about the world’s values, this aesthetic crack was exploited to insert a counter-narrative to leftist notions of identity and utopia.

“We know that there is an aspect of traditional neofolk that is not antifascist: it is white supremacist, what they often call ‘metapolitical’ or ‘nihilist.’ You cannot support a band that has Miguel Serrano quotes in its lyrics or wears National Socialist iconography just ‘to make controversy,’” says Emerson Dracon, an anarchist martial industrial artist from Spain. Martial industrial is a subgenre of neofolk that draws heavily from military marches and pounding, rhythmic drumming, on top of epic orchestral harmonies that at times feel more in line with orthodox neofolk. It is even more controversial than neofolk (if that’s possible) because of its heavy use of fascist and Nazi aesthetics, often drawing on romantic images of imperial warfare.

Fascist neofolk has become so expansive that there are areas of Europe where neofolk bands are literally a part of the fascist paramilitary and political apparatus, to the extent that they influence social movements and public policy and are driving anti-immigrant violence. In Eastern Europe it would not be uncommon to see Ukranian and Romanian militia figures at these concerts, right next to the “boots and braces” of the neo-Nazis.

The term “entryism” is often used for to describe covert fascist attempts to attract adherents to their subculture, but here, it doesn’t fit perfectly. To describe this cultural phenomenon as ‘entryism’ would imply that this kind of cultural recruitment is done for disingenuous political reasons. On the contrary, these fascist musicians are incredibly sincere. They obsess over a romantic vision of Europe’s past and are expressing themselves accordingly.

The problem with reducing our perspective on neofolk to the one presented by the fascists, however, is that to do so erases the counterculture that’s fighting against these voices. Antifascist neofolk musicians eclipse the fascist narrative with a romantic political ideology of their own. Despite the fact that many fascist bands helped to build the scene and rule the scene in places plagued by a growing fascist insurgency, they are still a relative minority. Like any scene, there are political actors at the edges, but the largest masses of people are attracted for aesthetic reasons. In arts circles, left politics still have more currency than reactionary ones.

A Different Kind of Romanticism

The left neofolk scene, which is much more expansive and diverse than the insular fascist network of bands, similarly imbues folk traditions with a romantic spirit while deriving inspiration from vastly different motivations than the fascists. Anti-colonialism, the return to ancestral traditions in the face of ecocide and neoliberalism, the revival of anti-patriarchal practices—these bands are looking towards folk music and art as a way of reviving a spirit of resistance. This creates a fundamentally different vision, even if they often look to the same historic songs and folkways.

“On a societal level, when we don’t allow ourselves the room to play and have fun, to write stories, to romanticize and mythologize our histories and our lived experience—when we don’t create our own fables to tell our children with moral lessons in equity, anti-colonialism and anti-racism, in the ethics of radical cooperation, mutual aid, and antifascism, when we fail to engage in dreams of a better world and to create real or imagined utopias with beautifully diverse, just, and equitable communities—then the left and our movements are bound to lose,” say Deborah and Justin Norton-Kertson, the duo behind the antifascist neofolk band Ashera.

“Music is storytelling through melodic, harmonic, rhythmic sound. Music is poetry and auditory art that prompts us to feel, that explores the human condition and the whole range of possible emotions that we navigate in our late-stage capitalist society. Music is the expression of our dreams, our aspirations, our history. Music is the sharing of stories among people and across space and time, from one generation to the next. In that sense music is both folk tradition, and at the same time it is an expression and vital vehicle for the transmission of folk tradition.”

There is a romantic idealism here, one that looks at some of the same things the far-right does with longing. But when fascist activists look back at pre-modern Europe, they see (in many cases incorrectly) racial homogeny, hierarchy, and patriarchal gender prescriptions. When antifascist bands look back, they see something else entirely. The balanced worldview of paganism, the peasant resistance to the flood of imperialism, the wild women healers, the gender rebels, the unmediated egalitarian lifestyles. Both groups can be guilty of imprinting their vision of the world on the past, but it’s the left neofolk bands that are looking to history as inspiration for dreams of a liberated world. Their visions are not a roadmap, but instead a set of sociohistorical fabrics used to weave a patchwork of possibilities for the future.

Spanish Galician folk giants Sangre de Muerdago draw on matriarchal musical traditions in the Galician region of Spain. They have served as both an affront to the fascist militarism of Franco and patriarchal trends within and without their communities. Instead romanticizing empire and power, Sangre de Muerdago have built beautiful orchestral ensembles that raise up hidden voices, their surviving traditions striking a blow against the generational oppression that has pushed back on sovereignty and dignity without losing their romanticism.

The mainline of neofolk is also much less monolithically tolerant of fascist traditionalism than it might appear; bands central to the development have condemned this racialist trend. French martial industrial band Gae Bolg was started by Eric Roger, a former stage musician who left Sol Invictus when it became clear that the band was continuing to side with the organized racist movement. Neofolk artist Sieben released a now-classic antifascist track “Rite Against the Right” in an effort to mock the growing obsession with fascist occultism in the scene, and artists like Kimi Kärki have made anti-authoritarianism a key fixture of their music from the start.

Antifascist Folk Traditions

One of the problems that these bands face is that many of the largest bands in the genre, such as Death in June, have made fascist iconography and ideas so persistent that it has become difficult to develop a following without crossing paths with openly racist bands. In response, musicians have carved out a space for explicitly antifascist neofolk—bands for whom the politics are not just personal. Their ideology is a primary driver of the music itself.

“We made a conscious decision to place antifascism at the center of our music because antifascism is where we are in life; it’s the social experience that we’re having and with which we’re engaging. It’s the story that we want to tell, the picture we want to paint, the song we want to sing. Antifascism is the values and legacy that we want to leave for our kids and for their children,” say Deborah and Justin Norton-Kertson.

“This moment that our society and our world are currently in is too important and too historic for us to be fence-sitters and appeasers. The situation that has developed within the neofolk music scene is a microcosm of that. Fascists have taken over the scene. If the rest of us don’t speak up and act out to counter that—if we aren’t explicitly antifascist—then we are enabling fascism and conceding important ground in the struggle.” Bands like Aradia, Cinder Well, Byssus, Anna Vo, and a whole range of “dark folk” and other variants have made antifascism a starting point in their effort to take back cultural space appropriated by the right. For them, it wasn’t enough to just have a space free from the fascist creep. They had to begin from a place of vigorous opposition.

“Fascism hates culture. Fascism just likes the fascist culture. Let us remember those who burned books in large bonfires,” says Oscar Martin of both the Spanish neofolk project Aegri Somnia and the metal band As the Light Dies. The Spanish Revolution and its birth in the resistance to Franco hangs over their music, just like it does in a contemporary Spain that was built in the shadow of a decades-long fascist regime. “If you think anything different, just take a look at the fascist theory written. There’s almost nothing. If you have read Mein Kampf you easily see that there’s no rational thinking. They are a bunch of angry and visceral arguments about [the] German race and hate [for] Jews and leftists. Fascism is against all kind of cultural expression which differs from this.”

The passion in antifascist neofolk is built on its reclamation of the methods of resistance and the romantic-utopian impulse to build something better. Past traditions, pagan spirituality, animist connection to the natural world—all is seen in terms of what it can bring to a liberated tradition, rather than merely validating and justifying reactionary impulses.

“There is a serious lack of diversity in the voices that we hear from in black metal, neofolk, and related styles,” says Jordan Guerette of the neofolk/chamber synthesis project Forêt Endormie. “This seems to be improving as time goes on, though simultaneously the far-right is getting louder and appears in the mainstream much more frequently than it seemed to 10 years ago. Given this increased visibility of right-wing fascism in the US and across the world, it is crucial that our humble music scene at the very least ensures that our community is a hate-free place that embraces all folks regardless of where they were born or their genetic makeup. We also need to make sure that those who buy into far-right ideology know that they are not welcome and that they can fuck off.”

The Old Gods

This is especially true in the world of paganism, particularly the Nordic pagan revival known as heathenry. The Aesier and Vanir pantheons have for years been trawled by racists who use outdated Jungian modalities to argue that the Gods are archetypes for people of Northern European descent, a convenient construct to justify racializing myths. The vast majority of the heathen community rejects this “folkish” interpretation. They have made a significant mark because heathenry is one of the chief means by which fascists can build a metapolitical space of influence.

Heathenry and pre-Christian religions loom large in neofolk. There’s even a subgenre of Nordic folk that focuses on traditional instrumentation from the Viking period. Because of the association between neo-Nazis and heathenry, leading bands like Wardruna have drawn a line in the sand, stating that these spiritual paths have nothing to do with meta-genetics and everything to do with the Gods that call to you.

“Nordic paganism and spirituality is basically the core of our music. Without it we wouldn’t be able to create that atmosphere we make today, and that’s basically why I wanted to do this kind of music from the start. The music has definitely its roots in the nature and spirituality,” says Nils, of the Nordic folk band Hindarfjäll. “It’s a real shame that we even have to explain that heathenry and Nordic symbols doesn’t have anything to do with fascism. But I think it’s really important to do that especially in these days.”

A Revolutionary Counterculture

A more complex picture of neofolk is forming now that the space has been opened up. Women and gender non-conforming artists are coming into the fold, mixing in a range of folk traditions including classic “singer-songwriter” tropes and Southern Americana, all trying to build something that echoes down-home musical traditions while offering something new. Consequently, new sounds from all around the world are now on display in the genre, rather than just Eurocentric traditions. This is breathing life into neofolk in a way that the rash of nationalist bands never could.

“I’ve definitely been at shows where Nazis have showed up. I live in an extremely conservative part of the world where those elements exist in force,” says Paul Ravenwood. “More than a musician, I think first and foremost I’m an antifascist human being. We live in a time where a segment of our population would take away the rights of a lot of other people for merely existing. They’d also completely destroy the mountains and our entire ecosystem in the name of economic progress. To remain silent would be complicit in allowing that to happen.”

The assumption that fascists have a right to neofolk, or a special claim on this cordoned musical corner, is more a question about what they are entitled to. Does their role in neofolk’s founding give them legitimate ownership? When broken down into its component parts, neofolk is built from a huge swath of cultural practices: romanticism, paganism, ancestral storytelling, folk musical traditions, myth, dreams. What we see when we look at the fascists that have infested neofolk is not any sort of mystical bloodright to the music, but rather a decades-long history of appropriation and invasion. The bands that make up the problematic core of the scene, from Sol Invictus to Death in June, have only defined the genre because they set the initial parameters. There is nothing inherently fascist about the style.

The creation of an antifascist neofolk culture then must be intentionally cultivated; it cannot happen simply by osmosis. If we open up our vision to the broader possibilities inherent in neofolk, we can see just how small the fascist cadre is. By creating that committed space, allowing antifascist musicians to develop and thrive, and approaching the music scene as any contested ground, it has the ability to both grow as an organic arts movement and to cultivate a force to counter fascist aesthetics and political recruitment.

Because fascism needs to undermine the logical, particularly the egalitarian, it has based its entire messaging and recruitment on romantic revisionism, which undermines reality by adding emotional weight to mistruths. Yet is not the only version of romanticism. There is a utopian spirit, one that dreams of a different world, that fantasizes about who we could be. When the romantic arts are given over to fascists entirely, they have the ability to colonize and distort an entire area of human expression—a spirit that they have no philosophical right to. This goes beyond the contested space of material conditions. It represents the superstructural power of ideas and passion, and that is not something the left should give up. We need that. It is the role of art, music, and spirituality to open our thinking about what our lives can be. And the ability to crack open the world should never just be handed over to fascists with impunity. Nothing should be. - Protean Magazine


"Ashera – Rob the Rich"

Passionate writing on the most important issues, quintessential folky sounds, and eclectic, electric production choices – these are the building blocks for the music of Portland, Oregon-based band Ashera. Consisting of husband and wife pair Justin and Deborah Norton-Kertson, Ashera is known for messages of social justice, touching on topics like police brutality, patriarchy, and fascism. This neofolk duo has just released their sophomore album titled Rob The Rich, and this ten-track project is as haunting and ethereal as it is impassioned.

The band describes their sound as “antifascist lullabies: beautiful, soft, and soothing war music for the battle against the right.” By and large, this is an excellent descriptor for this project, as unconventional as it may sound. Pulling directly from world events



Case in point, Three Dead in Kenosha references the Kenosha, WI riots that occurred in August of this year. The lyrics describe the shooting deaths in vivid detail, mourning the losses and refusing to excuse those responsible. But in what quickly becomes classic Ashera style, this message is delivered in an airy, gossamer way, with soft and spacey vocals among a big, booming backdrop of sound. It’s haunting and hypnotic.

Other standouts on this album include title track Rob the Rich for its dark country feel and one-line, Robin Hood-esque message, Eat Your Landlord for its bluesy rallying battle cry against those using rent to oppress, and Betray Whiteness for its melodious abhorrence of the ignorance that often surrounds white privilege.

We also love the closer on this album, Who Will Be Next – it’s an excellent summation of the project. This track has such a classic, soft folk sound, full of beautifully blended harmonies, a gentle acoustic guitar, and a generally relaxed energy that might be described as spellbinding. But the lyrics do not align with the instrumentation – this is a song about the systematic persecution of minority groups while the silent majority looks on. The contrast between what’s being said and what’s being played is stark, unexpected, and totally effective at delivering each and every message on this album.

For those looking for music with a message, a purpose; those who prefer to step outside of the mainstream and rally against injustices in a wonderfully poetic way, Rob The Rich is unquestionably for you. In days of turbulent unknowns, of corruption and greed and abuse of power, we hope to always come across artists like Ashera – shining like a beacon in the darkness, determined to illuminate what is right. - The Ark of Music


"Ashera Finds Unique Ways To Deliver Strong Messages On “Rob The Rich”"

Ashera tackles touchy topics and merges all kinds of sounds on “Rob The Rich.”

Sooner than later, we will be getting a brand new album called Rob The Rich from Left/Folk band Ashera. In the past, they’ve released controversial songs such as “1,000 Dead Fascists,” “Punch a Nazi,” “The Battle Of Portland,” and “Capitalism Must Burn.”

Ashera fearlessly talks about race, freedom, equality, politics, and more in Rob The Rich. They also do everything in their power to bless us with astonishing melodies, rousing harmonies, and unique vocal performances.

I can’t wait to hear Ashera bluntly/rawly/uniquely talk about America’s biggest sins in Rob The Rich!

Rob The Rich will hit streaming services on December 18th! - Ratings Game Music


"Soothe your soul with the anti-fascist representation ‘Rob The Rich’ by Ashera"

Hailing from Oregon, Ashera has come with their latest album ‘Rob The Rich’ enriched with a leftwing perspective. It is a rebellion against the fascists through music.

Get drenched in the heavy downpour of energy with Ashera’s latest album ‘Rob The Rich’. The album consists of ten powerful neo-folk tracks with a major leftwing perspective. The album name itself evokes a sense of revolt which reflects in the preview of the music video. The artists try to speak about justice, anti-racism, and anti-fascist necessities in society through their tracks. They are the believer of equity and the contemporary societal situations are portrayed in their tracks.

Hailing from Oregon, Ashera is a duo project of Justin and Deborah who have worked hard with their beautiful poetic vocals and hauntingly energizing melodies. Earlier this duo released another album, named ‘antifascist lullabies’ which consists of soothing revolutionary tracks with the mood of war music. Tracks like ‘Capitalism Must Burn’, ‘Punch a Nazi’, ‘1,000 dead Fascists’, etc give off a strong radical antifascist rage in a melodic way. The war against the societal issues and right to justice continues in the upcoming album ‘Rob The Rich’. Since 2020 has shown us a lot of dark sides of our society, this album is consists of elements like racial justice and equality. - Daily Music Roll


"Ashera’s New Album ‘Rob the Rich’ is a Soundtrack for 2020’s Uprising"

In just a matter of months really, Ashera has become one of the defining bands of a new wave of explicitly antifascist neofolk. It is hard to call this a genre since what binds it together is largely not based in the actual sound of music, it is more in a type of negative space. If neofolk has so often been ceded to the far-right, assumed to be a romantic nationalist artform created by and for racists, the very existence of an antifascist neofolk that rejects that world had the effect of being a novelty. Ashera was one of the bands that helped move the concept from a curiosity to a new operative principle. We are now entering an era where hundreds of bands are taking on this mantle, bringing in a massively diverse wave of neofolk, black metal, and intersecting types of music all brought into a kind of (dis)harmony by its disallowal for fascist politics.

Instead, Ashera’s romanticism can be said to be grounded in a type of anticapitalism. Deborah and Justin Norton-Kerston, the two members of Ashera, are both organizers, grounded in the world of labor strikes and eviction defense, so this energy pervades everything they have produced, which has been a lot.

In a lot of ways their new album Rob the Rich shows that neofolk was really just a starting point as they push their way into everything from psych and prog rock to Appalachian hill folk. Genres have a utility, they give us starting points and can spark creativity by allowing a common musical language, but they can also create boundaries that are best when broken. The new 10-song release is a wonderful extension past the limits of antifascist neofolk, which has the effect of both expanding what we could expect from the band and the genre itself. One of the featured tracks, “The Battle of Portland,” is a seamless mix of the noise of the protest confrontations that converged on Portland in the summer of 2020 and the fluid, synthesis driven sound that was the foundation of their first EP, Antifascist Lullabies. Other tracks, such as “All Cops Are Bastards,” feels more like the acoustic “singer-songwriter” melodies that mark the soundtrack for summer hippie festivals and jam-band revivals. Antifascist neofolk is starting to stake its claim not just on a particular lyrical or ideological frame, but also its own distinct relationship with folk music and how it wants to create a 21st century synthesis. Rob the Rich is a vital part of that process.

We interviewed the band about this new release and are happy to embed it here for the first time so that those who have made A Blaze Ansuz something special are able to hear it first. We have also added several tracks to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify, which we will continue to update to allow it to remain an ever-growing space for building the space. Ashera has never shied away from a “contested space,” to be open about who they are in a genre that was not immediately welcoming. That principle-first approach helps to drive the space open for all of us, and we need more bands that will follow Ashera’s example.

What was your thinking going into this new album? How did it evolve from your earlier work?

In terms of thematic concepts, Rob the Rich shares a focus on antifascism with our first EP. The idea here though was to explore some aspects of fascism such as white supremacy, privilege and patriarchy more closely, whereas the Antifascist Lullabies EP was kind of more just revolt and burn it down. I mean that stuff is still there in Rob the Rich too, but that ‘fight the war’ aspect takes a little bit more of a backseat on this album to exploring different aspects of fascism, how they are used, how they affect society, and how we can fight back against them aside from, and in addition to, going out and punching Nazis.

You seem to be branching out past the narrow focus on neofolk. How do you think about genre in the project, and do you feel held back by it?

I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it as being held back by genre. I love neofolk music and our roots as music collaborators goes back to the first band we were in together, The Cloverfields, which was a pagan neofolk band that played the pagan festival circuit in Southern California. But it has always been hard for me to stick to any particular genre, and I went into writing Rob the Rich with the idea that I wasn’t trying to force it to be a strictly neofolk album. So I just went with it when other stuff like blues, shoegaze, psychedelic, and classical influences started weaving their way in.

There are still some strong elements of neofolk throughout the album that are meant to help keep it in the family, so to speak. The vocals have a lot of reverb on them, for example, and the whole album has a dark folk kind of atmosphere. “Eat Your Landlord” is a good example of a song on the album that has a lot more of a traditional neofolk sound than some of the other tracks. So I guess if I think about it in those terms. I do feel like genre is a bit confining in terms of the art of creating music, at least that’s true for my creative process and direction. It may be helpful for other people and their creative process and that is totally fair and valid too.

How does the year (2020) play a role in the album? It seems like it is a major character in the story.

This album wouldn’t be the same if it hadn’t been composed and recorded in 2020. I started composing the album in late April 2020. Breonna Taylor had been murdered by police in Kentucky the month before, and it was only a few weeks later that police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement erupted again, and the Portland uprising began. All of that played a big role in the album as we explored themes like white supremacy, institutional racism and police brutality, the revolt against capitalism, the growth of anarchism and socialism, and the disturbing spread of neo-fascism. Musically, a lot of the harmonic dissonance in the album is designed to convey the tension and anxiety that I think we’ve all felt this year as a result of the pandemic and all of the socio-political stress around the protests and the election season. Walk us through your production process.

How do you write music and what does recording look like?

A song usually starts as an idea for lyrics, whether it’s a line of verse or just a general theme. Then I’ll sit down with an acoustic guitar and start toying around melodies. Every once in a while a composition will start musically with some sort of hook that I have running through my head.

The title track on Rob the Rich is a good example of that where I had the idea for the guitar hook before the lyrics. Most often though, some of the lyrics come first, and then I sit around humming a line of lyrics while noodling around on the guitar trying to find the right melody and chord progression for the ideas and feelings I want the lyrics and the song to convey.

Once a song is written, the recording process always starts with the ritual of laying down a kick drum beat that I use as a metronome when recording the other instruments. That happens even if the song isn’t going to have any percussion in it. From there I’ll build the song by recording the rhythm section: acoustic guitar, bass, maybe piano. After that I record at least a scratch vocal track of the lyrics and basic vocal melody, and then I build other instruments like lead guitar, banjo, mandolin or baglamas on top of that. If there is any percussion other than the kick drum it usually gets created toward the end, and then once all of that is there we record vocals over it.

Recording vocals always starts with getting a good take for the main melody vocal. Then we play around with different ideas for harmony vocals. We generally record quite a few different harmonies for each song and then decide what we like and want to use later on during mixing. For this album we had a good friend and old bass player of ours at Unit-42 do the mix. So that process was a lot of fun sending tracks back and forth, talking about the songs and shaping them together. And there is a lot of clean up that takes place during the mixing process too. They come back and say hey I want more of this, or you should re-record that, or you know you can do it better. I really enjoy the collaborative aspect of creating music.

How does anticapitalism inform your creative mission?
An anticapitalist vision has always been central to Ashera’s music and the kind of culture that we’re trying to foster through the music. It’s the soil that project germinates in. Anticapitalism was certainly a theme of our first EP, and on this new album songs like “Eat Your Landlord” and Rob the Rich are steeped in everyday folk resistance to the forces of capitalism. Even other songs like “Consequences,” “Betray Whiteness,” or “All Cops Are Bastards” explore things like patriarchy, white supremacy, and police violence that are all used, shaped, and in some cases even created by capitalism as tools of oppression that serve to maintain the status quo and ensure its continuance. So in a lot of ways anticapitalism has a strong influence on our creative mission. - A Blaze Ansuz: Antifascist Neofolk


"Ashera - Rob the Rich"

Hailing from the Pacific northwest, Ashera was one of the first projects to take up an antifascist neofolk mantle, and they wear it well. Rob The Rich is their second full length release, and consists of what can be described as a psychedelic blend of country tinged protest folk and meditative experimental post-punk. There are songs that center current political events, and songs that paint a new mythic context for the present. This album is a threatening avant-garde celebration of a possible future for America, and a great addition to the LEFT/FOLK narrative. If one cannot dance, is it truly one's revolution? - Left/Folk


Discography

Antifascist Lullabies EP (released December 2019)

  1. 1,000 Dead Fascists
  2. Capitalism Must Burn
  3. Punch A Nazi
  4. All You Fascists Bound to Lose
Revolutionary Love Song (single) (released May 2020)

The Battle of Portland (single) (released August 2020)

Rob the Rich (LP released December 2020)
  1. Young Shoots
  2. Three Dead in Kenosha
  3. All Cops Are Bastards
  4. The Battle of Portland
  5. Consequences
  6. Rob the Rich
  7. Eat Your Landlord
  8. Meditation on Hunting Klan
  9. Betray Whiteness
  10. Who Will Be Next
Withering Roses (single) (released March 2021)

Photos

Bio

Inspired by the beautiful landscape and culture of resistance in Pacific Northwest, Ashera is a multi-genre music project that is steeped in the romantic militancy of neofolk, dark folk, and a radical anti-fascist culture and politics that seeks to build a better world out of the ashes of capitalism. The result in a music that haunting, urgent, beautiful, and relaxing. 

Band Members