For The Turnstiles: Anti-Folk Feature

Anti-folk [or Antifolk or Anti Folk] is a genre I discovered recently. When I hear about a sub-genre like ‘Anti-folk’ I always think that the new tag came about because the music didn’t fit the original genre! While researching the NYC development of ‘Anti-folk’ in the 1980’s I couldn’t help but wonder if the music initially tagged ‘Anti-Folk’ was so bad that the musicians had to create a whole new community because the original folk community failed to acknowledge their musical endeavors? Similarly with the resurgence of the sub-genre in the UK over the last number of years I have to ask if this ‘Anti-folk’ has any substance or is it a bunch of people who write songs that only they themselves enjoy.

Brooklyn based band The Soft Collapse, UK based Erin K & Tash and Dublin band The Lonely Schizophrenic have answered a few questions for the feature and will help me decide on an answer to the question; Is ‘Anti-folk’ any good!

Here’s the interview with Ryan from Brooklyn’s The Soft Collapse.

The sub-genre ‘Antifolk’ label is beginning to be used more frequently these days to describe a wide spectrum of music. What are your thoughts on the ‘Antifolk’ sub-genre? Is it a concept that’s easily definable?

The short answer is no. Listeners and writers, understandably, want to define different styles of music so that it’s more accessible, while artists tend to shy away from categorization because their influences are eclectic. Dave and I, for example, only really listen to a handful of the same musicians and now we’ve added two members with totally different tastes. We’ve been talking about making mixtapes for each other. Hopefully the band won’t break up when we find out each other’s dark, guilty pleasures.

To answer your question though, I think the term is comparable to alt-country or alt hip-hop in the sense that it speaks to musicians that, while clearly inside of a certain genre, would prefer not to be pigeonholed and not to be considered part of “mainstream” music. Antifolk is supposedly a fusion of Punk and Folk but I don’t think it’s that simple, at least not anymore. There are more inspirations at play, if you look at the people that carry the label. For me, to some degree, a lot of Indie Folk and Antifolk are interchangeable, which some may argue is incorrect. But it seems like what’s common between the musicians that get this label applied to them is a certain dual sense of humor and earnestness about what they do. I feel it’s connected to the fact that folk, country, jazz, blues, and really most genres have these gritty, soulful roots and were redefined somewhere along the line as something more glossy and disingenuous. I know more than one person who still claims to hate jazz or country and I think it’s because they haven’t heard the good shit. Calling it anti in an odd way is a nod to the originators of folk revival music and subversive characters from other genres. I don’t really think of it as meaning against-folk. I think of it as meaning anti-boundaries within a folk scope. Coming up with appropriate terms is further complicated by the fact that “mainstream” is now being redefined. Truthfully, part of the reason Antifolk probably gets applied to more and more music is because it sounds irreverent and rolls off the tongue easily.

Being from Brooklyn why do you think the sub-genre was developed in Greenwich Village in the 1980’s?

Well, my understanding is that Billy Bragg actually coined the term to describe his own music. I’ve also heard it’s origin applied to The Pogues. I know that the musician Lach also used it to describe what he does. Currently, the Sidewalk Café in Manhattan considers itself “the home of anti-folk”. I was a kid in the 80’s, living in the Boston area, so I can’t claim to have witnessed its development. What it meant then and what it means today though, are surely different. It makes sense that New York would be its birthplace, though, since it was so important to both the 60s folk revival and the 70s punk movement.

As an artist who tags themselves ‘Antifolk’ what is your definition of the genre?

When our old band, Heroes in the Seaweed, put out a record we tagged it folk rock. I always felt conflicted about the term. Now, with The Soft Collapse, I’m on the fence about the term Antifolk. Someone called us Baroque Folk because of the prominence of the cello. At some point you’re forced to call your music something. If anything, I feel aligned with Antifolk because of its quirkiness and intimacy. I would just as soon tag us “pro-folk” or “sort-of-folk” though, for what it’s worth.

How do you describe your music to new people who’ve never heard your music?

I usually stumble over my words and eventually say that it’s singer/songwriter or folksy. Of course, neither of those terms really mean much. In a perfect world, I would have a CD on hand at all times and just say, “check it out, you might like it.” I probably know what it sounds like less than anyone else. A few people have drawn comparisons to The National and to The Magnetic Fields, neither of which I really hear in our songs.

What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs?

My songs tend to be about love in some capacity. Lately, I’ve thought a lot about writing about social issues because they’re becoming more and more important to me. They’ll probably end up being about love too, in some way or another.

Where can the readers of 4fortyfour access your music?

Our album Little Songs can be downloaded for free or by donation at: thesoftcollapse.bandcamp.com

Which song on your album ‘Little Songs’ do you think most suits the ‘Antifolk’ tag?

Probably “Black on Black on Black on Black” because it’s as silly as it is serious. “Honey on Toast” is about falling in love over breakfast and “Pink Tile” is about playing with hairballs in the shower though, so maybe one of those.

…………………………………………………….

London based Anti-folkers Erin K & Tash have their own perspective on the sub-genre.

There seems to be a thriving ‘Antifolk’ community in the UK especially in London and Brighton. Why do you think the sub-genre has blossomed in the UK recently?

Tash: I only moved here 4 years ago so don’t know much about the British folk scene, but since a lot of antifolk artists are kind of lo-fi bedroom musicians (or started that way) it was probably helped a lot by the Myspace-era of being able to release things yourself without censorship or meddling from the mainstream.

What unsung heroes are there in the UK ‘Antifolk’ community?

There are so many! One of the bands I particularly like is David Cronenberg’s Wife. Tom Mayne, the lead singer of the band, is responsible for setting up the Antifolk Fests here in London. Another band to check out is Thee Intolerable Kidd.

When did you become aware of ‘Antifolk’ as a genre or bands and artists who tag themselves ‘Antifolk’?

Erin: My first introduction to the antifolk genre was through a band called the Moldy Peaches around the time I moved to london in 1995. I fell in love with their candid lyrics and lo fi sound. The lead singer, Kimya Dawson, has a vocal akin to a prepubescent boy and together, with her singing partner Adam Green, they crated a style that had just the right level of childlike naivety and subversiveness. I guess a lot of people became more aware of them through the recent Juno soundtrack. It’s funny because one of the songs on that soundtrack that everyone confuses with the Moldy Peaches is actually by the Velvet Underground and sung by Nico. The track is called “I’m sticking with You” and was recorded back in 1970. I guess that goes to show that Antifolk is nothing new, but rather something that’s maybe been more generously embraced in recent years.

As an artist who tags themselves ‘Antifolk’ what is your definition of the genre?

Erin: It’s difficult to say. I am not entirely sure as to what “antifolk” stands for, as the artists in the scene, at least here in London, are so stylistically varied. My understanding of “Antifolk” is that it is an alternative folk music genre, often untrained, and experimental both lyrically and instrumentally. Some people describe it as being politically charged as well, although I do not feel we fall into this category. I think a big part of it has to do with the support within the community between the different artists accepted as “antifolk”. When I used to study fine art we were often discussing the subject of “outsider art”, as something untrained and breaking from conventional stylistic techniques. I suppose antifolk is to music what outsider art is to fine art.

Tash: It’s hard to “define” any genre but from what I’ve heard at various gigs it is often lyrically quirky, tongue-in-cheek or confrontational. I can’t really pin down an exact sound that makes anything antifolk here – it can be folky acoustic guitar or kind of pop or punk. I think it’s the subject matter that’s most definitive.

Where can the readers of 4fortyfour access your music?

We’re always updating the myspace (www.myspace.com/erinkmusic) with new music every week, so that’s a good place to start. You can find us on bandcamp as well under “Erin K & Tash” or our official website: www.erinkmusic.com, which has links to various other networks such as Facebook or Twitter…

Which of your songs on bandcamp do you think most suits the ‘Antifolk’ tag?

Probably “Sorry I’m Not Black” or “The Macbook Pro Song”

……………………………….

Anto Kane is the vocalist and chief songwriter in The Lonely Schizophrenic and has kindly contributed his thoughts on the ‘Anti-folk’ tag.

Hi Anto what’s your opinion of the ‘Anti-folk’ genre?

Personally I love to see/hear any alternative from the usual singer songwriter stuff. Too many times I have seen performers in emotional turmoil perform songs about why their ex girlfriend/boyfriend left them. Nothing wrong with wearing your heart on your sleeve but if you are going to be a depressing bastard about it please keep your jacket on.

When I look at the ‘Anti-folk’ genre I think The Lonely Schizophrenic is a perfect match for the ‘Anti-folk’ tag. As the main songwriter and frontman of the band would you agree?

I’d agree with you there Peter, from the get go our MO was to take the piss out of everyday situations by writing songs about them. We just try to have as much fun as possible, with the lyrics and music and take nothing serious in between. We enjoy performing material that isn’t the norm, it’s all about having the craic for us.

How do you describe your music to new people who’ve never heard your music?

A fine, sexy, tasty blend of aromatic tunes served piping hot on a bed of humour with a hint of satire. Not fit for human consumption.

How can people get access to your music?

They can check out www.myspace.com/TheLonelySchizophrenic or alternatively they can check out some live performances on youtube http://www.youtube.com/user/Lonelyschizophrenic

The Lonely Schizophrenic – Rest in Pieces

………………………..

While the ‘Anti-folk’ genre tag is needed to describe the music that’s not quite folk I think the tag is more about bringing together unique, original, non-conformist and somewhat outrageous music, musicians, artists and fans into a unifying community. So did you answer the question? Do you think ‘Anti-folk’ is any good?

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About Peter444

For The Turnstiles is the Folk Column for 4FortyFour! I'm an experienced maths teacher moonlighting as an unqualified freelance music journalist! I'm also behind the 2UIBestow website. If you're all about folk send me a message mixtape4melfi::at::gmail::com
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8 Responses to For The Turnstiles: Anti-Folk Feature

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention For The Turnstiles: Anti-Folk Feature | 4fortyfour -- Topsy.com

  2. Great article…..always hard to pigeon hole music and musicians anyway…

  3. Rick says:

    The song “I’m Sticking with You” is actually sung by drummer extraordinare Moe Tucker, not Nico.

  4. Peter444 says:

    Thanks Andrew and Rick, I probably should have done a check on the vocalist for that ‘I’m Sticking With You’ tune! It’s always great to have people picking up on errors in an article!

  5. queenelvis says:

    Good article…I suppose this label can be applied to a lot of modern folk bands whose songs do not fit the category of folk completely,or as a result of folk extremists who think they have no place using folk as a genre for their music. I, on the otherhand, believe folk music is a moving genre, an expanding genre,of which antifolk would be a sub genre of folk. Politics, love and stories are all part of folk. For the bands maybe it is a way to distant themselves from the category of folk because mainstream radio has been so reserved about supporting folk artists but I have to say this may be changing, as we now see a resurgence of folk artists in mainstream limelight.Just my thoughts on the subject…Caroline

  6. Peter444 says:

    Oh I think Folk is making a comeback alright. Maybe not to the extent of mainstream success, but it’s finding a new generation of fans who do not depend on radio for introducing new music!

  7. RED Radar says:

    Cheers for the explanation Peter – I love the term anti-folk and I’m loving the cheeky attitude of the songs you’ve streamed here.
    Roisin

  8. Peter444 says:

    Thanks Roisin …. your right maybe Anti-folk is all about cheeky attitude!

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