Well….IT HAPPENED AGAAAAAAAIN!!!! Glaswegian venue The Classic Grand has taken the decision to cancel ‘Darkness Guides Us’ Festival over controversy surrounding some of the acts booked, and their links to far right ideology. In what I’m sure will be a measured and reasonable response from the internet, let’s burn up a hot fire in our crucible and attempt to get to the heart of the matter. Before getting started I would just like to point out that I attended Darkness Guides Us in 2019. It was a well organised and peaceful festival with a diverse and friendly crowd. Zemial, Nargaroth, Impaled Nazarene, Varathron and many others were all amazing. Good job guys.
The simplest and easiest truth to pluck from this mess is that The Classic Grand has taken what they believe to be a prudent business decision. The second folk get wind of potential neo-Nazis taking to their stage all hell is guaranteed to break loose. And possible boycotts would follow. In the current climate, small to mid-sized venues are struggling enough as it is. The decision to cancel the festival in this light cannot be faulted.
So let’s turn to the actual grievances levelled at a handful of the artists. I imagine the second someone blew the whistle on these bands their entire online presence was combed for any references to fascism in their lyrics, album art, opinions in interviews, and previous controversies. For the likes of Kroda we have some pretty worrying links to Ukranian neo-Nazi criminal organisations, as well as links to high-octane Russian NSBM band M8l8th.
Before moving on to some of the accusations levelled against the other acts let’s look at the history of this in more detail. I first got into black metal in the early 2000s. I was no stranger to (and even mildly seduced by) one of THE original alt-right edglelords Spinoza Ray Prozak of that…fucking website….anus.com. Back then the internet was a little more mysterious, a little less policed, edgy music felt edgier, and growing up in a very sleepy rural part of the UK meant that black metal – and the context in which Norwegian black metal came to fruition – resonated a great deal with me. Discovering that some of these artists were literally Nazis was like breaking the last taboo. Sure I wasn’t dumb, I knew fascism was no joke. But everyone’s been a young teenager at some point, everyone’s indulged in some pretty embarrassing stuff over the years. It’s just that this wasn’t just embarrassing, it’s was downright ill-advised.
Intellectually I have of course moved on. I just listen to music now….I’ll happily praise Burzum and Absurd as artists….I feel like I’ve spent enough time and energy agonising over this for years. If you can stomach it fine, if you can’t fair enough. Time to shit or get off the pot (Smiths fans I’m looking at you). But looking more widely it’s clear that the world has moved on as well. Fascists are no longer limited to creepy dudes in the heady wild-west of the early internet or studying 1930s Germany at school. It’s now increasingly visible in polite society. Many mainstream commentators and opinion makers – whilst they would never be stupid enough to openly admit it – indulge in some pretty far right rhetoric.
This means that The Glasgow Anti-Fascist Alliance and similar organisations aren’t just drumming up a load of noise over some harmless fringe of weirdos. Organising around anti-fascism feels way more necessary and urgent than it did twenty years ago. As an aside, this quote from festival organiser Dimitris Artofsin is a new kind of dumb: ‘Anti-fascists and fascists are the same for me and I’m disgusted by what they both represent.’ People that are pro-genocide and people that want to shut down shows….are just not playing the same game mate. I can actually feel my faculties wither away in even attempting to address this point rationally.
So, this leads to the major gripe, or misgiving, or confusion around this whole hooha. I felt it when Satanic Warmaster were billed to play Glasgow a few years ago and the exact same thing happened. I felt it when Graveland were prevented from playing in Canada due to Antifa demonstrations. It’s this childish idea that this music should be left untamed. Untrammelled. And certainly not beholden to a liberal progressive agenda. The Classic Grand certainly has a right to do as it pleases with the acts it books, but liberally minded art students certainly don’t have a right to claim a monopoly on artistic expression, and what deserves an audience based on these beliefs. Do they?
So would say sixteen year old me. What do I say now? Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from the consequences of speech. People have a right to react and even organise against your views if they perceive it to be a threat. If the response seems extreme, it’s because fascism is an extreme ideology, and you know what Brutal Truth think about extreme conditions….they do demand responses.
Well sure, on the one hand, sure. The struggle is real, it’s a zero sum game, and these organisations have clearly decided that they don’t have time to decide if an artist who at one time expressed far right sympathies and an artist that is an out and proud neo-Nazi are equivalent in terms of whether they deserve a stage to perform on. But here’s the real problem. It is a zero sum game. Anti-fascist groups do go to great lengths to research these artists’ histories. We can debate their interpretation of whether it’s the act itself rather than the individual that’s promoting fascism all we want…but we haven’t asked why these questions feel so much more urgent now than twenty years ago.
It’s not that fascists have suddenly started donning suits, entering high office, and shaping worryingly large swathes of public opinion. It’s that people’s lives are far more precarious than they were. Globalisation and capitalism have ruined the planet, ruined people’s lives, and many feel that we are reaching some kind of tipping point. And unfortunately the far-right has proved far more effective in speaking to these grievances than Antifa and similar organisations. However atrocious and despicable their conclusions are, they chime with people who feel a deep sense of injustice at their lot.
Let’s take a look at one of the other artists called out in this controversy: Taake, a pretty well established Norwegian black metal act (for some reason). Over recent years I’ve seen him play Incineration Festival at The Dome in London, Brutal Assault Festival in Czechia, and Rebellion in Manchester, all without issue from all parties involved, and all were non-political events. When compared to all the ill-advised and crass things metal artists have done over the decades, he is at best pretty dumb, at worst a total douchebag. But while we’re having this very loud and public debate about a trivial minded man given a platform because of his tediously b-tier black metal project, the causes of fascism and its new found mainstream accessibility go unaddressed. It hasn’t sprung up from nowhere. So far the response from anti-fascist groups has been tough on perceived public celebrations of fascism (fair enough), but woefully inadequate when it comes to the causes of fascism. Instead of dicking around with a bunch of clowns in corpse paint, whipping up a bunch of noise over something that only the most niche metal audience cares about (the majority of whom just want to get on with their lives and go to a gig now and then), why not link up with other more far reaching political organisations and community projects? Ones that have a more constructive approach to making people’s lives better? Y’know, try and affect real change in people’s lives.