Tag Archives: David Tibet

A confession (part 3), or, what ends when the symbols shatter?

Now it’s time for me to speak a little more abstractly.

I want to make it clear from the start that I’m not attempting to police anyone’s musical taste. I’ve been trying to explain why I became increasingly uncomfortable with a specific artist and decided that I couldn’t in good conscience continue to support them.

One clarification I’d like to add is that when I talk about having been involved in the neofolk subculture/Death in June fandom I’m talking about very peripheral involvement. I’m not really a joiner and I don’t generally like to get involved with “groups”. I frequently say (jokingly but not really) that I find people who agree on things untrustworthy. As a result none of my friends share more than a couple of my interests and I’m not one for organized group activities. 

So when I describe myself as having once been involved with the neofolk subculture that means I had a couple of friends into the genre and I commented once or twice on a blog or two about the subject. I may also have had a half a dozen conversations on tr subject with non fans. The closest I ever got to going to a show was seeing Earth at the Empty Bottle last year (Douglas P’s refusal to tour was one of the things I liked about him). So DI6 fans can say that I was never a “true fan” and that what I’m saying reflects an upstart outsider’s misperceptions.

I’m largely interested in where we should draw the line. A common theme I’ve seen in the ex neofolk crowd is rejection of artists who have collaborated with the more problematic members of the scene. I’m not sure that’s exactly productive but I understand the impulse. 

David Michael/Tibet, for instance, was intimately connected with Death in June during the relatively early part of the scene. But if we reject Current 93 because of his association with DI6/Sol Invictus/whomever we ignore that those collaborations ended decades ago, and that it becomes easy to tar other artists with that same brush. 

I interpret Tibet/Michael’s wide variety of collaborators as indicative of his friendly outlook. It’s possible I’m being too charitable here, but Current 93’s recent support of artists like Baby Dee is a great thing to my mind. Of course, Michael/Tibet was also a supporter of Tiny Tim who wasn’t really any less racist than Douglas P is, not to mention his homophobia. Still, as I’ve mentioned above I think that anyone who portrays themselves as flawless or who will only associate with people who aren’t problematic in any way is at best lying to themselves and at worst actively trying to conceal something. So I don’t really begrudge David Michael/Tibet his acquaintances.

One point where Douglas P and I are in total agreement is that the words we use are important am potentially powerful. Which is one of the reasons I don’t really listen to his music anymore. I think DI6 is carelessly using imagery and language that is potentially quite dangerous, regardless of whether or not the symbolism is sincere.

David Tibet has made similar comments about his break with the OTO: that actions and words have consequences and thoughtlessly playing around can have potentially tragic real world consequences. 

It seems like Douglas P thinks that Current 93’s music is similarly irresponsible. In the end it comes down to ideological differences. I reject Douglas P’s libertarian perspective and so see his use of fascist imagery irresponsible, whereas he sees it as an emphasis on the importance of individual responsibility and self control.

The question I end up asking myself constantly is “if I acknowledge that nobody is ideologically|morally|spiritually|whatevery perfect, where do I draw the line?”

I still listen to Pat the bunny’s early work (the pre-rehab stuff he won’t touch now) despite the fact that I have serious problems with some of the lyrics (I wait outside of a cop’s house / holding a twelve gauge). I have problems with some of his new stuff too. I don’t think fantasizing about murder is cool, and I think he ends up undermining his anarchism somewhat by drawing an arbitrary distinction between the people who hold up the current political system and everyone else. 

I justify it to myself by pointing out that Pat constantly, in lyrics and in interviews, makes it clear that he’s not actually advocating murder, that he’s really just venting his frustrations. I am somewhat suspicious that this is a pretty thin justification and that a more likely reason is that Pat’s politics are closer to mine than Douglas P’s are and so I’m willing to forgive him more.

I think that the case of Death in June is interesting because it presents a different question than with Orson Scott Card or Marion Zimmerman Bradley or Ezra Pound or Adam Baldwin. In those cases it’s a question of avoiding art that is not necessarily problematic in itself because of the problematic views of its creators. In the case of Death in June it makes me wonder about the reverse: do we avoid problematic art by people who aren’t necessarily themselves problematic? I’m not saying that Douglas P isn’t problematic, but he’s not significantly more right wing than the current Republican Party. His personal views are frequently reprehensible, and I don’t intend to whitewash that. But what if the same music was being made by somebody who wasn’t a little too close to Le Pen for comfort. 

I guess Anne McAffrey would be a good example. Some of her work is seriously questionable in its portrayal of consent (and the age thereof).

I’m tempted to say that the answer is even easier: if the work itself is problematic then there’s really no reason not to stay away. At what point do the problematic aspects overtake other positives in the work? It’s a question that comes up all the time when reading classic fiction, but it’s also less pressing because most of those authors are dead and not in a position to benefit.

It’s a question that doesn’t really have a simple answer. I nearly quit reading Apropos of nothing because of how tone deaf it got at times. Perhaps the best recent example is the work of David Dalgish, which earnestly attempts to address serious issues but ends up failing miserably. It’s possible that The warded man falls into this category.

I know people whose response has been to pirate that material so that the authors don’t benefit economically from their prejudice (A did this with NSBM), but that doesn’t address the “words have meaning and can this be dangerous” or the “creeping fascism” issues.

I don’t know. What I do know is that I was a fan of Death in June, albeit a slightly uncomfortable one, and I eventually reached a point where I was uncomfortable with my own attempts to justify the problematic stuff.

A confession (part 2), or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the reverb

In my previous post I talked about the various things that got me involved with Death in June (DI6) and the neofolk scene. Now I’m going to talk about the things that got me out.

I was always uncomfortable with some of the DI6 lyrics. At first I tried to brush it off as my failure to “get” the metaphor, or that the songs were referencing other thing (like “because I him”, where the line “helping one race, one creed, to meet their need” is a reference to either Heaven’s Gate or the Brian Jonestown thing).

The next step was to try and self justify, to tell myself that there was nothing wrong with the social Darwinism that seemed to permeate everything. Honestly, that’s the pout where I should have realize that something was wrong. I was facing a huge amount of cognitive dissonance at this point, trying to hold on to my own value structure while simultaneously attempting to accept the right-libertarianism that appears all over the genre. 

I’m kind of disappointed in myself that I just accepted feeling conflicted about the disconnect instead of actively questioning what was going on.

One of the things that delayed my move away from DI6 and the neofolk scene was the actions of their critics. I don’t have much respect for direct action Antifa types, and the accusations leveled against Boyd Rice, Douglas P, and others in the scene were so ridiculous as I be impossible to take seriously. Antifa does more to protect there opponents than they ever actually accomplish.

Just as there were musical and social reasons behind why I got into neofolk in the first place, there were also musical and social reasons behind why I “left”.

Musically, I attempted to resolve my discomfort with DI6 by seekin out other music that was satisfying in the same way but less problematic. I started doing this almost immediately, even while insisting that there was nothing problematic about DI6.

The first thing I found was Current 93. I know there are former neofolk fans that won’t listen to C93 because of David Tibet’s connections to Sol Invictus and DI6, I didn’t find nearly as much to bother me in Current 93’s music (especially once David Michael/Tibet and Douglas P had their falling out).

Part of why I found Current 93 more acceptable was that I was much more familiar with the philosophical sources they were drawing from. I wasn’t bothered by “Hitler as Kalki” because I had read enough at that point and while I can understand why the comparison is incredibly troubling from the perspective of mainstream Hinduism (conflating Hitler and Vishnu would be mindbogglingly offensive) that’s not ever how I understood the song, and David Michael/Tibet has gone to great lengths to explain it.

Still, it’s my least favorite track on that album so that’s another reason why I wasn’t so bothered.

Tibet’s connections with the OTO and thelema were way easier for me to accept than Douglas P’s Germanic paganism. The fact that David Michael eventually left the OTO helped too.

Current 93 seemed more interested in the aesthetics of weird religion than they did in perpetuating a dream of a bygone Europa. Still, C93’s more psychedelic style (in the releases I could find. This was before Bandcamp and relatively early in the iTunes era, so neofolk was hard to come by outside of mail order CDs for $60 a pop) wasn’t quite as satisfying as DI6 was.

I finally found something to replace DI6 when I started looking more heavily into French music. A student lent me the first La rue kétanou album and I was instantly hooked. That lead to Les ogres de barback and Les hurlements d’Léo and a whole wealth f French music that had everything I lined about DI6 with none of the uncomfortable lyrics. Un air, deux families is still one of my favorite albums of all time.

I also started to seek out Chinese rock and came across Liang Long’s Second Hand Rose, which helped to make it increasingly clear that it was possible to combine traditional music with rock without introducing reactionary politics.

I still occasionally returned to DI6, although without much enthusiasm. I rarely listened to whole albums anymore, picking out those tracks that seemed less problematic. I later discovered that the DI6 song I continued to listen to were the exact same ones that David Michael continues to listen to. 

The final musical nail in the DI6 coffin came from my brother in law, who introduced me to the burgeoning folk-punk scene. Pat the bunny, Andrew Jackson Jihad, and similar groups supplanted the last remaining vestiges of DI6 in my musical rotation. I still wasn’t 100% comfortable with all of their lyrics, but it was an uncomfortableness that was easier to pin down and examin.

Socially the biggest factor in my move away from neofolk was an increased widening of my social network to include people who didn’t order their lives around their musical tastes.

A graduated and moved away and I started spending time with L, a friendship that I have since neglected to my regret.

L was a member of the OTO an regular participant in the gnostic mass. They also actively avoided Death in June because they were uncomfortable about the content and, more significantly, they felt like because of their appearance and very German surname they felt it would be best to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, regardless of whether or not DI6’s use of Nazi imagery was in earnest.

At the time I shrugged and continued to be a DI6 fan, albeit a slightly uncomfortable one. I felt like L’s concerns were overblown. Still, with L I had a friend who shared my interests in weird religion who wasn’t particularly connected with the neofolk scene. 

It helped that A started waxing poetic about Whitehouse, which made me realize that his far right stances weren’t just bitterness or an attempt to shock people; they were his sincere political views.

Also around this time I started traveling much more. I spent time in China, Japan, and France. These were major formative experiences for me, and the people I met and the things I did made it really clear to me that the survival of the fittest ideology prevalent in neofolk really wasn’t for me.

I became much more confident, philosophically, and came to the realization that vulnerability is not necessarily bad. I decided that empathy was not in fact a weakness, and that weakness was not bad in itself anyways. I also really internalized the saying “when walking in the melon patch, don’t bend down to adjust your sandals”. It was a sayin I had never really understood before, but it became my own version of “avoiding even the appearance of impropriety”.

The fact that I was able to avoid internalizing that lesson until I was in my 20s really points to how privileged I am. My brother was forced to come to terms with it while still in high school.

The other thing that drove me away from DI6 was Douglas P himself. I read an interview with him after The rule of thirds was released where he talked about the inspiration behind the songs on the album. His explanation of the track “Takeyya”, which I had interpreted as a criticism of closemindedness, revealed that it was the opposite, and that Douglas P was aggressively Islamophobic.

Then, I read another interview where Douglas P repeated most of the standard racist canards about aboriginal Australians. When he released the Free Tibet EP, his comments about being adamantly opposed to forgiveness really bothered me.

Let me make this clear: I don’t think Douglas P is a neonazi or white supremacist. I do think that he’s a racist neoreactionary peddling a dangerous ideology.

There’s a lot of wiggle room between “neonazi” and “not problematic”. The “is he a nazi or not?” game that gets played regarding DI6 (and pretty much everywhere else in the neofolk scene) ends up being counterproductive, as the neonazi charge is too easy to refute and ignores that the work is still problematic for other reasons. 

To draw a comparison to criminal prosecutions, looking for clues about white supremacy in DI6 is the equivalent of charging a murderer with treason: it enables them to get away with lesser crimes because it puts all the focus on the big crime that is easier to defend against.

My next post I’ll look a little more at rejecting an artist because of their beliefs, and how acceptable it is I be a fan of problematic things.