A week ago I got this book and also the accompanying 4 cd compilation, which is reviewed in the music section. Two writers claim to have written the definate history of the musical genre of “neofolk”. The compilation cd makes you familiar with predecessors, old and new bands in a variety of styles that the writers caught under the name “neofolk”. Diesel seems that have listened to the music for quite a while, also he is a writer on a variety of subjects. Gerten is a scientist who also seems that have known the music for a while. So this would make the writers ‘insiders’ but with a background which should make them able to properly investigate things and write subjectively. This is true, so the book definately is about as good as a book about the ‘phenomenon’ neofolk can be.
“Neofolk” is a subsubgenre of “gothic music” and more precily came forth from the “industrial” branch of gothic music. Both the musicians and the audience of neofolk often have a background in either industrial and/or wave music (both “gothic”) or metal. In large parts of the gothic scene, there is an interest in more than just music, in a smaller part of the metal scene this is also the case. This other-than-music interest concerns art, literature, philosophy, religion and often esotericism. It is funny to see how certain subgenres and their audiences seem to have similar other-than-music interests. A simple example, people listening to black metal are often interested in satanic, anti-Christian and occult subjects. This can work in both ways. People like a style of music and get an interest in ‘its philosophy’, but also people into certain subjects may find that there are musicians with similar interests. This is also the case in “gothic music”. Diesel and Gerten describe that early industrial artists used certain subjects for shock-value, while there was in interest in certain thinkers. As this developed and while getting mixed with other ingredients, a scene started to grow with an interest history (World Wars, Napoleon, etc.), totalitarian regimes, pre-Christian beliefs, certain thinkers and philosophers, etc. Of course there is as much variety in the subjects as there are individuals. A musical style that also developed was simple, acoustic guitar based music with harmonious elements (violins, flutes, etc.) (later also with a more bombastic is militant sound) and lyrics and artwork with the subjects that I named. This music is called “neofolk”. Within the same scene there are other, often purely electronic, projects, but with similar preferences for lyrics and artwork (this can be “industrial”, “noise”, bombastic (orchestral) music, “military pop”, etc.). The writers decided to put all of that under the banner “neofolk”. I do not agree with it, even when I can understand that if you call some music from that scene “neofolk” and other music “industrial” (like I do, see my music section), there is no term left to describe the subscene as a total. So far the information for people being unfamiliar with my musical tastes.
Both on the cd and in the book, the writers give a history of the genre with predecessors (it is in the book that I learned that some of the bands on the cds had more influences than I thought myself), describe developments within the scene and then dig deeper into the philosophical background. This is done by very readable texts (in German of course), interviews and descriptions of the scenes of the UK, the USA, Germany and Austria, Southern Europe, France and Belgium, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia (I miss my own country which has maybe but a few, but some of the better bands; quite a fixed scene and many of the problems described in the book!). Because of the dubious mix of concepts (world wars, nazi-symbology, paganism, conservative writers, etc.) in artwork and lyrics, the scene often seen as a bunch of fascists and there have been problems with concerts for many years (activists from the extreme left often make objections when there is a concert, which are consequentally often cancelled). Publications and actions against the genre, bands, fans, organisators, magazines, mailorders, etc. are still daily reality. Naturally (and justly) this issue is written about at length and musicians and other persons from the scenes are questioned about it in the interviews. The artists are of the opinion that this issue falls under their artistic freedom, they show both sides of the medal (but of course the ‘faulty elements’ are always highlighted) and that they do not make politics at all. Diesel and Gerten clearly share the views from the scene. With detailed descriptions of the layered symbology of the music (they have been searching for the sources of samples, asking difficult questions to artists) and the background (part III is about the spiritual backgroundss, postmodern romanticism, playing with fire and the cultural criticism of the artists, there are appendices about Nietzsche, Evola and Jünger (three popular thinkers), hypocrisy, etc.) they show what is really ‘on the scenes mind’. This is almost entirely opposite to the findings of the writers of Ästhetische Mobilmachung (see book reviews archive) which is written purely to show how extreme right the whole neofolk scene is. Diesel and Gerten agree that the mix that is made is sometimes lightly inflammable, or at least dubious, but none of the bands are trying to force ideas upon listeners of anybody, call for racism, make nazi ideas right or anything, just to make people think for themselves, investigate and being not afraid of taboos (you can only judge Mein Kampf when you read it, not when you read about it).
I agree with this approach. There has never been a band that tried to force their convictions on their audience, not even to show them. When certain symbology (for example a “black sun” on a cd or on stage) makes you wonder what they mean, you wonder! When lyrics or interviews lead you towards writers as Julius Evola or Ernst Jünger, you can decide for yourself whether or not to read them and form your own view on them and their writings. I do the same with Monas.nl. You can get ideas here to read books, try to find a certain cd, read an article and catch an interest in some subject, and after that it is upto you. You don’t have to agree with my view of Auf Die Marmorklippen, my Evola article is not to convert you to Italian fascism (maybe just to warm you when you want to read Evola), my music and film reviews are not to make you spend money on music and films you may not like. All of these things won’t even tell you where I stand (or if you read well, some may; but you can of course always ask).
A few things that I do not agree with in Looking For Europe. Like I said, the term “neofolk” is used differently from how I would use it, that is a detail. Further I think some bands are out of place and other bands lack (also see music reviews section). For example, why Von Thronstahl / Forthcoming Fire only mentioned in half a line? Forthcoming Fire and later Von Thronstahl have put a massive stamp on the scene as a whole (in my view of course) with their image, musical style and extraordinary well-readedness. Is it because they openly give their non-neutral political colour in interviews? Because he does, Josef K. become the ‘consciousness of the scene’. In interviews (and also in Looking For Europe) Josef has become the example of how ‘bad things can be’. “I am not like Josef K.”, “he certainly is no Josef K.”, meaning, “I may play with nazi symbology, but I am not a fascist”. Whether or not Josef K. is a fascist, Von Thronstahl has never been the vehicle to spread the (possible) ideas, so this band is no different from any other band in this book, regardless his (possible) political ideas.
Conclusion: Looking For Europe is your ultimate book about neofolk music, the scene and the philosophy. The book is interesting for people who have listened to the music for many years. I enjoyed reading about Current 93, Death In June, the minutious description of TMLHBAC and Der Blutharsch, etc. and also the essays about Nietzsche, Jünger, Evola; the neopagan part, the interviews, eurocentrism, etc. etc. People who are not familiar with the music and its concepts will get a very descent introduction here. The writers are critical, honest and come to the conclusion that conservatism and nationalism (hardly touched upon btw) or even “rightness” is not the same as fascism or extreme-rightness such as some people want us to believe. The neofolk scene mostly consists of intelligent, individual and well-read people with a wide scope of interests and a critical mind. Anti-activists also get a place in the book and all the rest of them who may read this book, will get a more wide-ranging view on the music, the scene and its symbology than in their own publications which only highlight what is thought to be dangerous. Read the book, then read Ästhetische Mobilmachung and then draw your own conclusions like a good “neofolker” should!