a strange invitation

…so long, i’m gonna go draw all alone in my shack
January 9, 2007, 10:59 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Despite all of the column inches given to the “Anti-folk” scene a few years ago, many critics have dismissed the movement as both failing to achieve any significant impact or widespread recognition, and to have exhibited little development as a musical form. The funny thing is, those generally accredited as key-players don’t seem to mind (or indeed to have even noticed) at all.

As I was standing in line at the Freebutt waiting for Kimya Dawson, the fact that a “movement” with no strongly identifiable ideology or form of dress, had proven difficult to market or typecast became laughably apparent, with the advertisement for Matt Mason’s band “Schwervon” claiming the band to be a novelty version of “The White Stripes” (a statement which as far as I can gather seemed to have been based on the notion that they are a girl/boy duo, playing drums/ vocals-guitar respectively). The gathering crowd was certainly more diverse than you normally find at gigs in Brighton: of course there was the usual smattering of scensters, yet much less so than the places I frequently find myself. There were none of the furtive glances or displays of forced nonchalance that people project here in an effort to establish an imagined hierarchy, instead, simply a bunch of regular people chatting amiably in the February cold.

If subcultural forms could be said to be based around a sense of place, whether geographical or “imagined”(1), the most identifiable hub for “Anti-folk” is the Sidewalk café situated in the East Village of New York. The Sidewalk Café had attained an almost mythical status through the coverage that bands such as “The Moldy Peaches” received a few years back, fuelled in part by a romanticised re-imagining of the folk scene of the coffee houses in the 1960’s, Yet, as far as I can gather through various reports found on the internet, the place simply evolved from founder “Lach”’s apartment and is a small, informal venue where performers frequently play for tips rather than the normal cover-charge. It is not unreasonable to assume that such surroundings would produce a consistent and easily identifiable style. It’s not unreasonable at all; it’s just not particularly accurate, particularly with reference to “Anti-folk” as a broader theme. The first band (and I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten their name, feel free to inform me) to perform at the Freebutt could arguably be considered more “Emo” than anything resembling any kind of “Folk”. I forgot to ask if they had ever played the Sidewalk café, as I was busy talking to John from Liverpool (2). I doubt however, that they would have been excluded, at least, not on the basis that they didn’t.

If there are any defining characteristics of acts that fall under the “Anti-folk” umbrella, it is less stringently through the melodic structure and instrumentation of the music (3), than through the common utilisation of a storytelling narrative, combined with an almost whimsical fluctuation between political, social and personal concerns, often in the same breath. Far less direct and overtly aggressive than the motivations of Punk (as the prefix “anti” suggests), the work of these performers navigates these fields in such a way, that on reading this paragraph, I could easily be talking about the folk music created by performers such as from Woody Guthrie, “Mississippi” John Hurt, Johnny Cash, or Bob Dylan to name but a few. The main point of departure it seems lies in the choice of subject matter. Where folk songs tend to commonly focus of the plight of the rural worker, “Anti-folk” is largely centred around observations on modern urban society that range from the mundane to the prolific.

Kimya Dawson’s performance at the Freebutt was the perfect example: narrative lines skitter through a junk-yard of obscure cultural references from Corey Haim to Sunny D in such a way that oblique political observations prove disarming, yet strangely astute. Having seen her performance at the Komedia with Jeffrey Lewis a year or so ago, I had commented to a friend that Kimya’s delivery was at times so personal, that it was almost embarrassingly voyeuristic to be in the room. On this occasion the atmosphere was no less intimate, yet strangely comfortable. A number of people were invited onto the stage (I was the one sitting on the drum riser), and throughout the entire gig people sang along, joked, and shouted requests. Kimya herself was equally endearing, friendly and open, and spent a large amount of the night talking to people. She offered free hugs at the end of her set, which were gratefully received by all (Cris has some pictures but hasn’t sent them to me yet.)
Even in such comfortable and close-knit surroundings, I found it difficult to produce an “Anti-folk” movement in my mind, beyond the fact that the term makes good copy for music journalists. The “scene” often suggested by this rationale, is effectively meaningless, considering that in reality, it best consists of a handful of disparate artists, poets and musicians, whose vast cultural inclusion lies in direct contradiction with the low-production values of it’s execution.

(1) See Imagined Communities: Benedict Anderson

(2)No, not that John, silly

(3) although it has been suggested that the choice of instrumentation often bears resemblance to those of folk musicians, this, arguably, is as likely to be a result of the lo-fi and/or D.I.Y ethic combined with low production values and/or budget as it is consciously influenced by folk performers)


3 Comments so far
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the anti-folk scene lives! jeff lewis still going strong

Comment by rossx.

great points altogether, you just gained a logo new reader.
What might you suggest in regards to your submit that
you made some days in the past? Any certain?

Comment by http://mindwebsite.com/Kids_and_Teens/Your_Family?s=A&p=21

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