Right-wing extremism breaks into new music genres

12 June 2012

The 'white power' rock bands that emerged in the 1980s are now a thing of the past. Neo-Nazi-inspired strains are moving on to conquer whole new swathes of different styles of music. And this is a development that Dr. Thorsten Hindrichs of the Institute of Musicology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) finds extremely worrying. In his view, a broad-based collective approach is necessary to counteract this trend.

The summer sun outside has made it stifling in Dr. Thorsten Hindrichs' file-packed office. "Let's go outside and talk," suggests the musicologist, "where we can get some fresh air." We go down to the inner courtyard of the Philosophicum building. Our theme on this bright and sunny afternoon is sombre – the music of the political far-right.

It may seem fairly obvious what this involves: extremist louts screaming out nationalist and racist slogans preaching violence against a background of aggressive rock music. Neo-Nazi music – that's just badly rhymed and malicious texts accompanied by second-rate sounds, isn't it?

The music scene is changing

"That is the core of the problem," explains Hindrichs. "Much of this kind of music is now of a very high quality. The range of genres in which right-wing extremism-inspired music is being composed has grown exponentially. When we think of this brand of music we still have the old stereotype of the 1980s in mind, something which the German rock band DIE ÄRZTE captured in their song 'Schrei nach Liebe' [Cry for love]. One of the leading exponents is the English band Skrewdriver with its links to the Blood & Honour white power movement. But the scene had already begun to change in the late 1990s."

"One of the trends to emerge was the singer-songwriter movement." Sitting round the camp fire singing folksy songs to a guitar matches far-right thinking perfectly and is the ideal accompaniment to ritual practices such as solstice festivals, which were celebrated by the Nazis in the Third Reich. The German singer-songwriter Frank Rennicke has links with the far-right. "He calls himself a 'song-smith'," Hindrichs goes on to say. "He couldn't have found a more suitable name. When he has trouble with meter and rhyming, he goes at them with hammer and tongs." Hindrichs gives a short example: "Gutenbergs Druck / das Wissen zu den Völkern hinaustrug." ["Gutenberg's book / Knowledge to the people they took."] Hindrichs' terse comment: "Hardly deathless lyrics, are they?"

Rap becomes sprechgesang

Hindrichs turns to the second trend, one that he finds much more alarming – the far-right is also appropriating new popular music genres. "The new millennium has witnessed the development of a sort of youth movement that is deliberately distancing itself from the far-right parties. But the 'Autonome Nationalisten' neo-Nazis hit on the idea of adopting the emblems and symbols used by the antifascists for their own purposes." The iconic Palestine headscarf, the shemagh, can thus now be seen worn by far-right demonstrators while even use of the English language is no longer anathema.

At the same time, musicians sympathetic to far-right ideology discovered genres which die-hard Nazis found problematic, such as rap, the otherwise hated "Nigger Music," as they call it: Hindrichs' makes it clear that he himself does not in any form subscribe to the use of the latter expression. But when right wingers rap, they call what they produce "national sprechgesang." The Nazi rap-project "Sprachgesang zum Untergang" ["Sprechgesang for the downfall"] is one of the examples.

The Song of the Gyros Killer

Another feature of the far-right extremist music scene is currently making headlines. Several years ago, Daniel Giese and his band, the "Zillertaler Türkenjäger" ["Zillertal turk hunters"] adopted the style used by the popular German singer Guildo Horn to parody hit songs and evergreens. Giese went on to form the band "Gigi & die Braunen Stadtmusikanten" and in 2010 produced the CD "Adolf Hitler lebt!" ["Adolf Hitler lives!"], which includes the "Lied vom Döner Killer," the Song of the Gyros Killer, celebrating a series of murders of immigrants in Germany: "Neunmal hat er bisher brutal gekillt, / doch die Lust am Töten ist noch nicht gestillt. / Profiler rechnen mit dem nächsten Mord. / Die Frage ist nur: wann und in welchem Ort." ["It's nine times already that he's brutally killed, / But even yet it seems his blood lust just ain't stilled. / Profilers think he's gonna strike again, / But they don't know exactly where or even when."]

In view of these words and the subsequent discovery that the series of murders committed by the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a German far-right terror group, Hindrichs concludes: "What I found so surprising was that everyone seemed to be so surprised by the connection." The police and politicians claimed that they had not had the slightest suspicion.

Problematic gray area

Hindrichs points out that it is actually very easy to recognize such unambiguously pro-Nazi sentiments for what they are. What concerns him more is the gray area that has developed with the segmentation and differentiation of far-right music and which doesn't get reported on the news. "These include music genres that have partially adopted a fascistic aesthetic, such as dark wave." He cites the German band "Von Thronstahl" as an example. "Their music has a decidedly fascistic tendency." Another example is the "Berlin-based rapper Dee Ex, who uses expressions such as 'healthy patriotism'."

There are plenty of elements within our society that the far-right can infiltrate, be these in the form of soccer hooligans or trendy esoteric movements. And far-right sympathizers have long ceased to be easily identifiable on the basis of their appearance. "It's the diversification that represents the danger. The gray area is growing, and we are no longer able to recognize it for what it is on the basis of externals alone."

Irrecognizable neo-Nazis

Hindrichs glances over at the students in the sunlit Philosophicum courtyard. "Most of the new neo-Nazis simply don't look like Nazis. Some of the young people going about their business here in this building could actually be involved in the far-right scene."

This is something that needs to be tackled on a wide front. "The far-right is part of our society," explains the musicologist. "There's no point in simply chanting 'Nazis out!' – where are they supposed to go?" We need to encounter them on an equal footing. "But this will require staying power on our part."

Hindrichs takes a last look at the sunny courtyard and the students enjoying their break in the sun. He then takes his leave and returns to the files in his office.