In 2017, the word Nazi found its way back into the forefront of our vernaculars. The online visibility of some fringe groups and publicity of some high profile rallies seems to have contributed to this, but nevertheless, you’d be forgiven for thinking Nazism within mainstream media was a thing of the past. While many audiences seem confused as to the noun’s symbolic and literal reemergence, the truth is, since World War II, Nazism as a theme or movement has, in various forms, enjoyed a great deal of prevalence, especially in music.
It should go unsaid, but Nazi ideology, and embracing Nazi imagery or symbols, is something which is reprehensible for many reasons, and not something we support here at Speaker TV. But, Nazi imagery has found its way into popular culture through many avenues.
Here, we take a look at the many ways artists in music have addressed, exploited, or even embraced Nazism, dating all the way back to the 70s.
Coming out of the mid-70s, industrial music pioneers, Throbbing Gristle, pushed entertainment in Britain to uncomfortable new limits during Marget Thatcher’s conservative reign. Part music ensemble, part performance-art act, Throbbing Gristle are widely known for their noisy, and somewhat terrifying electronic sound created with homemade instruments, obscene lyrics and a disregard for melody.
To complement their already radical live shows, Throbbing Gristle would often perform with a projected backdrop of footage from Nazi Germany’s concentration camps. Images demonstrated gassings, executions and sheer depravity, but also at times hardcore pornography (because variety is a splice of life). Throbbing Gristle’s mission statement was “to challenge and explore the darker and obsessive sides of the human condition rather than to make attractive music”, something the now legendary industrial group were very successful at.
Once again, in counter to Thatcher’s conservative Britain, we have Sid Vicious and his now infamous red shirt, with a swastika printed on it.
The teenage Vicious was often spotted in the swastika shirt during his time in The Sex Pistols, in the mid-late 70s, usually accompanied by an unruly demeanour, synonymous with the band. It’s likely the shirt came from Vivienne Westwood, the wife of Pistols manager, Malcolm McLaren who worked to endless lengths to capitalise off punk’s shock value.
Further interpretations of the icon’s swastika range from attempts at demystifying the symbol, embrace for the avant-garde situationist art movement, to sheer rebellion against older generations who “harped on about Hitler”. Sid wasn’t the only one in this boat, Siouxsie Sioux, Dee Dee Ramone, and Ron Asheton of The Stooges also donned Nazi paraphernalia for similar reasons, albeit, less-famously.
Burzum (real name Varg Vikerness) is mostly known for two things: creating unholy black metal, and burning churches. But on top of this already colourful history, it’s well-documented, but often ignored that he’s a firm believer of Nazi ideology (all this on top of stabbing his former bandmate to death, just FYI).
His music deals with themes of death, folklore and other fairly pedestrian black metal topics, but importantly, Burzum’s grim music has always remained apolitical. This detail, (on top of the fact he really doesn’t seem to care) has likely helped Burzum to deflect any major criticisms beyond the odd online rant. Varg’s views on multiculturalism, gender norms and white supremacy are readily available on his YouTube account (in crude, home video format) and in his array of interviews.
Burzum‘s fire starting past does a good a good job of epitomising a metal cliche that’s otherwise unsubstantiated, and as comical as his extremities may seem, 2 decades down the track, the man still holds a great deal of influence. Aside from being a likely poster boy for the National Socialist Black Metal scene, Melbourne had its very own Burzum copycat. In 2004, Burzum fan and black Metal enthusiast Novak Majstorovic burnt down 107 year old Ascot Vale Uniting Church in praise of his hero. The kid got off with an 18 month sentence – to this day the church still struggles with financial woes.
Do you like Dragonforce? I think they’re terrible, so I’m pretty happy to be including them on this less than desirable list.
Well, not Dragonforce exactly, but predecessing band Demoniac, a blackened power metal outfit that contains 3 original DragonForce members.
Tracks like “ni****slut” don’t exactly look too impressive in their back catalogue. Look at these lyrics from track ‘Hatred is Purity’
Aliens invade this place, white man stand up for your race
Be proud of your heritage, strong will, all through the ages
Angered, but still with pride, show true feelings with nothing to hide
Now, these are some pretty incriminating lyrics, all a bit surprising when compared to the clean-cut image of DragonForce.
Do I think Demoniac, and by extension, DragonForce are Nazis? No, no I don’t. More likely, this formative band for DragonForce are an example of teenagers trying a bit too hard to be “grim” and not quite knowing the line between comedy and occultism.
Death in June
Death in June is a gothed out post-punk to neofolk band from the 80s, who have been pretty progressive since way before the internet made it cool. Frontman and only consistent member, Douglas Pierce, has been openly gay since the 80s and his previous band Crisis was a politically charged punk band that played shows for Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League.
Controversially, Death in June sport Nazi memorabilia, badges and patches during live shows. These are usually more subtle than a full-blown swastika, but with similar, provocative intents not dissimilar to those of Throbbing Gristle and early punk icons. But somewhere, the message has become blurred and there’s a growing resentment toward their fashion choices.
In particular ANTIFA, the extreme left group who have gained a considerable amount of media attention this year, has growing beef with Death in June. The anti-fascist movement have demonstrated against Death in June shows in California, and have a pretty extensive amount of libel against the band online. ANTIFA claim that frontman Pearce supports white preservationists and funds the obscure European National Socialist movements, ultimately bolstering nazi ideology.
There’s a lot of speculation with this one, and even though they’ve dabbled (former member Tony Wakeford was booted for right-wing affiliations) I can’t quite tell if Death in June are victims of a witch hunt, or if they have indeed taken the route of Nazi sympathising. Regardless, ‘Nada!’ is a pretty good album.
It’s no secret that the Dead Kennedys are a fairly politicised ensemble, and their place on the list is definitely one of the more predictable. But while we all know the song and accompanying t-shirt for ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’, I get the impression that certain contexts are missing for most people.
Alongside the burgeoning punk movement of the late 70s and 80s grew the counterpart movement of skinhead punks. Skinhead punks, identified by their punk outfits/shaved heads, had a reputation for violence and racism that was simultaneously channelled from punk’s spirit of rebellion, and football hooliganism.
To counter the increasing prevalence of “nazi punks” at punk shows, The Dead Kennedys wrote ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’, a short, fast and abrasive message to undesirable audience members. The prevalence of Skinhead punks is far-reaching; Ian Mackay of Minor Threat and Fugazi complains in documentary American Hardcore of the misrepresentation of his song ‘Guilty of Being White’. Mackay discontinued playing the song live and distanced himself from the song after receiving praise from European white-nationalists. Evidently, Nazi punks are much more prevalent than the casual observer may speculate.