Updated: Aug. 19, 10:12 a.m.
When white supremacists and neo-Nazis recently marched in Charlottesville, Va., they chanted old, racially-driven mottos like “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.”
The tenor of the protest’s cheers were horrific to many Americans glued to their televisions or mobile phones, but the slogans are nothing new for white supremacists who have been listening to them for decades with the help of hate music, or “hatecore,” a genre of white supremacy and fascist music.
Heavy rock songs like “White Victory” by the band Blue Eyed Devils is a favorite on white pride forums, and one of the individuals involved in the events in Charlottesville, Ryan Roy, was a member of a white power heavy metal band called Hate Speech.
But there’s another favorite among white supremacists that differs from the typical anger-filled lyrics of traditional fascism music: fashwave.
The music, based on the hipster genre “vaporwave,” is a mix of cybernetic swells matched with video game 8-bit sounds and is a throwback to music of the 1980s, when Halloween-esque theme songs collided with pop culture bass to create a genre fully centered on beats and synthesizers.
“Fashwave is almost like this transient music that puts you away. It’s definitely a different kind of beast,” says a senior investigative researcher at the Anti-Defamation League familiar with hate music and fashwave. “But we can’t view it as just a flash-in-a-pan trend, because we’ve seen that this kind of music doesn’t just go away.”
Fashwave’s influence is no different than the American neo-Nazi punk rock and industrial music that rose out of the mid-80s and became popular among white supremacists in the 90s. With more of the youth population interested in indie-pop electronic and the EDM scene, it was only a matter of time before white supremacists would evolve their tastes for music, as well. But there is a push by activists and organizations to stop the spread of fashwave and other hate music while also using music and other art forms to teach impressionable youth to appreciate diversity.
A HIDDEN MESSAGE OF HATE
Music has always been instrumental in getting citizens to rally around political and cultural movements. The hundreds of thousands of people gathered in upstate New York at Woodstock in 1969 to listen to music were also protesting the Vietnam War and celebrating free love. Today’s white supremacy groups use it as a recruiting tool.
“Music is incredibly effective in bringing together communities, and the alt-right recognize that and are using it to generate excitement about their cause,” says Scott Crow, an author on subcultures and music, referring to white supremacists who bill themselves as “alt-right.”
Arno Michaelis, a self-proclaimed former skinhead and former lead singer of the band Centurion, a white power band, echoes this sentiment. “It’s not a new thing. Through the skinhead and punk-music surge of the late 80s, it likely revealed the power that music had to move people,” he says. “Going forward, the movement won’t ever miss a beat as far as using music to spread their message.”
Michaelis, who left the band — and the white power movement — close to a decade ago, says that the music coming from neo-Nazis resonated with him as a teenager.
“It was like crack. It conveyed the message in a really catchy habitual way,” Michaelis tells NationSwell. “And if it has that kind of effect on you while conveying a message of blood and soil, it really indoctrinates you into that ideology like nothing else can.”
Today’s fashwave music has the same mission, but goes about it differently. For one, the music is mostly lyric-free and is a hodgepodge of electronic and video game sounds, and trance-like beats. And with the exception of a few song titles, such as Xurious’s “Team White,” or tunes that have sampled vocal tracks (like C Y B E R N ∆ Z I’s “Angry Goy,” which is paired with portions of speeches made by Adolf Hitler) it’s entirely possible that listeners have no clue what they’re actually hearing.
“It’s always better to reach people that don’t think like you and convince them to think that the international Jew is the ultimate enemy of the human kind,” C Y B E R N ∆ Z I tells NationSwell in an email. “It makes no sense to compose music only for people that think like you when you want a peaceful change of regime.”
NationSwell reached out to Xurious via social media, but did not receive a response by time of publication.
In a 2016 post entitled “The Official Soundtrack of the Alt-Right,” Andrew Anglin, founder of the white supremacist news website The Daily Stormer and an organizer of the Unite the Right event in Charlottesville, said “The forms of music associated with previous White Nationalist movements, various forms of rock music, are pretty dated… the solution to this problem had been staring me in the face all along. The Whitest music ever: Synthwave.” He continued, “Synthwave represents the truest sound of the Alt-Right, … Within this genre is the sound of reading the Daily Stormer…the sound of an old guy punching a Black Lives protester in the face at a Trump rally.”
On the song “Hail Victory” by Xurious, the voice of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump is heard saying, “We will have so much winning if I get elected, that you might get bored with winning.”
The song is not a parody or a mockery of President Trump, but instead a galvanizing piece used at white supremacist rallies — such as the one in Charlottesville — and championed within the circle as a rally call.
President Trump hasn’t defended the use of his name by white supremacists, but did say during a contentious press conference that there was blame “on both sides” in regards to the Unite the Right rally, which left one person dead.
MUSIC CAN DIVIDE, BUT ALSO EDUCATE
In 2004, Panzerfaust Records (a white power record label that was named for a German weapon from World War II) released 100,000 sampler CDs to middle and high schoolers as part of its “Project Schoolyard” mission. The company failed, though, when parents, schools and the Anti-Defamation League caught wind.
To mitigate the spread of hate music, organizations such as the ADL have called on leading tech companies to take a proactive approach to uncovering the content and having it removed or flagged. The group hasn’t been able to track how effective its efforts have been, but various businesses have started cracking down on hate speech in the wake of Charlottesville.
In the matter of just a few days, The Daily Stormer (which had a dedicated “Fashwave Friday” blog) was taken offline by its host, GoDaddy. When the publication tried to transfer its domain registration over to Google, the tech giant canceled its account. BuzzFeed News reported that Apple disabled Apple Pay on white supremacist websites and Squarespace will no longer serve white nationalist businesses or individuals, including Richard Spencer — the self-proclaimed leader of the “alt-right.”
Spotify, the music streaming provider, removed dozens of artists from their platform after the Southern Poverty Law Center released names of current bands. Neo-fascist and fashwave playlists created by users, however, were still available to be streamed.
When NationSwell contacted Spotify and asked for an explanation of its policy on allowing fashwave playlists and users, the company seemed unaware that the genre was even on their platform. A spokesman for the tech company immediately responded, saying the company was “glad to have been alerted to this content — and have [sic] already removed many of the bands identified today, whilst urgently reviewing the remainder.”
At the local level, former white supremacist Michaelis now works as a leader of the organization Serve 2 Unite, which introduces students to arts and different cultures to combat hate and radicalism. It was organized almost immediately after the 2012 mass shooting of six Sikh members in Milwaukee, where Michaelis lives. The shooter in the attack, Michael Page, was part of the supremacist band End Apathy.
Michaelis says that even though music can divide and radicalize, it can also bring education and hope to those who have been taken in by far-right ideologies.
He says, anecdotally, that at the hundreds of speeches he’s given on converting from radical white supremacist to open-hearted peace advocate, he’s been approached by young white men who have gone down the path of racist thoughts and have “changed their way of thinking,” he says.
And according to research conducted by Reinder’s Research and posted on Serve 2 Unite’s website, the nonprofit’s work increases students’ personal, behavioral and social growth, on average, 52 percent.
“If you get that angry young white kid, and involve them in an art project, like music, that shows positivity, they are empowered because they see a problem in society that they can solve and be a part of something,” he says. “That process is the biggest blow you can give to hate groups.”
Additional reporting by Sean Ryon