Thought For The Day
Thought For The Day
Fake Folk

Alongside a little article on Stars Forever in the current issue of The Face which describes my record as 'the Moog meets Bach meets folk music', you'll find a big article called 'Who's Faking The Folk?'

'Who's Faking The Folk' notes a 90s marketing trend for selling pseudo-authentic products -- records by Beth Orton and Gomez, those Jesus sandals made by Caterpillar -- to people who feel there's a spiritual void at the core of their lives. It points out that the people selling you these 'fake folk' products have a vested interest in your continuing alienation. Vague spiritual yearnings, to be profitable, shouldn't lead to any real renunciation of materialism, any Damascene conversions. They should subtly bolster capitalism by repackaging it in a kinder, fresher shade of green. As such, the article says, it's simply a continuation of the 80s Yuppie ethic of 'screw the world, let's make money'. Now it's 'save the world, let's make money'. As a backlash, this movement was already happening in the 80s, as Anita Roddick of The Body Shop knows.

Re-inventing Innocence

Personally, I don't have any problem with the idea of capitalism getting a little green around the edges. What gives the essay its moral weight, though, is the central place that the concept of authenticity holds in the ideology of Folk. If you were to put the word 'Camp' in there instead of 'Folk', the opposition the article is based on (and its main point, the fact that the opposition is false) would collapse. Camp prides itself on being fake, inauthenitc, artificial.

It's Folk's claims to purity, integrity and innocence which sit badly with the world we live in today. How can you re-invent innocence? How can you restore dead traditions? Once they're gone, they're gone. And when they come back, they're something different.

Let's imagine a variant of Folk style which, like Camp, loudly and proudly proclaimed its inauthenticity. Wouldn't it be more honest than a Folk movement which claimed to be untainted by the capitalism it actually bolsters? Wouldn't this Fake Folk's admission of fakeness be a sort of realness, or the closest we can get to realness in our TV-Internet-Disney-airport world?

Folk Music Of The Information Age

For a while now, I've been trying to find records of folk music played on old synthesisers. Despite appeals on this website, I haven't had much success. (Although someone did tell me there's a BBC Radiophonic Workshop record, made in the late 60s, which collides Folk and electronics.)

Analog Folk doesn't really exist because Folk was never considered a part of the future, which in all retro-futurist dreams has been a sharp-edged, hi-tech place where the Rational positivism of the 18th century reached its final fruition, machines planned and ruled urban life, and people dispensed with the need for religion, superstition and folklore. The future was a place where they played synthesiser music on their synthesisers, not fiddle music.

In fact, as we advance towards the future, we see that it isn't going to be anything like Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The future is much more likely to resemble a spooky new version of the past. I can imagine London in a hundred years rebuilt as a tourist themepark in the style of Shakespeare and The Tudors, just as Paris has been rebuilt to resemble its 19th Century self (without, of course, all the dirt and smut you encounter in Zola and Balzac).

Holy Men And Unbelievers

As the world becomes a series of airport lounges and data packets, we feel more and more the need to re-invent our little national narratives, to reassert our ethnic roots, and to strum on banjos. At its worst this involves religious fundamentalism and ethnic genocide, but at its best, tempered by modesty, irony and playfulness, it can bring more interesting shapes, flavours and textures into our range of consumer options.

I think the essential difference between the poisonous neo-nationalist and the playful and creative postmodern recreation of the past is the removal of the legitimating power lent to our narratives by claims of authenticity. Fundamentalist movements, when they're not dividing Ethnic Albanian from Serb, are busy distinguishing halal (permitted) from haram (forbidden) or hafiz (holy man) from kaffir (unbeliever). And they usually privilege one binary term over the other with claims that it's more authentic -- or closer to God -- than its defining opposite.

The link between Folk and Fundamentalism became all too clear to me when, contemplating a conversion to Islam in 1994, I began to frequent the Central London mosque and met Cat Stevens, once a self-righteous, hippyish folk singer, now a Muslim educator known for his calls for the execution of Salman Rushdie. This path has not been an uncommon one for musicians who championed musical purity in the 60s and 70s. Richard Thompson is also a convert to Islam. Their music was sometimes so much 'closer to God' than pop music that it resembled some sort of dreary, irritatingly self-righteous hymn ('Morning has broken, like the first morning / Blackbird has spoken, like the first song / Praise for the morning...' etc etc)

London Bridge Is Coming Back

As regular readers of these columns know, my conversion was a slightly different one. I became a raving, frothing, fundamentalist postmodernist. And, as such, I'm excited no end by the idea of making records which fuse Folk with Futurism in as ostentatiously artificial way as possible.

It seems to me that these records would herald and signpost the actual future much better than techno does. They would literalize Kraftwerk's claim that synthesiser music is 'industrial folk music', and apply it to a post-industrial world in which, mark my words, London Bridge will sooner or later reappear with the baroque, Florentine aspect it had in 1500. It's inevitable, not just because the idea 'London Bridge' has that as its stereotypical or Platonic idea, but also because the forms which are the most mythical are, finally, the most commercial. Ask Disney.

Call For Submissions

Stars Forever, with its Moogy shanties, forebitters, and broadside ballads, has already begun my efforts to build a catalogue of fake folk music. But I want to go further. I want to release a compilation on Analog Baroque next year of attempts to 'restore' this Switched On Folk which never really existed, but should have. I want to make a parallel world in which sincere jokers compiled a National Folk Synthesiser Archive composed of faked field recordings of hillbillies playing early synths, gap-toothed agricultural workers plugging in ARPs and Korgs for the village hootenanny while bearded, bespectacled researchers, sent by Marxist government bureaus to compile an Elektronische Volksarchiv of Folk Artificielle, set up UNESCO standard-issue ethnological tape recorders.

The record will probably be called Fakeways: A Sampler. Anyone can submit material, with or without vocals, and those chosen will be paid in shetland wool and electronic sporrans. (Oh all right, then, money. You drive a hard bargain, Ebeneezer.) Nobody sounding like Billy Bragg or Beth Orton stands the remotest chance of inclusion.

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