What follows is the text written for the 4th ISMMS Conference – of course I hardly read half of it, my English being more rusted than expected, and my text being too long. Thanks a lot for all the relevant questions and comments. I know, it’s poorly written, but it should be enough to fully understand the graphs, pictures & so on.
I’m a geographer and I started working two years ago on national-socialist black metal (NSBM). Actually, on one side, I work with my colleague Hugues Pecout on large datasets regarding metal in general, specially with the metal-archives website ; on the other side, I use a more mixed approach on far-right musical scenes, from metal to hip-hop. My interest on far-right musical scenes is related to three main aspects : it’s underground and often illegal ; it’s organised on small geographically clustered scenes ; and it involves a global network of like-minded musicians and activists. This tension between local and global scales is precisely what I’m interested in.
My presentation is organized on three parts ; first I’ll present my conceptual framework, the methodological choices and the data ; a second part will be dedicated to the presentation of three NSBM circles (one from Russia, one from Argentina, one from Malaysia) and the last part will present the main similarities and differences between these three circles. It’s a first presentation of an on-going work and what I present here remains preliminary results rather than firm conclusions.
1. Notions, methods & data
Two mains notions are mobilised here ; the notion of musical scene, and the notion of “catnet”. I’ll be brief on the first one as I assume you all read much more than me on this notion. There are thousands of definitions, I pick up the one from Bennett and Peterson and I consider a musical scene as « the contexts in which clusters of producers, musicians, and fans collectively share their common musical tastes and collectively distinguish themselves from others” (2004:1). Actually, I’ll focus on musicians and producers and, at this point, I don’t have any information regarding the audience and fans of these bands. It must also be noticed that the ideological dimension is as important as the musical one ; the far-right music scene is understood as ‘the elements of a social movement’s culture that are explicitly organised around music and which participants regard as important for supporting movement ideals and activist identities’ (Futrell et al., 2006).
The concept of “catnet” was proposed by Harrisson White in 1965 and became popular with Charles Tilly works on social protests2. It aims to consider set of people sharing common values and interests which thereby form a « category”, and their internal relations creating a « network . A network is defined as a set of relations among a set of actors; networks considered here involves artists, bands & labels. As you’ll see, I use a lot network visualization to try to investigate how my NSBM circles work and diffuse their productions.
It’s an on-going work, for now I only use second-hand data – interviews with actors of these circles are planned but not realised yet. My main source are two online databases, metal-archives.com and discogs.com. I also use fanzines (paper or webzines) & documentary books, plus facebook and bandcamp pages, youtube channels, bands and labels websites. The main problem with these last sources is their ephemeral aspects; facebook pages are often deleted, and so are youtube channels. The language can also be a barrier as most online resources regarding the BlazeBirth Hall are in Russian; all Facebook posts from Malaysian bands are in Malaysian.
I use 2-mode networks, ie links between 2 different sets of actors (an actor can be any given entity, a person, a label, a country, etc.). Today, I’ll present two kinds of data considered as bipartite networks : relations between bands and labels and relations between musicians and bands. Modelling always involves simplification and the first one regard the time. Taking time into account – line-up changes, disbands – is quite difficult as data are barely complete. Plus, all relations cannot be represented. I give you two examples here.
This screenshot from discogs website [slide 2] deals with a release from Russian band Raven Dark. Modelling it as a bipartite graph, I’ll create a link between the band and the label. But here, two labels from Finland are involved; so I’ll get two links from the band to the label but the relation between the two labels won’t be shown.
This second screenshot from metal-archives [slide 3] shows different releases of a Rundagor album, Rundagor being another Russian band from the BlazeBirth Hall circle. Four different releases are given, but three different dates and only two different labels. When the same date and label are given for two different supports (here cassette and vinyl), I consider it as a single release. In this case for example, I create a list of links, with one boolean modality (0 for the first version, 1 for the others releases) and this webpage will give this : Rungador, Self-production, 1996, 0 ; Rungador, Ragnarock records, 2018, 1 ; Rungador, Hammerbund, 2018, 1. As I’m interested in the global aspect of these circles, I also document the country of origin for the labels.
My main objective is trying to understand how these clandestine musical circles work ; how underground bands achieve to promote their production despite censorship.
2 A short presentation of three NSBM circles
I’ll present three circles, starting from the oldest one, the Russian BlazeBirth Hall, then I’ll present the Southern Elite Circle from Argentina and I’ll finish with the Malaysian Darah & Maruah movement. In the three cases, I focus on the bands line-up and the distribution network. In previous tests, I also used network analysis to analyse splits between bands but I won’t present it today.
2.1 The BlazeBirth Hall [slide 4]
It’s the oldest Russian BM circle, created in 1994 and based in Novomoskovsk, a small town located 100 miles south of Moscow. It counts 8 bands – 3 being one-man bands (Rundagor, Raven Dark and Branikald) [slide 5]. It’s quite hard to find recent documentation on its activities, a VK page still active today but only in Russian.
Musical activities decreased for 2 main reasons : murder by stabbing of Ulv Gegner Irminsson in 2005 and recent death of Kaldrad (27 april 2019, hit by a car) – the next Asgardsrei (biggest NSBM festival in Europe) in Kiev will be dedicated to his memory. Rungador seems to be the last band still active today (last album in 2018 on Ragnarock records).
As all circles I’ll present here, you can note a large overlap of musicians among bands. The main support to diffuse their production was the creation of a label in 1995, BlazeBith Hall (only 8 releases, all of BZH bands). The circle also gets a strong connection with the label Stellar Winter Records based in Moscow – 70 releases, last one in 2013.
If the animation of a label is important, abroad labels also count. Most frequently, first releases are self-produced, or released by their label and other releases are on foreign ones [slides 6 & 7]. The most relevant image would be – and it’s a common pattern of BM circles, NS or not – a local “catnet” of musicians sharing musical and ideological views – inserted in an international diffusion network.
As most NSBM circles, its activities are threatened by justice. For instance, in the winter of 2001-2002 Kaldrad was imprisoned for possession of illegal weapons, assault and stirring up racial hatred, halting his musical activities for a time.
What miss compared to the building of more traditional musical scene, and as we’ll see, it’s a common pattern on NSBM circles, is the absence of physical places such as record store or gig places. And finally, it must noticed that there a porosity between NS and black and pagan metal scenes as many musicians involved in NS bands are also involved in bands without any political message – this pattern is also frequent elsewhere. Last point on the BZH circle, it’s a member of the Pagan Front, an international club of NSBM circle – and so is the Southern Elite Circle.
2.2 The Southern Elite Circle
Based in Buenos-Aires (Argentina) and active since 2000, the Southern Elite Circle is one of the smallest NSBM circle [slide 8]. One detail, on metal-archives, Votz Daunor is not mentioned as a SEC member but, if you look the cover of their release (a demo from 2015), the logo of the SEC is present. It faces a strict censorship as it’s illegal in Argentina to support the dictatorship of the period 1966-1973 and it faces antifa actions – photos of Narok – who is also a political activist – can be found online with explicit threats.
Seven bands but only 2 main active members. Even if you consider all artists that were involved in the circle [slide 9], it remains a small one. Here, I tried to take time into account on this representation as grey links represents past members, dates in brackets give band formation and end, duration of membership is noted on each link. However, many question marks remain and it’s quite hard to get a clear picture of the evolution with a single figure.
As the BlazeBirth Hall, the most convenient way to diffuse its production is to animate a label, Dark Hidden Productions, created in 2001, only 21 releases until 2017 including their own productions and foreign black metal bands, some of them without any political view (Mirkhall, Finland ; Draugurz, Brazil) and some being NSBM bands (Na Rasputje, Russia ; Darkthule, Greece). Diffusion also involves foreign labels [slide 10], latin America being especially represented here as you can see labels from Brazil, Chile, or Mexico.
2.3 The Darah & Maruah movement
First of all, some of you might wonder how it’s possible to consider yourself as a nazi in Malaysia – my co-author was quite surprised by the existence of this movement. So I start with promo pictures of two Malaysian bands belonging to this scene: Wraith [slide 11] and Vetis [slide 12]. Their ideology is based on racial supremacy, exclusive and strong nationalism, cult of indigenous traditions and culture. As explains Daeng (Andika): “National Socialism is for all who believe in a nation for one race, one leader and one nation, not only Germans or Aryans […] The usage of Nazi imagery and symbols in some of our bands is simply a tribute to the Third Reich as one of the most glorious empires [that] ever existed. It was also the best symbols to represent our radical views.” (Ferrarese, 2018).
Based mainly in the state of Selangor (Malaysia) and on a lesser extend in Singapore, active since 2005. 20 to 25 bands. Darah & Maruah means blood & honour which is an explicit reference to the European RAC network created by the Skrewdriver singer Ian Stuart Donaldson in 1987. Its main objective is to unite nationalist metalheads with the skinhead scene. Not something new as there are several precedents especially in Eastern Europe: Warehead, line-up Varggoth (Nokturnal Mortum, Ukraine) and a member of the Polish skin band Honor, Kaldrad was member of the RAC band Vandal, the line-up of Temnozor (Russia) is half metalheads half skins, one of the first sign of this attempt of union being the release of the split Raiders of Revenge between Graveland and Honor in 2000 (Resistance Records).
Slide 12 : only scene where a non-connected graph appear. One reason : two branches, the main one in Malaysia, a second one in Singapore (Totenkopf, Massive, Sial). This graph presents all bands and current members or last-known line-up but without taking the time into account. For exemple, the overlap between Banshee and Dexekrators is simple to explain : Banshee is formed in 2000, active between 2004 and 2008 then changes it names to Dexekractors. A name change occurs another time in 2010 and it becomes Hellscream. Unfortunately, the data availability prevents to be more accurate. The fact that this graph is not connected might also due to the fact that many RAC bands are missing as I couldn’t any information on them (Exkruzio, Brown Attack, Bloody boots, Xenophobia, etc.). Few documentation is available online : one inactive and Malaysian website, few Facebook pages also in Malaysian and a couple of blog posts.
A couple of musicians play a key rôle in this movement, especially Andika who runs the label Heritage Nusantara (only 12 releases since 2009, all being bands of DH movements). He gets no less than nine different pseudos and is or was involved on diverse degree in 18 different bands – 14 being documented on metal-archives). His ego-network is quite impressive (slide 13). He is involved in many projects with differents styles for exemple, Raptor (heavy/thrash metal), Steel Crescent (Folk/Heavy metal), Jugra (BM/RAC), Vetis (Death/Thrash), etc.
One specificity: two of these artists are women (Mistress Tormentor, bass in Hellscream and Battle Hymn) – engaged to SS Penanggal (guitars in Hellscream, Vetis, and Dexerkrators) – and S.VonNith (bass, guitars) from the BM band from Singapore Massive.
3 Similitudes & differences
3.1 Common patterns
In the three cases, we have urban local scenes with a lot of shared artists amongst bands & side-projects (catnets). Animation of a small label & contacts on a global scale to diffuse their productions. Musicians are generally involved in both political and apolitical bands. All face censorship, do really few gigs, don’t have record stores or physical places to reinforce the scene. All are organised around a couple of hyperactive activists which create fragile circles – the disappearance of these central persons involve the end of the circle (BlazeBirth Hall no longer inactive due to the death of 2 main members; SEC dependant on 2 persons; key role of Andika for D&M)
3.2 and one main difference
The main difference regards the model: elitism and search for « true underground and politically incorrect black metal” in Argentina and Russia vs large RAC/black/pagan/folk metal network in Malaysia. In this last case, the model is not the first BM circles (Les légions noires for example) but the Blood & Honour network mixing political propaganda and musical activities.
These three circles are both local and global. Here I just examined bands line-up and relations with abroad labels but the international aspect could also be highlighted by the examination of split releases. I didn’t finish to examine them but just 2 exemples, splits between SEC bands and Bulgarian (Aryan Art, Sofia), New-Yorker (Grafvolluh) and French (Stormlüst) bands. Jugra in Malaysia recorded splits with bands from Italy (Via Dolorosa) Québec (Nachtkrieger) and Germany (Kriegsschur). However, more information is required to fully understand how these contacts are created and maintained. My next steps should be trying to take time into account, and to realize interviews, one obstacle being that I study an ultra underground scene that do not search for light at all.
And I’d like to answer an open question to conclude : is there anything original regarding these circles ? The fact to get a large artists overlap between bands, to get your own small label and many different side-projects, to see your production released by stranger underground labels is quite common on BM scene. One difference remains, the level of Etatic repression (Argentina) and censorship that prevent, for example, international tour (Antifa pressure on gigs organizers).
Bennett Andy and Peterson Richard A, 2004: Music Scenes: Local, Translocal, and Virtual, Nashville, Vanderbilt university press
Ferrarese Marco, 2018: The Roots of the Hate, New Naratif, April 2nd, https://newnaratif.com/journalism/the-roots-of-the-hate/
Futrell Robert, Simi Pete and Gottschlack Simon, 2006: Understanding music in movements: The white power music scene. The Sociological Quarterly, vol. 47, no 2, p. 275-304