In darker corners of the internet there are growing communities of alt-right meme-machines mocking liberals and advocating white supremacy. However, recently another facet of the movement has emerged: fashwave, the musical genre where 80s electronica meets fascism.
Fashwave is essentially a subgenre of vapourwave, a creation of the early 2010s characterised by its slowed-down, lo-fi 80s A E S T H E T I C accompanied by images inspired by early computing technology and TV advertisements, simultaneously rebuking and embracing capitalist alienation. Its proximity to the latter is that at first listen you might not even realise you were hearing the product of a white nationalist (although titles such as ‘Right Wing Death Squads’ and ‘Team White’ do tend to give it away).
Fashwave effectively encapsulates a particular aspect of the Zeitgeist. With the roaring success of nostalgia-drenched Stranger Things last year, and the rapid rise of the political right, it is perhaps not so bizarre that the two would join forces to form the hybrid phenomenon. Indeed, one supporter declared on Twitter that what binds white nationalists together is “a belief in the supremacy of the 1980s”. It seems that the decade holds a special place in the hearts of alt-right members, who remember (or at least regard) it fondly as “the last days of white America”.
The genre is a very new one, born in the wake of the Paris terror attacks in November 2015. Leading fashwave artist Cybernazi said in an interview last year that his music was inspired by the horror the event instilled in him. This influence is evident genre-wide, with Xurious’s (another leading fashwave producer) oldest song entitled ‘Requiem for Paris’.
Leading alt-right figures have championed fashwave, describing it as the movement’s soundtrack. Of these the most well-known is probably Richard Spencer, the man who recently went viral for being punched in the face during the Washington DC street protests on the day of President Trump’s inauguration in the middle of explaining his affinity with Pepe the Frog. The video has been repeatedly remixed online, meaning that you can now watch as Spencer is hit in time to the opening drum machine bars of New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’.
Ironically, New Order is one of his favourite bands (alongside Depeche Mode) and is apparently a big influence of this new electronic genre. New Order’s name has long attracted controversy and allegations of Nazi sympathies, all of which have been dismissed by its members. However, in an interview with VICE’s music channel THUMP, Spencer said he thought the 80s legends “were consciously or unconsciously channelling […] something darker, more serious, maybe more authoritarian.”
This adoption of popular culture by fascists is nothing new. It is not even the first time this kind of music has been used – the Swedish far right hijacked this particular vein of 1980s synth-pop when it was contemporary. However, this is the first time support has been so seemingly concentrated on one genre. Historically punk and other musical movements have attracted a fascist following, but far right supporters in the 21st century say that these forms are dead, and that self-produced electronic music as the artistic expression of the millennial generation is the natural fit.
Modern day far-right producers still acknowledge their historical influences however. Cybernazi described fashwave as the ‘direct heir’ of Futurism, and it is not difficult to see why. Futurism was an artistic movement which came out of Italy in the early 20th century, in the days of Mussolini. The genre was inspired by the great technological advances happening at that time and the violence of war.
Nowadays, instead of trains and automobiles, fascist musicians are inspired by the creative possibilities of big data and the infinite virtual world of the internet’s capacity to bring people together. As with the alt-right movement as a whole it is easy to get caught up in the sensation and lose sight of the true scale of fashwave’s popularity. Although the concept of fashwave is attention-grabbing, its listeners can really only be found in a very select niche of the internet. Even its most popular songs have only around 50 thousand views on YouTube. The movement is undoubtedly growing; there is no denying that. But all things considered you are unlikely to stumble across it in the soundtrack to the next Stranger Things instalment any time soon.
Image: Terri Po