Secret scenes: Antifolk
There are countless similarities between our city and its transatlantic cousin, but the best thing London and New York have in common is that they are home to a legion of misfits and outsiders who manage to find each other in their city‘s myriad music scenes. Antifolk is just one of these, and it‘s been bubbling away across the pond and in our own backyard for the last few years
Currently the more (in)famous proponents of this micro-genre come from New York, particularly oddball duo The Moldy Peaches, whose 2001 self-titled debut has been a big influence on the British scene. Then there’s Jeffrey Lewis, Major Matt Mason, Diane Cluck and plenty more. But what the hell is antifolk? A group committed to the burning down of Cecil Sharp House and lynching of Martin Carthy? London’s own antifolk chap, Sergeant Buzfuz (known as Joe Murphy to his mum), helps to explain.
‘Back in mid-80’s New York this guy called Lach used to frequent the West Village folk clubs, which were sort of touristy places. Very mainstream. But he was singing lots of punky stuff and they eventually banned him from all of the clubs. So, when the West Village put on their annual hootenanny, Lach put on an anti-hootennany and got his scummy, punky friends from the East Village to come along. From that grew a weekly antihoot and from that the term antifolk.’
Over the years the term has become a catch-all tag for scratchy punk-folk, but it’s the idea of being anti-establishment on which most artists converge, becoming a community of individuals who, according to Buzfuz, ‘refuse to fit into boxes that people like to put other people into’. Musically, as long as you’ve got something interesting to say, you can join the gang. And London’s Filthy Pedro (aka Simon Parry) believes this urban-bred music is the closest we’ve got to a modern-day folk music: people telling everyday fables, valuing humour over sorrow, storytelling over technique and personality over polish.
Kicked into action by New York, London has quietly developed its own scene, comprised of artists with some very silly names. There’s the edgy, Fall-like David Cronenberg’s Wife, punk-poet Spinmaster Plantpot, ‘tweecore’ band The Bobby McGee’s, Filthy Pedro – who started the website www.antifolk.co.uk – JJ Crash, and Yo Zushi amongst others. In spite of the American influence, it’s clear that they’re as much inspired by home-grown music as that of the East Village.
‘Sure, New York has had a big impact,’ says Buzfuz, ‘but there’s also a kind of pre-antifolk line that you can draw in Britain. For example, lots of antifolk people here are inspired by the Television Personalities, Syd Barrett and Ian Dury.’
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