I folked your anti, alright! Anti-folk is the latest genre taking the music world by storm. If it isn’t the delectable Regina Spektor’s wonderful harmonics then it’s the Moldy Peaches risqué lyrics that intend to shock and surprise. Shock and surprise they do. Many of you, upon hearing the wonderful term ‘anti-folk’ will think, oh dear god, not another crazy fad to come out of California in the past decade. You will, however, be surprised if you actually listen to it. You will have heard one example of anti-folk music at least, even if you are unaware of it. So let’s get folked.
Anti-folk really began to take off in the sixties, with Greenwich Village, New York as the catalyst. As the Village was known for its bohemian and folk background, a young singer songwriter by the name of Lach – attempted to play in one of the bars there. Unfortunately, he was accused of being “too punk”. I’m not quite sure what being “too punk” entails but to me that’s as ridiculous as saying “cut down on the cake”. You can never have too much cake! And so began a mutiny against traditional folk. Anti-folk artists found themselves creating music which was void of any of the current generic music stereotype.
What is anti-folk?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a concrete definition of what anti-folk is. Wikipedia, god of the internet, won’t be of much help here either. So – like my grandmother says – when in doubt, make it up!
Anti-folk takes the traditional way that folk songs tell stories, using familiar folk instruments (including the acoustic guitar, piano, banjo, fiddle etc.) but turns them into a farce. Traditional folk songs might tell you a tale of a maiden going off with gypsies and/or her long lost love. Anti-folk spins this on its head, adding a comical twist as the stories can be about anything or anyone; the more satirical the better.
Famous anti-folk music – Moldy Peaches
The Moldy Peaches are probably the most well known anti-folk group around, after their song Anybody Else But You was played in the hit film Juno. The band was founded by Adam Green and Kimya Dawson and the dynamic duo set things on fire with tracks such as Downloading PrAwn with Davo, Steak for Chicken and Who’s Got the Crack to name but a few. Research the lyrics for these songs and you will find them the greatest thing since crunchy peanut butter. The whole point of these lyrics is that they are funny. They poke fun at everyday situations and, as a listener, we can relate to that, because every now and then it is nice to see the funny side of life’s serious business.
American anti-folk music – Jeffrey Lewis
Jeffrey Lewis is another American anti-folk artist. Born in New York, the singer songwriter graduated with a degree in English Literature until 2000 when he started playing regularly at open mic nights whilst living in Austin, Texas. He has now made a name for himself in the anti-folk world, in particular concerning his hand drawn music videos. Check out I saw a Hippy Girl on 8th Avenue, Don’t Let the Record Label take you out to Lunch and No LSD Tonight. It helps if you’re not exactly PC when listening to the lyrics.
Australian anti-folk music – Tim Minchin
Moving across the pond to Australia, we will find the outrageously fantastic Tim Minchin. He probably wouldn’t class himself as an anti-folk artist, but if we’re going on the understanding that the genre’s definition is mainly based on cathartic comedy, then Minchin is in. I am lucky enough to say that seeing him live is better than listening to him in your bedroom. His stage presence is literally out of this world. Hearing an entire crowd at Reading burst into hysterics at his lyrics is something I have never witnessed with any other band. His song’s topics discuss everything from the need to recycle plastic bags to peace anthems for Palestine. If you thought that The Moldy Peaches were scandalous, think again – Tim Minchin will force you to reset your ethical dial.
During shows Minchin plays the piano (a pleasant accompaniment to his raucous ravings). He developed his career in musical comedy after moving to Melbourne once finishing his degree in English and Western Theatre. Since then he has performed at so many festivals and with so many famous artists that to list them all would result in severe arthritis in my wrists from over zealous typing. A little bit interested yet? If so, check out this kohl-eyed comedy God at www.timminchin.com.
Female anti-folk music – Regina Spektor
If you’re not ready to be completely politically offended yet, then check out the beautifully talented Regina Spektor. This Russian born American singer songwriter and pianist is a little tamer than the aforementioned artists. Her voice and style are so unique, that they bring a sense of freshness to the music scene, which tends to get repetitive and dry after a while. Like many original anti-folkers she gained public attention in downtown New York City’s Sidewalk Cafe. From there she signed a record deal with Warner Brothers and many of her songs are featured in films such as The Call in Narnia’s Prince Caspian and Better in My Sister’s Keeper.
All of her songs vary in style, from upbeat and dramatic, to slow and steady, most are based on fictional characters from her imagination. Spektor creates a magical world through her lyrics, and allows us the chance to see that anyone can write and perform songs, if only they put their minds to it. Seeing her live is something that is a must if you are a fan already. Not only does she perform songs, she is also more than capable at improvisation, which is more than can be said for most artists.
If you fail to enjoy or like any of the above artists, for whatever reasons, I won’t hold it against you. But check out a few of these bands before you totally write anti-folk off; Joanna Newsom, Ani diFranco, Billy Bragg, Neutral Milk Hotel, Jimmy Monaghan and Music for Dead Birds. If after these, you still aren’t impressed then I give up. Motherfolkers.
I may have taken a slightly biased approach when writing this. Understand this, dear Reader – it is only because I sing for an anti-folk group myself.
But anti-folk is such a fantastically broad and subversive music genre. Comedy can place the seeds of revolution in a person’s mind. The entire genre was a revolt against the patrons of a larger folk genre taking a dictatorial stance about what should and shouldn’t be performed. With anti-folk, you don’t have to be worried about being trampled to death by a stupidly large mosh pit, only that you’ll laugh so hard you’ll pee yourself.
Scout around the artists below, follow the internet trail (and your friends’ music collections) for other anti-folk artists… have a listen and, young damsel or sirrah, be prepared to get folked up the arse!
Amazon: Joanna Newsom
Amazon: Regina Spektor
Amazon: Tim Minchin