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Right-wing music

Stefan Rheinbay / gswApril 26, 2013

Germany's far right has an eye on music trends and aims to promote its views to young people musically - even if that means using genres many within the scene deplore. Hardliners call the sounds "un-German."

Neo-Nazis attend a concert in Gera, Germany Photo: Peter Müller dpa/lth
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

"No, no, the NPD doesn't disseminate any music of its own, and we don't release or produce any either." When asked by a reporter for a new copy of a "schoolyard CD" distributed in years past by the extreme right National Democratic Party, the party's press spokesman Frank Franz replied that he is not allowed to turn it over because it is currently listed by German authorities as "damaging to young people" and on an index of restricted access media.

A shame - the spokesman added - because it is important for young people to hear. "For us, music is an ideal medium for addressing young people," Franz said, noting that music builds emotional bonds.

Right-wing protesters shout at an event in northern Germany (c) picture-alliance/ZB
Music forms bonds - a fact the NPD wants to exploitImage: picture-alliance/ZB

Fomenting, but not converting

The German Youth Institute, funded by the federal government, performs long-term nationwide studies of young people and released an extensive report on youths who identify with the extreme right scene. One finding would likely disappoint NPD members: "The interview responses make it clear that music does not play an initiatory role."

In its most recent annual report from 2011, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution left open whether bands associated with extremism, like Blitzkrieg or Hauptkampflinie, really draw young people into the right-wing scene. But the report does describe the music as "the binding sub-cultural element in creating and fomenting groups of right-wing extremist youths prepared for violence."

'Hard bass,' without words

Music can indeed build communities - and not always just by way of the lyrics.

"The right-wing messages are not only transmitted through the words," said musicologist Thorsten Hindrichs of the University of Mainz in an interview with DW. For years, Hindrichs has researched the topic of music and youth culture. "It's always a mix of the tonal and musical dimension, as well as the lyrics, and the artist. Image, style and lifestyle are inseparable elements there," he explained.

Expert Thorsten Hindrichs Copyright: DW/Stefan Rheinbay
Music culture expert Thorsten HindrichsImage: DW/S. Rheinbay

Increasingly, there are no lyrics at all. Pulsating "hard bass" music is often the accompaniment of choice when flash mobs of right-wing activists take to the streets - typically wearing masks and holding signs with slogans like "Bass multiculturalism away!"

An eye on trends

The rugged music many associate with the right-wing scene appears to be on the retreat. That's due in part to the strict indexing policies by Germany's Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons, which prohibits sales of works intended to stir up far-right sentiment in young people.

Another factor is that even the neo-Nazis are keeping up with the times. The slogans and "Sieg Heil" provocations from Nazi bands like Weisse Wölfe do little more than appeal to the instinct of some sixth graders for scandal. And the music's shoddy production quality doesn't live up to the meager demands of right-wing extremist audiences.

'Expanding' nationalist influence

"There's something going on in terms of the quality. The lyrics are getting more sophisticated, and not only is the music technically better, but the recording quality has improved substantially. That's a result of the fact that in the last ten to 15 years, computers have made the recording process more accessible and easier to perform," believes Hindrichs.

Taking advantage of that fact, talent-free members of the extremist scene are rapping their home-spun lyrics over samples. Borrowing a rebellious underdog attitude from certain American musicians, they sell their Teutonic tracks as "nationalist rap."

The NPD's "Schulhof" (Schoolyard) CD Photo: Peer Grimm dpa/lbn
The NPD's "Schulhof" (Schoolyard) CD caused a stirImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Two such bands - n'Socialist Soundsystem and Sprechgesang zum Untergang - were represented on the NPD's CD for distribution in schools. The inclusion of rap is somewhat astonishing given its associations with and origins in black culture. But apparently pragmatism is the order of the day.

"With this music, we can expand our circle of influence and, by doing so, establish nationalist content in all youth cultures," said the group Nationale Sozialisten Rostock, which has close ties to the NPD.

Healthy patriotism?

"Baiting Young People with Right-Wing Music" was the title of a recent article in Germany's "Bild" tabloid. It included a photograph of an attractive young woman from Berlin named Mia Herm. She produces "patriotic rap" in a studio at home and views herself as promoting a new sense of community among Germans. Under stage name Dee Ex, she has become something of an internet phenomenon with her nationalistic agitprop.

"I have distanced myself from the beginning of my work from stupidity and violence and constantly make it clear that I am neither left, nor right, but simply and pointedly 'German,'" she said.

Thorsten Hindrichs responds with skepticism: "Dee Ex is at the edge - there we're coming into a grey zone. Although I think Dee Ex definitely belongs to the right. It's the idea of 'healthy patriotism' that's being propagated there. Like the rock band Frei.Wild, it's explicitly not right-wing extremism. But I personally find it questionable that certain attitudes that I consider reactionary are reflected there, attitudes that extend well into the middle of society."

The band Frei.Wild in concert in Switzerland Copyright: cc-by-sa-3.0/Pakeha
The band Frei.Wild in concert in SwitzerlandImage: cc-by-sa-3.0/Pakeha

Frei.Wild and the ECHO Awards

Frei.Wild was recently nominated for an ECHO prize, Germany's answer to the Grammy Awards, which honors the strongest sellers on the German market each year. After heavy protests by other participants, the organizers ultimately withdrew Frei.Wild's nomination. Singer Philipp Burger says his work is being misunderstood. As a resident of the largely German-speaking northern Italian province of South Tyrol, he says that having strong feelings for his home are part and parcel of his culture. Frei.Wild has made a routine of distancing itself from racism and right-wing extremism.

Campino, the lead singer of punk band Die Toten Hosen, proposed the unusual idea of introducing an ECHO category for former right-wing artists who have turned their back on the scene. But Campino's suggestion would likely do little to remedy the fact that extremists will continue to try and use music to draw people in - how effective such campaigns are, however, remains an open question.