RAPING THE GOAT & OTHER STORIES
It was Brad Rose who first hepped me to Funeral Folk sometime back in 2005. Initally, I had this weird vision of a bunch of black-clad Belgian kids in pancake makeup singing (Jesus, singing....I can't believe how wide of the mark I was) Goth-infused Folk music of some sort. I thought they were calling this music 'Funeral', like it was, y'know, 'Acid' or something. There was some confusion in my head as to whether it was a label, a genre, a scene or...something else. I imagined strummed guitars and gloomy songs sung in French with Funeral bells clanging in the background. I knew I had to def. check it out, but it stayed on the ol' back-boiler for ages...
Then, last spring, I accidentally bumped into one of the guys from (K-raa-k)3 at The Cube, Bristol and began the slow process of investigating the Belgian Sub-Underground. We started talking about various labels and so forth and I when I mentioned Funeral Folk he started laughing and seemed amazed that I'd even heard of them. It was 4 Flemish guys, he told me, who lived in a small rural town or village who made their own CD-rs. They were bored Metalheads who lived in their own private headspace/universe and they played a sort of avant Black Metal Folk on (mainly) accoustic instruments, mainly to amuse themselves because there was nothing else to do where they lived (which was something I could relate to; it sounded like some sorta Belgian analogue of the 70s/80s Somerset Bedroom Punk Band Scene). Only a few people knew about their stuff, he said; but he was sure they'd be totally into it if I got in contact with them.
A few weeks later, I scored a copy of my first Funeral Folk booty: "Raping the Goat" by Silvester Anfang from Brad at Foxy Digitalis.
Initially, far less Doomy than I thought, with glissando guitars hovering over rattling percussion and skitterish bass-hum...occasionally, a drunken trumpet divebombs the cymbals...it's kinda Free-Folk-ish sounding, but played by unrepentent Rockheads...yeah, I could hear some Metal influences in there, but also early 80s Post-Punk and even No-Wave (tho filtered thru a water-pipe)...it's also kinda tribal-ish, but not so knocked-out, sluggish and living-in-the-wild as, say, Davenport Family. About 10 minutes in, the hand-drums sync with the trumpet and a flanged gtr, and it locks into this sort've murky, mucky basement Jon Hassell post-groove.
(100% Evil! LOL!)
A little later, they hit this accoustic gtr, bongos and percussion drone-out that sounds like a medieval approximation of VU's "All Tomorrows Parties." It's all extremely cool and open-ended. What I love about this stuff is that it's superficially lo-budget bedroom fare, but it soon sucks you into its slow, sludgy whirlpool of ideas; it's like a miniature homemade universe that feels surprisingly comfortable, familiar and inviting. Before you know it, you're walking around inside the music, like you're a part of it.
"We Creep Within Dark Places" has more of an overt dirge-beat to it, albeit accompanied by sour Bontempi organ-chords and moooore puffed-out trumpet-playing and scattershot percussives. This is rocking more of a Doom Metal vibe....well, that's if Doom Metal was normally played on recorders and childrens' keyboards. Again, it's curiously immersive, in that it readily draws me into some private pseudo-medieval Metalverse...it's like a grotesque in-joke that's surprisingly inclusive and palatable...I'm listening to this now and I keep wanting to stop typing and mentally climb inside the music... some of it is dissonantly hypnotic, if that makes sense...some of it sounds like a satanic playgroup...other bits like Swell Maps if they'd been suckled on Black Metal milk...there's no reason, on paper, why this should work so well as it does, but it does.
Of course, the listener is expected to suspend his disbelief in places and pretend to ignore the damp cardboard and the yellowing sellotape that sometimes holds the music together, but, really, that's not a fucking problem for me...there's something magical and childlike about this stuff that draws me in, anyway...after the first 40 seconds or so, it's like this music has always been there...
So anyway, a while back (last summer?) I got in contact with Per Oystein, Hellvete and Edgar aka the Funeral Folk guys...a small bit of this interview ended up being used in my piece for FACT magazine, but most of it didn't. There used to be four of them, but I think one of them (PI666) left to become a vulcanologist. Anyway...
I seem to remember that Pieter said that the four (???) of you came from the same village or small town...is that right? Whereabouts are you based? Did you get into music/playing together because you were bored where you lived...?
Per: "We’re not all from the same small town, but we all went to high school there. The name of the town is Maldegem. Lots of farmers, hicks and old people over here. Although most of the Funeral Folk and Silvester Anfang horde no longer live in Maldegem, the feeling still lives on in our music, because Silvester Anfang always record on the attic of Hellvete’s parents. Apparently, the acoustics of this attic give our music a special sound. A couple of weeks ago, I sent an excerpt from one of our last recordings to Clay Ruby. I didn’t tell him it was Silvester Anfang but he immediately identified it as something we had recorded. He said that our ‘cave’ has a distinct sound...
The Maldegem countryside will be on the back cover of an LP that will be released on our favourite American label. It’ll be a picture of a friend of ours posing with a goat in the middle of a meadow, no clothes, only green rubber boots and an army helmet. You are right about the boredom by the way. But boredom is not always a bad thing…"
Edgar: "Hellvete and me live in Ghent now, but our parents are basically neighbours in Maldegem. I’m not too fond of Maldegem as a town, because nothing interesting ever happens over there. The thing that appeals to me is the nature. When I visit my parents or come to the attic to record, the quietness is overwhelming… The surroundings are just wonderful."
Hellvete: "The Maldegem feeling is something strange. It’s hard to describe. Since we started recording on my attic, my love for the small town came back. Before that I really hated it. A narrow-minded hellhole in the middle of nowhere. It was as boring as heaven, where all the dull people go when they die. But when we started recording, I began to associate Maldegem with a lot of fun and excitement and because of that I started to like the small town again. There are still parts of it I hate, but in a way it all became important for what we do."
Is it just the four of you in the Funeral Folk 'axis of evil'...?
Per: "The core of Funeral Folk, or ‘axis of evil’ if you will, is only three people. The label is run by Hellvete, Edgar and me. We take care of pretty much everything. Cutting up the recordings, making the artwork, manufacturing the releases, sending the packages… But of course, the entire Funeral Folk horde is more than just the three of us. It’s the sum of everyone that’s in one of our projects."
Hellvete: "In total the Funeral Folk horde counts around 15 to 20 people I guess, if you count in the Mollenhauer posse."
Was there any particular Belgian underground tradition or lineage that inspired you or that you felt you wanted to be a part of? In the Digitalis interview you mention Imvated and Veglia...were those labels/artists part of what what you aspired to do....or did you feel completely outside of anything that was happening in Belgium at the time...? Stupid question, but do you think there's anything uniquely 'Belgian' about what you do (has your location or local culture fed into the music in any way), or do you feel part of a global 'outsider' tradition in music that exists outside or region/nationality....
Edgar: "I remember seeing Toss for the first time in our youth center in Maldegem. I think I was sixteen or something and Toss kept on droning for an hour or four. The space was decorated with about 30 conifers and the five visitors that were still there at 2 o'clock that night included me and Pieter Last, who organised these events every once in a while. I think his legendary concerts and underground art fairs, like ‘Japanorexia’, ‘Une soirée porno industrielle’, ‘Beurs’ and ‘Erwt’ had a deep impact on my cultural education. I read my first poems on those shows and played there with my first postrock and improvisation bands. I started frequenting (K-RAA-K)3 shows around that time too. Later I met Johan (grandpa Kraak) and Dave. Hellvete got involved with Kraak more actively when he studied in Ghent and dragged me into all that misery a few years later. So, actually things evolved quite naturally. I never wanted to be part of something very consciously. It just happened. When you listen to a certain kind of music in Belgium, people meet quite easily because it is so small. We definitely try to put something very personal into our music that is inspired by our surroundings, so logically, it is region-related. But the first time I saw Vibracathedral Orchestra or Bardo Pond it inspired me as much as the Belgian things around that time such as Toss or Géographique or Köhn or whatever."
Per: "It’s very hard to say if there is something typically Belgian about our music and what we do, but I’ll try. Maybe because Belgium is such a small and petty country, we want to keep everything as humble as possible; I don’t think the Funeral Folk thing is very ambitious, or at least, I am definitely not very ambitious. Another thing that can be seen as typically Belgian or Flemish is perhaps the whole ‘image’ Funeral Folk has built up around itself. The song titles of the most recent releases and the artwork refer to the history of Belgium or Flanders. Most of the pictures I use refer to the Middle Ages, the song titles on the last couple of releases are in Dutch, sometimes we use medieval Dutch or our local dialect. So, in a way, our Belgian roots can be found in our music. But that doesn’t mean we don’t consider ourselves to be part of a global outsider culture. There are some bands we feel very related to, like Davenport and Avarus of course."
Hellvete: "My opinion is similar to Edgar’s. I think things like ‘Japanorexia’ and ‘Beurs’, where I played my first improvshow with the mighty Serge B’Qui, shaped my musical interest. It was a time of great discoveries. The awareness that you could improvise sound on the spot was something completely new for me. Before that time I only thought of concerts as boring bands playing boring three-minute covers of boring three-minute Scabs songs at the local youth centre where we all just wanted to get drunk. The shows Pieter organised were the complete opposite and brought me in contact with a lot of different people. Johan from (K-RAA-K)3 opened a new world for me. Those were some great times! Getting drunk and banging our heads to Dead C jams and listening to all kinds of weird imported stuff. And along the way he opened my ears. The people from Veglia and Imvated showed us that you could make great music with very little or expensive equipment, the only thing you needed to do was to get on with it. You have to pass a barrier and once you get there, you only have to go with the flow. In that way we relate to other things happening in Belgium, more than we are related musically."
Have you got a sort of "mission statement" for the label or the Funeral Folk sound....how would you describe it to people who've never heard what you do...?
Per: "I think that everything that is related to Funeral Folk all has one thing in common. It all sounds crappy or evil. There’s a cool word in Flemish Dutch that we often refer to: ‘brol’. ‘Brol’ is everything that is crappy, cheap or easily broken. Normally, it is used in a pejorative sense, but we see it as something positive. ‘Brol’ is the concept everything is based on, you don’t need perfect musicianship to make cool music, you don’t need expensive or good instruments… It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is reflected in our music. Releases on Funeral Folk are never mastered, only edited, and the artwork is always xeroxed black and white. Describing the outcome of all this … Goat worshipping brolfolk? Post satanic deathkraut? Pagan belgopsych? …"
Hellvete: "666 hails to ‘Overlord Brohl’!!!"
Are there any artists that you feel a particular empathy for, in terms of the music you're playing....I know you've got a soft spot for Clay Ruby/Daveport Family (me too!)...do you like The Dead Raven Choir, for example: they also pull in elements of Black Metal, Folk and 'Free' music....
Per: "We do indeed have a soft spot for Clay Ruby and the Davenport Family. And when you listen to the music of Silvester Anfang, you can hear why. Our music is very similar to what the Davenport Family did, it sounds dark or it has the intention to sound dark… Of course, the music of Davenport sounds a lot more rural than what we do, but it has never been our intention to copy the sounds made by others. And by the way, if it weren’t for Clay, I think we would have quit a long time ago. He was the first guy that showed an actual interest in what we did. Dead Raven Choir is very good too, probably the ultimate black metal folk band. I’ve heard some of the most recent DRC stuff and it was very original: traditional country songs transformed into black metal. Beautiful and romantic songs, buried under a layer of harsh distortion, chilling and amazing. Hellvete’s a big fan too, he loves the 3LP, although he can only endure one or two songs a day. But don’t get me wrong, I adore pure black metal as well. Moonblood, Old Wainds, Goatmoon, Ildjarn … great!! Although were are thinking of forming a free black metal band, I don’t think there are clear black metal influences in the music of Funeral Folk or Silvester Anfang, it’s only our image. By the way, some people seem to misinterpret our image. On the cover of our first LP, we’re all wearing pillowcases, to resemble medieval executioners. But apparently, to some people, we look like the KKK …!"
Edgar: "That is another thing that really grew very naturally. Hellvete and me have the sort of musical background I described in the third question. Per became hooked on metal when he was twelve. Years later, with our musical interest broadening, we all exchanged our influences. The outcome is basically Silvester Anfang. I do not really hear black metal influences in Silvester Anfang, except on the first recordings with David Castrator. But I do love the genre and bands who clearly mix black metal with other genres, like Angelblood’s ‘Rurial Minora’, great album! Or Urfaust, a Dutch band that plays a sort of ‘green green grass of home’ style black metal…
I asked Per a bit more about Flemish Dutch, as I knew nothing about the language and coming from a small rural town myself, I'm v. interested in regionalism and cultural life beyond the Londoncentric media. He told me:
"...about the Flemish Dutch: Flanders ('Vlaanderen') is indeed the northern part of Belgium...we used to form a union with the Netherlands. So we're Dutch-speaking. Our form of Dutch is called 'Vlaams' of Flemish. Dutch and Flemish Dutch are easily distinguished. The main difference is the pronunciation, although there are also vocabulary differences. In Flanders, every town has its own dialect, by the way. In some cases there are even multiple dialects in one town, like in Maldegem..."
Back in December I scored a copy of Hellvete's solo CD on Audiobot and very good it is too! The opening track has got a raw, folky sound; dark n earthy-sounding, like he's playing the soil w/ his guitar...later on, his strummmmmning gets a bit more lyrical/meditational, less loamy...it's cleaner-sounding and less murkily dense than the Silvester Anfang stuff, but extremely listenable; there's more of a pastoral mesmero-hypnotic psychedelic raga-vibe to it, with the multi-tracked gtrs sounding almost sitar-ish in places...I'm tellin' ya: this is a real slow burn of a grower...
(Yay: Wolves! Ah, no I think it's Cerebus, three-headed guardian of the Underworld)
But let's not forget Edgar (Wappenhalter) who's got a cassette split w/ Dolphins of East Belgium on Cauliflower Dreams (or whatever Lieven's calling his label this week). Check this out...the tape came wrapped in a tiger napkin; how cool's that!
Edgar's toons (if I've got the right blinkin' side!) are a blast of righteous lo-fi psychedelic-folk, beautifully crisp around the edges and soft n squishy in the centre, surrounded by a sea of hiss n muffle: I looove it, man!
Recently, the Funeral Folk geezers released their first full-on/full-length wedge of vinyl on (K-raa-k)3. "Satanische Vrede" by Silvester Anfang. Check this great cover:
"Satanische Vrede" is a classic-sounding LP fer sure, a logical extension of their CD-rs, but it feels slightly more confident and assured in its texturing; less ramshackle/shambolic/Brol-ish than its predecessors; tho' I suspect the sessions for the LP prob. date back a year or two...
There's a doomy, dirge-like feel to some of the music on this LP...it scrapes and creeps and clangs and drones its way round the sound-field on all-fours; all the sounds slowly bleed into each other like mucus or mud, sounding like some distant cousin of the Davenport Family....tho' it uses Doom as an inspiration and blasting-off point (Doom and dissonance), it is emphatically not a Metal album...I love the (fake?) crow 'caws' that echo round the music at one point (Mic and I are gonna be using crow field-recordings on our debut album, but that's a total coincidence; crows are such a big part of the whole West Country winter experience...if you lived round here, you'd know what I mean...)...then there's this creepy, slithery pseudo-Hawaiian slide-gtr interlude that sounds like The Blues-gawn-evil; kiddies harmonicas pigeon-bomb the guitarist like malignant bees w/ Bob Dylan's face photoshopped onto their bodies ("Help meeeee! Heelp meeee!"), and when a lop-sided Free Appalachian riff comes in sounding like the bastard son of Duul's "Yeti" gone West Virginia, it feels like this music could go anywhere or do anything...(flip it over and Anfang sound more overtly psychedelic here than anything I've heard them do before: the plinking, slinky detuned Raga gtrs and the slow undertow of thudding percussion puts me in mind of prime-time VU crawling around the floor of the Factory w/ John Cale scraping his viola on a bottle of qualudes.) Satan's children are finally growing up and the world's their Oystein.
There's also a 7" split with Jack Rose doing the rounds; I'll let ya know what that's like soon as my copy turns up.
Hellvete emailed me a few days ago to say their London show in January with Jack Rose and Ignatz got blown out 'cause of visa problems...but they're back in the UK and playing London on June 3rd (I'll remind y'all closer to the time). They're looking for somewhere else in the UK to play on or around the 2nd...I suggested the Cube in Bristol, but it's the Venn Festival that weekend, so Bristol's gigged to the max round then...so if anyone's got an idea where they might be able to play, then let me know thru the blog and I'll pass it on...I'd gladly get 'em down to Yeovil, but they'd just end up playing to me and a couple mates which is hardly worth their effort...
The Funeral Folk Top Ten Metal Chart
Bedemon - ‘Child Of Darkness: From The Original Master Tapes’
Sodom - ‘In The Sign Of Evil’
Slaughter - ‘Surrender Or Die’ demo
Dream Death - ‘Demo ‘86’ and ‘Ode To Sorrow’ demo
Lugubrum - ‘De Totem’
Destruction - ‘Infernal Overkill’
Goatlord - ‘Demo ‘87’ and ‘Sodomize The Goat’ demo
Voor - ‘Evil Metal’ demo
Root - ‘The Trial’ demo
Slayer - ‘Show No Mercy’