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Neofolk: reviving interest in folk music

The 20th century was the century of modernity. Progress accelerated by leaps and bounds, the colonial system collapsed, and globalization began. The erasure of borders between states and nations led to the fact that many people began to ask: who are we? Who were our ancestors?

The same happens in music: classical music is replaced by jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, various modifications of rock music, pop music, then techno and hip-hop. The abundance of electricity in sound, syncopations and dissonances, pop reworkings of classics leads to an interest in the well-forgotten old.

In the English-speaking environment, the term folk revival has appeared, i.e. folk revival, which characterizes the interest in traditional music. The term folk revival has emerged in the English-speaking world, and it characterizes the interest in traditional music.

In Europe and America

Despite the fact that folk music as such was (is and will be) everywhere, the term “neofolk” and the cultural milieu associated with it appears originally in the English-speaking countries of Western Europe and North America. For one thing, ethnic music performers such as the French Los Incas and The Irish Rovers were already popular here. This should also include an array of artists from related genres (country, folk rock, latino, etc.) such as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Carlos Santana, Los Lobos and Jethro Tull. Even The Animals gained worldwide fame with the folk ballad “The House of the Rising Sun”. On the other hand, it was here that jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, punk, metal and other genres were born, with which neofolk emerged: folk music, but not quite folk; traditional, but not quite traditional.

There is an urgent need in society to get in touch with the roots, the living folk tradition. At the same time, the public is already spoiled with virtuoso instrumentalists, complex sound equipment and an abundance of electric instruments. It is difficult for a modern person to perceive Inuit songs accompanied by two pieces of wood or a concert of a bagpipe ensemble. But “Death in June” and “Sol Invictus” become the progenitors of the genre, which caused a new boom of interest in folk music. Celtic and Scandinavian themes become especially popular. The Irish take a cheerful dance drive even with dramatic lyrics. The success of “The Pogues” and “The Corrs” contributed to the emergence of bands playing Irish music all over the world. The Scandinavians had more influence on the heavy neofolk trend. Here folk music was abundantly interspersed with guitar distortion and extreme vocals. Bathory” and “Enslaved” formed the Nordic standard of neofolk, which later also spread around the globe.

In Russia

In Soviet times there were all kinds of folk choirs at enterprises and folk instrument ensembles, but it all smelled of obligation and formalism. This interest was supported artificially, like the love of Pushkin in schools. Young people are drawn to protest, to that which does not fit into the social attitudes. And suddenly, in the early 2000s, neo-folk became the opposite of mainstream music.

There is more than one source here, too. On the one hand, in the very vast and undefined Russian rock, there were already performers searching for new things in folk music: Alexander Bashlachev, Inna Zhelannaya, Kalinov Most, and even Boris Grebenshchikov. On the other hand, records of Western folk music from Alan Stivell to Manowar were coming to Russia, and this could not but influence the emergence of experiments in the style of these performers. In the early and mid-90s, Rada & Ternovnik, Rowan Tower and Divergent appeared, but the real explosion was associated with the little-known band Til Ulenspischel. The band was created by Ruslan Komlyakov, and in 1998 Denis Skurida and Natalia Nikolaeva (now O’Shea, better known as Helavisa) join the group. In 1999 the band breaks up after recording two albums, but its members found two new bands: “Wind of Water and Melnitsa. Helavisa recorded the first version of the album “The Road of Sleep” back in 1996, but the 2003 edition of the album fired, after which Melnitsa became known all over Russia, and in 2005 the song “Night Mare” hit the top of the hit parade of “Nashe Radio”, where it stayed for many weeks. Neofolk bands began to appear like mushrooms: “Polynya” and “Arkona”, “Skolot” and “Vedan’kolod’y”, “Tol Miriam” and “SpieleBanD”. In addition to Celtic and Scandinavian music, the Slavic direction is actively developing. And it is no longer just folk songs in modern processing, but new author’s music, drawing inspiration from the traditions of the Eastern Slavs.

Neofolk bands are becoming regular participants of Nashestavia, and there is also a new format of festivals just for fans of the new genre: Empty Hills, Heaven and Earth, Solstoyanstvo and others. As a rule, these festivals try to create an atmosphere of antiquity and communion with nature. They organize platforms for craftsmen and folk games, historical dances, invite clubs of reenactors and fencers.

Of course, this review is very superficial. It is easy to see that the Asian segment, for example, is not mentioned here. But from the examples that are given, it becomes clear where the trend came from and why it gained popularity. Neofolk responds to the natural human desire to escape sometimes to the forest, away from the routine and pressurizing civilization, to join the simplicity, to what the ancestors lived. But in addition to escapism, there is also a search for the new: from the already forgotten to the yet unexplored, to the beauty that must save the world.

Ivan Mezhevikin