Hello, thank you for talking to us. Can we start by you introducing yourselves? Who are you and what is your connection to the Antifascist Music Alliance?
Hansi: My name is Hansi. Before the pandemic, I used to organize parties – I’m a DJ myself. I am founding member of Berlin Collective Action, which is a social support network for nightlife workers in the pandemic.
My connection with Antifascist Music Alliance is that five of us started it. We’re all friends connected through Axmed, who is also a co-founder, and we are connected through music and nightlife mainly. We felt the need to align together to start this movement.
Catherine: I’m Catherine, I’m also one of the co-founders of the Antifascist Music Alliance. I’ve been involved in the electronic music scene for over a decade as a dancer, I’ve thrown parties and I DJ now and then.
We’ll go onto the music and dance side later, but first let’s look at the anti-fascist side. We’re in Berlin. There’s a lot of anti-fascist activist organizations here. Why did you see the need to create a new one?
Catherine: We formed our group because we wanted to take action on a particular fascist–sympathizing artist. Vatican Shadow, a.k.a. Dominick Fernow, who has been getting a lot of support from our scene’s press, namely Resident Advisor and Pitchfork, and from the booking agency of Berghain, Ostgut Booking.
After his fascist ties came to light, nobody really picked it up, and we asked ourselves whether we wanted to just act on this particular artist or whether we wanted to keep it going and address fascism in our scene more generally. It just felt urgent for us to address fascism within music in general. So, we named our group the Antifascist Music Alliance.
Maybe you could say a couple more words about Vatican Shadow himself. Who is he? What’s he done? Why is he dangerous?
Catherine: For context, he is a big artist within electronic music. He has received a lot of positive press in our major outlets, Pitchfork and Resident Advisor. He had a year-long residency at Berghain and he was booked by their booking agency. He has a release on their label, so they’ve been funnelling money to him for years.
Last year, writer and producer Jean-Hugues Kabuiku pointed out in a substack article that Vatican Shadow has been supporting National Socialist musicians and bands for a long time. There’s a Pitchfork feature on him where he seems to have chosen the cover picture. In the picture he’s beside Mikko Aspa, who is a collaborator who has a neo-fascist music and literature store in Finland.
Vatican Shadow, also has a label called Hospital Productions, and on it he’s released music by a National Socialist black metal band called Akitsa, who are from Montreal, and he has repeatedly used his platform and fame to support fascist artists. If you want to read more about this or follow links to journalism about him, you can go to our website.
Berghain has got an image, at least, of being part of the alternative Berlin culture scene. How did they justify promoting fascists?
Hansi: That is a good question. In the end, one thing that Berghain has been showing since I’ve known the place is that they are not political. They have the position to not take political stances. We have seen this when the club scene in Berlin tried to disrupt gatherings with movements like AfD wegbassen, and Berghain continuously dropped out of positioning itself politically.
The justification comes from a place of not wanting to engage into politics and trying to create their own bubble where they can do what they want. So, their politics are a little bit unprogressive.
Wouldn’t you say that platforming a fascist artist is a political stance?
Hansi: Absolutely. Being silent is also a political stance for sure.
Catherine: We emailed them in the Summer of 2021, and they quietly removed Vatican Shadow from their booking on their website. But they didn’t respond to us, and they haven’t actually done any of the asks in our open letter.
This feeds into the next question about how the various outlet like Pitchfork have responded. It’s now six months since you contacted them and asked them to do something. What have they done? Is it enough?
Catherine: Literally none of our asks have been done, so Pitchfork, Resident Advisor and Ostgut Booking have not taken any action at all. Our asks are simple – we ask them to place an addendum and a link to articles critically addressing the fascist ties on their articles and reviews about him. We also ask that they donate to organizations fighting antisemitism and extremism, publishing the amount and which organization.
We asked them to make a statement about how they plan to prevent this from happening again. And we also ask for the press outlets, Pitchfork and Resident Advisor, to publish a call to ask other publications to place disclaimers on their existing coverage of Vatican Shadow. We think that these are not too much to ask, but nothing has taken place yet.
You said earlier that it started with Vatican Shadow, but now you want to cover other artists. Who are the other artists we should be worried about and what are you doing about them?
Catherine: There are fascist artists on his label, like Akitsa, which is a Montreal band, and there are fascist music genres and festivals. There are fascist music genres like National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM) or fashwave – when Richard Spencer was leading white supremacists at a National Policy Institute meeting in Washington in 2016, for example, they were playing fashwave music.
You can watch out for artists names that sound fascist, like Storm Cloak, Cyber Nazi. I think having a knowledge of fascist history can help us recognize when artists are hinting at or openly supporting the far right.
You just mentioned Canadian bands. This is obviously something which is not just limited to Berlin. Do you know of other people in other cities or other countries who doing the same thing as you?
Catherine: We got quite a lot of support on our Open Letter from outside Germany. Vatican Shadow himself is American, and we had a lot of support from artists and organizations over there, like Umfang, Love Injection, Voluminous Arts, Andrew Weathers. We also got support from lots of UK artists – Joe, who’s a well-known electronic musician, James Holden, Wanda Group.
We also had quite a lot of support from inside Germany, like the East Bloc Anti-Fascist Sound Alliance, the Urbane Partei signed, as did Room 4 Resistance. Theleftberlin had us as their Campaign Of The Week, which we appreciate. So, in terms of support on the Open Letter that we put out, we have received a lot of support from many places.
You’ve now been going for over six months. Do you think that you’ve been successful? At one level, the people up there are ignoring you. On the other hand, you are generating some support from below. How would you assess how it’s gone so far?
Catherine: In the sense that none of the organizations have carried out any of our asks, this has not been very successful. But in terms of getting the word out and making sure people know that it’s not OK to support fascist artists, that it’s not edgy or interesting, I think we’ve been quite successful.
Ostgut dropping Vatican Shadow from their booking lists is also something, although they never responded to us, so we don’t know if this was because of our email or not. I think we’ve helped make sure that Vatican Shadow will get a lot less support from mainstream platforms in electronic music in the future.
Do you see this as something that’s specific to electronic music or are there other genres which have got their own problems?
Hansi: Metal scenes have their far right problem or Nazi problem and so does the noise scene. These are at least the scenes which I am aware of. Unfortunately, fascists are everywhere and we are actually too unaware of it. Specifically in Germany, we really have an issue with calling a Nazi a Nazi and to be loud about it. It’s been a historical issue since the “Entnazifizierung” which never took place successfully.
Even though we were successful with the Antifascist Music Alliance as of now, I feel it’s hard to make noise around this topic. Berghain and Pitchfork and Resident Advisor are career makers. They literally decide who is going to be successful next month and who can live off being an artist.
Specifically right now in the times of half-lockdown and reduced events and industry happenings, it’s tough to create noise around those giants who are the money makers for so many. And it was really eye opening to see how much power they actually have.
Catherine: It also seems like other platforms don’t want to criticize them.
A double question. First, how can fans of electronic music get involved in what you’re doing? Second, I’m sure there are, say, metal fans out there who have no idea who Vatican Shadow is and who would find it hard to be part of your campaign, but would like to campaign against people who maybe they have more knowledge of than you do. So, what could electronic music fans do? But also, what can other music fans do?
Catherine: Of course, you can sign our Open Letter, and ask others in your network to sign. Posting about the letter also helps, and just keep an eye out for fascist musicians. If you notice fascist activity in your scene, then you can reach out to the platforms that are supporting them. Posting about stuff also helps. You could also reach out to us if you want to strategize together.
Have you plans for what happens next?
Catherine: We are making stickers!
Stickers are always important
Hansi: I think our main goal should be to gain more reach with influential people within the music scene. It’s hard for small artists to sign something that could be harmful for the lift off of their career. But what I would love to see is the ones who are already up there, the ones who are huge, the ones who have been posting for two years now after 2020, specifically about being allies and standing against any form of discrimination against marginalized identities.
We will try to reach out to more artists who are the influencers and who are the big ones who actually can make a change and also put pressure on them. And what I’m wondering is where are the agencies, where are the ones who are actually doing the bookings and how can we activate them as well?
It’s a struggle for them, as I said. This powerful trio is making careers and breaking careers, but there has been a lack of motivation for such a clear topic that is not even calling for cancelling him. Our demands are just, please inform people who read your articles that this person has fascist ties and because you made money from them, please donate to an anti-fascist organization.
We’re not talking about ending careers. We’re talking about just putting out the facts. And that is something that I think is not too much to ask.