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Anti Folk
Stylistic origins Folk music
Punk rock
Avant garde music
Cultural origins Mid 1980s United States.
Typical instruments Guitar, bass guitar, drums, piano
Mainstream popularity Underground

Anti-folk (sometimes antifolk or unfolk) is a music genre that takes the earnestness of politically charged 1960s folk music and subverts it. The defining characteristics of this anti-folk are difficult to identify, as they vary from one artist to the next. Nonetheless, the music tends to sound raw or experimental; it also generally mocks the seriousness and pretension of the established mainstream music scene.[1]



Anti-folk in the US

Anti-folk was begun by artists unable to gain gigs at established folk venues in Greenwich Village, including Folk City and The Speakeasy.[2] Soon after singer-songwriter Lach started The Fort, an after-hours club, on the Lower East Side, after a booker at Folk City told him his music was "too punk."[3] The Fort's opening coincided with the New York Folk Festival, so Lach dubbed his own event the New York Antifolk Festival.[3] Other early proponents of the movement included Berryhill, Brenda Khan, Paleface, Beck, Michelle Shocked and John S. Hall.[2][4]

The original Fort was shut down in 1985 and the club moved from location to location, including East Village bars Sophie's and Chameleon, before winding up in the back room of the Sidewalk Café from 1993.[3] The Antifolk Festival continues to be held semi-annually in the East Village (outlasting the original Folk Festival). Events have also taken place in the band shells in Tompkins Square Park and Central Park.[3] While living in San Francisco for a few years in the early 1990s, Lach helped establish a West Coast anti-folk movement at the Sacred Ground club.[5]

Anti-folk in the UK

In the 2000s the label has been adopted in Britain, particularly in the London underground scene, with acts including David Cronenberg's Wife, Emmy the Great and The Bobby McGee's.[6] The UK anti-folk scene (largely centred in London, Manchester and Brighton) has established its own identity, which has been written about in a six-page feature in the September 2007 issue of Plan B magazine. Plan B held an anti-folk night at the Huw Stevens-curated Sŵn in Cardiff in November 2007. The beginnings of the UK anti-folk scene were in London, with shows promoted by Sergeant Buzfuz that, although not billed as anti-folk, featured many U.S. and UK anti-folk singer/songwriters. Around this time, Jaymay, a New York native, moved to London. In 2004, the lo-fi musician Filthy Pedro started seasonal anti-folk festivals, which he promoted with Tom Mayne of the band David Cronenberg's Wife.

The Brighton anti-folk scene was quick to follow, curated primarily by Larry Pickleman and Mertle. Other key figures within the UK anti-folk community include Dan Treacy of Television Personalities, JJ Crash, Milk Kan, Extradition Order, Lucy Joplin and Paul Hawkins. Emmy the Great is loosely connected with the English anti-folk scene, having played at Sgt Buzfuz's nights in 2003 as part of the duo Contraband. Kate Nash started her music career playing anti-folk-style shows, including a concert promoted by Larry Pickleman and mertle in Brighton. Laura Marling is sometimes linked with anti-folk, although this is less to do with the UK movement and more to do with her perceived musical style.

Anti-folk-influenced acts such as The Bobby McGee's have begun to pick up regular national radio airplay and media coverage. In August 2006, Timeout Magazine called anti-folk "One of London's hottest subcultures". The first anti-folk UK compilation album, Up the Anti, was released in 2007, mastered by Mark Kramer. The Welsh anti-folk artist Mr Duke has gained some popularity in Wales.

See also


  1. ^ A. Petrusich, It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the Next American Music (Basingstoke, Macmillan, 2008), pp. 234-7.
  2. ^ a b J. Bessman, "Rising singer/songwriters redefine folk in the '90s", Billboard Jul 16, 1994, vol. 106 (29), pp. 1 and 36.
  3. ^ a b c d How Does It Feel, Antifolkies, to Have a Home, Not Be Unknown?, Alan Light, The New York Times, August 11, 2006.
  4. ^ D. Kimpel, How they made it: true stories of how music's biggest stars went from start to stardom! (Hal Leonard Corporation, 2006), p. 7.
  5. ^ M. Kihm, "A scene is made", New York Magazine Sep 12, 1994, vol. 27 (36), p. 70.
  6. ^ C. Parkin, "Street scenes: Antifolk", Time Out,, retrieved 20/07/09.

External links

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