Article:Sordid Allusion

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Sordid Allusion: The Use of Nazi Aesthetic in Gothic and Industrial Genres by Stephanie Obodda

A thesis presented to Princeton University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures Princeton, New Jersey, 2002

(c) Stephanie Obodda, 2002

I would like to thank my advisor, Professor Therese Augst, for her valuable suggestions. Also, the department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, my friends and family, WPRB, and those “question marks on stage” who encouraged me to further pursue this topic.



Starting mainly in the mid-1980s, several bands in the genres of gothic and industrial began using Nazi material: in performance, in album art, and through sound samples. It would be inappropriate to classify them as "neo-nazi" bands, however. Unlike the latter, they do not seek the institution of a new Nazi state, nor do their lyrics advocate violence against minorities. They instead belong to a strange new avant-garde, intent on exploring taboos with such dedication to their creations that they themselves remain ambiguous. The bands vary greatly in their motivations and techniques, the reasons for their references ranging from introverted self-examinations to well thought-out revolutionary manifestos.

It's likely that the use of this aesthetic by some of these bands originated in a morbid or fetishistic attraction and only later became a more complicated exploration worthy of analysis. Remarkably, the bands' use of the aesthetic began to resemble the very techniques used by the avant-garde of the early 20th century - especially photomontage artist John Heartfield - against the Nazis.

Today, however, society's views towards the use of the images and symbols of Nazism are different than those under which Heartfield operated. Rather than existing as a part of everyday life, the visual representations have been relegated to the realm of the taboo. Then why unearth them? Disproving the popular belief that all vestiges of Nazism will disappear if these visuals remain unseen, the symbols are as powerful as ever, even more so because of the attempts to shroud them. Invoking this power in the context of popular music could be a successful moneymaking tactic, but the act of doing so also goes beyond capitalism, changing the status of the images and the audience's relationship to them. This topic receives a decent amount of attention, and has come into greater scrutiny recently because of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School. The murderers listened to industrial music, which was defined as the root of their fascination with Nazi films and history. Theories go as far as to say that the shooting had been carried out deliberately on Hitler's birthday. Names of the bands also surface frequently in antifascist publications, mainly in Germany. However, it is rare to find an account of the music in which it is examined past the initial finger pointing.

An analysis of every band that uses the Nazi aesthetic would occupy an entire book. This study will use selective examples in order to best demonstrate certain techniques used in conjunction with the aesthetic. In addition, the bands described here are still actively performing and recording. Many of the earlier now-defunct bands did not receive the same kind of press; now, especially with the introduction of the internet, such themes are documented and discussed more frequently. The purpose of this paper is not to simply determine whether not the artists in question are "Nazis". Instead, it is to examine the context in which the Nazi aesthetic is used by these groups, and ways in which this use could be read going beyond the usual claim that inclusion equals endorsement.

Chapter 2: MONTAGE

Definition of Montage

Montage vs. Collage: Different Definitions

Montage is not the only artistic method of combining more than one element. There are other methods, namely collage, which can be separated from montage by definition. When the then-Dadaists Georg Grosz and John Heartfield claimed to have invented photomontage in 19161, they were actually using a physical technique of composition that had already existed in the 19th century – combining photos, either pre- or post- development, to form an image. However, it is precisely in the distinction between the “newly born” technique of photomontage and older methods of combining photographs that one can understand the most important distinction between montage and collage.

As Dawn Ades writes in her book on photomontage,

When Dada photomontage was invented it was within the context of, although in opposition to, collage. The name was chosen, clearly, to distance the two activities, and Dada recognized a very different potential in the new technique.2

The difference lies not in each specific element used in one of the two techniques, but in the relationship between elements and the impact of this relationship on the whole of the work.

One DDR-era publication about Heartfield’s montage understands this particular characteristic of montage by looking to Marx.

The dialectics of Marx are the key to the understanding of Heartfield. It is in essence the same principle as that of wit, where out of the juxtaposition of two facts a new meaning, a new truth, arises. Heartfield's work is based on the principle: thesis, antithesis and synthesis, and thus the revelation of truth.3

In contrast, a finished collage is no more than the sum of its parts. Examples of common collages, such as a compilation of pictures of one’s friends, show that no revelation is meant to come out of the whole. Even a collage made for political purposes, such as a collection of pictures of famous feminists, would not impart much meaning that was not locatable in each single picture.

Because of this distinction, the dialectic quality of montage is different than that of collage. This can be seen in a 1923 essay in which Louis Aragon discusses Max Ernst’s works, determining that, unlike the Cubist collagists, Dadaists like Ernst created works that were poetic rather than realistic.4 Furthermore, the relationship between the elements determines the poetic strength of the work.5

Elements of a Montage

The nature of the elements chosen for a montage are important. As Douglas Kahn writes in his book about Heartfield, montage is characterized by its use of “previously cultured work as raw material” (D.12). This is especially necessary, of course, if the audience is meant to recognize or even harbor certain unconscious associations of the element. One good source of such material is mass media. Kahn writes that

Mass media qualifies as raw material by virtue of its violent reduction of communication and experience, actual and potential, past the reductions all cultural performances and products must work through.6

The elements of a montage must not only be of a single type. This is easiest to imagine, for example, in theater, where different media such as sound, film, and static images can integrated into the performance. It is possible to use diverse elements within a single medium as well. This is true of photomontage. As noted by Sergei Tretyakov in regard to Heartfield, “it is important to note that a photomontage need not necessarily be a montage of photos. No: it can be photo and text, photo and colour, photo and drawing.”7 Heartfield himself was aware of this, saying that “a photograph can, by the addition of an unimportant spot of colour, become a photomontage, a work of art of a special kind.”8

Text is an element very different from pictoral representations. Although it is not accurate to place written word entirely in the realm of the objective and instantly readable, it does by nature require a different process of absorption than an image. Even if ambiguous in connotation or tone, each word carries some sort of denotation.

On the other hand, images of a symbolic or archetypal nature could be seen as invoking the same process. Just as one familiar with a language will know the definitions of words while reading a phrase, a member of a certain culture might read a symbol or commonly used image as having a definition instead of analyzing the image in terms of action portrayed. For example, an image of a dove with an olive branch will mean “peace” to most viewers; they most likely would not ask the same questions as an image of a person with a branch would invite: for example, why does the subject hold the branch, and where is he intending to take it? The effect of text is similar, although at a different level (this level would be more comparable to a cliché, but the scale of the word, not the phrase, is intended).

Text has been used in both political and “apolitical” photomontage. Dada used text fragments to question the borders between text and image.9 In political montage, as is noted in the Deutsche Akademie der Künste publication on Heartfield, text takes on four roles: inscription, headline, caption, and commentary. Perhaps unintentionally, text is described as an element of the montage, as it is often the case that “the picture and the text together convey a message which neither picture alone nor text alone could convey.”10

Uses of Montage

Criticism/Subversion of Society

One function of photomontage is to provide a critical reflection of society. The disembodiment of elements often makes for a violent result, which can be a successful means of representing a “violent and chaotic society”. In its direct use of images and text from mass media, it can, as Dada did, begin to “subvert the voice of society itself.”11 By making a visual comparison between the elements, one can open a country to a “surgical view” – Tucholsky’s intention for Germany.12

An aural equivalent to Dada’s techniques can be seen in the noise exploits of Boyd Rice. At the start of his career, the Dadaists were one of his influences. His art follows many of their ideas, his music representing a society equally as chaotic. His music is likewise a result of his intentions of subversion. Under the premise that “most music is dangerous because it tends to systematize thought”, he gives the audience the opportunity to themselves “impose shape, rhythms and organization” on the music he makes.13


Along with dry social criticism comes the category of social satire. Dawn Ades writes that “when the effect is primarily comic, it is usually because the object stubbornly keeps its original nature…in spite of the metamorphoses effected around it and demanded of it.”14 This satire can take the specific form that Kahn calls mimikry, a satirical exercise in which “the person who is the object of the parody participates.”15 Kahn compares Heartfield’s later montages to a performance art used by the artist earlier in his life – the puppet show. According to him, these works of mimikry “can be seen as a puppetry using mass media reproductions instead of paper-mache.”16 Heartfield wasn’t the only artist using mimikry. Kahn applies this categorization to film as well. Unlike the usual comparison of Heartfield’s montages to the montaged films of Eisenstein, he chooses instead the comparison of 20s and 30s compilation films from Europe and Russia. These films used material from photojournalism reels and other films.17 By using found materials, Heartfield’s montages and the compilation films were able to simultaneously parody and include a subject. It is important also that this subject is portrayed with its visual integrity intact. This is the difference between montage’s mimikry and that of caricature – the former draws from actual sources, where the latter redraws and exaggerates. An example of this integrity is found in images such as Heartfield’s ‘Goering, the Executioner of the Third Reich’, which looks like a caricature but is not. When this image was on the cover of the AIZ, a note stating that his face was not manipulated had to be included with the paper.18


Montage can also function in association with a specific political agenda. As Ades notes, it was used by many political groups, even Mussolini’s fascists, still remained mostly associated with the left “because it is ideally suited to the expression of the Marxist dialectic.”19 Its process of construction associated both with the working class and with the “intelligentsia which conceives of the construction”, such as the engineer.20

Just as montage can work for a political agenda, it can work against another. Georg Lukács, in his essay ‘Realism in the Balance’, wrote about photomontage as a powerful political weapon.21 Heartfield himself realized that he could use photomontage both as a weapon against Nazism and to make a case for communism. In a 1931 speech he said "If I gather documents, arrange them and do this skillfully then the agitational-propagandistic effect upon the masses will be powerful."

Aside from being for against a specific political agenda, photomontage is simply good as a means of discussing current political events. Peter Kennard, a more contemporary UK artist, found that photography surpassed his previous medium of painting as “a more appropriate means of expressing his politics.” Instead of basking in its own sensuality and alluding to art history as does a painting, a photograph makes a direct reference to the pictured events.22

Demystification of Symbols

Perhaps the most interesting way in which photomontage accomplishes a goal, political or societal, is through the demystification of symbols. By using the symbols present within a society, just ones that resonate or even ones that are held as sacred and untouchable, the power of the symbol can be rendered impotent. An example of demystification from Heartfield is found in his montage ‘Millions Stand Behind Me’, the meaning behind Hitler’s salute is questioned, and it is “De-mystified and deprived of its rhetorical power.”23

In Heartfield’s case, the model of demystification is especially applicable to the case of the swastika. By 1931, it had achieved a public presence and the term “Hakenkreuzler” was even used interchangeably with “Nazi.”24 Heartfield knew that when he used this symbol, he was using something unquestionably familiar to his audience.

Demystification can take one of two forms – a kind of shaming and removal of positive associations, or a reassociation or “reclaiming”. Kahn speaks of the created environment of photomontage as one in which “the entire world of reference was liberated” and in which “simple juxtaposition could dislodge anyting caught in a web of recieved relationships and precipitate it by attachment to a new relationship” (D.109). The former occurred, for example, in “attempts to denigrate the swastika by calling it the spider or bug”. This technique was also present in his montage “Blut und Eisen”, in which, by constructing the swastika out of four bloody axes, he gave the symbol a new definition of brutality.25 The latter can be seen in showing actual uses of the swastika that did not carry a racist agenda, such as in Heartfield’s ‘White Shame in Africa’, in which an African woman is pictured wearing cloth with printed swastikas, or the display of the symbol on a Buddha.26

Strangely enough, the same technique of demystification can be found in a piece Robert N. Taylor did for Exit magazine, “The Swastika, Sacred and Profane”. It is made in an apparently scientific manner, and is composed of quotes about and depictions of the swastika, from star patterns to the emblems of modern hate groups and even swastikas found on the ruins of an ancient synagogue. The magazine’s use of controversial material, particularly this symbol, caused problems in finding a printer. (Incidentally, Exit Magazine had many contributors, including musicians such as Boyd Rice, Michael Moynihan, and Marilyn Manson). Especially today, Nazi symbols and images lend themselves to this technique. The strict social taboos that exist regarding their use paradoxically turn them into something almost sacred. As the guide for the Mirroring Evil exhibit in the Jewish Museum states, “almost no art has dared depict the killers themselves.”27 Kleeblatt asks his readers whether the exhibit, which did dare to do so, can be seen as a sort of ritual of demystification, possibly a way to normalize such images, making us comfortable with them, bringing them back into the cultural conversation, denying to them the powerful charge that even the killers themselves hoped to spread.28

Heartfield's use of Montage

Heartfield’s use of montage changed over the course of his long career. He started out as a Dadaist, creating montages of an abstract nature. Dadaism disagreed with the Expressionist attitude towards photography. The Expressionists believed in the necessity of depicting “inner states which were outside the camera’s domain” instead of the imitated natural reality of earlier painters, whose function had been negated by the existence of the camera. Dadaists tolerated Expressionism’s role in inspiring pacifism in World War I, but thought it had no role after the war.29

The montage practices of Heartfield and Grosz were born when the two began sending anti-war postcards to World War I soldiers on the front. Disguised as similar pro-war postcards, the works managed to escape the censors.30 Heartfield continued the practice, creating what Sergey Tretakov described in his essay on the artist’s works as “scraps of photograph and printed text…arranged not so much according to meaning but according to the aesthetic mood of the artist.”31

As a DDR publication on Heartfield states, “The formal attempts of Dada to present fragmented experience by fragmented art were, in fact, unsuccessful.”32 Although this is probably a politically biased stab at Dadaism, Heartfield did eventually grow out of the movement and began to create montages of a political, rather than Dadaist, nature.

Several changes occurred in his work as he progressed from one state to another. One was his visual verbosity: as noted in Photomontages of the Nazi Period, “the more [Heartfield] developed, the more laconic his language became, the more economic became the construction of his photomontages.”33 Second was his use of text. As David Evans points out: “In the Dada montage words are integrated into the image to lampoon the conventional separation of a painting and its title. In the later work, a title is introduced to clarify the meaning of the image.”34 Third was his use of shock tactics. He had already, as a Dadaist, adhered to the shocking aesthetics characteristic of the movement; however, this new shock was neither similar to “Dada’s violent, but often diffuse, attacks on bourgeois philistinism” nor “Surrealist attempts to jolt the unconscious.”35 The work of post-Dada Heartfield was also visual simplified by its moral reliance on communism. It became art with a clear political message, the main focus of each work around which a sparse construction was set up. Heartfield mixed the avant-garde into this political influence, “bringing a critique of form from the former and a critique of history from the latter.”36


No matter how clear Heartfield’s montages sometimes seem, they can also be quite ambiguous, especially if examined outside of their original context.

Baggage brought by listener

Even if the art is created and displayed with clear intention, the audience’s half of the perception process can cause problems of ambiguity. The first cause of this ambiguity is the misconception that photography, as an “objective” medium, addresses all audiences in the same way.37 This misconception carried over to photomontage, causing the “confidence in the accessiblity of photomontage” noted by Dawn Ades.38 Photography is thus thought better suited than mediums like painting to the creation of works with a message that is intended for a large audience. Second are ambiguities specific to each work, caused by different associations held by members of the audience. Two people might see the same photograph and have very different understandings of it. Even if it is clearly recognizable as a documentation of an event or a certain person, differences can be read into both the details in the photograph and the context of what is portrayed.

Putting aside possible ambiguities, a “correct” reading of a Heartfield photomontage would require at minimum literacy in both areas. The medium of photography requires “knowledge of the reality depicted in photographs” and “knowledge of the medium of photography.” Necessary also was “the popular awareness of figures, images and situations which, in themselves, had nothing specifically to do with photography” (C.27).

Ambiguous Montages

Even knowing Heartfield’s uncompromised beliefs, some of his montages still remain ambiguous. The biggest cause of the ambiguity in these photomontages is a removal from the original context. This removal often means not only that the viewers are not familiar with the identities and implications of the single elements in the montage, but also that the fine interplay of the elements might be misinterpreted.

A good example is Heartfield’s collage “Der Krieg”. Depicted is a muscular warrior riding through a sea of bodies, a swastika of lighting bolts in the sky, and Hitler sitting on the horse behind him. Most was taken from an 1894 painting of the same name by Franz von Stuck. The painting embodies the myth-like warrior aesthetic embraced by the Nazis. This montage is satirizing that aesthetic, but very subtly. Maybe it is Hitler’s slightly limp posture that hints at this satire, or maybe the limp and weak appearance he takes on when placed next to the naked, muscular warrior.

But it’s hard to say that the appearance of this image is clearly anti-Nazi. In fact, many viewers today would probably take it to be a glorification of Nazism. The “anti-Nazi” (or anti-neo-nazi) images of today are a lot more explicit, two of the mostly frequently used being a swastika with a red circle around and line through it (as in a no smoking sign) and a stick figure throwing a swastika in the garbage. The Heartfield image is radically different than this because it uses nothing but elements of aesthetic it is attempting to oppose. The Germanic painting, Hitler, and the swastika in the sky all belong to the ideological realm of Nazism. It takes knowledge, for example, of the way in which Hitler is usually portrayed in favorable portraits to be able to detect the subtle attack of the montage. Or perhaps a knowledge of media – the concession that, as Walter Benjamin might have said, the painted elements of the montage have a cult-like quality, while the photograph of Hitler belongs in the category of the easily reproducible.

This type of ambiguity doesn’t only exist in oppositional images, it can exist in propagandistic posters as well. Heartfield crafted another image, “Die Freiheit sebst kampft in ihren Reihen,” out of a war painting. The painting in the background, which depicted the French Revolution, was by Delacroix. Combined with the painting was a photograph of the Republicans who defended Madrid during the Spanish Civil War.39 The result is supposed to be an uplifting call to revolution.

Both montages are on equal ground in that they both use one painting and one photograph, in both cases the painting representing a certain ideal. David Evans and Sylvia Gohl express perfectly what the viewer must do: “both montages require the viewer to recognise the paintings or at least the styles of painting and then to oscillate between their original meanings and their new meanings in a changed context. In each case, the familiar was made unfamiliar, but in the first example the effect was satirical and in the second, heroic.”40 To the viewers for whom these montages were contemporary, this difference was probably easily noticeable, definitely aided by a familiarity with Heartfield’s style and his usual communist politics. These contextual elements are most likely lost to today’s viewer.

Heartfield Montages Used Today


It is not surprising, then, that much confusion would be caused by the use of Heartfield’s montages today, especially if they are reproduced without background information on the author or original context. This is exactly the case with the Slovenian band Laibach, who have frequently recycled Heartfield’s images in their album and poster art, with or without changes.

They debuted in 1980 with Heartfield’s work on their album cover. The image was taken from “Wie in die Mittelalter”. The top half of Heartfield’s original work showed a church carving of crucifixion on a wheel, and the bottom half created a parallel with a man crucified on a swastika. Laibach used the bottom half of the image, replacing the swastika with Kassimir Malevich's black cross.

More controversial was their use of the Heartfield montage “Blut und Eisen”, a swastika formed from four bloody axes, originally memorializing four communists beheaded by the Nazis. When Heartfield created it, the symbol was clearly – and universally - understood as anti-Nazi.41 Opponents of Nazism even defaced swastikas by graffiting the necessary lines to reference Heartfield’s image.42 All of this meaning is lost today, however, and the axe composition is simply read as a swastika.

Mussolini Headkick

A less prolific industrial band, Mussolini Headkick (whose name references the vengeful kicks given to the dictator’s head after his death), used the lower half of “Wie in die Mittlealter” on an album cover as well. They, however, did not alter the swastika. Record store customers immediately assumed that they were a neo-nazi band, and the band had to add stickers naming the anti-fascist intention of the montage.43

Other Types of Montage

Musical Montage

Theories of photomontage can also be applicable to another composite art form, that of sound montage or collage. The two types of montage are comparable, both containing supposedly “objective” trappings of the world (the photograph and the recording, respectively). Both also often have their sources in the aforementioned “previously cultured material”, such as news items or elements of popular culture.


Music is a special category because of its status as a performed art; most, though not all, musical bands play their music for live audiences in addition to making recordings. These performances can incorporate even more media, such as films and other visuals, into an overwhelming montage. This technique was used in theatre during Heartfield’s time, with Piscator’s play “Trotz Alledem” projecting film and still images (including text) onto the stage. “The whole performance,” noted Piscator, “was a montage of authentic speeches, essays, newspaper cuttings, appeals [sic], pamplets, photographics, and film of the War and the Revolution, of historical persons and scenes.”44

Laibach makes use of this technique in their live performances, using war footage, political speeches, and other material. Their technique perhaps most closely represents montage instead of collage. Just like Heartfield, they use often contrasting elements to form a whole that is different than the sum of its parts. In an article for ARTMargins Magazine, Winifred Griffon observed that “Laibach combines familiar negative symbols and rhetoric (swastikas, extreme violence, glorification of death) with equally familiar, more neutral symbols and rhetoric (antlers, the command to love your fellow man).”45 Laibach’s collaged multimedia can also be seen as a reflection of the sound of the society of which they were born, a hectic multimedia body which is just as hard to digest as its real world counterpart. “Laibach concerts are highly choreographed audiovisual examples of the Wagnerian "Gesamtkunstwerk"…concept that deliberately plays on an archetypal and intense information overload.”46

The result of much of Laibach’s early montage performance was a comparison between earlier totalitarian government, especially Nazism, and the then-current politics of central Europe. For example, a 1989 concert in Belgrade featured a speech containing words of the nowinfamous Slobodan Milošević accompanied by a 1941 propagandistic footage of the German bombing of Serbia’s capital.47 The simple statement that fascism had extended beyond the temporal and spacial constraints of Nazi Germany and into current governments had to be communicated through these type of performances, not only because the idea was considered subversive, but also because the idea would be received differently if experienced sensually rather than administered as a lecture.

Lyrical Content

Just as in visual montages, text can act as an important element in of the montage of a song. The lyrics, from the phonetics of the words themselves to their meaning, can serve to give the song new meaning.

The lyrics of Death in June are a good example. These lyrics have occasional vague allusions to Nazism, but they are suspended in a brine of introspective philosophizing, and more importantly, references to homosexuality. For example, several elements of the song “To Drown a Rose,” including its lyrics, come together to form an unusual final product. Exactly to what the lyrics refer is probably unclear to the listener, but most of the lines seem to indicate it tells a story of death in battle, such as “rivers of blood serenade my lungs” and “a shot in the dark, a flame across the sea.” However, the rest of the lyrics hint at an affair – of love or of control – with an unnamed “he.” The final textual element of the montage is a very cryptic unless one is familiar with the source. The line is “thirtytwo creases,” and the source is Funeral Rites by Jean Genet. Here is the passage from which it is taken:

"He no longer has thirty-two creases...."

This remark, which Erik once heard made about a kid who was suspected by his bunkmates of giving himself to an officer, made him think twice and filled him with a secret fear. And when he heard

"....they're going to take a print. They're going to make him sit on flour..." he was violent frightened for himself.

"It can be seen," he thought. "Does it change shape as much as that?"

He does not hate the executioner for that. He will think: "I'm sure the creases will come out again...."48

With this revelation, the song changes from a war story to a strange combination of homosexuality and death – quite like Funeral Rites itself. Further confusing this combination are the musical qualities of the song, a soothing and beautiful duet sung by Rose McDowell and Douglas Pearce.

The contrast of musical style and text is also a technique used by Boyd Rice. He has made a few spoken word albums, on which he simultaneously shows his fondness for easy listening and misanthropy by pairing soothing sounds with harsh prose. A good example of this is the track “People”, in which, over a background of acoustic guitar and the “oohing” female vocals of 60’s pop, he reveals his fantasies about appropriately punishing people for their crimes of stupidity.


The connection between visual and sound montage in terms of their development is actually quite surprising. Filmic cut-and-paste techniques preceded those of sound, and it is as a result of the former that the latter came to be. The first artists in experimental sound collage were filmmakers who used similar techniques visually, such as Walter Ruttmann.

The use of “previously cultured material” in sound collage occurred from the start of the technology that made its creation possible. For example, Ruttmann’s sound collages included clips of popular music, street sounds, and also fragments of speech. This technique, known as sampling, remains with us today.

The same questions about the status of an image within a montage can be asked about the status of a sample within a song. Just as with visuals, inclusion does not necessarily indicate agreement. A sample interpreted without regards to context can confuse the meaning of a piece of music. A good discussion of this can be found in Chris Cutler’s article “A History of Plunderphonics” in Resonance Magazine. He describes two groups of thought – the idea, thought to be an imperative by some like Michel Chion, that sounds can be robbed of the memories they carry, contrasting with the second notion that recording “may be an instance of a text that cannot exist without reference”.49


A good example of the relationship of a sample to its context can be seen in the Death in June song “Death is a Drummer”. The song is the last on an album called “The Wall of Sacrifice,” and mirrors the first track with its use of samples and avant-garde structure, which is unlike that of the more traditional folk songs of most of the album. This particular track consists of a soundscape of which the identity is unclear. It is maybe best described as the sound of something functioning. Woven between this texture of factory-like noise is a march performed by the Hitler Jugend.

Just as in the case of a photomontage, there are several elements to be considered here: a title, a sound that is historical in nature, and another sound with which it interacts. There are a number of ways to interpret this track. One interpretation, drawn simply by virtue of the Hitler Jugend sample in the song, would be that the track glorifies Nazism. This was the conclusion drawn by the Swiss group “Aktion Kinder des Holocaust,” who called for a ban on the sale of this album in Switzerland.50

Another reading, however, would reveal a completely different meaning. The track’s title, “Death is a Drummer,” references the medium of sound to which the rest of the piece belongs. Since this title refers to sound, it could be read as a cue to listen for drums. In the one audio element provided by the artist, the factory-like noise, one cannot hear drums. The only drums are in the historical sample of the march. Taking all of the elements into account, then, it is possible to draw the radically different conclusion that the purpose of the march in the song is not a glorification of its source, but instead a representation of death.

In this case, such a conclusion is unexpected. But there already exist many examples of samples whose meaning is opposite to that of the song in which they are integrated. For example, many artists have sampled warnings about modern music to include in precisely the music against which it warns.

Echoes of the Past

Perhaps the type of historical reference carried out by these bands is especially suited to the medium of sound, or at least a medium in which sound is included (like a multimedia live performance). Sounds from the past have the illusion of living again; unlike still images, they exist in a temporal dimension. The use of such sounds is a successful way to compare, contrast, or somehow merge the past and present, as seen in the political commentary of Laibach or the references of Blood Axis, of whom an interviewer once stated: “you have managed to mix the most seemingly disparate elements to create a harmonious whole, an amalgamation of past and future.”51

Chapter 3: MIMIKRY

Douglas Kahn’s Term and its Meaning

In his book John Heartfield: Art and Mass Media, Douglas Kahn introduces the technique of mimikry as used by photomontage. Mimikry is not the same as mimicry; rather than just replication, it is “a parody…where the person who is the object of the parody participates”.52 As related to Heartfield, Kahn draws a parallel between the artist’s early use of puppetry and the interpretation of his photomontages as “a puppetry using mass media reproductions instead of paper-mache”.53

A Technique Beyond Photomontage

The use of mimikry is not only applicable to photomontage, however. Kahn invokes the term not only to describe what Heartfield is doing in this medium, but also to trace the legacy left by his techniques: Mimikry is then used as a vantage point to observe recent cultural actions; this is a preferable lineage to emphasize because as a model for opposition it offers greater mobility among media and disciplines, official and unofficial cultural sites, than would tracing the direct influence of Heartfield within photomontage.54 For example, the most successful example of mimikry would have perhaps been embodied in a failed attempt by Piscator to get Kaiser Wilhelm to act as himself in a play, which would have made him, according to Kahn, “the first to direct an actor in the destruction of his true social role and his own self”.55 In light of Kahn’s suggestion, this chapter will use mimikry as a “vantage point” to understand some of the musicians’ techniques.

The Music Industry: a Fascist Institution

References to Nazism have been used as mimikry in today’s music to make a statement about the nature of popular music itself: that it is inherently fascist, employing its superstars as politicians of sorts who lure children into supporting the conformity of the industry. While this comparison has been made in the past, it is more so than ever being carried out using the technique of mimikry – using the mostly unaware audience to mock their own desires for an idol.

Marilyn Manson

Perhaps the most well known modern musical entertainer to use a Nazi aesthetic in this way is Marilyn Manson. In 1996, the band released their third album, “Antichrist Superstar”. The album’s musical style was loud and in the vein of earlier metal and industrial recordings; the band’s previous colorful aesthetic and references to children’s entertainment were dropped.

At this time, the band also created a representative symbol for itself (which was later replaced with others for each subsequent release). Dubbed the “shock symbol”, it consisted of red circle enclosing the black sign for electricity on a white background. The band used it on merchandise, even producing a mock American flag with the symbol in lieu of the stars.

The stage show during this tour included what resembled a fascist rally, employing the symbol on long banners that were released from the ceiling during the beginning of the title track. As the band’s bassist and keyboardist played on his left and right in shiny plastic army helmets, Manson stood in the middle, elevated on a podium also emblazoned with the shock logo. He wore a black and red suit, throwing his hands in the air to rouse the crowd as he yelled for them to “repent.” Occasionally he flopped over the podium, limp like a disowned marionette. The audience pumped their fists in the air enthusiastically. In fact, even the album recording itself reminds us of the controlled mass of an audience – songs such as the title track incorporate the crowd’s rhythmic exclamations.

It would be hasty, however, to say that the “Antichrist Superstar” album is simply defined by this aesthetic. A closer look at the album is key to understanding this performance. The album is split into three sections or “cycles”, as follows:

  • Cycle 1: Hierophant
  • Cycle 2: Inauguration of the Worm
  • Cycle 3: Disintegrator Rising

Cycle one demonstrates the impregnation of ideology. The songs are sermon-like diatribes of social domination and hatred. The second cycle is about transformation, with the mythical worm growing into a boy, both physically and mentally - he feels his back changing and is growing wings, while at the same time experiencing a mental growing and learning. The last cycle, Disintegrator Rising, tells of the rise of the now grown-up worm into a dictator figure. This is very closely tied in to the first cycle, and it’s hard to say whether the fictional character is mimicking something he learned or whether part one was actually a futuristic vision of the character’s fate (the first song is supposedly recorded live on February 14th, 1997, while the album was only released in 1996). The first couple of songs in the cycle are very similar in idea to the first cycle, and the lyrics are even placed with those of the first cycle songs in the booklet. The last songs of the cycle are depressing soliloquies about the frustrations of god-dom. The album is perhaps intentionally similar to the 1979 Pink Floyd release “The Wall”, although this seems more apocalyptic, as the superstar is left in a position of power instead of in a state of mental illness.

Manson chose the red, black, and white symbol as well as the accompanying stage show conscious of the fact that his audience would be reminded of Nazism. An interviewer for Time Out Magazine noted, The impersonation of a fascist rally, complete with swastika-style flags, straight-arm salutes, and pyrotechnic rabble-rousing, aims a brave political broadside at both the religious right and stadium rock performers. Weren't you worried that you'd be completely misunderstood?

His response:

A lot of people were afraid for me to do it. But I felt if I did it well enough, people would understand what I was getting at. In the end, it caused all the different reactions that I wanted. Some people thought it was great satire, others thought I was a fascist, others just blindly pumped their fists and didn't notice the irony.56 This dynamic shows precisely how this performance falls into the category of mimikry. By staging a fascist rally, Manson was mocking the inherent idol-worship of popular music. At the same time, he was able to integrate both himself and the audience into this parody.

Surprisingly, accusations of fascism weren’t as numerous as one might expect. Those aware of what he was doing found it a clever social commentary, while critics were probably more concerned with his anti- Christian diatribe or sexually explicit lyrics. The album and stage show, on the other hand, certainly didn’t better Manson’s image. What can be easily seen as a work of art with a story-line was interpreted as a total summary of Manson’s own feelings. Elements which in context were better understood as condemned were thought to be praised.

A Society made of “Anti”

However, it’s hard to imagine how one could, while viewing the album as a whole, still understand the sermons of the dictator-like cycles as praised ideology rather than an apocalyptic warning. Especially in the case of the last cycle, the dictator is portrayed as a monster created by the hate of the public. He asks, “whose mistake am I anyway?” In the track 1996, amidst a long list of things that he is “anti-“ (many of them seemingly contradictory – like anti-Satan and anti-God), he says, “anti people now you’ve gone too far, here’s your Antichrist Superstar.”

This creates a strong parallel to the motivations of the perhaps less fictional character of Boyd Rice, who chose the name NON as a similar reflection of a world against everything: right at the beginning of punk rock…everybody was anti this and anti that and I was getting sick of the word anti, but I wanted to come up with something that implied being against everything, but not specifically being reactionary.57

Their evil superhuman personas were created by a world that is against everything. Perhaps their similar conclusions aren’t a coincidence, for apparently, a teenage Marilyn Manson discussed philosophy and fantasies of his future fame in phone conversations with Boyd Rice.58

Manson again took up the theme of fascism on his latest tour, preaching mock patriotic songs on a pulpit adorned with a cross formed out of guns. Mimikry was executed in a manner similar to that of the previous tour’s fascist rally, with the chorus of “The Love Song” a rousing:

  • “Do you love your guns? Yeah!
  • Your God? Yeah!
  • Your government? Yeah!”

This chorus is obviously sarcastic in light of the song’s verses, which tell the love story of a bullet and a pistol. The romantic relationship of the unlikely partners, a transgression of the moral standards of their community, was forbidden for the good of their respective kinds. Regardless of the negative light in which the chorus (the voice of the bullet’s father) is portrayed, it is natural for the audience to answer each question with a resounding “yeah!” During this performance, Manson was wearing a helmet adorned with feathers, beads, and perhaps not surprisingly, a SS-style Totenkopf. A closer look at his latest video, made for his version of the Soft Cell song Tainted Love, shows the same symbol, this time worn on his lapel. The video itself is a parody of music videos and popular genres, mixing a mainstream gothic aesthetic with the elements typically seen in a rap video. His use of the symbol could be read in many ways, for example, as a comment on the elitism among the stars of popular music. It is important that, in terms of mimikry, he himself is participating in all of these dictatorial manifestations, thus criticizing his own role in the world of stardom.


Along with their use of Nazi material to criticize government and society, Laibach used references to Nazism in order to mock popular music. The technique of mimikry in their recorded material can be best seen in their covers of popular songs. For example, for the album “Opus Dei”, they recorded a version of the hit song by Queen, “One Vision”. Laibach’s version remained in the same key and at the same tempo – practically the only difference was the song’s translation into the German language, sung in a low menacing voice. Suddenly, initially uncontroversial Queen lyrics like “One flesh, one bone, one true religion; One race, one hope, one real decision” were transformed into something eerily similar to a Nazi speech. Along with songs on their other albums, Laibach “drew parallels between the classic rock format and the perfect totalitarianism organism.”59 Another example of mimikry involved the graphic arts division of the NSK (Laibach’s borderless state), the Novi Kolektivizim. In 1987, when the Yugoslavian government was having a poster contest for The Day of Yugoslav Youth (also Tito’s birthday), the Novi Kolektivizim simply took an old Nazi poster designed by Richard Klein, included socialist symbols in place of the original Nazi ones, and wrote the new occasion across the bottom.

Strangely enough, Novi Kolektivizem ended up as the winners of the poster contest, at least until the judges were informed of the origin of the design. The judges had been unaware of the poster’s source, and had simply found it pleasing and seemingly appropriate for the occasion.60 Here the mimiked are the judges, who with their choice proved that Yugoslavian communism and Nazism do not stand as far apart as the former would like to believe.

Laibach, perhaps more so than any of the other artists, invites an intelligent audience. Journalist Alexei Monroe accurately summarized the conditions under which they operate. He pointed out that, In order for Laibach to achieve their full aesthetic and ideological effects, it was necessary for them to produce a dangerously credible demonstration of music as a totalitarian force; but to take Laibach literally is to make their point for them.61

He is warning the audience against becoming actors in the mimikry. However, as long as Laibach’s show has the effect of totalitarianism, whether the audience realizes it intellectually or feels emotionally threatened or lured by it, they have created a successful act of mimikry. Although making assumptions about the band (what Monroe warns against) is decidedly more active than being affected by the show, both reactions are signs of this success.

Censorship – Who are the Real “Nazis”?

Mimikry of governments and the music industry through the use of Nazi imagery is a process whose conception occurs before the performance of the music, though it might be best realized as it is performed. Another process takes form, however, primarily after reception. This process lies in the paradox that arises when those angered at the musicians’ use of Nazi aesthetic call for censorship, and in doing so, appear to themselves be more analogous to the Nazis than the musicians they criticize.

Douglas P.’s Banned in Lausanne…

In December 1996, Death in June was booked to play a show in Lausanne, Switzerland. As has happened in the past, the venue was informed that they were a “Nazi” band, and despite information provided stating the contrary, the concert was cancelled. This cancellation was unique, however; problems for this band and others had sometimes been caused by the reluctance of clubs to host such an event after hearing about the ambiguities involved, but this was the first situation in which the band was actually censored by the authorities.62

The cancellation and the press it received are well documented on the web site of the show’s organizer, an organization for gothic music called Sanctuary.63 The event, even without music, was very dramatic – Boyd Rice, disguised as Douglas in the latter’s jacket and mask, fooled the police into thinking that he was defying the ban and performing. Douglas appeared with a sign around his neck sarcastically pointing his associations with the Swiss, at one point posing for a picture, symbolically held back by three men in gorilla suits with Nazi armbands.

This incident led to the track “Gorilla Tactics” on the 2000 album “Operation Hummingbird”. The track, which is the short and strange opening to the album, directly refers to this event. Amid cuckoo clock noises and other cacophonous elements, Douglas sings:

  • Through little streets
  • With little minds
  • Switzerland
  • Steps out of time
  • With cuckoo clocks and cuckoo minds
  • Ku ku ku baby – "get in line!"
  • Their banks are filled
  • With nazi gold
  • But, Death in June’s banned
  • I've been told
  • Douglas P.'s banned
  • In Lausanne
  • That fair city in Switzerland
  • That clean needle in junkyland.

This is not simply a bitter and angry attack; instead, it points out that the Swiss do not have the luxury of forgetting or being set free from the darker parts of their past. They have been drawn into the mimikry as agents of the very evil which they claim to be attempting to eliminate.

Deliberate Provocation

The act of provocation encourages this kind of mimikry. Laibach’s frequent use of Heartfield’s axe montage, for example, was most likely done consciously of the reaction it would invite. In making accusations that turn out to be false, the audience is eventually forced to reevaluate their own desire for control over art.

Marilyn Manson and Weimar Berlin

Marilyn Manson plans to do just that for his next album. He is not entirely casting aside the Nazi aesthetic; in fact, the new symbol he has chosen is very reminiscent of a runic Nazi insignia. However, he is deliberately blending this with its historical opposite by comparing himself to the very artists whom the Nazis oppressed:

My inspiration for this record came from historic parallels to my own present position in popular culture. Most notably, I found myself fascinated with the overwhelming imaginative, sexually-depraved artistic chaos that just bled from some of history’s greatest minds as Berlin reached its creative extreme peak. The unfortunate onset of rigid control and conformity that brought Berlin to its fiery end seemed to almost mirror today’s less violent, but equally ignorant censorship and fear of ‘dangerous’ art.

Problems of Mimikry

As Kahn pointed out, there are several problems regarding the use of mimikry. They center around the lack of acknowledgement of the status of a work as mimikry. This can either be the fault of the artist or the audience, or often both. On the part of the artist,

There must be, of course, a disclosure of the fact that it is a work of mimikry for the dual critique to be accomplished and to pull-up short of hoax; mimikry's deception discloses the deception of the original.65

The audience also has a tough job in viewing the work.

Because the element invoked relies on a relationship to an absent whole, only those who have knowledge of this prior relationship will understand the inversion of the element, therefore the danger of degeneration to inside information, inside jokes.66

Responsibility for these problems can be imbued to the author, who perhaps should consider the level of his or her audience before creating works that are universally indecipherable.

The consequences of such confusion are fatal to the case of mimikry. The artwork, in many cases, could be easily misunderstood as exactly the opposite of its meaning.

Heartfield was Successful – and the Bands?

Heartfield is regarded as successful in his uses of mimikry.

Unfortunately, this is not the case with many of the bands (possibly) attempting to use this method to such a degree. Is the confusion regarding their politics and goals evidence of their failure, or is it a symptom or even an indicator of their success?

The difference between the historical and the modern examples might be a factor of the importance of disclosure in Heartfield’s work. As Kahn noted, “the delay until disclosure in most Heartfield photomontages is miniscule.”67 In contrast, for many listeners of the bands, this moment of disclosure might never arrive. A Marilyn Manson fan might return from a concert, never in his life realizing that he was participating in a playacted parody.

This is a point on which bands can be easily criticized; on the other hand, it is precisely with this ambiguity that they operate. They are, in a sense, reactions to genres in which easily reveal meaning, like punk and traditional folk. Furthermore, the models of mimikry with which they work exist not only for the revelation of a specific (and urgent) meaning as did Heartfield’s works, but as a catalyst for general discussion of the issues on which they touch.

The same response is applicable to the claim that responsible for Heartfield’s success was the social structure in place to support the distribution of his work.

Heartfield's incursions were protracted and the mass media channels in which he was based were themselves were suspended within a larger supportive socio-political context. He was promoted, not merely tolerated, within a competitive mass media sphere during late- Weimar...68

Kahn characterized today’s acts of mimikry as opposite in this respect, and perhaps even failures for this reason. Today’s artists might lack the supportive structure present for Heartfield, but again this lack may be seen as a tool with which they operate. In today’s music industry, in which even the average independent avenue is a smaller but standardized model of the mainstream, such a socially supportive structure would probably do more to hurt the message than to help it. The bands are perhaps even more successful than Heartfield in that they obtain distribution through the very organ they ridicule.

Chapter 4: RECEPTION

Regardless of whether the artist is using Nazi imagery in an explicitly critical manner or whether his intentions are more ambiguous, there is no doubt that this allusion in particular is problematic. The effect of its use can provoke unexpected reactions in an audience: those things which are demonized could be seen as attractive villainy by the viewers, or something intended as romanticization can be viewed with disgust.

Every argument against the use of this symbolism has a counterargument (for example, demystification), but it seems that a general instinctual fear of confronting the symbols suppresses a belief of the latter and hinders any progress towards breaking down the power of the symbols and images of the Nazi era.

The reception of this type of art depends on several factors, such as the temporal distance from the actual Nazi period, what exactly is portrayed by the art, and the status of the artist's identity.

Temporal Distance

Decades after the fall of the Nazi regime, the power of Nazi imagery has cleary not yet been neutralized. In addition, although the majority of symbols associated with Nazism have earlier roots (mostly runic), their primary association today lies with their misuse by the Nazis.

However, sensitivity to allusions to Nazism, as is the case with other historical atrocities, decreases over time. Although many are aware of the atrocities of ancient rulers, references to their lives and deeds in art or literature are met with no more than historical recognition on the part of the audience. Their mention evokes little if any sympathy toward their victims, hatred towards their despotism, or even discomfort of the spectator.

Perhaps the best explanation for sensitivity to these images is the fact that both Nazis and survivors of the Holocaust are still alive today. Through the widely available self-told histories of especially the latter group, in various media such as film, poetry, and literature, younger generations can develop emotional connections to a story that is not directly their own. Furthermore, certain members of the younger generations feel an especially strong bond to these stories because they run tangentially to or right through their own family's history.

But will this emotional hold really break with the death of the last perpetrator or survivor? Most likely, no - but there is no doubt that it will wane, as it has already done slightly since the end of World War II. As stated in the program for "Mirroring Evil," "most ideological boundaries - especially those regarding representation - have a way of dissolving with time. What has seemed shocking, transgressive, or inappropriate in one decade becomes normalized by repeated exposure and by distance, not so much from the events represented, but from the societal attitudes that prevailed at the time of their creation.”69

This quote again brings up the idea of demystification. Has this "normalization by repeated exposure", partnered with distance in the breaking of these boundaries, been occurring in a situation in which the representations are still so taboo? The fact that these images still seem "shocking, transgressive, [and] inappropriate" could either indicate that we are only now at the beginning of the demystification process, or that these images in particular have a peculiar status of untouchability.


Representations of Nazism occured during and after World War II in a context of opposition and villification, especially in film. The exact location of the point at which references to Nazism took on forms other than this is unclear. A good example of an early treatment of Nazism in this new manner is the Kenneth Anger film "Scorpio Rising." A controversial avant-garde American filmmaker, Anger returned after a stay abroad and was "confounded and intrigued by the increasing commodification of youth culture and the American media’s not unrelated fascination with fascism.”70 Out of this fascination rose a film mixing homoeroticsm, Nazism, and comic strips, with a soundtrack of famous pop songs of the time.

The 1960s also saw the use of Nazi symbols among defiant subcultures. Anger’s film demonstrates the fascination among rebellious motorcycle gangs, who collected Nazi memorabilia and wore WWII helmets. Surfers – specifically, those known as “surfer nazis” – were also fond of wearing Nazi uniforms and symbols as a statement against mainstream culture.

The use of these images began to grow in the early 1970s, most of all in the media of film and fictional literature. Examples were both aesthetically showy and fashionable, like Robert Morris' 1974 poster of an eroticized man in a Nazi helmet and chains, or experimental and dense, like 1978's seven hour "Hitler - Ein Film Aus Deutschland." There were also examples further from the art world, like 1974’s violence- and sexladen “Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS.”

In the world of music, David Bowie took on the character of Ziggy Stardust in the early 1970s, using a symbol that was reminiscent of the sig rune. Later in the 1970s, he reinvented himself as the Thin White Duke, making both overt and more subtle references to Nazism. The band Kiss began playing in 1973. The “SS” in their name was written exactly like the Nazi SS insignia, causing the ban on their logo in Germany, both in live performance and on albums. The resemblance was no more than imagery, however, and the band denied any accusations, especially citing the fact that vocalist Gene Simmons’ mother was a concentration camp survivor. (Shown below: the logo on a later Kiss album and its censored German version).

The band Siouxsie and the Banshees formed in 1976. Siouxsie was fond of wearing swastikas, infamously appearing on stage in a swastika armband and a scandalous lack of other vestements.

The early 1980s saw even more use of Nazi imagery. In the art world, it was mostly used by Germans in an ironic or satiric manner whose meaning was often deceptive.71 In 1981, Pink Floyd released the movie to accompany their 1979 album “The Wall,” a story of a character’s ascent into stardom and descent into insanity. This is perhaps one of the bestknown examples of the Nazi aesthetic surfacing in mainstream music, though it does so only in the movie and not in the album’s artwork.

Bands in the industrial and gothic genres started to experiment with the Nazi aesthetic primarily in the early 1980s, though Throbbing Gristle did so already in the mid-70s. Death in June and Laibach both started in about 1980, and although Boyd Rice had been recording since the mid-70s, his use of Nazi aesthetic was most notable starting in the 1980s.

Content of the Art

The question of what is portrayed causes part of the controversy behind the Jewish Museum's 2002 exhibit, "Mirroring Evil." This exhibit differs from earlier treatments of Nazism and the Holocaust by looking not only to the victims, but also to the perpetrators of Holocaust crimes. A view of the perpetrators and their symbols carries a certain danger for the audience – namely, a possible feeling of complicity with or attraction to what they are shown. As the Mirroring Evil program guide states, the new artists working in this way “created works in which viewers would encounter the perpetrators face to face in scenarios in which ethical and moral issues cannot be easily resolved.”72 This phenomenon is definitely present in the performances of these bands, whose audiences often feel as if they were looking evil in the face, and even more, cheering it on.

A perfect description of this occurrence can be found in the ARTMargins article about Laibach:

While the spectator can feel drawn to the performance as a whole as it is staged before him or her, he or she may also feel an uneasy sense of guilt in observing what Laibach puts forth as performance or entertainment. While s/he is caught up in the music, the experience is exhilarating. After the music stops, a sense of awkwardness spreads over the crowd. The awkwardness results from the spectator's realization that s/he has been deceived through a manipulation of his or her desire. This deception has resulted in an identification with an "undesirable" form of nationalism to which s/he had previously considered him/herself immune.73

Besides fulfilling the audience’s subconscious desire for an aesthetically pleasing dictator, the bands also occasionally use methods to completely terrorize and disorient them. Both Laibach and Boyd Rice have played shows with blinding lights facing the audience. It’s hard to pinpoint when the devices of mimikry or roleplaying can cross the line into terror. Perhaps it is just as appropriate, however, for the audience to feel fear as a result of their play with the forces of despotism.

The Artist’s Identity

As an Excuse

Another factor that determines reception of art that uses a Nazi aesthetic is the status of the identity of the artist. The practice may be perceived as less offensive if the artist’s identity somehow disqualifies him from the Nazi party. It is important to note, however, that in terms of reception, identity must in most cases be taken as secondary to the work itself; there is often a strong possibility that the audience may be unaware of anything beyond what they are shown, including information about the artist.

That said, the artists using Nazi imagery who are perhaps easiest for the public to digest are those who have either themselves or through their family been persecuted by the Nazis. Their identity immediately comforts the audience, for whom it signifies a “safe” point of view. An example in the graphic arts is Boris Lurie, a Buchenwald survivor whose work is featured in the Mirroring Evil exhibition. The exhibition guide points out, “Lurie’s collages crossed boundaries. But who sets these boundaries, and who dares to traverse them? Not least, who has the right to?”74

This question is fundamental in examining the importance of identity in audience perception. The idea that the images should only be used by the persecuted is fascinating. This makes the assumption that all people who were persecuted by the Nazis (in actuality or by proxy) are immune to the symbols, and only have the capacity to use them in opposition. It follows this assumption that those not persecuted by the Nazis (meaning the heterosexual white – especially of German background) are somehow more prone to the power of the symbols, and their use of the Nazi aesthetic is immediately more dangerous.

But often even identity is not a good enough excuse. For example, anti-fascist publications often ignore or downplay the much-used defense of Death in June fans that Douglas Pearce is homosexual. An article about the band Ostara in a northern Bavarian anti-fascist information pamphlet acknowledges the band’s leader Richard Levy’s (who also collaborated with Death in June) claim that the is by birth Jewish, but seems to come to conclusion that this is no obstacle to his supposed Nazi ideology.75

The Performer’s Mask

The question of the artist’s identity relates to the relationship between a performer and his audience. The way in which a performer presents himself can indicate the degree to which he is comfortable with the presence of his own identity in the overall work. For example, during the earliest Death in June performances, the band played the entire shows with their backs to the audience. Later, they took on the habit of wearing masks, a practice which continues at present. Speaking of this practice, Douglas says,

It was embarrassing to be part of this thing [the image-based rock industry] in many ways, so we looked different onstage all the time. In fact, the first performances we played with our backs to the audience. And then we started having camouflage, net over the stage so that people could see us wearing different masks. Patrick Leagas, for instance, didn't even want to have his photograph taken ever. And in "NADA!" we stand with our backs to the camera. We had worn masks before because we would go onstage with pigs heads on or gorilla heads and different things, SS uniforms.76

Douglas later became especially attached to a certain mask.

But talking about this particular mask... I was walking 10 years ago in Venice, Italy, and there was a shop called "New or Old". Then, through the window of the shop, there were all the usual Italian carnival masks like Suns and Moons, etc. but right through the shop I saw this one mask staring back at me. And that is the mask that now I wear. And so it just came straight in use as you were saying. And of course, it became indeliberately marked for the past 10 years with my career.77

The appearance of this mask seems almost to take the place of his human identity when he performs, or even more than becoming or equaling his presence, surpasses it.

The previously mentioned blinding lights of Laibach and Boyd Rice can also be seen as steps toward the same goal – the shrouding of the artist, and his consequent decreased accessibility to the audience. Boyd Rice has organized other performances in this vein as well, such as the 1982 show in Los Angeles in which he hid atop the stage while the audience applauded for an inanimate stand-in onstage.

Despite the positive artistic effect such masking can have on the music’s removal from reality and step towards the abstract (which is a push towards “safer” playacting as well), does such a forfeit of personal identity also lead to an undesirable abdication of responsibility? (This, of course, leads to the even greater question of whether, and to what extent, the artist is responsible for his art and its possible consequences). While the masks could be viewed as a harmful escape from reality for the artists, they are only a visible embodiment of the masks worn by normal pop stars on a regular basis. Thus, they actually become a helpful prop, letting the audience know that what they are seeing is in fact a form of theatre.

Identity as an Element of Montage

Returning briefly to the model of montage, the end artistic product, especially in terms of performance, can be read as a montage in which the artist’s own identity is one element. If there were two musicians of the same genre, one subscribing to a neo-nazi ideology and the other not, how would their end products differ? Although their products may not be visibly different, there is, on another level, the inescapable difference of their identities. This is easier to apply regarding physical descriptions of the artists. If all of the musicians in Laibach had blonde hair and blue eyes, would they be more threatening? Does the fact that they are Slovenian, and not German, change their art at the level of perception?

Genre and Label

The genre in which a musician operates has a bearing on the audience’s perception of his music. Each genre has its own traditions regarding the relationship between artist and audience, especially relating to how much and in which way the former communicates. As a result, audiences and critics hear the music with certain expectations. It is perhaps not a coincidence that these musicians mostly operate in the genres of neo-folk and industrial. These genres can be seen as characterized by confusion about their communication or lack thereof, inviting a large spectrum of interpretation.

Folk music, for example, is most associated with its use as a tool of political and social commentary. This is a result of certain physical aspects of the music. First, the use of the acoustic guitar carries the illusion that the line of communication between the performer and the audience is unmediated. Second, the lyrics of folk music are easily audibly understood, unlike those of many other genres. These two factors, along with folk’s tradition of communicating ideas to an audience, give the audience expectations of a clear message.

In the case of Death in June and other bands of the neo-folk genre, the audience’s expectations are not fulfilled. All of the lyrics are understandable as words, but instead of carrying the clear message of a protest song, they are introspective and vague.

Industrial music is identified by both the Industrial Culture Handbook and Brian Duguid’s “Prehistory of Industrial Music” as “a music of ideas.”78 It is not, however, like the clear-cut communication of a folk song. It is instead concerned with, for example, the subversion of mainstream ideas. Instead of providing information that it deems reliable, it often expresses discontent without providing a solution, or at most leads the listener to avenues to be explored.

This causes a confusion similar to that caused by neo-folk. Instead of in lyrical content, however, the confusion often lies in industrial music’s use of samples. Sampled material has been appropriated both in agreement or dissent, and often in the grey area in-between, in which the musicians’ implicit demand is that the audience decide for themselves. Use of samples in dissent is sometimes confusing, though occasionally the musician’s relationship with the sample is obvious, as is the case with the band My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, a decidedly anti-Christian band who occasionally incorporates samples of televangelists into their compositions.

On a larger level than genre, the conditions of production of a musician’s material also affect the way in which their art is perceived by their audience. Major labels have a long tradition of control over their bands, in circumstances both private and public. This became standard behavior in the 1960s with the controlled stardom of bands like the Beatles, whose label had each band member hide his romantic status to increase the band’s value to a market of young women. On the other hand, a myth exists that, in the world of independent music, money-making tactics or other stunts simply do not exist. Small independent record labels are imbued with a certain veracity by their audience, who is under the impression that, if the band has decided to produce their own albums and stray from major labels, the final product must be “true” to the musicians’ nature. The possibility that the musicians are using Nazi imagery because it sells is usually not an argument that factors into speculations of intent.

The Bands Respond

Accusations of Nazism come often to these groups. They most frequently surface in anti-fascist publications, either paper- or internet- based. Usually the same reasons are cited or often none at all (the articles are written as if it was clear that they were Nazi bands). Each artist has a different order of response for these accusations, ranging from the explicit to the extremely nebulous.

For the most part, we can understand from their responses that ambiguity might actually be an important part of their work. It could come from a dissatisfaction with the banality of explicitly stating one’s ideas, or maybe from a deeper artistic aim. The most promising explanation might be that intentional ambiguity is meant to reduce the hypocrisy inherent in pointing out the fascistic tendencies of one’s audience while hastily denying accusations of one’s own tendencies.

The Politics of the German Dark Music Scene

With numerous anti-fascist groups keeping a constant lookout for music they perceive as possibly neo-nazi, the reception of these bands is especially problematic in Germany. Specifically anti-fascist interest groups have even been established inside this music scene, namely “Gothics Gegen Rechts” and “Grufties Gegen Rechts”. Although they might make some false accusations from time to time, there are even more anti-fascist groups unfamiliar with the music who make sweeping generalizations about the intent and affiliations of the musicians, and often carry these generalizations over to the scene in general.

Rumors about rock bands isn’t a new phenomenon, however. Possibly more interesting is the perception within the scene of the its own divisions. The scene in general is apolitical, and this tendency is further fostered by a necessity to remain non-commercial in nature, a goal counter to the perceived “selling” of a political viewpoint. Aside from concerns about the dangers of allowing a rightist ideology to spread, those in the scene are worried about the effect that bands using a Nazi aesthetic will have on the reputation of their subculture.

The result of these anxieties is that every situation in which bands will be either included or excluded – such as the penning of a magazine or the booking of a concert – ends up perceived as political. There are quite a few dark music magazines serving Germany, the three largest being Zillo, Orkus, and Sonic Seducer. Other magazines cover the same type of music and unabashedly include bands perceived as having rightist tendencies – sometimes even for that very reason. The magazines Sigill and Europakreuz fall into this category, along with a few others.

The three largest magazines are apolitical, but it is apparent that remaining so is far from effortless. Zillo encountered a controversy in 1996, when one of their contributors, Peter Boßdorf , turned out to also be a reporter for the rightist paper “Junge Freiheit.”79 On the eighth of February 1996, he placed an ad for the Junge Freiheit in Zillo, advertising it as something romantic, different, and free.80 The magazine received open letters of protest, and the incident has still not been forgotten.81 As a result, they now screen their ads and refuse to accept any with political content, neither from right nor left. They seem to now err on the side of cautiousness: in their extensive coverage of the 2001 Wave-Gotik-Treffen (a yearly event in Leipzig), any mention of the festival’s headliner, Laibach, was suspiciously omitted.

The paradox created in this situation is that whether those in the scene decide to ignore politics altogether, or whether they use politics to exclude certain bands, their decision is still regarded as political. This is not a regular occurrence in the United States, where those who have reservations about the “rightist tendencies” of the scene are usually not members of the scene themselves.


The trend of a Nazi aesthetic among gothic and industrial bands is an indicator of a phenomenon larger than marketing. These genres occupy the place of 'the other' in regards to society, and in doing so, it is their role to reflect a side of the public that would rather be ignored. Behind every attempt to censor these bands is the fact that the aesthetic they use is affecting the person with the pen or phone in their hand - probably someone who thought they could never be affected. These bands, by remaining somewhat ambiguous about the images and sounds they present, give society the opportunity to ask questions they would never ask if they were looking at something perceived as safe.

Quoting Slavoj Zizek in her article in ARTMargins, Winifred Griffin gave a perfect explanation of the reason for Laibach's effectiveness, applicable to that of the other bands as well:

Rather than providing any answer as to where they stand, Laibach function as a question mark, forcing the individual concerned about Laibach's messages or the potential danger of misunderstanding or misinterpreting them to answer his or her own question: “What is at stake in their act is precisely to return this question back to ourselves, to ask ourselves. We have there a certain performance. How do we stand towards them? They are not the answer, they are the question. They are a big question mark on stage. We must answer it.”82

Regardless of an initial outrage at the techniques of these bands, it is eventually undeniable that their actions have some sort of positive effect - be it as the performers of an exorcism of powerful symbols, or as the question marks which lead society to dialogue.


APPENDIX 1: Background on the Music and Bands

“Dark” music can be generally divided into two main groupings, industrial/noise and neo-folk/gothic. With strong rhythmic structure with a chaotic overlay, industrial is the harsher-souding brother of more popular beat-oriented music like techno. The music often but not always has vocals, which are, for the most part, screamed. Noise is usually more free in structure and more experimental. When a beat is present, it is usually the product of organic sounds in a loop instead of the computer generated, processed, or controlled industrial drumbeat. The majority of noise music does not have vocals, and if voice is present, it usually manifests itself as speaking instead of singing. Some music that might be better labeled as noise is referred to as industrial, but the opposite classification does not often occur.

Neo-folk is very similar to traditional folk music - it features acoustic guitars and understandable vocals - but has a bit of a darker aspect. The term has occasionally been used loosely to cover artists who are simply new and play folk music, but as the label for a new genre, it describes this darker type of folk. The music that comprises neo-folk as a genre is also sometimes described as apocalyptic folk, dark folk, or is placed in the vague indefinable genre of gothic. (The members of the gothic subculture listen to music in both these groupings, but gothic as a musical genre usually describes this type of music).

These styles basically have their roots in the 1970s and crystallized in the 80s. Examples of noise and industrial music can be found as early as the early- to mid- 1970s. Neo-folk also was present in the 1980s but developed out of more rock-oriented gothic music.

What is neo-nazi music?

It is often that people speak of the rightist tendencies of this music scene, but these do not manifest themselves lyrically. No matter how convinced some are that the bands exhibit these tendencies aesthetically or in terms of personal convictions, it is clear that had the bands wanted to spread a neo-nazi doctrine, they could have done it in a much more effective manner.

There are of course many bands whose identity and purpose is neonazism. These are for the most part in the genre of oi. Oi is a subset of a genre called ska, which is basically a faster form of reggae (and is said to have preceded it). The oft-discussed skinhead movement is basically built around oi music. When the record label Trojan was started in 1968, its followers were called "Trojan Skins". Skinhead culture, characterized by strong conformity in dress and musical choice, grew out of this music and has since remained relatively unchanged. The music was originally non-racist and actually had fans who weren't white; however, it became established as racist by the 1980s.

There are many apparent differences between these neo-nazi bands and those in dark genres which are accused of neo-nazism. The most marked difference is in the lyrics. The lyrics of neo-nazi oi and rock are clearly political and often a call to violence. They are usually either a romanticization of Nazism (such as in the song "Hakenkreuz" by "Radikahl": "Hängt dem Adolf Hitler den Nobelpreis um...Hißt die rote Fahne mit dem Hakenkreuz!") or express hatred toward immigrants or leftists (such as in the song "Du bist Stolz" by "Draftschlag": "Der Ausländer hat jetzt Deinen Job, und der kriegt dafür auf'n Kopp!"). The latter category of lyrics often attempt to speak to the individual listener by encouraging anxieties of replaceability, often dealing with the idea of foreigners “stealing” jobs, girls, or simply one's place on the street. The lyrics are the most important feature of this music, they are meant to be remembered and recited. The genre, so highly integrated with a real social categorization and identity, can especially appeal to young people who feel alienated. In other words, the genre is inseparable from the societal categorization of its listeners, and this affords someone the opportunity to instantly become a member of a large and widespread group by simply conforming to a dress code, if even just one aspect of it. The dress code is so specific that it draws from only a few seemingly arbitrary but established brand names. It is also significant that this dress code is recognizable not only to those in the group, but also inspires recognition and fear in a large number of people outside the group.

In contrast, the supposed neo-nazi dark music scene does not have a clear dress code or inspire recognition from the outside world or even from within itself. One might suppose a black-clad youth to be a member of the gothic subculture or a listener of industrial music, but his political beliefs would not be instantly visible.

The Bands

Boyd Rice/NON

Boyd Rice released his first album under the name NON in 1975. He is often considered the father of industrial music, and was one of the first to use tape loops and turntable manipulation to create the beginnings of this genre. He has somehow managed to become simultaneously one of the more respected and hated figures in this part of the music industry.

Maybe because of the unambiguous and unapologetic nature of his use of a Nazi aesthetic, Rice rarely causes the kind of controversy that artists with much more ambiguous references seem to warrant. He is the pioneer of the harsh industrial/noise sound, and perhaps that permits him also to be the pioneer of its corresponding aesthetic. As explained by interviewer Sean Flinn,

NON's albums typically consist of viciously repetitive drones culled from tape loops and samples of, among other things, bubblegum girlgroup music from the '50s and '60s. It's easy-listening music taken to an uneasy extreme, sonic wallpaper that obliterates natural ambience. Though technically apolitical, NON's aural assaults are often interpreted by his detractors as unambiguously fascist, bigoted and even demonic.83

The choice of his band name is very telling as to how he sees himself in his worldview. In an interview in Blood Book, he states

I just liked the way it looked. It just implied something to me. Plus, it was right at the beginning of punk rock and everybody was anti this and anti that and I was getting sick of the word anti, but I wanted to come up with something that implied being against everything, but not specifically being reactionary.84

His beliefs became more obvious when he started to mix spoken word into his music. He made an entire album dedicated to the book “Might is Right” (written by ghost author Ragnar Redbeard over 100 years ago). The book favors theories of social Darwinism, and is written in an old testament-like manner. Rice did a few albums of spoken word as well, using soothing musical backgrounds and his hypnotic voice as a background for general misanthropy.

He uses the wolfhook rune as a symbol for his band. While he has stated that he intends to use it for its ancient meaning (it was included in the first alphabet of runes) as a symbol of balance, detractors claim it is not a coincidence that the Nazis used it as well for the Werewolf division, supposedly created to fight the Allies until death at the end of WWII.

Although he denies that his use of the symbol has anything to do with National Socialism, he doesn’t deny his attraction to the Nazi aesthetic. For example, from an interview in Misanthrope magazine:

M: You're also fascinated by the Third Reich, especially it's darker aspects, the cool uniforms . . .

BR: That's another thing I've been fascinated with ever since I was a child. We had war TV shows on, and I'd always thought that the Nazis should win instead of the U.S. because the U.S. looked like a bunch of unkempt slobs and the Nazis were always really elegant. I always thought anybody who can design a uniform that much better looking must be superior therefore deserved to win. So I was interested in him [Adolph Hitler]. People think that interest made me hate Jews and all that stuff, but I think there's a lot that's fascinating about the Nazis. We don't have to want to have another Holocaust to find it fascinating.85

He tends to deny claims of racism, stating that he hates everyone equally. He considers himself fascist in that he is anti-liberal, but he does not involve himself in politics, and any ideas of his are personal and for his “ideal world” rather than a system which he intends to impose on people.

Blood Axis/Michael Moynihan

In contrast to Boyd Rice, Michael Moynihan is constantly denying the claims detractors make about him. His music is also different – it seems to strive for traditional pleasantness, and is mostly in the vein of European folk music.

He has also been more openly accused. The Southern Poverty Law Center listed him as one of 6 of the most dangerous new hatemongers. The rest of the people on the list are criminals or leaders of racist groups, while Moynihan is only an author and musician.

Moynihan, however, has no interest in encouraging hate – he scorns those who believe in systems of government like Communism or Fascism, saying that believers in such systems are

all deluded. People should worry about what happens on their block. They should get along with their neighbors before they worry about the great ills of society and about telling someone who lives 200 miles away what to do.86

He openly scorns the right and racist elements that people usually associate him with, saying

I don't see white people doing anything particularly noble these days, so why on earth would I be a white supremacist? What does fascism have to do with anything that's going on? The far right is a bunch of isolated losers. I probably have far more in common with anarchists than I would with any right-wing person, and they would probably agree.87

The general way in which people come to conclusions about him is through a misinterpretation of his aesthetics, both visual and musical. He uses a symbol called the Krükenkreuz, which was used by crusaders and Austrian nationalists but, ironic to the trouble he’s received for its use, banned by the Nazis. The style of his music and his interest in European pagan mythology is a possible second reason for suspicion, but these are things he feels he doesn’t have to be apologetic about.

It’s hard to tell whether his controversy-causing aesthetic and subsequent denial was intentional, or if his attitude has changed over time. But it is clear that he does his best to deny all accusations. Another great example of this can be found in the German anti-fascist publication “Junge Welt”, to which he wrote an extremely long letter of denial berating the author of the article “Heidentum, Musik, und Terror” for making slanderous claims, not doing better research, and not contacting him to clear up unanswered questions.88

Several of his performances have been cancelled due to protesters, though most of these instances have been in the US.

Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson emerged out of Florida in the late 1980s. The band started as “Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids”, providing a sinister reinterpretation of children’s entertainment and drawing inspiration from movies such as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The band has since explored many other aesthetic schemes, choosing a new stylistic phase for each album. The album most related to this topic is Antichrist Superstar. It is appropriately similar to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, except Manson’s superstar does not experience the extreme fall into insanity seen in Pink Floyd’s work.

His plans for his upcoming album are perhaps indicative of the way in which he relates to the politics of early 20th century Germany. The album is intended to invoke the atmosphere of the art and decadent cabaret of the pre-war Berlin. He sees himself as a parallel figure to the avantgarde artists of the time, whose eventual censorship by the Nazis is to him comparable to (though more severe than) censorship efforts today.

Death in June

Death in June’s roots defy the expectations and accusations of their detractors. The band was unexpectedly born out of the late 70s band Crisis, which was a leftist, anti-racist punk band. These leanings were very clearly reflected in the band’s lyrics, for example: the song “Holocaust”, a plea to realize the threat of Nazism’s return and hinder its coming, mentioning the names of concentration camps and voicing a hope that Holocaust victims did not die in vain.

The founding members of Crisis, Tony Wakeford and Douglas Pearce, formed Death in June in 1980, marking the end of Crisis’ existence. But their initial repertoire consisted of Crisis songs that had yet not been recorded, and their first concert was a benefit for Workers Against Racism, a communist organization.

Douglas Pearce has been the backbone of Death in June for the last 21 years, collaborating with many other musicians on recordings. The band is more focused on its recordings than its live performances, the latter which occur sparsely. The music started out with a post-punk, new-wave, loud rock feel. Other early songs were in a more experimental vein, using looped samples and experimenting with noise. As time passed, Death in June’s music more often fit into the genre of folk. It is mostly classified as neo-folk, or more descriptively, it is placed in the genre of dark or apocalyptic folk. The music is very simple, mostly involving only three or four chords. The lyrics can hardly ever be interpreted as having anything to do with Naziism, they usually speak of more introspective and private subject matters. Those that do refer to Nazism either seem gloomy or threatening. One, for example, is the song “C’est un Reve”, in which the line “Ou est Klaus Barbie” is chanted over drumming. However, complete certainty that this is nothing more than a song glorifying Nazism must be put aside after the band’s two U.S. concerts in March 2002. After coming on stage with an American flag, Douglas replaced Barbie’s name with that of Bin Laden, then stating the necessity to punish him for his crime, thus morphing the song into, depending on one’s sensibilities, something ironic or humorous.

Even by its name, Death in June has connections to Nazism. The band name refers to the death month of Ernst Röhm, the leader of the SA. Furthermore, the band uses the totenkopf symbol inside a circle with the number 6 (the skull representing death and the 6 representing June).

Regardless of the use of these symbols, it is apparent that Death in June cannot be simply classified as a band trying to promote Nazi ideology. The context of these symbols and references, Douglas Pearce’s personal mythology, forces a close reader to re-interpret.

For example, a closer analysis of the booklet of the group’s 1989 release “The Wall of Sacrifice” reveals alternative and more likely meanings to the allusions. The photo inside the booklet shows shelves arranged like some kind of altar, decorated with a stuffed raven, a vase of roses, a photo of someone smelling a rose, a second photo of a man, and a helmet and SS dagger. The most recognizable elements of this photo, the dagger and helmet, will place its motivation as that of Nazism. The less recognizable elements, however, tell a different story – the man smelling a rose is the Japanese author Yukio Mishima, and the photo comes from an erotic series of photographs called “Torture by Roses”. The second photo is the author Jean Genet, an author known for his literature about homosexuality.

Not by coincidence, Ernst Röhm was supposedly murdered on June 30th, known as the Knight of the Long Knives, because of his homosexuality (and the general leftist tendencies of the SA, which didn’t fit into the general national socialist plan). In a 1985 interview with Sounds magazine, Pearce states,

our interest doesn't come from killing all opposition, as it's been interpreted, but from identification with or understanding of the leftist elements of the SA which were purged, or murdered by the SS. That day is extremely important in human history... They were planning execution or overthrow of Hitler, so he wouldn't be around. We'd be living in a completely different world, I should imagine... It's fascinating that a few people held the destiny of the world and mankind in their hands for those few hours and let it slip, and it could've gone either way.89

His fascination with the SA is also found in the lyrics of “Till the Living Flesh is Burned,” one of the bands’ early tracks. He sings, “believers of the new past were shown its true face, the once proud brownshirts now stained by engineers of blood death and race.”

Although these selective references may have no more validity than a historical fantasy, it indicates that he doesn’t stand quite where his opponents suspect.

Another way to read his references to Nazism is in terms of the gothic tradition. The English authors in this tradition did not often use their own country as a setting. Instead, they reached into the darker pasts of Catholic countries such as Italy and Spain. A staple in their works are the ruined abbies of the countryside, reminders of the death and destruction in the histories of these countries. Pearce, both British and a creator of “gothic” music, similarly reaches into the dark past of Germany for his material.

Pearce’s intentions mostly remain unclear to both opponents and fans; the latter often find it to be part of his charm. Unlike earlier in his career, recently Pearce avoids directly answering questions of personal belief or the meaning of his music. His comments seem to deny a purpose of spreading Nazi ideology while not clearly naming another purpose, such as the cryptic answer "obviously people have fallen into the trap of taking it on a surface value. That is their problem."90

Death in June has been banned from performing before, most notably in Lausanne, Swizerland. They are also mentioned in anti-fascist publications and web sites as being a part of a perceived rightist infiltration of gothic music.


Since their start in 1980, Laibach has been both extremely controversial and surprisingly popular. Their name itself is controversial, for it refers to the Slovenian capital Ljubljana under German occupation. Because of this reference, the band was banned in its homeland for many years. Laibach is part of an arts collective called NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst) which has other departments such as a theater company, a philosophy department, and a graphic design group.

Laibach is based on the idea that "all art is subject to political manipulation, except for that which speaks the language of this same manipulation."91 With this in mind, they recycle art from various political regimes, especially communism and Nazism. Their aesthetic is also perhaps intentionally misleading – those angered at the swastika made of axes on the inside of a CD were overlooking the fact that its source was a work by John Heartfield, whose message was against the Nazis.

Their music crosses genres, but they are most often known for an industrial sound. This is also a philosophical choice, as they state that The principle of work is totally constructed and the compositional process is a dictated "ready-made": Industrial production is rationally developmental, but if we extract from this process the element of the moment and emphasize it, we also designate to it the mystical dimension of alienation, which reveals the magical component of the industrial process. Repression of the industrial ritual is transformed into a compositional dictate and the politization of sound can become absolute tonality.92

Their use of language itself was also controversial. Many of their songs were sung in German, making them easy targets for those wanting to peg them as Nazis. For example, their cover of Queen’s “One Vision”, when translated, instantly transformed into a Hitlerian vision, which they felt accurately portrayed the true nature of popular music. Other songs were in Slovenian, a language probably disregarded obsolete for popular music.

Many, including most of the covers, were in English.

The band fluctuated constantly between public acceptance and controversy. They weren’t accepted by Slovenian nationalists, nor by leftists. At the time of their first album, they were banned from using their name, so it is not anywhere on the album’s cover. As an article in the CER noted, they did eventually receive some form of government recognition, but did not embrace it:

Laibach received significant official recognition in 1997 when their concert with the Slovene Philharmonic opened the European Month of Culture in Ljubljana. However, as if to insure themselves against full assimilation into the mainstream, crudely montaged posters showing Laibach in SS uniforms were posted around the city the night before their performance, and their pre-concert speech caused the conservative Archbishop of Ljubljana to walk out of the event.93

Laibach seems to be radically different from most of the other bands who use a Nazi aesthetic. First of all, they seem to have a clear agenda. Second, they act completely apart from a world in which personal beliefs and preferences guide one’s actions. This is conveyed by the collective anonymity adopted by the group, who in interviews answer all questions with the third person subject of “Laibach”. Their answers, however cryptic, fit into their agenda. They are not apologetic, but seem to see their actions as necessary.

APPENDIX 2: Satanism and the Nazi Aesthetic

As well as being successful musicians in the current “dark” music scene, Rice, Manson, and Moynihan are also connected through an organization called the Church of Satan, which was founded in 1966. The organization harbors people of various lifestyles under the premise that the denial of man’s animal nature inherent in traditional religions should be rejected and replaced with a celebration. The religion’s doctrines, most notably The Satanic Bible, contain ideas of social Darwinism which are taken more seriously by some practitioners than others. Modern Satanism is not comparable to traditional Satan worship; instead, it is based in a more or less atheistic viewpoint, using the archetype of Satan to represent characteristics such as a questioning spirit, man’s animal tendencies, and strength. Manson and Moynihan are Reverends of the church, an honorary title of achievement that does not involve any contribution to or propagation of the religion. Boyd Rice, a Magister, was a close friend of the founder, Anton LaVey, and is one of the ruling members of the organization. The presence of members and leaders of the organization who understand and exploit the power of Nazi symbols is probably part of the reason for constant rumors that the Church of Satan is a haven for neo-nazis, despite writings to the contrary and a membership composed of diverse nationalities and races.

LaVey did at times touch on the subject of Nazism, sometimes citing its success with aesthetics and control of the masses, while making clear that its atrocities outweighed its successes. His most thorough treatment of the Nazi aesthetic can be found in an essay called “A Plan”, in which he states that Satanism is the only forum in which people can mix Jewish ancestry with a Nazi aesthetic, truly playing the role of the other. Such a combination would be the perfect “tough identity” for a new generation with mixed backgrounds.94

Essays such as these, as well as a rejection of racism in the Satanic Bible, cause many with a true neo-Nazi agenda to snub the organization. The Nationalist publisher “Final Conflict” even published a 100-page booklet detailing the perceived attempt by Satanists to infiltrate the Nationalist movement, especially through their involvement in music such as that of the industrial genre.95


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  • 20 Kahn, John Heartfield, 107.
  • 21 Kahn, John Heartfield, 109.
  • 22 Evans, David and Gohl, Sylvia. Photomontage: a Political Weapon. London:

Gordon Fraser Gallery Ltd., 1986. 23.

  • 23 Ades, 49.
  • 24 Kahn, John Heartfield, 87.
  • 25 Kahn, John Heartfield, 88.
  • 26 Kahn, John Heartfield, 88.
  • 27 Norman L. Kleeblatt, ed. Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art. New

York: The Jewish Museum, 2002. xv.

  • 28 Kleeblatt, xvi.
  • 29 Evans and Gohl, 13.
  • 30 Kahn, John Heartfield, 25.
  • 31 Photomontages of the Nazi Period: John Heartfield. New York: Universe

Books, 1977. 26.

  • 32 Deutsche Akademie der Künste. 11.
  • 33 Photomontages of the Nazi Period, 26.
  • 34 Evans and Gohl, 14.
  • 35 Evans and Gohl, 19.
  • 36 Kahn, John Heartfield, 71.
  • 37 Photomontages of the Nazi Period, 23.
  • 38 Ades, 63.
  • 39 Evans and Gohl, 20.
  • 40 Evans and Gohl, 20.
  • 41 Evans and Gohl, 27.
  • 42 Kahn, John Heartfield, 91.
  • 43 “Luc Van Acker”. The Belgian Pop & Rock Archives. February 2002


  • 44 qtd. Kahn, John Heartfield, 49. (no source given).
  • 45 Winifred Griffin. “Laibach: The Instrumentality of the State Machine”.

1999. ARTMargins. December 2001 <>.

  • 46 Alexei Monroe. “Twenty Years of Laibach, 20 Years of…?”. Central Europe

Review. Vol 2, No 31, 18 September 2000. December 2001. <http://www.cereview. org/00/31/monroe31.html>.

  • 47 Monroe.
  • 48 Jean Genet. Funeral Rites, trans. Bernard Frechtman. New York: Grove

Press, 1969.

  • 49 Chris Cutler. “A History of Plunderphonics”. Resonance Magazine. Volume 3

No. 2, May 1995 and Volume 4 No. 1, November 1995.

  • 50 Michel J. Blatt. “Diese Platten Mussen Weg”. Jüdische Rundschau. July 31,


  • 51 Paul Christensen. “Blood Axis”.. Primitive Future Issue 1 (Date Unknown).
  • 52 Kahn, John Heartfield, 13.
  • 53 Kahn, John Heartfield, 34.
  • 54 Kahn, John Heartfield, 105.
  • 55 Kahn, John Heartfield, 120.
  • 56 Garry Mulholland. “Talk of the Devil”. Time Out: London’s Living Guide.

April 8-15, 1998.

  • 57 “Blood Book Interviews Boyd Rice”. Blood Book. March 1999

<>. (Site no longer available – interview archived at

  • 58 Sean Flinn. “Stealing Mussolini’s Brain”. Choler Magazine. April 2000.

March 2001 <>.

  • 59 Chris Bohn. “Laibach: NATO”. NSK Electronic Embassy. January 2002


  • 60 “New Collectivism – Novi Kolektivizem.” The Slovenia of Athens. May 2001.


  • 61 Monroe.
  • 62 Gianfranco. “Concert à la Dolce Vita de Lausanne, 19. Nov 1998.” Sanctuary.

March 2001 <>.

  • 63 “Death in June: The Forbidden Gig Story”. Sanctuary. March 2001


  • 64 “Marilyn Manson: News”. March 2002


  • 65 Kahn, John Heartfield, 126.
  • 66 Kahn, John Heartfield, 137.
  • 67 Kahn, John Heartfield, 126.
  • 68 Kahn, John Heartfield, 137.
  • 69 Kleeblatt, 11.
  • 70 Tom Roach. “The Levity of Excess: Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising.” Object

Magazine, No. 15. March 2002 <>.

  • 71 Kleeblatt, 26.
  • 72 Kleeblatt, ix.
  • 73 Griffin.
  • 74 Kleeblatt, 11.
  • 75 Lorenz Bomhard. “Band mit Nazi-Namen: Auftritt Verboten.” Bürger im

Bündnis gegen Aggression, Hass, und Gewalt. February 2002 <>.

  • 76 Audrius Ozalas. “Death in June: Euorpe Has Burned and will Burn Again”.

Edge of Time, January 2002. March 2002 <>.

  • 77 Ozalas.
  • 78 Brian Duguid. “A Pre-History of Industrial Music”. March 2002


  • 79 Schobert, Alfred. “Grasswurzelrevolution von rechts?”. DISS Internet

Bibliothek. April 2001 <>.

  • 80 Zillo. February 8, 1996. p.8.
  • 81 Schobert.
  • 82 qtd. in Griffin.
  • 83 Flinn.
  • 84 “Blood Book Interviews Boyd Rice”.
  • 85 Chris A. Masters. “Interview with Boyd Rice”. Misanthrope Magazine Issue

1, December 1997. March 2001 <>.

  • 86 Zach Dundas. “Lord of Chaos”. Willamette Week, August 16 2000. December

2000 <>.

  • 87 Dundas.
  • 88 Schobert, Alfred. “Musik, Heidentum, Terror”. DISS Internet Bibliothek.

April 2001 <http://www.uniduisburg. de/DISS/Internetbibliothek/Artikel/Heidentum.htm>.

  • 89 qtd. in Home, Stewart. “We Mean it Man: Punk Rock and Anti-Racism”.

Datacide. Summer 2000. March 2001 <>.

  • 90 Home.
  • 91 Laibach. “Ten Items of the Covenant”. Available at <>.

  • 92 Laibach.
  • 93 Monroe.
  • 94 Anton Lavey. “A Plan.” Satan Speaks. Venice, California: Feral House,


  • 95 Satanism and its Allies – The Nationalist Movement Under Attack. Final

Conflict. December 2001 < html>.