It was the early ’80s. Reagan was screwing around in Beirut, Mick Fleetwood was filing for bankruptcy, “Fraggle Rock” was instilling a love for radishes in children everywhere and a scrawny young songwriter named Lach was getting kicked out of folk clubs all over Greenwich Village. Their reasoning: He was too punk.
That was all it took – just a little rejection for Lach to take the initiative in making his music heard. If his occasional profanity, occasional intensity and consistent unorthodoxy wasn’t folk enough to play in folk clubs, well, he’d just have to create his own club. And when the Dylan worshippers had their annual New York City Folk Festival, Lach and his Dylan-meets-the-Sex-Pistols friends inaugurated an entirely new genre upon launching the New York City Anti-Folk Festival.
The name is misleading – anti-folk isn’t a genre opposed to the style and structure of folk music itself, but more accurately to the established folk music scene and the expectations and definitions that are tagged onto folk musicians. Now after 22 years, the term anti-folk has sprawled out to include essentially anything that sounds remotely akin to a bastard child of punk and folk.
Take, for example, The Moldy Peaches. If you’re a fortunate soul, you may have caught Adam Green and Kimya Dawson donned in Peter Pan and bunny attire opening for The Strokes or Tenacious D a few years back. Unfortunately, the group is currently inactive, though Dawson claims that this does not mean they are gone forever. Regardless, their 2001 self-titled debut is enough to spark anyone’s interest in both the artists themselves and the genre they boast.
After the first two tracks of the album, the reserved listener sighs – entertained by the quirkiness, amused by the simplicity and secretly relieved by the absence of unwonted anti-ness. But in classic anti-folk fashion, the acoustic, love croons of “Jorge Regula” are merely a prelude to Dawson’s painful screams of “take me to your leader” in “What Went Wrong.” By the time the album reaches the vulgar blues shuffle of “Downloading Porn With Davo” and the flute-accompanied spoken-word poetry in “These Burgers,” the reserved listener is at a loss for words – offended by the obscenity, baffled by the absurdity and completely enthralled by the transition, or lack thereof, into “Steak and Chicken,” a tune reminiscent of an acoustic Wesley Willis backed by a cynical Neko Case with a slight crack problem.
It isn’t the mere addition of messy electric guitar riffs to vulgar narratives that make The Moldy Peaches indicative of the anti-folk genre, though that may be a generalized assessment. In addition to these musical characteristics and low-fi production, the anti-folk world is a place where an entire song dedicated to crack cocaine and a ballad of Helen Keller and Rip Van Winkle are warmly embraced.
Essentially the only musicians who would probably be refused acceptance into Lach’s New York anti-folk community, or London’s well-established anti-folk collective, would be those who either take themselves too seriously or those who sell their souls to the man. While the subversiveness and self-mockery of anti-folk are innovative and humorous, unless you’re hip to New York’s Sidewalk Caf