Folk the Pain Away

Friends of Kimya and Adam Call Antifolk What They Want

If "folk music" in its most traditional sense is the music of the folk—the lower classes, the salt of the earth—then "antifolk" would logically be the music of the aristocracy, right? The New York Philharmonic or opera or Merzbow or whatever's playing down at Lincoln Center or Tonic tonight, that's antifolk. Isn't it? Or maybe it's the sonic opposite of what in recent decades has come to be known as "folk," which is generally soft, inoffensive acoustic guitar-based mush. So then antifolk would be death metal or grindcore or gangsta rap. Or maybe Merzbow again.

If Merzbow walked into Sidewalk Café on a Monday to participate in the weekly open-mic night known as the Antihootenanny, he probably wouldn't get asked back. That's because what "antifolk" means around these parts is a specific scene, based in the East Village, that's been percolating for the past 20 years or so. Its founder and patron saint (and Antihoot host) is a man named Lach who, legend says, came to town in the early '80s aiming to be the next Dylan, but got kicked out of Folk City for being too punk. So he started putting on his own shows, attracting like-minded troubadours who equally admired the Sex Pistols and Woody Guthrie. Over the years, people like Beck, Ani DiFranco, Michelle Shocked, and King Missile showed up, and Lach and his growing family of misfit songwriters nurtured them when they were poor and unknown. The hype machines came a-visiting occasionally, but for the most part the antifolkers have just gone about their business underground, like happy little ants.

In his 2000 biography of Beck, British journalist Rob Jovanovic declared that antifolk died when Mr. Hansen left it, which was around 1990. That certainly isn't true, but then again, not many outsiders, Jovanovic included, were hanging out on Avenue A back when current scene figureheads the Moldy Peaches thought up such galvanizing anthems as "Who's Got the Crack," so he can be forgiven for not predicting the movement's resurgent vitality. Besides, not even Nostradamus could have predicted the Peaches. Yeah, right: A skinny white kid in a Robin Hood costume and a large black girl in a bunny suit singing about turds are gonna make the Pazz and Jop Top 40, and they'll be a hit in England, too! Next you're gonna tell me that Jay-Z's sampling Paul Anka, and Common's collaborating with Stereolab, and Justin Timberlake's on the cover of Vibe.

Nan Turner and Matt Roth get their schwerv on.
photo: Courtesy Schwervon
Nan Turner and Matt Roth get their schwerv on.

But enough ink has been spilled over the Moldy Peaches, especially in these pages. What most people don't know is that Adam Green and Kimya Dawson have lots of friends who make music called antifolk. (They also have friends that make music that sounds like Tom Petty, but that music is called the Strokes.) None of the antifolk is as great as "NYC's Like a Graveyard" or "D2 Boyfriend," though; there's a reason the Peaches headline Irving Plaza while everybody else plays for peanuts.

That might change soon. Antifolk has been catching on in Europe—several Peachy friends have already completed successful headlining tours. And the release of two compilations highlighting the talents of Lach and his progeny just might jump-start a craze on these shores. One collection is the Adam-and-Kimya-curated Antifolk Vol. 1 on Rough Trade/Sanctuary, the same label that signed the Peaches. It's a mixed bag of post-Beck wannabe-Dylans (Paleface, Jim Flynn), punk-as-fuck-if-it-wasn't-for-acoustic-guitars (Joie Dead Blonde Girlfriend, Stipplicon), wispy forgettables who don't deserve the "anti" (Patsy Grace, Turner Cody), and a stand-up comedian bitching about Hollywood (Rick Shapiro). The collection's highlight is "Wee Ma Moo," by crazy, hairy pranksters Dufus. It's a rollicking pub-rock duel between electric and acoustic guitars and between a low, regular-guy voice and a high, silly-guy voice. The song also includes a brief reggae breakdown, and an intentionally unfinished ending. Lach contributes the previously released "Drinking Beers With Mom," from 1997, which sounds so similar to the Peaches' 2001 "Downloading Porn With Davo" that I'd suggest a lawsuit if I didn't detect so much love between the parties.

(OK, maybe I lied before when I said that enough had been written about the Moldy Peaches. It is worth mentioning that both Kimya Dawson and Adam Green have solo efforts out, neither of which is as powerful as when they combine forces. But they're still better than 99 percent of the other antifolk-artist albums I've heard. Kimya's a much more skillful songwriter than her partner, but her Rough Trade/Sanctuary I'm Sorry That Sometimes I'm Mean sounds like the Peaches' "Nothing Came Out" over and over again. She has a warm, inviting voice that might make you feel like her best friend. I'd recommend her self-released My Cute Fiend, available at solo shows and from It's far more gripping than Mean, and it has the best 9-11 fallout song I've heard, give or take Sleater-Kinney's pair and the Behoovers' "Mary Lou." On Garfield [also Rough Trade/Sanctuary], Adam's going for the dorksexy alternaboy sound and look [peep those cheesecake photos, ladies!]. It's the sort of lightweight affair that Beck could have made before Mellow Gold, had he spent his formative years in a nice, rich Westchester family that supplied a mother to sing on one song and a brother to play clarinet on two others. The knockout single is "Dance With Me," a tender love ditty whose irresistible hook could bring the nation's teens to their knees.)

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