Photo Illustration BuzzFeed News; Getty Images
“Galactic Lebensraum,” the first song posted to SoundCloud by the electronic music producer Cybernazi in November 2015, is the musical equivalent of a Hollywood reboot: It pours an old set of ideas into a shiny new mold. The song has no lyrics, but the title knowingly invokes Adolf Hitler’s policy of German expansionism, placing it in a neo-Nazi music lineage that proceeds from late ‘70s and ‘80s genres like Oi! punk and RAC (Rock Against Communism) — the kind of stuff featured in scenes of moshing skinheads from American History X and Green Room.
But “Galactic Lebensraum,” built from throbbing retro synthesizers, doesn’t sound anything like those genres. Along with the work of a handful of other like-minded artists working in overlapping spheres, the song belongs to a category of largely instrumental music called “fashwave,” which has emerged as the de-facto soundtrack to a new era of white nationalism. A winking portmanteau of fascist and “synthwave” — a nostalgic style of electronic music set to the frenetic pitch of video games and 1980s action thrillers — fashwave sounds sort of like the soundtrack to a vintage buddy cop movie, only instead of a black cop and a white cop, both cops are white and neither believes in the Holocaust.
Fashwave is championed on the same forums that gave voice to the so-called alt-right movement that aggressively supported Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, including the Daily Stormer, The Right Stuff, and the National Policy Institute. It’s the intuitive musical expression of that movement’s less self-serious, more sardonic tone, and has roots in the online imageboards, video games, and sci-fi propagated among young, white racists on the outer perimeters of the internet. Just as the alt-right surprised mainstream observers this year by effectively organizing to advance its political vision, it has now set its sights on remaking culture, consolidating around and promoting a music scene it can call its own.
Cybernazi, who declined to be interviewed by BuzzFeed News, is the most popular fashwave artist, with around 300,000 streams on YouTube (an earlier genre tag of his was more on the nose: “hitlerwave”). But there are several other fashwave artists that have surfaced in the age of Trump, with several dozen fashwave songs and playlists currently available online. Spread across YouTube, SoundCloud, and Bandcamp, it’s theme music made by young, straight, white men who believe they’ve met their moment.
“Galactic Lebensraum” and Cybernazi’s album of the same name (released via Bandcamp on 4/20), established a template for the nascent genre. It mimics synthwave’s retrofuturism, but fuses it with the themes and imagery of contemporary Nazi and white-nationalist fanfiction. The album’s song titles, including “Right Wing Death Squads,” “~ ∆ R Y ∆ N 卐 F V T V R E ~,” and “Cyber Kampf,” take pre-war notions of a master race to a fantastical conclusion.
“This is celebration music.”
Many white nationalists repudiate music that uses what they consider to be “African rhythms,” and frown upon electronic dance music (EDM) as “degenerate” — a catchall pejorative for haters and losers borrowed by the alt-right from Hitler’s art police. Fashwave, then, is ambient, not dancey. It’s largely lyric-free, which helps in dodging censors on social media, and cherry-picks sonic ideas from decades of implicitly white male fantasies in popular culture: the electric dreamscapes of film composers John Carpenter (Halloween, Escape From New York) and Tangerine Dream (Risky Business, Sorcerer), the technology worship of the German band Kraftwerk, the 8-bit adrenaline rush of chiptune arcade game music, and the Drive soundtrack’s black-light romance.
In a post from August titled “The Official Soundtrack of the Alt-Right,” Andrew Anglin, the founder of the Daily Stormer, described the genre as “the spirit of the childhoods of millennials” and “the sound of … our revolution.” Via email, Anglin told BuzzFeed News that fashwave “fits perfectly with the ironic vibes of the movement” and that the music of earlier generations of neo-Nazis just isn’t cool anymore.
“It is hard to think of something less hip in current year than punk or hardcore music,” he wrote.
Andrew “weev” Auernheimer — a hacker, internet troll, and fashwave fan who gained notoriety after being imprisoned in 2013 under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act — offered another explanation for the genre’s ascendancy in the age of Trump. “We’re winning,” he told BuzzFeed News via Twitter direct message (his account was later suspended). “This is celebration music.”
At the now-infamous National Policy Institute conference in November, where the alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer led several Nazi-saluting white nationalists in chants of “hail victory” and “hail Trump,” fashwave was the soundtrack. Billed as an official musical guest on the website detailing the event (and name-checked by attendees on Twitter) is Xurious, a UK-based fashwave artist whose 30 songs on SoundCloud average about 3,000 plays each. Xurious’s album Rise of the Alt-Right, released in October, uses the Spencer-designed, official alt-right logo in its artwork. Spencer didn’t respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment, but he spoke about his affinity for the genre during a press conference in September, where he said the logo — a geometric “AR” (“alt-right”) in front of a starlit sky — had been inspired by “synthwave nostalgia.”
Both Xurious and Cybernazi first posted their music online shortly after the Paris terror attacks in November of last year. The oldest song on Xurious’s SoundCloud account, “Requiem for Paris,” references the massacres explicitly. In a lengthy interview from March with The Right Stuff’s Nationalist Public Radio podcast, Cybernazi — speaking with a voice modulator — cited his indignation at the attacks as inspiring his music. (Requests for comment sent to Xurious’s social media accounts went unanswered.)
But it was the candidacy of Donald Trump that caused fashwave to fully crystallize as a music movement. As white nationalists around the world cheered Trump’s proposals to roll back immigration and ban all Muslims from entering the US, people like Anglin and Spencer embraced the music along with jubilant fantasies of a utopic, whites-only future. More fashwave producers appeared on social media — Stormcloak, Stereo Balilla, and the DJ/graphic designer Genosavior are the most commonly cited — and they frequently used Trump’s image in their artwork, juxtaposing it against neon graphics ripped from ‘80s sci-fi ephemera. On Twitter, Genosavior recently teased a representative compilation, puckishly titled Fashwave: New Clear Don. The cover shows a beaming Trump betwixt two space shuttles blasting toward the stars.
Genosavior / Via Twitter: @genosavior
Because the pool of artists to draw from is still small, fashwave fans on the alt-right regularly listen to and share garden-variety synthwave, which — like Pepe the Frog and the word “cuckold” — they’ve taken to rebranding as their own. A recurring feature on the Daily Stormer, called “Fashwave Fridays,” typically includes several YouTube embeds from synthwave artists like Power Glove and Perturbator (who have no known associations with white nationalism) alongside a Tumblr-like feed of recontextualized photos and GIFs depicting ‘80s fashion and technology. Since July, the white nationalist online radio station Black Sun Radio has played a seamless mix of both normal synthwave and bona fide fashwave every Friday and Saturday night.
Unsurprisingly, not all in the synthwave community are happy with the association. New Retro Wave, a record label and YouTube channel with more than 300,000 followers, has no apparent ties to the alt-right or white nationalists and yet is one of the most regularly featured accounts on Fashwave Fridays, appearing often under the fashwave hashtag on Twitter. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, the founder of New Retro Wave, a 28-year-old who gave his name as Ten S., said he found it “very worrying” when he “noticed guys posting things on our videos about ‘fash’ this and ‘fash’ that.”
As a response, he’s planning to post more videos that represent a diverse range of cultures, making them harder to misappropriate. “We as people should strive to move forward, love, and work together,” he said. “We do not approve of bigotry or hate.”