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February 13th, 2007

Fake Folk?

Today I have a guest Blogger who I think has some valid incite into the new incarnations of the Naturalismo movement. His name is Brandev and he e-mailed me out of concern for what he sees as an emerging threat to the sincerity of the folk music movement. He has titled his article “Fake Folk”


Fake Folk


For every new musical movement there are the pioneering artists who innovate and cultivate a new musical construct and sound. Inevitably, other artists are increasingly influenced by the founding artists contributions as their music is recognized on a wider level and the movement is fleshed out. Enter Naturalismo. The nearly spontaneous proliferation of folk music in 2001 sparked the beginning of what would become a full-fledged musical movement by 2004. Artists such as Devendra Banhart, Akron/Family, and Six Organs of Admittance were drinking the same tea and creating some of the most intriguing folk music heard in decades. A second wave of the “freak folk” movement was later proclaimed by the New York Times in mid 2006. Possibly just the natural evolution of the movement or maybe an overzealous music critic attempting to exploit the genre further by describing a discernable change in its sound. The new direction of freak folk was described as being darker and more experimental. Sincerity was still evident in the movement and artists such as Brightblack Morning Light perfectly embodied the new ideas and sound of the Freak Folk movement. With an onslaught of new albums by the originators (Vetiver, Akron/Family, etc.) the freak folk, or rather Naturalismo movement, was as healthy as ever. And it has been since, until recently when I started to question the intentions of what I am thinking is the oncoming thrid wave of Naturalismo… where artists are merely attempting to capitalize on the folk scenes creation. It’s not so much a movement, as it is a splinter in the bare feet of the artists who have poured their souls into their folk music and made Naturalismo what it is. If anything, I would call it Fake Folk. There’s one band that embodies this trend so well that It’s hard not to mention them and their misguided attempt at folk music. I don’t want this to be a personal attack on them, but it’s hard not to point out how absurd they are. My opinion of Winter Flowers solidified when I came across an interview with them from a few months ago that appeared in Prefix magazine. I am going to take several excerpts from the interview and try to explain why I think they’re being insincere and merely trying to capitalize on the movement.

Do you think there’s a reason this particular folk revival, or whatever we’re calling it, is happening right now? Is there something going on nationally or internationally that’s motivating it?

Certik: As far as world events go, I cannot imagine what would cause such a phenomenon.

It’s one thing to subtly respond to the current state of political affairs in America right now through an introspective and personal reflection of ones own way of dealing with them in their own life, but it’s another to be completely oblivious to the effects it has had on the movement and music. Espers, Greg Weeks describes it as, “Politics, meanwhile, tend to be expressed subtly, through the way people live rather than through explicit song lyrics.” Isn’t that part of the very essence of folk music? Well if Certik’s not reflecting on society at large, than surely he draws upon his inner thoughts to reveal his artistic expressions. I’m sure when he does, he merely wants a place where his artistic endeavors can be fully realized and understood by his supporters. I imagine that’s what any folk artist wants…

Certik, of Winter Flowers: “Certainly Los Angeles is one of those places that seems to many people to be the last place to nurture anything of actual artistic value. It’s definitely paradoxical, though I think so far it has been very accommodating. In San Francisco there was definitely a certain quality of life that allowed the band to get things rolling, but there is something about that town that is a tremendous hindrance to artists or any sort of would-be doers. Lovely as it is, it is kind of a black hole for creative people. One can get a certain amount done, but eventually one runs into a brick wall.

It is a generalization, of course, but somehow people tend to end up stuck there, mired in a community of lovely people in a lovely setting where the sense of possibility actually seems to diminish the longer one works. L.A., interestingly, has a helpful and inspiring quality of being a place where people come to realize a dream. And, of course, the cliche is true that this town is full of “industry” folks and people who genuinely like and care about music, some of whom can offer wonderful prospects to a band like us.




Translation: The authentic folk music scene in San Francisco could see right through our transparent attempt at faking authenticity. We moved away to make money on our routine and kitschy costumes.



“I would hope that no one is actually trying to resurrect the old narcissistic hippie ideology of the ’60s.” Says Certik of Winter Flowers



Look at that picture, look at the quote. Again. Alert, Irony, Alert. I found it difficult to take much of what Winter Flowers had to say seriously, to the point of questioning if they were joking or not. It reads like some folk post-modern take on This is Spinal Tap. The very ignorant hippie cliches they claimed to denounce were not only being embraced by the members of Winter Flowers, but being built upon. I could continue on discussing Winter Flowers posturing and ignorance, but I think that Toler has managed to sum up the Winter Flowers entire existence in a single response.


How literally are we to take the song “The End of the War”? Is there any political statement there?

Toler: It’s not meant to be a political song. It was actually a sort of meditation I would use to help myself fall asleep.

Well, your band is the epitome of irrelevance, conveniently postured to capitalize on the artistic gains of others and to parlay a few eccentric photos shoots into some buzz. That Winter Flowers must go on parading influences like the Fairport Convention while holding that their inclusion into a stylistic movement with the likes of Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom is mere cosmic coincidence is the real farce here. All while having the audacity to proclaim that your painfully obvious sources of influence merely must have had the same ideas as you. As for me, I think I’ll heed Toler’s advice and sleep this phenomena out.

I think Brandev touched on some interesting points. I also noticed some early inner-movement resentment by artists in regards to the other coasts seemingly inauthentic interest in the folk movement a few months ago. More specifically, the Williamsburg, New York over night interest in vinyl and obscure folk was called out by Joanna Newsome in a billboard interview. In the interview she expressed her heartache over seeing new artists exploit the genre as a trend. I look forward to hearing what people think this could mean for the movement. I honestly don’t think it’s a threat to the sincerity of artists who are genuine in composing their work and hope to continue seeing new talented folk artists emerge.



  1. Like a Beatle to a Buddy Holly or a Bowie to a Pretty Thing, please people…admit your influences.

    Comment by Ponto — February 14, 2007 @ 11:26 am
  2. Interesting article. Regardless of Winter Flowers’ dubious motives for entering the “scene”, I’m willing to cast all self-deprecating interviews and silly press shots aside and judge their music with a unbiased ear. Unfortunately, listening to three songs on their myspace page left little doubt in my mind that these hacks should stick to their full-time gigs at the Renaissance festival.

    Comment by Christiano — February 14, 2007 @ 3:37 pm
  3. you folks, like other critics, who think they know something about this genre, dont know shit. you just digest whats been said and call it your own, trying to create labels or movements. its only after someone said something like ‘natralismo’ do you think you can create other genres.
    your god devendra didnt start anything, he just happened to be a talented, good looking fellow who fell into where he is at. you, like many others forget, music like this was happening already. lets dont forget overlooked bands like Jackie-o-motherfucker, they proceed molst people you write about.

    Comment by dogstar — February 14, 2007 @ 6:18 pm
  4. the argument here has more to do with piggybacking on the momentum, fashion, and visability of other artists than it does with tracing a lineage of how and from where this music came about. this is why devendra is more relevant to the discussion than jackie o (who are excellent and deserving of any attention that might be given them).

    Comment by b pelos — February 14, 2007 @ 7:38 pm
  5. I think the real pitfall is when we start thinking we have achieved some kind of promethean leap when all we’re doing is reciting/recycling and trying to be inventive in any way possible… When the dust settles it’ll be clear, perhaps, what is artful and what is merely ironic or derivative.

    Anyway, I’m intrigued by some of the other topics you seem drawn to… the Brazilian movements are, I feel, more a goldmine of inspiration than all the rest of the chatter about what is authentic, and so on. Veloso, et al seemed to artfully and playfully across all the lines.

    Comment by lee bob — February 15, 2007 @ 2:56 am
  6. […] revival. You can read the original interview here, Naturalismo contributor Brandev’s thoughts here, then Brooklyn Vegan picked up the thread here, not really adding much. The center of […]

  7. well…I think this article is interesting.
    Because I’ve been thinking the same thoughts myself since I saw winter flowers play at the Folk Yeah festival in Big Sur last year.
    Me and my friends just looked at eachother during the concert:
    “Are they for real?” “This is a joke, or is it…”
    I think their image is blinding their music unfortunately…

    Comment by costner, but not kevin... — February 16, 2007 @ 2:02 am
  8. I agree with Costner, their image definetly creates certain expectations, for their music and for whatever ideas they give with it. I don’t know whether or not they are the “real deal” hippies you want but at one of their shows at the Echo here in LA i met the mandolin player and apparently he is realllly old. like his first concert was seeing Jimi back in the day with his dad. I mean come on, their influences are pretty easy to trace, so i don’t know what to say if you are mad that the arent real hippies

    Comment by Howard — February 19, 2007 @ 7:15 am
  9. I agree with “dogstar” (a few comments above). I am constantly amazed by the things I see critics write about this “movemet”. First of all, it is most emphatically NOT a movement at all. That is, except for all the “devendrite” acts, or Devendra imitators, of which there are so very many, and who are the real fakes. Other bands, like the unjustly singled-out Winter Flowers, have nothing to do with any sort of movement, and do not in any way whatsoever try to capitalize on the success of Devendra and Joanna, whom they sound nothing like. They also have been around longer than either of them. I am sure there are plenty of folks who might not like them, just like anything, but I have seen them play numerous times and I think they are by FAR one of the best acoustic acts playing around. They write lovely songs, and actually can play their instruments very well (unlike nearly any of the so-called Naturalismo groups) and sing with beautiful harmonies (also something entirely missing in any of the other current “folk” groups). Who cares how they dress? And the words quoted in the above article are entirely misrepresented and misunderstood by Edvard. They move to LA to have a chance to put records out and tour, so you say they are capitalizing on a “movement” which has nothing to do with them, trying to “make money”? I don’t know, but I would guess that they have absolutely no delusions about the economic possibilities of music such as theirs. It is obvious to anyone that there is no real money in quiet acoustic music, unless you are a horrible “singer-songwriter”. I can see clearly that the Winter Flowers are true artists who play music because they love it, and just because you folks think that costumes (which they don’t wear on stage, by the way) are phony (which they are not – what is wrong with a little theatrics?), and just because you think that a band has to be political, and just because there are other acts playing acoustic music more successfully does not mean that acts like the Winter Flowers are “fake” or “insincere”. I think that you are all just indie-rockers who like to hear what is basically acoustic indie-rock, such as Brightblack Morning Light, Vetiver, even Joanna and Devendra. If you were willing to like music with much less attitude and less unmusical indie-ness, you would see that the Winter Flowers and others were in every way superior. Everyone who read Edvard’s article needs to see the misrepresented interview with the Winter Flowers, and hear their most sincere music for themselves. And we should all be more informed before we jump to conclusions. The Winter Flowers are not third-wave, but PRE-first wave, and wholly independent of all that went on to call itself “New Weird America” and all that crap. They don’t play out-of-tune, they don’t dress like indie rockers, and they don’t sound like Devendra, so you hate them. That is unfair, and your article is an injustice and an embarrassment.

    Comment by Danielle — February 21, 2007 @ 10:50 am
  10. This article is utterly useless and ignorant. Besides the fact that the author never once mentions what he thinks of the way Winter Flowers sounds (yeah, bands make music, imagine that! There’s more to it than scene politics…), I own a recording they made in the late 90’s. They fucking pre-date the so-called “freak folk” movement. Also, have you not heard Winter Flowers backing Devendra on his performance for “The Morning Becomes Eclectic”?

    But, what does it really matter if they have been playing folk music since before anyone gave a shit? What they creat is beautiful and what you create is trite and disgusting. The fact that a band who has been doing what they believe in for so long would get shit on for being “fake” is utterly heart breaking.

    Another thing that bothers me about this article is that it expects that folk music must be political, and implies that it has to have a certain pollitical slant.

    So….. bad article, good band.

    Comment by Sibyl Vayne — March 10, 2007 @ 9:01 am
  11. I thought the fakes started with Devendra’s regurgitated shaman act. How can you maul Jon Spencer, Jim Morrison, and Jesus Christ all at the same time and not expect to be visited by Dante and Virgil at some point? I love Joanna newsome for her musical talent, but Devendra’s bogus.

    Comment by busstogate — May 9, 2007 @ 1:52 am
  12. Danielle has said what I would like to say.

    Comment by Sarah — May 23, 2007 @ 10:55 pm
  13. this is most deffinantly the saddest thing ive ever encountered i agree with sybyl (beautiful name) for a girl with beautiful and open views, which is what any ‘new’ or ‘old’ folk should admire and appriciate, devendra banhart and joanna newsom are wonderful, unique and beautiful people. they give us young generation oxygen, and give us ‘weirder’ youngungs a place to feel content and whole.
    we are not fake, we are just to find our own piece of mind with some new noise.

    Comment by miss twit — August 15, 2007 @ 11:39 pm
  14. Whining indie-rock morons…”Naturalismo?!?”…please…this sad little Brandev has no perspective to judge any kind of music if he thinks Devendra, Espers and Joanna Newsom are great or any kind of real folk…I bet you would find more Weezer and Modest Mouse records at that guy’s house than anything one could consider actual music…get a clue brother.

    Comment by Putney Swope — January 19, 2008 @ 4:38 am
  15. Dear readers:
    i happen to come across this discussion, and would like to comment — folk music is music “of folks by folks” — it does not matter if someone has a guitar or a trash can or an electric sitar or an MPC1000 sampler, or what they wear for photo shoots, and etc. folk can be ritualistic and overwhelming or it could be a song with a guitar sung softly or it could be hip hop or it could be dance music (yes dance music).i would argue that my record for example is though in the style of russian bard music and is heavily influenced by gypsy music (by that i mean gypsy and jewish works from the early 20th century) is LESS of a folk record then many a hiphop records — i am sure most will disagree, but i worry about “folks”, so i thought i would write.
    Best wishes and happy January,
    Ilya Monosov

    Comment by ilya — January 29, 2008 @ 12:37 am
  16. Hmm. Interesting article, but I honestly don’t see why there is such a driving need to categorize… music, people, anything really!
    It’s a shame that Winter Flowers gets such a hard hit too. All that matters is that these artists are sincere, are having fun and are totally able to channel themselves creatively. The Flowers are obviously content and happy, otherwise they wouldn’t be playing together. They are sincere for those reasons. Yeah, they are eccentric as people, but honestly who the hell cares, and why should anyone care? Legalize creative expression, man.
    And concerning the so-called “movement”, these artists are doing their thing, and thats all that matters. The beauty should be in the simplicity, expression, sincerity and community of the artists, and obviously the magic of the music itself. Labeling this and that, criticizing over and over again is just such a destructive attitude (quasi-reflective of society). I really respect Brandev’s opinion, and it really made me think, but its a shame he has to be so negative and critical. If you don’t dig it man, thats totally cool. Everyone has their own thing.

    Comment by David G — April 19, 2008 @ 7:24 pm
  17. I think Devendra is faking the funk. Akron/Family, however, are the real deal.

    Comment by Mattydigs — July 1, 2010 @ 10:00 pm
  18. @Putney

    Many people (including myself) may not like what they have become but Modest Mouse have a fucking indie legacy. Their output in the nineties and up to the year 2000 is untouchable. “Lonesome Crowded West”, “Moon and Antarctica”. “Building Nothing out of Something”, ” This is a Long Drive.. “,”Interstate 8” Should I keep going ? All those albums just packed full of great music. They could put out a Nickleback tribute album and they still would be legends. Shut the fuck up, you IDIOT.

    Comment by Mattydigs — July 1, 2010 @ 10:20 pm

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