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Concerts for change: the rhythms of rock, politics and democracy

Concerts for change: the rhythms of rock, politics and democracy

Art is not always free from politics, music and politics overlap, which can be examined in many different ways. Political statements are expressed through music, intentions disguised in notes. What’s more, concerts of musicians with a specific political opinion are used for gatherings of certain political groups.

This article talks about so called “Rechtsrock” (right-wing rock) concerts that take place in Germany. Some concerts become tradition and places like the small town Themar in Eastern German Thuringia are now known for their Rechtsrock concerts and right-wing gatherings. Since 2017, the annual concert Rock gegen Überfremdung (“rock against foreign infiltration”) is taking place there – it is the biggest one in Germany with visitors from 23 European countries. But this is not the end – when there is political resistance against extremism, the background music is not far…

Power tunes: about the phenomenon 

It is not only a phenomenon in Germany. In the second half of the past century what is called “White power music” developed in Britain (in Sweden known as Vit makt-musik) and has been spreading since then, mainly across Europe and North America. The music scene is part of the socio-political movement of neo-fascism and fulfills several functions that go beyond the enjoyment of good rhythms.The expression of political opinion and ideas in the lyrics and messages of the songs is of course one aspect – vocal propaganda that is more powerful and attractive than pamphlets. Bands as the British Skrewdriver are legends in the “hate rock” scene. Race, nation and people are common themes in their songs.

“Fight for your country, fight for your race,

Fight for your nation, fight made our people great.”

(We fight for Freedom)

They paint a picture of the ideal, Aryan man, and at the same time a left-communist enemy. In big groups and events like this, right-wing groups feel more confident to show their nationalist agenda in public.

But there is more to it than lyrics. It is also a way of getting around all the restrictions that come along with announcing a gathering as a political congregation, including a possible ban on such gatherings. It also means a profit for the groups through the distribution of the music.

Another, even more severe function, is the recruitment. Without being confronted with the actual political actions, white power music concerts introduce an entire subculture in particular to young people who might already have an anti-mainstream and anti-leftist stance. It can be the first contact with the right-wing scene in itself, without looking too obvious like political recruitment. 

The most recent edition of the concert in Themar in 2019 was indeed registered as a political event. The federal states of Thuringia and Saxony plan to work harder on tightening up the loopholes in the right to assembly, to hinder right-wing gatherings like these concerts where extremist groups make money with gatherings that function as demonstrations. The issue is dividing towns and communities. But while politics might only wake up now, the citizens of Themar have a long time ago stood up and started to act. 

Vive la Résistance!

Civil society is fighting against right-wing extremism and racism with organising own events and concerts, taking the issue in its own hands. Because extremism is not only a political, but also a social issue. 

The citizens of Themar are struggling against their home towns being chosen as venue for the gatherings and do not want to be known as a place of neo-fascism. Particularly in Eastern German cities, that have on average a higher population that sympathizes with right-wing thinking, citizens are organising themselves to show they are more than that. With counter movements and political statements for multi- culturalism and democracy, like Themar gegen Rechts, they make a stance for human values. Musicians, anti-fascist organisations, political parties and hundreds of visitors form one colourful crowd that counters the white-power tunes, that is separated from them by police forces. 

They have the support of the leading regional politicians. And that of many more people all across the country. Which is the goal of having concerts and festivals like this: to show all the individual activists and initiatives, that they are not the only ones.

Themar is not alone in its effort. Since Eastern Germany is, when it comes to political news, frequently mentioned in one sentence with strong right-wing support, citizens stand up to show that this does not represent a majority of the population. In Ostritz, locals bought all the beer in the area before a Rechtsrock festival. On the 1st of May 2019 the event Zusammenstehen (“Stand together”) for solidarity and diversity took place in Erfurt, including speeches and a Festival of the Many with dozens of musicians on the International Labour Day.

In Chemnitz in Summer 2018, a huge free concert was organised under the hashtag #wirsindmehr (“we are more”). It was organised by local civil initiatives as a statement for a peaceful, open, tolerant and democratic society. Big names of the German music landscape, that are known for their political activism against right-wing extremism, as FeineSahneFischfilet, Die Toten Hosen, Kraftklub or K.I.Z., performed. 2019 it was continued as “Wir bleiben mehr” (“we remain more”).

Music is made together

We can see that music can provide the energy for people to make themselves heard. For neo-fascism, but also for everyone who is countering the right-wing extremism and the fear of the unknown.

The band FeineSahneFischfilet returned in Autumn 2019 to Themar for a concert to support those people and initiatives in the region, that engage since years against right extremism. Their message is: frustration with politics is understandable, when no-one seems to care about your little villages. But it should not serve as a reason to support extremist parties.

That is activism for a diverse but united society through music. Kraftklub singer Felix Brummer said in Chemnitz: “We are not naive. We are not living in the illusion, that you do one concert and then the world is saved. But sometimes it is important to show that you are not alone.


by Nina Kolarzik

Photo Credits

Neonazi-Kundgebungen, kai.schwerdt, CC BY-NC 2.0

Marteria | Marteria & Casper, Stefan-Mueller.pics, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


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