Antifascist Activists Protest Metal Music Festival This Weekend in Oakland

The Oakland Metro, in Oakland's Jack London district. (Google Street View)

Local activists are objecting to a metal music festival this weekend in Oakland due to some performers’ use of Nazi-related imagery and what the critics consider connections to hate groups.

Never Surrender Fest, organized by metal labels Nuclear War Now and Iron Bonehead, features more than 20 artists Oct. 18-20 at Elbo Room Jack London and the Oakland Metro Operahouse.

An anonymous blog post published Thursday has spurred calls to protest the festival. "Let's strategize how we shut this down," reads the Facebook page "NO NAZI FESTs in Oakland." The blog post focuses on what it calls the “neo-Nazi ties” of four scheduled performers.

As the event’s detractors point out, the Florida band Black Witchery released a DVD in 2009 on Satanic Skinhead Propaganda, an underground label well-known for its racist and anti-Semitic acts. California act Bone Awl has used swastikas and a totenkopf, the German symbol adopted by the Third Reich and popular among white supremacists, on its album art.

Eduardo Ramirez, booked at the fest as Volahn, leads Black Twilight Circle, a collective of largely Aztec- and Mayan-themed metal groups in Southern California. The blog post includes what it says is a photograph of Ramirez posing with Wolves of Vinland cofounder Paul Waggener, whose outfit the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a “Neo-Volkisch hate group.”

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The post also criticizes Nuclear War Now and Iron Bonehead for distributing records by prominent black metal artists such as Varg Vikernes (Burzum), whose views are “closely aligned with neo-Nazism,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The festival organizers reject descriptions of the scheduled acts as racist or fascist, saying the bulk of the blog post describes groups only tangentially connected to Never Surrender Fest.

“I have worked with the bands in question in the past and can tell you firsthand, I have never seen anything remotely fascist related by them or their fans,” Elbo Room co-owner Matt Shapiro said in a statement. “Both Elbo Room and Oakland Metro pride themselves on being safe spaces and supporting the community and of course, completely against fascism.”

“I have no interest in contributing to this useless drama full of lies,” wrote Nuclear War Now proprietor Yosuke Konishi, who also runs the Eastern Front record store in Oakland, in an email. “A big portion of the Bay Area metal scene consists of Latinos and other people of color, including myself. It seems that the people attacking the fest are completely misinformed about what I do.”

Most of the Never Surrender acts perform black metal, a style known for misanthropic themes. The genre is ideologically vast, but includes the racist subgenre National Socialist black metal (NSBM). Metal groups trafficking in Nazi-related imagery, whether cryptic or overt, often draw criticism for normalizing or promoting fascism, even when the artists themselves dispute the accusation.

Whether or not artists who use Nazi-related imagery should be allowed to perform, even if they say they reject racist or fascist views, is a subject of tense debate in the punk and metal subcultures. At a time when white supremacy is regaining visibility, antifascist activists routinely pressure venues to cancel controversial bookings.

Racist black metal groups are believed to comprise a small but closely-watched part of the scene. Earlier this year saw the first explicitly antifascist extreme metal festival occur in New York City.

In 2017, the Metro reluctantly cancelled a concert by Swedish metal group Marduk, citing concerns from Oakland police that antifascist activists would disrupt the event. Earlier this year the Metro also cancelled a show by Finnish black metal act Horna after the website Metal Sucks pointed out band members’ “strong ties to the world of NSBM.”

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