A new article on Buzzfeed explores “fashwave,” a brand of low-rent synthpop made by and for neo-Nazis. The alt-right embraces the music of acts like Cybernazi and Xurious, which evoke ’80s science fiction and video games in equal measure, in large part because of its irony. Whereas the hardcore punk and black metal long associated with neo-Nazis was passionate, us-against-everyone riot music, fashwave is easy listening, almost ambient stuff—the perfect soundtrack for trolling women on Twitter or shit-posting on Reddit. The notorious troll “weev,” whose support of Million Dollar Extreme was one of the first dominos that lead to its cancellation, told BuzzFeed the music’s fuck-everything nature has a purpose: “We’re winning. This is celebration music.”
It’s bad, anonymous stuff—listen to John Carpenter or literally anything else instead—frequently paired with vaporwave artwork: neon gradients, Japanese symbols, Tron-style grids, all newly radicalized to include President-Elect Donald Trump. This is a reframing, or maybe de-framing, of the vaporwave aesthetic. It embraced the images and tones of dated commercial music with an element of critique mixed with nostalgia, but these tracks offer neither critique nor nostalgia in favor of nihilism.
In some ways, the alt-right represents a spiraling search for the bottom of internet irony, as if internet culture finally found the only bulletproof defense to caring about something. In a terrific new piece on Real Life, the theological writer Tara Isabella Burton explores the way the alt-right’s ironic “meme magic”—that is, its belief in Pepe The Frog as the reincarnated Egyptian god Kek—mirrors the spread of a traditional religion. It’s a dense piece that doubles as an explanation for how neo-Nazis shifted from aggressive fight music to lowest-common-denominator nostalgia pop. Burton writes:
The cult of Kek fuses a pretense of freedom with the rhetoric of unbridled masculinity to try to make ironic disengagement seem sexy and heroic. It’s an aestheticization of a religious need: a mock-heroic packaging of the desire of white men to be men. Meme magic allows them to see themselves as exercising an intoxicatingly masculine vision of ironic freedom while doing that requires little in the way of courage, physical strength, or personal sacrifice.
Thus: fashwave, the first musical sub-genre to put fascism in air quotes. It sucks as bad as you’d expect.