Does My Black Sun Look Big In This? Skullflower’s Patterns Of Predjudice

Late last week, veteran noise act Skullflower were dropped from the line up of Raw Power festival - yet for most of their lengthy career they have been considered apolitical. Here Dylan Miller considers the jigsaw of evidence against Matthew Bower and asks, 'What changed?'

“We offer an invocation to, and an evocation of the hidden, averse, heathen powers that seethe within our native soil. Come leave your timid gelded civilised masks, bow down and rise up, reborn, within our whirlwind.”
Skullflower mission statement, July 2013

Last week – on a day that saw news reports of innocent British people being torn from their families and deported to Jamaica as part of Theresa May’s “hostile environment” and a three-fold rise in antisemitic crimes in the UK – London’s Raw Power, the noise-orientated music festival programmed by Baba Yaga’s Hut, made the unusual decision to drop veteran act Skullflower from its bill. In a brief statement they wrote that Matthew Bower, Skullflower’s core member, “appears to have taken part in some questionable actions & has some public-facing associations that do not line up with how we feel at Raw Power.”

Matthew Bower has been a constant presence on the noise scene for decades, appearing, for example, in 1983 as one half of Pure, sharing a bill with Derek Jarman, Coil and Ceryth Wyn Evans at Brixton’s Ritzy Cinema. Until the accusations against Bower surfaced, the racist wink implicit in Pure’s name could be dismissed as the sort of provocative trolling endemic to the young noise scene of the time, when schoolboy Philip Best (Consumer Electronics/Whitehouse) released his infamous White Power cassette, and two volumes of Oswald Moseley speeches, on his Iphar cassette label (we’ll have more on this period in a future piece).

Skullflower emerged as a full band with their Birthdeath EP in 1988, since when, according to Discogs, they have racked up 39 albums of searing, hellish, ecstatic racket, that have, rightly, earned Bower no little respect as an uncompromising, dedicated noise artist.

Interviews with Bower have appeared in pretty much every magazine covering experimental music, including this one, and as far as we are aware, he hasn’t used any of them to espouse controversial political viewpoints. Bower has always presented himself, and his bands, as cultural irritants, and has had a reputation as an unapologetically spiky character, yet politics have never been central to Skullflower’s musical vision, any hints at meaning coming from track and album titles, which are often elaborate and evocative but seemingly devoid of political content.

So what’s happened?

Bower’s acerbic personality has, unsurprisingly, led to many fallings out over the years, and rumours of a deeper darkness beyond the wall of noise. The idea that any musicians, of any genre, are obliged to be nice people is obviously absurd – some people are arseholes, and some of them happen to be musicians, we can live with that. But bringing arseholes and the Internet together can have explosive results, and online Bower has scattered fragments of a persona that, when pieced together, create a depressingly familiar picture.

The Skullflower blog, begun in 2011, is a repository for Bower’s musings and photographs. Collectively they reflect a mind deeply immersed in art, witchcraft, music and animal husbandry. In one domestic image, posted in 2016, nestled amongst a display of animals, talismans, artworks and artefacts, is a print of the most iconic image of esoteric neo-Nazism – the black sun. The symbol, twelve sig (SS) runes in a spoked wheel, first appeared as a floor decoration at Heinrich Himmler’s SS fortress at Wewelsburg in the late 1930s. According to historian of esoteric Nazism Nicholas Goodrick Clarke, Himmler regarded the castle as “the magical omphalos, marking the centre of the Germanic world, and planned ultimately to develop the whole site as an SS Vatican of Aryan spirituality.” The Black Sun then, sat at the initiatic centrepoint of the of the Nazis’ mythic empire.

Since the early 1990s neo-Nazis have viewed Himmler’s sunwheel as a representation of the Black Sun, a symbol of Thule, the dream of Europa, “an alternative world in total opposition to a multiracial Europe” (Goodrick-Clarke). The symbol serves as not-so-secret handshake amongst occult-leaning neo-Nazis, many of whom view Hitler as an avatar of more-than-human energies. Unlike the swastika, a symbol that predates the Nazi party by millennia, and continues to have an existence beyond that corrupting appropriation, Himmler’s Black Sun has no meaning outside of its role as a neo-Nazi dream catcher – you’ll see it on flags at neo-Nazi rallies, in Sonnenkrieg Division‘s race-hate memes, and tucked away on cryptonazi-edgleord album covers. This author once saw one on a sticker in a hip East London pub.

The Black Sun as featured in poster for neo-nazi group Sonnenkrieg

So Bower has a Black Sun on his wall at home. OK. It’s a charged symbol of the mythic darkness that Skullflower have made a career of exploring – he also named a spin off project Black Sun Roof. Nice one.

Alone this fact doesn’t make him a Nazi, crypto or otherwise. Nor do pictures of a model kit of a WWII panzer tank crew soldiers out haring with their dogs. Nor, necessarily, do recent track titles, ‘Ayran Wolf’ (2017), or ‘Stormfront’ (2016), with its accompanying text: “Winter is a brutal gardener, despoiling summers finery to rot where it falls. We too, need a weeding out, a culling, a gardener.” Stormfront also happens to be the largest online message board for “White Power, World Wide… the voice of the new, embattled White minority.” (italics sic) Haha, provocative japes surely?!

Elsewhere on the blog, it becomes clearer that Bower’s politics are right of centre. He is anti-EU, he claims, in a post celebrating the 2016 Brexit referendum vote, “exiting a hated union”. That’s also OK, lots of men in their mid-50s voted to leave Europe in Summer 2016, many of them also musicians.

In a November 2016 comment on this web site, beneath a review of an Andrew Marr TV interview with French National Rally (formerly National Front) leader Marine Le Pen, Bower, or someone purporting to be Bower, wrote: “Vive marine and vive la france!… keep whinin’ liberals”. “Matthew Bower” also put in a dig at comedian Stewart Lee, known for his love of noise music – “oh and that douchebag Stewart Lee; burn yr skullflower records, thems naszty. mb.” Is the extra ‘z’ in nasty also a troll’s wink? (All comments have since been erased from tQ.)

So Bower (or someone using his name) aligns himself with the French National Front, OK that’s pretty extreme, but they’re almost a mainstream party in France; and anyway, why do we noiseniks expect the music we like to be made by progressive liberals, whinin’ or otherwise?

But there’s another clue, for those who might recognise it, buried in his Brexit blogpost: “We are for Europa, anti E.U.” Like the Black Sun, Europa is another piece of twilight language, code amongst ‘Traditionalists’–  essentially elitist cryptofacists – for Europe as it used to be, a white, pagan Europe of distinct nation-states, feudally-governed and divided upon “ancient” ethnic and cultural lines. A lost Europe that lies in our future, one in which the great mistakes of the past – the capitulation of the Third Reich, the loss of our colonies and the ensuing disasters of multiculturalism – can be unmade. It reflects, to quote Josef Klumb of martial-industrial cryptofascists Von Thronstahl, "the idea of the REICH for Europe, or Europa, as I’d prefer to call it."

This ideal of Europe – or Europa – is the dream at the heart of the neo-folk musical movement, which emerged in parallel to the noise scene that Bower has inhabited for so long, and often involved the same people. It’s no surprise then, to find him linking arms with Austrian cryptofascist band Der Blutharsch – whose logo has incorporated the Iron Cross and Sig-runes and whose WKN label released music by Skullflower (2016) and Italian fascist group Casa Pound’s house-band Zetazeroalfa (2003) – and English folk musician and jodhpur-sporting Traditionalist Andrew King, who Bower gigged with at London’s Café OTO in 2015. [Fielding Hope of Café OTO has since informed us that King’s appearance was kept secret from the venue, Ed]

In 2016, at the time of Bower’s Europa comments, Skullflower outraged many in the Leeds musical community by performing with veteran Finnish nihilist agit-noise group Bizarre Uproar, aka Parsi Markkula, who told the Plaguehaus zine in 2010: “I like discord, chaos, tension between races… XE [xenophobic ejaculation, another Markkula solo noise project] is about racial issues, KKK hanging black trash, whites humiliating black whores, steel cap execution, White Power, 3rd Reich – glorious REICH, concentration camps, racial hygiene, white supremacy, xenophobic hate, black whores eating excrement.” [Temple Of Boom, the Leeds venue, has since informed us that they were unaware of the nature of the groups playing at the time and banned the promoter and all of the artists involved once they were made aware, Ed]

OK have you had enough now? Hopefully you are beginning to see the picture. Accepting that a band you’ve enjoyed for many years is the work of a right-leaning cultural irritant prone to acts of long outmoded, privileged provocation is one thing – accepting that they have collaborated with, and espoused the views of, elitist cryptofascists and death camp celebrants is another.

Yes, Bower has spent a career exploring the abyss, but at some point he also became the abyss. And in our fucked up, fracturing and fractious world that abyss is no longer an obsidian edge ready to expose the hypocrisies of the mainstream – it is the mainstream, and it has engulfed us. This is why we, Raw Power and others have finally drawn a line in the sand – you are either with the people who seek to inflame hatred and division, or you are against them. We are against them.

So that’s why Bower isn’t playing Raw Power.

A small handful of people might be angry and dismiss the promoters as snowflakes bowing to political correctness – let them, and let Baba Yaga’s Hut, and their partners at Corsica Studios, continue to advocate for optimism, diversity and a progressive future.

Bower has yet to respond to his removal from Raw Power. His last blog post simply reproduced the festival’s email to him without comment.

The post before that, dated 12 January, is a tarot reading, entitled “now the die is shaken, now the die must fall”, and shows the Death card, 13, from the Smith-Rider-Waite deck superimposed with ehwaz, the “horse” rune. The Death card, seen here riding upon a white horse and sporting a white rose flag (perhaps a Yorkshire rose?), is usually interpreted to mean that a transformation is coming, perhaps a difficult one. Ehwaz is, also appropriately, associated with communication and collaboration.

Whether something has happened to ‘radicalise’ Bower, or whether he has always been this way, only those who know him can say. But whatever he does next, Skullflower will no doubt survive. They may lose some of their audience, they may well gain a new one. Certainly they have a welcoming home on the Cold Spring label, where martial edgelords, cryptofascists and their apologists rub shoulders with noise and industrial artists too physically or psychically dead to care anymore.

Is Matthew Bower a neo-Nazi, a fascist, or a white nationalist? We doubt that he would ever identify explicitly with any of these positions. Should you stop listening to Bower’s music, or buying his albums? That’s not up to us – who you support with your money is your decision alone.

We shall have to wait and see what happens next. Bower’s psyche seems to be in a constant state of flux, and we strongly believe that people can change, for the better, as well as for the worse.

All we know is that Skullflower’s veil of mystique has dropped, revealing another lost and angry white man, looking for Europa.

We invite Matthew Bower to respond to this article

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today