Anti-folk (sometimes antifolk or unfolk) is a music genre that arose in the 1980s in reaction to the insularity of the remnants of the 1960s folk music scene. The defining characteristics of anti-folk are difficult to identify, as they vary from one artist to the next. The music tends to sound raw or experimental with the intention to shock and protest. It generally mocks perceived seriousness and pretension in the established mainstream music scene. Artists of the anti-folk genre seem to observe the "rules" of music, but then deliberately break them.
Anti-folk was introduced by artists who were unable to obtain gigs at established folk venues in Greenwich Village such as Folk City and The Speakeasy. Soon after, singer-songwriter Lach started The Fort, an after-hours club on NYC's Lower East Side. The Fort's opening coincided with the New York Folk Festival, so Lach dubbed his event the New York Antifolk Festival. Other early proponents of the movement included The Washington Squares, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Brenda Kahn, Paleface, Beck, Hamell on Trial, Michelle Shocked, Zane Campbell, and John S. Hall.Roger Manning,Kirk Kelly,Block were also early anti-folk artists.
The original Fort was shut down in 1985, and the club moved from location to location, including East Village bars Sophie's and Chameleon, before winding up in the back room of the SideWalk Cafe from 1993. The New York Antifolk Festival continues to be held annually at the SideWalk Cafe (long outlasting the original Folk Festival). Events have also taken place in the band shells in Tompkins Square Park and Central Park. While living in San Francisco for a few years in the early 1990s, Lach helped establish a West Coast anti-folk movement at the Sacred Grounds Coffee House.
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In the 2000s, the label was adopted in Britain, particularly in the London underground scene, with acts including David Cronenberg's Wife and The Bobby McGee's. The UK anti-folk scene (largely centred in London and Brighton) has established its own identity, which has been written about in a six-page feature in the September 2007 issue of Plan B magazine.Plan B held an anti-folk night at the Huw Stevens-curated S?n in Cardiff in November 2007. The beginnings of the UK anti-folk scene were in London, with shows promoted by Sergeant Buzfuz that, although not billed as anti-folk, featured many U.S. and UK anti-folk singer/songwriters. In 2004, the lo-fi musician Filthy Pedro started seasonal anti-folk festivals, which he promoted with Tom Mayne of the band David Cronenberg's Wife.
The Brighton anti-folk scene was quick to follow, curated primarily by Mertle. Other key figures within the UK anti-folk community include Dan Treacy of Television Personalities, Jack Hayter, Milk Kan, Extradition Order, Benjamin Shaw, Lucy Joplin, Candythief, JJ Crash, Larry Pickleman and Paul Hawkins. Emmy the Great is loosely connected with the English anti-folk scene, having played at Sergeant Buzfuz's nights in 2003 as part of the duo Contraband. Kate Nash started her music career playing anti-folk-style shows, including a concert promoted by Larry Pickleman and Mertle in Brighton. Laura Marling is sometimes linked with anti-folk, although this is less to do with the UK movement and more to do with her perceived musical style.
Anti-folk-influenced acts such as The Bobby McGee's picked up regular national radio airplay and media coverage. In August 2006, Time Out called anti-folk "One of London's hottest subcultures". The first anti-folk UK compilation album, Up the Anti, was released in 2007, mastered by Mark Kramer. The Welsh anti-folk artist Mr Duke has gained some popularity in Wales.
The anti-folk scene continues today, although in recent years it has found fewer venues in London (with the closure of 12 Bar and Buffalo Bar)[better source needed]: Nambucca hosted the 2016 Anti-Folk Fest, with newer acts such as Warmduscher, Goat Girl and Black Kes (who were not part of the anti-folk scene as was in 2008-2012), as well as (more or less) established AF acts such as David Cronenberg's Wife.