In Haunt

By Emily Oldfield

The second in the series of ‘Manchester Folk Horror Festival 2’ interview articles on the HAUNT Manchester Blog – seeking to interview each of the members of the festival’s panel discussion, which has been organised by Julian Holloway (Lecturer in Human Geography at Manchester Metropolitan University) on behalf of HAUNT Manchester, and he will also be Panel Chair.

Manchester Folk Horror Festival 2 follows on from its 2018 debut, still continuing at the same venue of The Peer Hat, falling on the Saturday 2nd February 2019 (panel taking place 3pm - 4.30pm). Whilst the wider festival will explore Folk Horror culture and creativity of all kinds including performances, music and film, the panel discussion will be in front of an audience, with academics and experts discussing topical themes in the genre.

The panellists will be Julian Holloway himself (Manchester Metropolitan University) who is also Chair, Andrew Michael Hurley (novelist and author), Chloé Germaine Buckley (Manchester Metropolitan University), James Thurgill (University of Tokyo), Darren Charles (Folk Horror Revival) and Morag Rose (The Loiterer's Resistance Movement and University of Liverpool).

This interview focuses on Darren Charles - who is no stranger to delving into the weird and wondrous aspects of culture, especially as an administrator and founding member of Folk Horror Revival.

Folk Horror Revival is a group which began online just over four years ago, seeking to create a community around exploring and collating Folk Horror culture, starting with the UK. It has attracted attention across the country in its researching and promoting of the genre – opening up perspectives on the past through innovative approaches including hauntology and psychogeography, expanding to a range of events, talks and publications. They even presented an event in The British Museum.

After all, Folk Horror is a key influence across many cultural forms, as Newcastle-based Darren himself upholds. Features of the genre include haunted landscapes, fascinating folklore, fables, witchcraft, magic, strange ceremonies, ritual, the rural and the wild; resonant across the reaches of art, music, film, TV, books and ongoing popular culture.

 A key area of Darren’s own exploration of Folk Horror culture is through music, especially considering his role as one of the founding members of The Dead End Street Band, creating a dark and delving intensity through the likes of drones, electronica and field recordings. Featuring instruments you may well never have heard of including Monotribe, Microkorg and Electribe and with titles including ‘The Dark Heart’ and ‘The Kosmische Curse’, this is music ready to open the mind.

Immersion and innovation in Folk Horror is also something Darren also has extensive practical experience in, having set up a number of ‘Unearthing Forgotten Horror’ events - providing a sensory fix of Folk Horror by combining cult films with live performances. This expanded into the ‘Unearthing Forgotten Horrors’ series of radio shows, and he has continued to smash films together with musical freakishness in his work as half of electronica outfit Equestrian Vortex – a duo devising soundtracks to horror movies based on a love of 1970s and ‘80s cult cinema. Darren also goes under the musical guise of Fuad Ramses Exotic Caterer and is part of the Mortlake Bookclub.

It could be considered that the extensive range and eclectic nature of Darren’s creative projects, highlights Folk Horror as an adventurous and ever-evolving genre. There is even plenty of room for pushed-to-the-max pedals, twisted synths and DIY Horror electronics, as he co-owns a small-run private press and label, Psychic Field Recordings.

 We couldn’t help but be intrigued here at HAUNT Manchester, and decided to talk to Darren further about Folk Horror Revival, his upcoming appearance in Manchester, and plenty more…

Hello Darren! What does it mean to you to be involved in the upcoming Folk Horror Festival and why do you think an event like this is important? 

“I am incredibly honoured to have been asked to take part in the upcoming Folk Horror Festival as the representative of Folk Horror Revival. I love the fact that we can take this sort of event to the far corners of the UK, which is something we have done with our own Folk Horror Revival events that have taken place in London, Edinburgh, Wakefield and Whitby in recent years.

“The Folk Horror genre draws an enormous amount of influence from the folklore and traditions that have blossomed in communities across Britain over the last 2000 years. There is a sense that it is indelibly linked to the very earth on which we live and work.

“The North West in general has a fascinating history when it comes to Folk Horror’s roots, the story of the Pendle witches has proven to be one of the most enduring tales to have influenced artists working within the genre, and if we consider that the stories of Alan Garner have their roots in the traditions and countryside of the North West we can see the importance of the region. Manchester itself, like York or Edinburgh has a wonderfully diverse and interesting history that goes back many centuries, and it is worth noting the links to the likes of John Dee who spent some time living in Manchester, or Thomas De Quincey who was born in the city.”

Is there a straightforward definition of ‘Folk Horror’ – or is part of its appeal the exploration of the term itself?

“I think it is incredibly difficult to define Folk Horror. To quote my esteemed colleague Andy Paciorek ‘one may as well attempt to build a box the exact shape of mist; for like the mist, Folk Horror is atmospheric and sinuous. It can creep from and into different territories yet leave no universal defining mark of its exact form’.”

“For those looking for an inroad I would recommend looking up Adam Scovell’s essay on his Celluloid Wicker Man blog about the Folk Horror chain. There are four main links to the chain: landscape, isolation, skewed moral and belief systems, and a summoning or happening - most folk horror works will feature at least some of these factors.

“If we consider the unholy trinity of Folk Horror: The Witchfinder General, The Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man, they are each grounded in the landscape, whilst isolation also plays a key role in each of the three films. The Wicker Man particularly, features two competing belief systems in Christianity and Paganism, and whilst Witchfinder also focuses on ideas of religious difference, those accused of witchcraft in the film are not practicing witches, merely unfortunates caught up in the panic.

“Beyond that, there are a couple of books I would recommend for those interested in delving down the Folk Horror rabbit hole. Our own volume Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies is a great introduction to the many varied aspects of Folk Horror as a genre of music, film, literature, art and beyond. There is also Adam Scovell’s Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange, which operates as a great introduction to Folk Horror cinema and television.

“To be honest, there are new ideas coming along all the time, some of which you may agree with and others that may seem a stretch, the fun comes from exploring them and revising your thoughts on the topic.

“I have described a very British interpretation of Folk Horror here; however, I feel I should mention that all cultures have their own lore and folktales, thus they also have a folk horror that is shaped by their own myths, legends and customs. A great example would be the Japanese who have a rather wonderful selection of folk tales that have been adapted into literature by the likes of Lafcadio Hearn or through wonderful films like Onibaba and Kwaidan.”

What sparked your initial interest in Folk Horror?

“The various components of what we now term Folk Horror have always played an important role in my life: the stories of Arthur Machen, Alan Garner and MR James, films such as The Night of the Demon, The Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man, traditional folklore, murder ballads, and folk magic to name just a few of those components. The fact that they were all somehow interlinked was something I had always understood but I could never put a label on it so when the term Folk Horror first came to my attention through Mark Gatiss and Jonathan Rigby’s History of Horror series it suddenly all made sense.”

Can you tell us a little more about the work of Folk Horror Revival and your role within it?

“Folk Horror Revival was set up just over four years ago as a Facebook group by Andy Paciorek. He had been searching for a group that brought together a wealth of interesting resources that were relevant to the genre and when he couldn’t find one he decided to set one up himself. Andy enlisted the help of a handful of trusted friends as admins to help him run the group. That is where I come in, Andy and I had become friends in the wake of an event I ran in Newcastle in 2013, and he asked me if I would help him to launch Folk Horror Revival. I duly obliged and the rest is history.

“The group has since expanded to take in the myriad of different social media platforms, we have a blog, our own publishing arm (Wyrd Harvest Press) and of course we’ve organised events at the British Museum, Edinburgh Summerhall, The Hepworth Gallery Wakefield and The Metropole in Whitby. Our main aim is to promote, research and explore Folk Horror and the various associated environs, such as hauntology or psychogeography.

“One of the wonderful things about the project that we are so proud of is that all profits from our Wyrd Harvest Press books are charitably donated to Wildlife Trusts projects.”

‘Folk Horror Revival’ implies that there was once a more predominant Folk Horror culture which has been perhaps lost or obscured, now to be revitalised – is this the case?

“Whilst the term Folk Horror has only entered into mainstream culture in recent years it has certainly existed in the past albeit without a label to hang on. Most notably at the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s, the unholy trinity of films were all released over a 5-year period between 1968 and 1973. In and around that time we were also treated to a succession of other films and TV series that had a distinctly Folk Horror vibe: Robin Redbreast, Red Shift, Murain, The Owl Service, Children of the Stones, Beasts and The Stone Tape, to name a few of the most overly relevant. The music of the period also took a darker turner with bands like Black Sabbath, Black Widow, Atomic Rooster, Coven and Comus among a host of progressive, rock and folk bands.”

Why is engaging with Folk Horror culture important do you think?

It’s our culture, it is drawn from the well spring that is our own cultural history. We need to preserve our culture for future generations, in order that they may understand where they came from. If you take that away, all those warnings from history can no longer be heeded and avoidable mistakes will occur.”

Are there cultural misconceptions about Folk Horror which you think are problematic to advancing discussion and exploration of the field? How do you envisage these being addressed?

“I would rather not get too into this; however, the fact that far right figures have attempted to appropriate Folk Horror in the same way they have attempted to appropriate Neofolk is a constant worry for many within the scene. The only way to address this is to continue to adopt a policy of zero tolerance with regards to fascist material.”

How can people get involved with finding out more about Folk Horror?

“One of the best ways is to join our Facebook group, simply called Folk Horror Revival. We have over 23,000 members and there is always a wealth of new and interesting material posted on the group. We have a pool of admins who are dedicated to ensuring that ours is safe space for the exploration of Folk Horror and associated interests. You can also check us out on our blog at folkhorrorrevival.com and across the various other social media platforms.

“I would also like to recommend several other rather wonderful websites, blogs and podcasts that provide excellent information on Folk Horror and a variety of other related subject. These include The Folklore Podcast, Weird Tales Radio Show, Folklore Thursday, A Year in the Country, Bone and Sickle podcast, Decadent Drawing, Drawing out the Spirits podcast, Fortean Times, The Alchemical Landscape and Celluloid Wicker Man… all essential places to get your Folk Horror fix.”

Photography with thanks to Graeme Cunningham

Related

1 Comments

Comments

  1. ▴▴▴
    Great stuff. Darren's hard work on Folk Horror Revival and on his Unearthing Forgotten Horrors radio show have done a lot to bring wyrd media and history to a much larger audience. His talk will be a treat.

Leave a Reply