Black metal and anti-fascism: an interview to Etxegiña

Black metal and anti-fascism: an interview with Etxegiña

Hailing from France and Basque Country, Etxegiña is a black metal project formed by Basque born musician Waldo Losada, together with other musicians. Last year, the band released their first EP Herederos Del Silencio, which was critically acclaimed especially within the RABM scene. We reviewed that EP positively, and that’s why we got in touch with Waldo to ask him some questions…

Hi Waldo, and welcome to Aristocrazia Webzine. First of all, I’m aware that Etxegiña has a particular meaning to you and its name is linked to your family. Can you explain who was Etxegiña?

Hi and thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be interviewed by Aristocrazia as you’re one of the only Italian webzines I follow with Semirutarum Urbium Scadavera.

Etxegiña is a Basque word meaning “builder” – house builder to be precise – and it was the nickname of my great-grandfather Ciriaco Urigüen Aranzabal. My great-grandfather was a master gunsmith, which surprises people because one might think the nickname was related to his profession. During the Spanish Civil War Ciriaco fought against the fascist forces of Franco and for that he was imprisoned and sent to torture camps. I chose the name Etxegiña to honour his fight but also the struggle of so many Spanish families. The meaning of that word is quite important for me as well, as the far-left is often associated as, and this will be caricature of course, “anti everything and pro nothing”. We can all agree it’s a point of view that might come from a position of ignorance but I think it’s important to underline I want to build something.

Your first EP Herederos Del Silencio talks about some events from the Spanish Civil War. Could you tell us something more about it?

Out of the four tracks of the EP, three tackle very precise historic events of the Spanish Civil War. Basically, all tracks except “Nosotros los Etxegiña” as it references multiple topics (The Basque Country, Silence, Militantism, Torture) & political groups (the CNT, Mujeres Libres). That song is, when I think of it, an introduction to the lyrical themes of the band.

“El Roble Que Brota Indemne” talks about the bombings of Guernica with a little story-telling twist. You see there is a tradition in Guernica that goes back to the 14th century: the Basque people take care of a sacred Oak that symbolizes their freedom. Each time an Oak dies it is replaced by one of its sprouts. Each of the first trees had a name: “The Old Tree”, “The Father Tree”. The Oak that stood and resisted the incendiary and explosive bombs that wrecked Guernica in 1937 was the “Son Tree”. I thought it more interesting to focus on that tree as both a survivor of that fascist attack and a witness of the event. As if its sap was holding the memory of the Basque people’s suffering.

“La Montaña” isn’t a reference to mountains or a glorification of nature, as one might think. It was the name of a military barrack in Madrid. In July of 1936, when the war started one of the most important problematics of socialist cities was to know if the military corps would be loyal to the Second Republic or if they’d join with the fascist armed rebels. As the government stood doing basically nothing, local antifascist groups started to distribute a few weapons and civilians started to siege La Montaña with the help of artillery lieutenants. They offered the military to surrender but the army didn’t agree to the people’s terms. Guzmán’s description of the battle is heart-breaking. I remember vividly how he says each time a civilian fell dead, another one came quickly to take his rifle and continue the battle. La Montaña was a total bloodshed. The people won but they paid it with many lives.

“Los Cadaveres Insepultos De Albatera” talks about the most famous concentration camp of Spain. Albatera was an old labour camp of the Second Spanish Republic. Its purpose was “rehabilitation” through work. Before the fascist rebels took over, it held 1039 prisoners. When it was transformed into a concentration camp, the general population was estimated between 12.000 and 30.000 individuals. The living conditions of the camp were disastrous because of the lack of food and water. One tin can every two days to be shared between two prisoners; one loaf of bread to be split in five. The lack of water nearby led to the proliferation of bad hygiene and the spread of intestinal diseases, scabies, tuberculosis and typhus.

Prisoners were tortured on a daily basis. Often, they were tied to trees with barbed wired and beaten until they lost consciousness. They were also executed publicly, especially if someone found out one of the prisoners had been a republican solider, or even if he/her was a political activist. The Albatera concentration camp was closed in October 1939 because the sanitary conditions were out of control. Most of the surviving prisoners were sent to jail.

Someone already knew Etxegiña due to your first single, Nosotros Los Etxegiña. Your new EP was critically acclaimed and seems it reached a good worldwide coverage. Are you satisfied of this result? Did you expect this?

I didn’t expect to get so much support. Especially considering we didn’t stream the record on a big apolitical youtube channel. But it seems one doesn’t need that anymore. I think we did reach a lot of people. All of our merch sold pretty well and sometimes pretty quick! And to know we’re getting a vinyl edition through True Cult Records is such a gift. I didn’t expect it to be honest.

It goes without saying that I am satisfied with the result. I’ve got to meet & chat with a lot of people since the release and the whole point is to spread a political and historical message. To get people interested in the Spanish Civil War was my main goal. And thought Spain is not the country where the EP hit the hardest, I have been quite moved to received many messages like “this happened to my family too”, “my grandfather was executed by fascist soldiers”, “I just learned this story is similar to my story”. It’s just beyond expectations, it’s so rare for such a small band to create such a link with its audience.

I don’t think I was “expecting” that the record would be “acclaimed”. I knew I had crafted, along my bandmates, something I liked and that the production was nice. But that’s never enough to get “reach” as many talented musicians know. You can only control so much when you release and promote your music. I hoped the record would be enjoyed and I’m thrilled it did so well in such a short time, especially since it took two years to finally release it!

From a musical point of view, Herederos Del Silencio is certainly a black metal EP. At the same time, it’s quite melodic and peculiar, and it’s not easy finding a band that sounds similar to Etxegiña. What are your main influences?

That’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot. I have great difficulty to link my music to existing bands and I say that from a humble perspective. I don’t mean to imply I’m better than anyone else. Usually, people are surprised because I’ve been involved in quite some bands and none sound like Etxegiña. The main reason is that those projects already had a strong or pre-determined identity before my arrival. As a musician I think it’s important that your identity doesn’t overthrow a project you’re collaborating in. Etxegiña is the first band I’ve started and I’m the main composer. It sure has some modern and old-school elements at the same time. Some epic moments and melancholic vibes as well. I guess I have a different sense of melody that some Black Metal artists. Maybe my Spanish heritage is more present or visible through these songs.

There’s a whole variety of genres that inspire me. Within the large Black Metal spectrum, I enjoy early Enslaved records quite a lot. On the RABM side of things I think one of the bands that blew me away the most was Toadeater and I know one of the new songs I’ve written takes inspirations from that. But to describe Herederos Del Silencio is quite hard. The one thing that defines Etxegiña is the constant – for now – use of triplets so the music doesn’t have the traditional binary feeling. The pace is not the same. Rhythmically Etxegiña will also evolve using odd time signatures, as it’s something quite used by traditional Basque music.

Waldo, you come from a very identitarian area of Spain: Basque Country. Even football fans are aware of this, since supporters of teams like Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Eibar are quite known for their anti-fascist and independentist positions. Nonetheless, your songs are in Spanish, not in Basque. Why this choice? And what do you think about Basque independentism?

It is funny you mention football because I grew up supporting the Athleti and was told the Real Sociedad was garbage because they were not on first league, haha! I’m not that much into sports lately and I spent more time supporting the Spanish basketball team to be honest. But let’s get back on track. The answer to your question is fairly simple: I don’t speak Euskera yet. The use of regional languages during the dictatorship of Franco was not encouraged. Plus, most of the northern regions with a specific language were reds to begin with… I think the policies that reclaimed the Basque Language came later once the democratic transition happened. My mother was born in Eibar in the late 60’s and she didn’t learn Euskera in school. Schools didn’t talk about the Spanish Civil War much either at the time. As my mother left the country at a young age I “only” inherited castellano from her. Some of my family members speak Euskera – mainly for work related reasons. If I had been born & raised in Bilbao, I would have definitely learned the language for sure. Maybe in the future I’ll collaborate with Basque musicians to write lyrics for me!

I didn’t grow up in a particularly independentist family. However, I think the problem is more complex than simply creating a new border. Because the Basque country is missing its French half. For a true Basque Country to exist we’d have to witness the creation of a new European region born from the actual borders of two countries. That being said, on the one hand I’m not a fan of what “borders” imply yet I think the Basque people should be able to decide what to do.

We Basque might seem like a funny people. It’s not everywhere that you get to grow up witnessing demonstrations to free political prisoners considered terrorists by the rest of the country. That might be one of the things I feel connected to: the injustice of political incarcerations. Because oftentimes far-left militants are imprisoned on suspicion and sent to the other corners of Spain. Which basically means that their families, their life partners and children, never get to see them.

You’re the only band I know that added bibliographic notes/references to your booklet, and if I remember correctly your merch section included some books. Why? And what’s your goal?

I think the Sorbonne University fucked me up, haha. But seriously I think I learned from doing my Ancient Cultures & Contemporary World degree that it’s important to know what you’re talking about and not just make assumptions and be guided by intuition only when you’re dealing with History. And I think it’s more important knowing I have a political position to be able to say – all of what I’m saying here comes from research. When you think about it, you cannot pretend to start a discussion or address an issue without a general knowledge of it.

Then there’s the problematic of romanticism. In many leftist circles the Spanish Civil War is at the same time the “lost revolution” and the “nearer we got to a true revolution”. But nostalgia and romanticism are tricky emotions and I couldn’t be blind to some facts because I didn’t like them. The horrendous displays of anarcho-sexism are one of the things I profoundly dislike about that period. When you see how the Mujeres Libres feminist organization was treated back then it’s sickening. But it also reminds us that the whole “intersectional feminism is an obstacle to class struggle, we’ll deal with that after the revolution” kind of thought is quite old… if only it had disappeared!

I’d say my goal was and still is to be precise and able to back up any lyrics. Because if I allow myself some poetic license, I have to be able to comment about it – to explain it. Otherwise, I’m just a fool with its head stuck in the past.

I sold books at our first gigs because it just made sense. You want to start a discussion? You want to make people interested in something? Well, you have to give them the opportunity to do it. And for that you have to think outside the box. There are a ton of metal maniacs that love History. I wanted to give some of them the opportunity of knowing about my lyrics and to be interested in something that wasn’t the Third Reich.

My impression is that Etxegiña is a project that aims to talk about historical events linked to the area of Basque Country, with a strong political context. Is that correct, or do you think to expand your lyrical themes a bit?

I think Etxegiña is more about fratricide, really. And the fratricide we talk about happened in Spain. We’re a country of Civil Wars. 1936 clearly wasn’t the first, haha. There are nuances that will appear with time, that’s for sure. On the one hand there are a ton of events I haven’t covered. On the other I don’t want to limit Etxegiña to say “fascist bombs bad”. I don’t feel trapped in the events that took place between 1936 and 1939 because many historians now disagree with those dates. You can see Franco saying, in the late 1940’s, if I recall correctly, something like “Spain has been at war for over a decade”. Because the conflict didn’t end in 1939. That’s when the fascists declared their victory. But a whole other way of fighting continued with guerrilleros in remote areas for example. Then you have the fact that Spain is one of the few European countries where fascism won and stayed in power. Franco’s dictatorship had the support of the United States because he was anti-communist.

The dictatorship ended in the late 70’s. Franco stayed in power for 36 years. And the democratic transition reinstated a monarch chosen by the dictator. You can bet a lot of money that I’ll be addressing these things. Also, I’ll definitely write instrumental records. Because I don’t have the luxury of reading 15 books in between records!

There are not so many black metal bands that are left or simply left-leaning. Have you ever experienced difficulties due to your political ideas? Also, in your opinion, how could you convince the audience to listen to your band instead of any right-leaning (or NS) black metal bands?

I think a lot of bands are afraid of showing their ideas. For once there are many bad ways to do it when you’re a white cis dude. But more seriously, in my position the only bad experiences you get is “Antifa is dumb”, “your music is not brutal”, “you must not understand Black Metal”. Nothing I can’t handle, really. It might be more difficult if I was constantly looking for gigs and for now, I’m not. And spoiler alert playing with “leftist” bands doesn’t make a gig “safer” by default. There are sex offenders everywhere and some love to sugar-coat their crimes with progressive ideas. For a band that tours a lot it might be more complicated. But it’s only complicated because a lot of them refuse to create another scene, another way of doing things and rely too much on promoters that are either apolitical or fash friendly.

On the matter of convincing people to leave NSBM it’s tricky to give you an answer. Because you have two things to take into account: there’s people that listen to NSBM because they identify with far-right & racist ideologies and there’s people that listen to NSBM that don’t identify with racist ideologies but still support those bands. It’s difficult to change each groups’ mind because one is your political enemy – which means it’s hurting the minority groups you support – and the other is letting them get away with it by separating their actions from their music. It all comes down to seeing music as a commodity. And people that are very concerned about being comfortable and not disturbed in their entertainment time are difficult to convince. Fact is they are passively supporting hate groups that do real damage. The time they use by defending their right to listen to racist ideology pretending that listening to racist slogans and lyrics has no effect on them could be used in more efficient ways if only they took an interest in other bands or just decided not to support pedo-criminals, rapists & fascists.

All this leads to a third group: self-proclaimed antifascists (as well all are) or leftists that do support or listen to NSBM bands and or musicians that have been convicted and accused of sexual assault. But that’s a whole other level of fuckery.

You’re also one of the individuals behind Antifascist Black Metal Network, an excellent YouTube channel that uploads extreme music (ranging from black metal to crust punk and dungeon synth) realized by anti-fascist, anti-sexist and anti-racist musicians. How is it going? Which records do you recommend, among the ones you have uploaded on your channel?

To be honest I’m not a part of the Network anymore and haven’t collaborated with them in months now. I don’t really know how they are doing or if the structure has changed so you’ll have to ask that question to them directly! I’m not listening to much Metal nowadays by the way. Too caught up in jazz stuff.
That being said I discovered and helped promoting a lot of great bands through the Network. Some of my favourites are: Spectral Lore, No Sun Rises, Tumultuous Ruin, Lerna, Iravu, Grat Strigoi, Yor, Mystras, A///Plague, Kaatarya, Bring Forth The Exodus… There are too many good bands, really!

What about the next plans for Etxegiña? It would be cool seeing you playing abroad and touring Europe…

Well, I’d love to tour but I haven’t put my mind on it a lot since the current situation is so complicated booking-wise. Plus, I’d have to recruit two Metal guitarists that are left leaning. What you can be assured of is that I’m working my ass off to present one record a year for the next two years. I’m simultaneously working on releases two, three and four of Etxegiña. It’s going to be a busy year as I’ll be working on non-Metal albums and my Dungeon Synth Touza Senra. So, there’s half a dozen releases/studio sessions brewing at the moment!

There’s a possibility that next year I play a few gigs as Etxegiña. But maybe in another genre than Black Metal… But I won’t say more for now!