The music sub-genre known as anti-folk (or antifolk) takes the earnestness of politically charged 1960s music and subverts it into something else. It is still highly debated what exactly the defining characteristics of this sub-genre are, as they vary from one artist to the next. Nonetheless, it is fairly accepted that the music tends to sound raw or experimental; it also generally mocks the seriousness and pretension of the established mainstream music scene in addition to mocking itself.

New York anti-folk

The New York anti-folk movement began in 1984 at The Speakeasy, a club in Greenwich Village, New York City. It was conceived by artist Darryl Cherney as an alternative venue to the popular Folk City club, which generally booked more established artists. Roger Manning printed Anti-Folk T-Shirts. Musicians involved included Axe Masterson (AKA Axman Horowitz & The Blind Rev. Axeman), Billy Nova, and Steve “Wheels” Cottrell (Wykked Trip), were collectively known as The Big Bang.

Singer-songwriter Lach started an after-hours club – the Fort – on the Lower East Side, after a booker at Folk City told him his music was "too punk". The Fort's opening coincided with the New York Folk Festival, so Lach dubbed his own event the New York Antifolk Festival. The Big Bang became The Fort house band when needed. Other players included Irving Louis Lattin, Billy Syndrome, Ross Owen and his RoarSharks, Zane Campbell, Michael America.

The original Fort was shut down in 1985 and moved from location to location, including East Village bars Sophie's and Chameleon, before winding up in the back room of the Sidewalk Café in 1993 where it has stayed to this day. The Antifolk Festival continues to be held semi-annually in the East Village (outlasting the original Folk Festival). Events have also taken place in the bandshells in Tompkins Square Park and Central Park.

A number of notable music artists spent time in the New York anti-folk scene, including Beck, Ani DiFranco, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Paleface, Regina Spektor, Kirk Kelly, Joie/Dead Blonde Girlfriend, Hamell on Trial, Diane Cluck, Jeffrey Lewis, Major Matt Mason USA, Dufus, Adam Green, Brenda Kahn, Michelle Shocked, Grey Revell, Nellie McKay, Krusty Dz, Kimya Dawson, Antsy Pants, and The Moldy Peaches.

Anti-folk in the UK

The anti-folk scene in the UK derives mainly from U.S. influence. The UK anti-folk scene (largely centred in London, Manchester 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 Bheld an anti-folk night at the Huw Stevens-curated Sŵn 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 scene was quick to follow, curated primarily by Larry Pickleman and Mertle. Other key figures within the UK anti-folk community include Dan Treacy of Television Personalities, JJ Crash, Lucy Joplin and Paul Hawkins. Emmy the Great is loosely connected with the English anti-folk scene, having played at Sgt Buzfuz's nights in 2003 as part of the duo Contraband. Kate Nash started her music career playing anti-folk-style shows, including a voncert 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 have begun to pick up regular national radio airplay and media coverag. In August 2006, Timeout Magazine 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 (producer of Jeffrey Lewis, Galaxie 500, Butthole Surfers). Anti-folk has also taken off in Wales, following the rise to national (Wales) fame of Mr Duke.

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