In the early 2000s, folk music started to make its way back into the indie scene, but it wasn’t quite folk. The sound — drawing from ’60s and ’70s acts such as The Fugs and the Holy Modal Rounders — was more eclectic, pairing acoustic instrumentation with rock and psychedelic sensibilities. Like other contemporary folk musicians, freak folk artists don’t necessarily stick to acoustic instruments. Often they employ thick harmonies with percussion, exotic instruments or electronic keyboards. While classic folk is an influence, avant garde is a more accurate way to brand the sound — a fusing of the different genres represented. So the sounds of the past are melding together in the present.
The term “freak folk” originated from the press, who basically didn’t know what else to call the genre. Artists, of course, aren’t exactly happy with the term, but that isn’t going to stop them from making the music they love. One the most prominent freak folkers today is Devendra Banhart, who was all right with the name at first, then got fed up. “If you were to ask me how I feel about the term freak folk,” said Banhart to The New York Times, “it’s cool — you have to call it something — but we didn’t name it. We’ve been thinking about what to call it, and we just call it the Family.” Banhart’s first album The Golden Apples of the Moon featured this aptly-named family with fellow freak folkers Joanna Newsom and CocoRosi lending a hand.
Think you’ve never heard freak folk? Think again. Some acts making a name for freak folk include Panda Bear, Vetiver, Sufjan Stevens and The Dodos. Recently, Joanna Newsom combined Appalachian roots with modern avante garde stylings during an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Other acts, like Sufjan Stevens, have found success in placements on television. Most memorably, Sufjan was placed on The OC during a pivotal episode which portrayed a character’s death. Bon Iver, another modern folk artist, was placed successfully on Grey’s Anatomy as well.
With their appearances on TV and film as well as their numerous hit albums, freak folk artists are making a great name for the genre. Freak folk is rapidly evolving to become the next big genre on the indie scene. Writing about things found in nature, the human body and examination, freak folk found a way to bring perplexity, wonder and discovery back into the music.