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Understanding Fashwave: The Alt-Right’s Ever-Evolving Media Strategy

Understanding Fashwave: The Alt-Right’s Ever-Evolving Media Strategy
28th June 2023 Logan Macnair
In Insights


While far-right extremists have a history of attempting to co-opt musical genres and spaces (including punk rock and heavy metal), the modern alt-right is attempting a mainstreaming of fringe political ideology through the cooption and hijacking of cultural spaces. Tactics of the alt-right include the adoption of memes, hashtags, and cultural products such as movies, video games, and music in more subtle and occasionally astute ways. 

Building on other contributions by other Accelerationism Research Consortium (ARC) Fellows that examine how the alt-right adapts mainstream content to gain greater reach among mainstream audiences, this Insight examines the alt-right’s mid-2010s co-option of the electronic music genre ‘vaporwave’ via the formation of the subgenre known as ‘fashwave’ and how this co-option is emblematic of the alt-right’s larger, consistently evolving media strategy. 

Fig. 1: The vaporwave aesthetic

Musical Style: Mutating Vaporwave 

The musical subgenre of fashwave (or ‘fascist wave’), along with its unique audiovisual signifiers, arose in the mid-2010s and represented the alt-right’s attempt to co-opt the music, visuals, memes, and recognisable aesthetic of the vaporwave subgenre of electronic music, which itself enjoyed a moderate level of popularity during the 2010s, particularly among younger and more online demographics.  

The first fashwave songs were uploaded to online platforms such as YouTube, SoundCloud, and Bandcamp by artists such as CybernΔzi, Xurious, and Elessar in 2016 when vaporwave itself was at the height of its popularity. Fashwave emulated the unique audiovisual motifs of vaporwave while incorporating a much more explicit and extreme political ideology in both the music itself and in its accompanying imagery and artwork, including speeches and soundbites from historical fascists, contemporary far-right figures, and military sounds such as marching or soldiers singing in unison.

Later in 2016, influential far-right figure Andrew Anglin pushed for the electronic music that inspired fashwave (and later fashwave itself) to become the de facto ‘soundtrack’ of the alt-right, arguing that the movement needed to update their music in order to appeal to young and modern online audiences. As part of this attempt to co-opt modern electronic music, Anglin began promoting explicitly fashwave artists (as well as mainstream, apolitical electronic artists) in a weekly feature dubbed ‘Fashwave Fridays’ on his website, Daily Stormer. The intention of this was to firmly link these styles and genres to the politics of the alt-right in the eyes of the Internet. 

Lyrical Content

While most fashwave music is instrumental, fashwave artists express far-right rhetoric and slogans in the titles of their songs and albums in ways that can either be blatant (Aryan Fury, Cyber Kampf, Germany Will Prevail) or more subtle in their incorporation of far-right dog whistles (Decline of the West, Take Back Our Future, Men Among the Ruins). 

Rather than incorporating original lyrics, many fashwave songs use samples and soundbites from the speeches and talks of far-right figures. For example, the song Rivers of Blood by Xurious includes audio samples from a notorious 1968 anti-immigration speech by British MP Enoch Powell. Other frequently sampled figures include historical fascists such as Adolf Hitler, as well as more contemporary right-wing figures such as Donald Trump – the latter of which has resulted in the creation of the microgenre known as ‘Trumpwave,’ which utilises many of the same audiovisual motifs of fashwave but with a primary focus on the speeches, words, and imagery of Donald Trump. 

Ultimately, the ideological ideas presented through fashwave music and art are largely in line with those of the alt-right more broadly. Specifically, fashwave emphasises (among other contemporary far-right ideals) opposition to immigration, the belief that foreign cultures and ideas are intruding upon and subverting ‘the West,’ the narrative of an ongoing ‘Great Replacement,’ the importance of maintaining white heritage and identity, and the conviction that ‘Western society’ is precious and in need of defending – through violence if necessary.

Visual Content

Visually, the music videos and artwork of fashwave are explicit in their veneration of fascism, albeit with the same synthetic gloss, ironic layers, and hyper-stylised imagery that were integral to the larger vaporwave scene. This includes the use of neon lighting, grids, and pastel colour palettes; eye-catching aesthetics updated to feature direct references to white nationalism and fascism.

Fig. 2: A fashwave graphic featuring images of Nazis

Such references include, amongst others, photographs of historical fascists, the use of white supremacist symbols like swastikas or the Sonnenrad (Fig. 3), glorified images of war and soldiers valiantly defending their people, and photos of ‘traditional’ white families – highlighting that which is thought to be ‘at risk’ and what must be maintained and protected. Existing fascist tropes are therefore presented in ways that are more easily recognisable to younger, Internet-savvy audiences. 

Fig. 3: A white supremacist meme featuring a ‘traditional’ white family

Other common images include Greco-Roman busts and statues, though, unlike their seemingly arbitrary inclusion in vaporwave art, the statues in fashwave visuals serve as more direct objects of veneration – reminders of a ‘better’ time worth returning to, when the West valued and emphasised the conventional masculinity represented by these proud, marble-bodied statues.

Occasionally backdrops of burning cities or destroyed buildings are used, eliciting a feeling of civilisation in ruin – a common narrative of many accelerationist movements that see Western society as heading toward an inevitable (and often welcomed) collapse. 

Persistence in the Far-Right Ecosystem

Following crackdowns on fashwave content and creators by mainstream online platforms such as YouTube and Spotify, the genre failed to gain significant lasting mainstream appeal or audience into the 2020s. While today, the readily identifiable fashwave aesthetics of the 2010s are much harder to find in mainstream online spaces, the fashwave aesthetic remains a distinct creation that has largely outlasted the music itself and persisted into the 2020s in updated forms. 

One such example is the so-called ‘Dark MAGA’ aesthetic, which borrows heavily from the visual tropes established in the fashwave scene of the 2010s. The Dark MAGA aesthetic has been described as a ‘post-alt-right’ movement based around support for Donald Trump, albeit in a more ‘mask off’ and extreme way that incorporates more extreme rhetoric and explicit justifications for violence against perceived enemies through memes, visuals, and images. 

Fig. 4: A Dark MAGA meme featuring an image of the gallows erected at the US Capitol on January 6th

The Dark MAGA imagery and other similar aesthetic movements/memes that build upon existing fashwave tropes are indicative of the alt-right’s larger media strategy of attempting to normalise and mainstream far-right and fascist discourse and ideology, often through the infiltration and co-option of highly visible and popular spaces, mediums, and cultural products.

It is also indicative of their capacity to evolve and alter how such messages are delivered in the first place. As social media and tech companies continue to develop ways to identify, remove, or otherwise limit the spread of extremist content on their platforms, fringe political movements such as the alt-right must accordingly adapt how they are presenting their messages if they wish to retain any sense of visibility or influence on mainstream platforms. 


Throughout the movement’s relatively short history, content creators of the alt-right have often proven themselves to be quite astute when it comes to ‘gaming’ the algorithms or otherwise bypassing the content regulation policies of many online spaces and platforms through their targeted co-option and specific use of contemporary language, imagery, memes, and trends. While the future of fashwave music does not appear to be bright, it is worth remembering that this was not the alt-right’s first attempt at co-opting culture for their own ends and it is highly unlikely to be their last. As such, vigilance and constant re-examination of their content and communications must be maintained in order to keep up with their constantly evolving media strategy. 

Logan Macnair is a faculty member of Douglas College’s criminology department and a research associate at Simon Fraser University’s International CyberCrime Research Centre. His research is primarily focused on the online media, communication strategies, and propaganda campaigns of a variety of terrorist and extremist organizations. 

Twitter: @LoganMacnair