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Talking After Midnight: What’s In A Band Name?

Illustration by Liesl Meissner
Illustration by Liesl Meissner

Greetings, nerds. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I had to take a little vacation from advice-giving to read the news, re-prioritize, and, frankly, give myself some advice instead of you buttheads for a bit. But I’m back with our first post-Trump edition of Talking After Midnight, and we’re starting off with everyone’s favorite topic: band names! Where do we draw the lines between contentious, tasteless, preposterous, and offensive? Read on as we explore.

If you’re new here, get the fuck out. Just kidding, but you should probably read the intro I wrote back in November to get up to speed on who the hell I am and why I’m here, telling you what to do with your lives.

Got a question for me about life, liberty, and the pursuit of heavy metal? Rad! Email me at talkingaftermidnightadvice@gmail.com, or submit a question anonymously HERE. Either way, your identity is safe with me.

—Cat Jones // @catjonessoda

Dear Cat,

I started a band recently, and we’re trying to come up with a good band name. But it seems like every time I go on the Internet, even the most metal of people (who listen to bands like Cannibal Corpse and Goatwhore) are pissed off about some new band name they find “offensive.” I can’t even keep up anymore. Why is it that bands like Black Pussy make people angry, but bands like Whores. get a pass? I’m afraid I’m going to name my band something I find mildly tasteless, but will end up getting my shows cancelled. It may sound ignorant, but I need some advice.

-Band of Confusion

Dear Band of Confusion,

You know, this is a very pertinent question. In the current political climate where both casual and overt racism and sexism are rampant, I think it’s more important than ever to know what band names are contentious/conversation-provoking, and which are outright racist and/or sexist. Black Pussy and Whores. are excellent examples of that discussion.

However, beyond that, I can’t really be an authority on this for two reasons:

The first reason is that due to the time I’ve spent in Portland, Oregon’s close-knit heavy-music community, I have a personal and (albeit very brief) professional history with the band Black Pussy. And though I regret ever choosing to look the other way when it came to their name, and am entirely disappointed in the way they handled—and are still continuing to handle—the backlash (like advocating for free speech while calling their protesters “fucktards” and saying if we all smoked DMT we could be cured of PC culture, give me a break), I still don’t think it would be appropriate for me to answer that in this forum. I will say, though, that I love the band Whores. and have never seen them engage in the type of eye-roll worthy behavior Black Pussy seems to revel in.

The second reason is that nothing matters more than listening to the people who are actually directly affected by a potential problem. And since I am neither black nor a sex worker, it isn’t my place to speak on those particular band names.

So I am going to hand this off to two women I look up to immensely: Cervante Pope, woman of color, Editor of the Deli Portland, contributing music writer for the Portland Mercury and Willamette Week, and a cultural journalist for PQ Monthly & Kelsey Chapstick, sex worker, Ad Ops Manager for the Blast Beat Network, drummer of NYC-based band Quitters, and writer at Noisey, MetalSucks, & Slutist.

“Lately, it seems that white people are taking it upon themselves to be more upset about colored issues than the actual people of color affected by them are. I’ve thought a lot about this, and I feel much of it is in part due to a deep-rooted guilt that the average white person feels about their own instances of cultural appropriation. Participatory enjoyment in the oppression of others isn’t new, it’s basically the foundation of this country. What’s different is that nowadays, people would rather deny their individual participation in order to save face from Internet callout culture.

Many bands and artists feign culturally or racially inconsiderate actions – such as naming their band Black Pussy or feeling the need to drop an n*bomb within the lyrics of their song (I’m looking at you, Christian Death) – under the guise of appreciation and inspiration. In reality, it’s much less about appreciation and more so about profiteering and exploitation. Artists do these types of things to draw attention to themselves, to be provocative, to be edgy. Taking experiences, narratives and lifestyle choices isn’t edgy or avant-garde, it’s avant-old. It’s offensive because it’s divisive – cultural capitalism played out by creatives that don’t believe enough in their own creativity to not incorporate something blatantly insensitive. Attempts at appropriating these actions do nothing but perpetuate the age-old thought of people of color, and their struggles, as entertainment.

Since I have never been a sex worker, I wouldn’t say it’s particularly fair for me to compare offensiveness. People of color and sex workers have both been historically exploited by the obvious powers that be. However, I will say this: A career identity is a choice, a racial identity is not. Those that benefit from a culture should be the ones that experience all the tribulations of being a part of that culture.”

—Cervante Pope (@GhettoCross)

“Sex work is a dense topic to unpack with civilians (non sex workers) people for many reasons, among them 1) the community is fiercely protective of itself because of the nature of the work, 2) no two sex workers have the same exact experiences or opinions and 3) it’s still mostly illegal and absurdly stigmatized despite being the oldest profession in the world and the one that seems increasingly more valuable in a suppressed society that makes people feel perverted for wanting something as basic as a finger in the ass during a blow job. I don’t have all the answers; I only have my own subjective experience, opinions, and judgements on the matter.

So anyway — Whores. I was working in a dungeon as a pro-domme/sub when I got very into them, and it never occurred to me to be offended by the name. It didn’t imply violence against women to me the same way bands with names like Prostitute Disfigurement do. “Whore” is absolutely a derogatory term, but my interpretation of the band taking on the moniker was less a careless mocking of sex workers and more a feeling of relative camaraderie with others who sell themselves in a way to get ahead in life. My perspective on the matter is also affected by my own career in music, where I’ve spent 20+ years playing for little to no money; you keep at it though, because you hold out hope it will eventually get you somewhere you need to be. In the sex industry, I’ve done some of the most physically and emotionally draining work of my entire life for sometimes very little money but I’ve kept at it because I knew it could allow me the luxury of more free time and a flexible schedule to pursue other aspects of my life on my own watch. The relevant parallels here are pretty easy to draw.

In a recent photo I posted online, I had another sex worker I know comment “Well I hope they support *actual* Whores ::eye roll::” and while I understand that person’s hesitance to see a group of white guys and think “Oh I bet they’re sex positive,” it also felt extremely shitty to me that the person wouldn’t do something like read my interview with Christian (the singer/guitarist) where he addresses the controversy or approach me about it privately knowing full well I’m not some inexperienced asshole who doesn’t get the potentially problematic nature of the name. The other problem I had with the statement is this: that interview I just mentioned? I got paid for that, so they quite literally helped support this whore.

Anyway, now that we have this long-winded answer out of the way: if it bothers you, it bothers you. I get it. Just consider at some point if you’re a person who has never had to do sex work and you’re trying to talk over those of us who have when arguing about the political correctness of this band name, you should probably have a fucking seat. As for the person considering naming their band something bound to spark a bit of outrage — don’t be some corny-ass edgelord about it (ahem, Black Pussy), and make sure you understand the full ramifications of your choice lest you be incapable of eloquently answering the questions you’ll surely face.”

Kelsey Chapstick (@KelseyChapstick)

Hopefully that gives you some food for thought. At the end of the day, you have the right to name your band whatever you want. But free speech works both ways, and it will not protect you from people boycotting your music, protesting your shows, or thinking you’re an asshole. So if you’re going to name your band something that involves a gender, culture, or race of which you are not a member, be prepared to accept the consequences.
And for the love of all that is unholy, if a person tells you something you did hurts them, it doesn’t take much effort, and won’t detract from your metal cred, to just listen.

Love,
Cat

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