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Culture | Not your name to take

Calling out appropriation in band names

The music industry is a constantly changing landscape that can be a challenging place to find yourself. Everybody wants to be the next big thing; everybody wants to have an edge. However, when bands start using names that exploit marginalized groups of people to gain said “edge,” it becomes unacceptable.

Viet Cong, a Canadian post-punk band, has been criticized for using the Vietnam War-era communist guerrilla movement as their band name (the rock group is made up of only white guys). This criticism increased in its intensity after the group was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize.

In an interview with the Guardian, members explained that their band name came from drummer Mike Wallace’s off-the-cuff description of their bassist and vocalist Mike Flegel holding their guitar like a gun and saying, “All you need is a rice paddy hat and this would be so Viet Cong.”

Viet Cong, a Canadian post-punk band, has been criticized for using the Vietnam War-era communist guerrilla movement as their band name (the rock group is made up of only white guys).

Hearing this is absolutely appalling. How could this name be thought to be a good idea? It blatantly exploits and trivializes a painful moment in history so that some rock group could become popular. The use of the name fully erases the trauma experienced by Vietnamese people in the sixties and seventies and reinserts a moniker imposed upon the movement by Western military sources back into popular culture. The fact that the band has been allowed to play for over three years points to the privilege that this white, Western band has in claiming a historically and politically charged name for themselves without self-reflection.

It was only when Jon McCurley, co-owner of Toronto DIY event space Double Double Land, refused to let the band play in the space that band members addressed the issue. This was after numerous open letters penned by individuals directly implicated in the Vietnam War called out the band for its abhorrent name, as well as numerous cancelled shows on college campuses.

In September, it seemed that the band had a change of heart, stating on their Facebook page: “We are a band who want to make music and play our music for our fans. We are not here to cause pain or remind people of atrocities of the past.” Reading this made some fans slightly less cynical.

It was only when Jon McCurley, co-owner of Toronto DIY event space Double Double Land, refused to let the band play in the space that band members addressed the issue.

But this feeling of relief was rather brief. Suddenly, discussion of appropriation became hyper aware of all of the popular bands that also have problematic names and that never felt the need to change it, including but not limited to: Joy Division, The Slaves, Black Pussy, and Gang Signs.

Since this act isn’t as overt as visual forms of racism (like wearing blackface or an Indigenous headdress to a concert), many don’t even recognize that it’s happening. This has to change. By using a name such as “Black Pussy,” for example, white men are taking an actual person and objectifying them, spreading this idea that the person is just a ‘mascot,’ effectively fetishizing them.

People’s cultures, bodies, and history are not studded leather jackets that can be worn to give an ‘edge’ and then promptly removed when it feels too hot or uncomfortable.

It is possible to have an ‘edgy’ band name without using others’ marginalized status as a stepping stone. Although it is easy to get caught up in the fast-paced music industry, being in a band is about making music to be proud of rather than causing pain to groups of people.


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