Over the weekend, a social-media furor over the perceived offensiveness of Australian punk band Cuntz’s name spurred DASWASUPGIG show promoter C.J. Frederick to cancel their October 13 gig at Victory Lounge. (It now will happen that day at Lucky Liquor in Tukwila.)
More outrage and backlash have followed with another Frederick-booked show, this time the October 23 appearance of a New York band called Child Abuse at Black Lodge. The people offended by the names Cuntz and Child Abuse have good points. The former word has been used as a hateful term directed at women for decades, although in the Cuntz’s native Australia it has a much less charged, even mate-y, connotation. (Might the “z” partially soften the word’s sting?) As for Child Abuse? Well, what monster is in favor of that? Some victims of it will recoil at the phrase; others can deal with it just fine. The band Child Abuse has been around for a decade and plays a noisy, jazzy brand of metal. They’re not a bunch of juvenile fools, but rather a serious group who feature Tim Dahl, a member also of Lydia Lunch Retrovirus. Frederick has no plans to cancel the show.
I asked Frederick if he thinks people are being too touchy about these provocative names. “I'm not really sure yet, because I'm in the process of figuring that out for myself right now,” he said. “I think it's important to hear what people have to say and to support your friends and allies if they are telling you they are sensitive to it. You'd be a pretty shitty friend if you didn't at least hear them out. In this scenario, I choose to support them. In the future, we might disagree. Who knows? I took a side based on friendship, loyalty, and doing what I felt best represented me and DASWASUPGIG. All the while not being personally offended by Cuntz or their band name at all.
“If people running my name through the dirt truly understood the scope of what I do with DASWASUPGIG, it might be easier to understand why It was a relatively easy decision to pull the show. On a GREAT day, pre-controversy, there would have been 30-40 paid covers. In actuality, there would have probably been 10-20 paid covers. That's not even uncommon for at least 50 percent of my shows. If the show even got to me at all, I suspect that a slew of other bookers in Seattle said ‘no thanks’ first. DASWASUPGIG and Victory Lounge are the real bottom of the proverbial totem pole.
“I think Cuntz make some cool music, but was I proud to book them? No. I thought to myself, like I usually do, ‘It will probably make some people happy and get a couple folks here and buying drinks.’ When confronted by friends, I really didn't have any true justification other then I was just doing my job. Then it occurred to me, my job is something I created out of literal thin air and no one was calling the shots other than me. NO ONE wanted DASWASUPGIG or music at Victory Lounge when I started doing this about three years ago. Now, maybe 20 people do. Go me. If any of those 20 people have something they wanna tell me, you better fucking believe I'm going to listen.”
Will this uproar cause Frederick to change his approach to booking bands in the future? “This scenario probably won't change my approach to booking. I'll probably keep doing what I've been doing all along, which is book the bands that couldn't get a show anywhere else and try to show them a good time and make them a couple bucks and buy them a hot dog or two. I have nothing to change because I trust my taste and my intentions. The only thing that will change is me, and I'm learning new things each day.”
Funhouse/El Corazon talent buyer Brian Foss, for one, was not happy about the fate of the Cuntz gig (his business partner Bobby Kuckelburg runs Victory Lounge). He wrote on his Facebook page, “i'm bummed to hear about all the drama around the Aussie band Cuntz - i booked them their last time through Seattle & they were good dudes & a solid band. FYI - did you know there's a punk band from chicago called the Cunts that have been playing around since 1978? I would do a show with them in a heartbeat" [sic]
Certainly, the world is rife with awful, offensive things that can trigger all sorts of distress. One could, with minimal effort, spend every waking hour finding things against which to take offense and mount campaigns to try to raise awareness about and/or halt them. Some people from other cities—both men and women—derisively view the Cuntz show cancellation as proof of Seattle being overrun with overly sensitive, PC-mad culture warriors. Over the last few days folks in Seattle and elsewhere have advised them to "get over yourselves" and "grow a thicker skin."
The thing is, provocative, puerile names have for decades inhabited punk and other styles of rock, as well as hiphop. And those of dainty sensibilities should probably never venture into extreme metal, where monikers like Anal Cunt, Goatwhore, and Napalm Death reign. These names usually serve as blatant code for a certain type of person who fancies him/herself a nonconformist, a connoisseur of shock. Most people roll their eyes over these over-the-top names or simply ignore them.
Regarding the heated conversation revolving around the Child Abuse show, Midday Veil member Emily Pothast said some perceptive things about the need for marginalized views to gain greater centrality in these cultural discussions.
"Feminist" spaces are considered safe specifically because they try to give special consideration to the most marginalized voices in an attempt to rectify centuries of oppression and socialized disparities in communication and whose voice is deemed worthwhile. That's basically the definition of a safer space. You can't claim that that's what you're doing if all you do is shout down women who bring unpopular observations to the table.
There are venues in town that aim to be safer spaces. Hollow Earth Radio is one of them. I was involved in a minor controversy recently about a show I helped book there. The show was not cancelled, but some important dialogue resulted from the incident. That dialogue was very respectful, and the "safer space" aspect of the venue definitely helped steer the dialogue in an ultimately productive direction.
I could honestly give two shits about some dumbasses who want to call their band "Child Abuse," but I do find the weirdly conservative defensiveness of the status quo going on here rather repugnant. I'm here to think about and consider what women are bringing to the conversation for a change. What are you doing? Are you just trying to do the same shit you're always doing?
The rancor provoked by the Cuntz and Child Abuse mirrors recent controversies over the names of the rock bands Viet Cong and Black Pussy. These two groups, who consist of white men, took on handles that many consider to be derogatory toward Vietnamese people and women of color, respectively, and though they may not have had nefarious intent when choosing them, those names have drawn righteous anger. Even if Viet Cong and Black Pussy meant no harm with these choices, they exhibited a stunning sense of cluelessness and/or privilege. Viet Cong have vowed to change their name next year; Black Pussy plan to keep theirs.
Another sort of controversy is brewing over the October 9 show at Chop Suey by CHRISTEENE, a white performance artist/drag queen/rapper. Some have accused her act of being racist and transphobic. Pony's Marcus Wilson—who is performing as a DJ on the Christeene bill—countered these accusations on Facebook.
Anybody who'd call Christeene's show "sloppy", "boring", and "unimaginative" [referring to commenters on the event page] has either never seen her actually perform, or is just really naive and unperceptive; and hell-bent on dismissing her out of principal. Christeene's vocal gymnastics and choreography are razor-sharp & the result of hours & hours of hard work, discipline, and practice. Believe me, nothing that happens in her show is accidental, and it takes a phenomenal amount of talent to pull off that kind of a trainwreck and make it look like an "accident". Also, Christeene's worldview & social commentary are fucking amazing, thought-provoking, and ultimately empowering to all humans. A Christeene show is the closest thing to a mass religious experience I've encountered in many years, and everybody in the house feels the same good vibrations. Christeene is most definitely not a transphobe, nor is she "making fun" of trans people.
It's useful that people in Seattle's music scene are having this dialogue about sexism, racism, abusiveness, and the power of language. (I anticipate a similar robust conversation about the damaging nature of the Dicks' name as the October 24 date for their Slim's Last Chance show approaches.) But as Jes Skolnik wrote in a perceptive essay on Medium, "Offensiveness is a bad yardstick for the measurement of whether something is allowed to exist or not." She continued:
Counterculture exists to challenge the status quo in some way or another, and these battles over what is ‘offensive’ within the subculture have existed as long as punk has been a thing with a name. My very existence as an out queer person is offensive to a lot of mainstream America, even if it seems to be trendy to claim queer identity within the subculture these days (the struggle for territory there and the queerer-than-thou battles, queerness as a political position — those are subjects for another day). ‘Offensiveness’ shifts drastically based on position in a way that sturdier models of ethics do not. It is slippery, the last go-to for people who don’t understand what they’re fighting for or against, people who are deploying language without understanding its context.