In Jon Ronson’s new book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, the author catches up, after the dust has settled, with a number of people who found themselves at the center of social-media storms. Intrigued, I decided to follow up with the subjects of two of the biggest social-media controversies in the Northwest music community this year, both of which happened to center around band names. My goal was simply to see what impact, if any, the public outrage had. These are the interviews that followed.
Australian punk band Cuntz
C.J. Frederick, 33, is a Seattle-based independent booker who put on over 100 local shows this year under the name DASWASUPGIG. In October, a show Frederick booked for all-male Australian punk band Cuntz became the subject of global headlines in Vice, Stereogum, and
when, under a flood of local criticism from the music community, he decided to cancel the show, eliciting an even larger wave of international outrage in reaction. Frederick and I spoke in his West Seattle home.
Before you booked the Cuntz show, did you have reservations?
Frederick: I wasn’t really sure I was doing the right thing. I had a good relationship with their bookers, Strange Victory Touring, so I was like, I’m going to at least try this. People at [DIY space] the Black Lodge were like, “Nope, we aren’t doing a show called Cuntz,” and I was like, “Sure! I’ll just do it at the Victory Lounge.” I put the bill together, and there was a woman in every band besides Cuntz. I did that on purpose. I figured by asking those bands, I’d get a bit of a clue about who this would and wouldn’t offend. I asked Strange Victory, “Are these folks cool? . . . What’s with their name?” And they said, “Yeah, they are super-nice!” And one half of Strange Victory is a woman, Nicole, so there was a female presence there also. I still had really mixed feelings on it.
Did you talk personally with any of the early objectors on the Facebook event page?
At some point my friend Rachel reached out and said “Hey, we need to talk about this.” Rachel, she’s a community leader in a sense—a big part of the feminist and queer community. I was like, “I’d love to know what you think about this.” We went out for bloody marys, and over the course of two hours, I was like, “You know what, Rachel, I think you helped me realize that I don’t really want to do this show.” I consider myself a feminist ally, and if I have a woman here, a feminist and a good friend, telling me over bloody marys that this is a bad idea and I’m agreeing with her, then it’s time to fucking cancel the show.
I was physically ill for a couple of days. I thought I was getting an ulcer. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep.
When did the whole thing really unravel?
I e-mailed Strange Victory, being like, “I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to cancel this show.” Lucky Liquor ended up taking it.
The male half of the agency was like “That’s a real bummer, but thanks anyway.” But Nicole goes on Facebook and writes this giant rant. It was like “Seattle canceled the Cuntz show, fuck them and their PTSD!” It got weird and personal. Her post ended up on Stereogum, which I could not believe.
Then it became international news. People around the world started coming out of the woodwork on the Facebook page telling people on these giant threads they are “fucking crybabies,” personally messaging me saying “Fuck you, you’re an asshole.” I got probably 30 or 40 messages like that. I was physically ill for a couple of days. I thought I was getting an ulcer. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. So I said, “This Facebook page is going to self-destruct in 48 hours.” People were text-messaging me updates from the threads like it was a wrestling match, and I was like, “I don’t care.” I turned off my Facebook notifications. I haven’t turned it back on since. The whole thing has really taught me how involved I want to be with social media.
Did you learn something from all this? Or do you just want to be on Facebook less now?
There’s an obvious line I’ll never cross now. The really obvious stuff. But you know, when you were on your way here, I got an e-mail, “Oh, I want to do a show for this band Genocide Skin.” I looked them up, listened, and was like “Hmmmm… genocide… I don’t think that’s bad?” I don’t know! I don’t think shutting it down is the answer. Because, fuck, we technically did shut it down, and Cuntz are more popular than they’ve ever been. I don’t think anyone is really learning or gaining anything from this; I think we’re just bashing our feelings into each other’s faces. But having that face-to-face conversation with Rachel, that’s what made it. That’s how you get shit done.
You later posted an offer to buy anyone a beer who wanted to talk to you about this at Victory Lounge, where you bartend. Did anyone take you up on it?
One person took me up on it, and he always comes to the Victory Lounge for a beer anyway. It was disheartening, but I wasn’t expecting anything different. Eespecially in Seattle where it’s so passive-aggressive. It was like “Meet the guy you’re talking shit about! Meet the guy you hate, at his bar, and he will buy you a beer!” I think people should understand that’s a great way to get shit done rather than wasting your time and looking at your fucking phone. In that venue, there’s not a whole lot of room for gray area.
Dustin Hill (far right) with his band, Black Pussy.
41, is the front man of 8-year-old all-white-male Portland “stoner-pop” band Black Pussy, named after the original title of the Rolling Stones’ song “Brown Sugar.” In March while on tour, a change.org petition to get the band to either change its name or boycott venues that had booked them went viral, eliciting articles from national outlets like Huffington Post, Daily Dot, Vice, and a storm of Internet commenters decrying the name. Hill refused to change the name, and was forced to cancel shows in Winnipeg, Man., and Raleigh, N.C., due to controversy and threats. Hill and I spoke over the phone.
When all this broke, how did you react?
Hill: I was scared. Especially when you put that many years into an art project and every dime you’ve ever had. I’d just pressed a thousand vinyls and CDs, just released our album Magic Mustache, and I’m totally broke starting this tour. It’s to the point where we’re all homeless. I have a lovely lady that lets me sleep with her (laughs), but a lot of us live in our rehearsal room, to give you an idea. It was scary, because we thought we were about to lose our business. It’s not like we can change the name, put out a record, and have nobody know who we are. Viet Cong [a Canadian band who also came under fire this year], look at them! They decided to change their name and nobody knows what it is now [note: Viet Cong has not yet chosen a new name]. How can you call yourself an artist unless you’re willing to die for your art? Real artists are trying to expand society and culture, and you can’t do that by folding.
Would you say Black Pussy is trying to expand culture and society?
I’m pretty educated, and I don’t really want to get into too-deep conversations. But politically and economically, I’m very educated at a very crazy level. And that’s always kind of within my art. My music is ambiguous; you can make it mean whatever you want. Hence the name Black Pussy.
I dare these people to do DMT. I dare these people to do a heroic dose of psilocybin, go in, and then see if Black Pussy is sexist or racist.
What do you make of the people who think it’s racist and misogynist, then?
I think you can just look to South Park, this new season. PC culture is out of control. I think South Park is calling a lot of good points out right now. When these people say Black Pussy is racist and sexist, I’m like, “You’re spiritually sick.” I think a lot of people are spiritually sick. I dare these people to do DMT. I dare these people to do a heroic dose of psilocybin, go in, and then see if Black Pussy is sexist or racist. These people explore bottom-feeder dimensions. Do DMT, this won’t even matter.
I meditated on this for a long time after it happened; I was like “Whoa, did I make some huge mistake here?” I meditated as an artist, as a spirit being, and I was like, “Was I infiltrated by some dark force?” And I was like, “No!” Because I’m positive every day. I’m blown away at my shows, because I see all different kinds of people hanging out there, it’s like the ’60s and ’70s, man. I don’t think I made the bad choice, I just think the hip thing now is this ultra-PC social-justice-warrior thing.
But weren’t the ’60s and ’70s radical times of social upheaval and social justice?
In the ’60s… it wasn’t a book-burning thing. It was like, “Hey, we don’t have rights. Let’s fight for equality.” Attacking my band name is not fighting for equality. It’s just attacking my band name. If you think my band should be eliminated because you think it has a tinge of racism or sexism, you should also burn the Bible and the Quran. In the ’70s it was “I’m a woman, I don’t wanna wear a bra, that’s my choice.” If women couldn’t go braless now, I’d go “That’s dumb.” There are issues we’re fighting right now that do make sense.
The issue of these big banks, “too big to fail,” calling that out. If we call out those things, we’re all going to have more freedom. The Black Lives Matter movement, it’s a great movement. It started out of those police shootings, and that’s getting exposed. That shit’s always existed, but now it’s on camera. So now we get outraged, and we fight that. But Black Lives Matter, if you research it, [business magnate] George Soros is funding it [note: The Daily Beast has debunked this rumor]. So there’s this agenda, I think it’s an agenda to make more racism. But the common man, it shouldn’t create race issues between us.
I just watched this video of a cop fucking shoot this guy crawling out of his car, and they’re calling it “accidental.” That’s insane. People taking on my band name are doing that because they’re not strong enough to take on something of importance. There are lots of important things to confront in this world—my band is really not that important.