Black Pussy Won't Be Changing Its Name

Portland's controversially named Black Pussy come to North Texas next month to play 35 Denton.EXPAND
Portland's controversially named Black Pussy come to North Texas next month to play 35 Denton.
Courtesy the artist

The line between art and obscenity has always been a thin one. But as bookings of artists like Viet Cong and Black Pussy in the past year have shown, it's a question that even promoters in North Texas find themselves having to deal with — and, more important, the bands themselves.

Calgary-based rockers Viet Cong took their name from a moniker that the Europeans and Americans gave to the National Liberation Front, communist Vietnamese guerrillas. The group fought the United States and South Vietnamese government, using terrorism, torture and assassination as tools.

Shortly before their scheduled Spillover Fest appearance in Dallas last year, Viet Cong was banned from playing a show at Oberlin College in Ohio. The event's promoter, Ivan Krasnov, issued a statement via Facebook to apologize for booking a band whose name “deeply offends and hurts Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American communities, both in Oberlin and beyond."

The band's Spillover gig ultimately wound up getting canceled as well, although that was because their drummer, Mike Wallace, broke his hand (which didn't, however, stop them playing SXSW that same weekend). A few months later, they issued a statement announcing that they would be changing their name. The band explained that through talks with members of the Vietnamese community, they understood the meaning behind the name and that they didn't intend to cause pain or be a reminder of the atrocities associated with the name. "Art and music are about creative expression," the statement said. "However, our band name is not our cause, and we are not going to fight for it. This is not what our band is about."

Another band currently under fire for an offensive name is the all-white, all-male rock quintet Black Pussy from Portland. The band, who are currently set to play this year's 35 Denton Music Festival, have been labeled racist, sexist and misogynist by various outlets from the Huffington Post to Jezebel — there was even a petition filed early last year in an effort to force the band to change its name, and boycotts of the venues that book them were encouraged. 

That effort seems to have failed. Black Pussy's guitarist, Dustin Hill, says the band doesn't feel like there's anything wrong with their name. In fact, he thinks it's got a "'70s feel, a blaxsploitation feel, a Tarantino type of feel" and he was surprised that no other bands had used it. Hill explains that after a deep meditation, the name "Black Pussy" just came to him. And after some intense Google research, he found some articles that referenced the Rolling Stones song "Brown Sugar" and thought he "hit the jackpot."

"I found the 'Brown Sugar' Rolling Stones thing and when I was reading about that, it came up as an anti-slavery, anti-rape song," Hill says. "So I’m like, I think I just hit the jackpot on a band name because most band names don’t mean anything and I didn’t think the name had any meaning — but this has this really positive meaning behind it." 

Journalists and music historians have debated the actual meaning behind "Brown Sugar" for years, and the verdict is not always so positive. Music and fashion website HipHopWired even dubbed it one of the "Most Racist Songs of All Time."

Hill recalls a time when he says a "group of black people" showed up early to the venue for a Black Pussy show to make sure they "were cool." After receiving what Hill perceives as the ultimate black co-sign, the band went on to play and have no intention of changing the name or slowing down. 

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Additionally, Hill adds that he's put himself in other people's shoes to determine if there really was anything wrong with his band name. “I don’t know if it’s just because I’m an artist and I live in a weird artist bubble where my perception is so skewed, but I just don’t see the problem with my band name at all," Hill explains. "The words have so many meanings. 'Black' means multiple things and 'pussy' means multiple things. The definitions are amazing. I don’t pigeonhole anything.”

As far as 35 Denton goes, the curators of the event see the band's appearance at this year's festival as a step toward inclusiveness. "When the Flaming Lips performed their free outdoor show to 10,000 fans and families [the festival in 2010], they walked on stage out of a giant vagina," says Andy Odom, marketing director of 35 Denton. "Local bands like Black James Franco have performed, yet they are neither black nor James Franco. None of these caused a problem."

Gavin Mulloy, marketing director of Trees and The Bomb Factory, has similar feelings. "Would you not be friends with a person named Dick who was a great human being but had a funny name? Same principle," he says. "Diarrhea Planet can play my work anytime. Christian Death played Trees recently. Now a terrible name and a terrible person ... that's a no-book."

Issues like these — or at least band names like these — aren't exactly anything new. Bands like the Dead Kennedys and even the otherwise inoffensive Pearl Jam walked that line of provocation and poor taste, admittedly in much different eras from today. 

For his part, Hill appears to have made up his own mind, and sees no reason to change Black Pussy's name. “I can accept someone’s perception," he insists. "But I cannot see from their perception, because it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.”


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