Will Protesters Shut Down Black Pussy's Denver Show Again? Should They?

Black Pussy is returning to Denver after its last concert was canceled.EXPAND
Black Pussy is returning to Denver after its last concert was canceled.
Brian Lee

Let’s be honest — they had to have seen it coming. If you call your band Black Pussy and don’t expect some sort of backlash, then you’re either stupid or...nah, you’re stupid. They knew what was coming. They just didn’t care.

Let’s backtrack a touch. But only a touch. Since the group formed, the inflammatory moniker has resulted in a number of shows being boycotted and canceled, and a whole bunch of think pieces and op-eds in publications like Vice and Huffington Post.

In this town, it all came to a royal climax earlier this year, when protesters successfully called for the cancellation of a show at the hi-dive. On Friday, the Portland band returns to Denver for a show at the Moon Room, and it’s almost inevitable that a stink will be made with force once again.

Just prior to that scheduled hi-dive show, back in March, a Reddit user going by the name Living_Butterflies took the protest online, writing:

"Let's let them know that they're not welcome in our town. Let's tell the hi-dive that booking a band with that name is not gonna fly, and demand that they drop them from the bill. If you're in a band, tell them you won't play shows there anymore. If you go there to see music or drink beer, tell them you won't anymore. If after urging they decide to let the show go on, then we will boycott the place and let everybody know the hi-dive endorses this lazy white supremacist misogyny... The music scene in this city is already dominated by white stoner bros and their casual rape culture. It's time to start making shows a safer place for women, people of color, and other communities that are consistently excluded or silenced."

Hi-dive talent buyer Curt Wallach wrote on Facebook back in March that, "If I perceive a legit threat to the club or the people in it, even if the possibility of someone following through is minuscule, I will not hesitate to take action. In this particular instance, I felt like it was necessary, and I felt that canceling their set was the best option. I did not want to have the police in attendance, as the band/their agent suggested we do, because I had no desire to make it an even bigger spectacle. If legal action is being pursued, we will not make that public, for the same reason."

So is it valid to write about this band that picked a provocative name for the publicity? On one hand, I'm reluctant to give it any more attention despite the fact that that’s exactly what I'm doing. But on the other, there are bigger points to consider here. How far does freedom of speech stretch? Does boycotting and ultimately canceling a Black Pussy show put the protesters into the same unpleasant boat as those cowardly students calling for nonsense-spewing twerp Milo Yiannopoulos to be barred from speaking at their universities (presumably because they genuinely fear that his hate-filled rhetoric might actually transform them into hateful people)? Is perceived misogyny and racism enough to condemn a band? Do people have the right to say shit simply to shock and not expect any comeback?

Speaking to main-man Dustin Hill, it’s apparent that he’s getting a kick out of the ongoing kerfuffle.

“It’s definitely a helpful thing, and we’ve reached people we probably wouldn’t have reached,” Hill says. “This [controversy] definitely helps expand into other nooks and crannies we wouldn’t necessarily reach. We’re definitely a band musically designed for that, because we’re not one thing. We do a lot of pop songs, heavy songs, and I’m glad we’re getting to reach people we wouldn’t necessarily have reached without it.”

That gleeful admission that the old “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” adage holds some water won’t sit right with many, but it’s tough to argue with the results. Every time a show gets canceled, the musicians get to play before a sold-out room the next time they’re in that same town. If there’s the threat of a protest and the show doesn’t get canceled, the room will be packed to the rafters. Heinous or just dubious, the band's tactics are working.

“In Denver at the last show, we actually got canceled,” Hill says. “It happens a handful of times a year. We’re on the road for like nine months, so from our perspective, it doesn’t happen that much because we’re doing this so much. We’re out here doing the job, traveling. It was a heavy blow because it did happen in Denver, because we have such a great fan base there. But what it really came down to was the venue. That’s where all the hipsters hang out. I’m realizing, especially being from Portland, this hipster culture has turned into the new moralists. They want to decide what’s right and wrong. They want to claim to be antifascists, but they’re the most fascist people I have seen in a long time.”

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Despite the uproar that the name has caused, Hill is adamant that he has no regrets. He has publicly stated that the name is inspired by the Rolling Stones song (with dubious origins of its own) "Brown Sugar," but he sees no problem with that. In fact, he stands firm in saying that, no matter how hard he tries, he fails to understand the point that the people his band have angered are trying to make. Perhaps as a result of the fact that he, like myself and all white men, are born into indisputable privilege in the United States, he struggles to see why the name would offend people who feel objectified by it.

“Without just saying ‘fuck ’em,’ which is kind of what you should do as an artist, I’ve never seen their point,” he says. “Their point is so strange to me, because the words are ambiguous. The words are ambiguous on their own, and the words together create a multi-entendre. If people aren’t bright enough to figure that out, that’s just showing a problem within our reality, our society, right now. The sensitivity. But I think it’s also a reflection of these people as well. They have some dark things in them. I’ve never read anything that was like, ‘Maybe I should rethink this.’ This is art, and art is supposed to be pure.”

Yeah, calling your band Black Pussy and then claiming that it’s “pure art” is a tough sell. The name is as dumb as Anal Cunt (a band that at least went by AC most of the time), and, yes, it’s soaked in misogyny and racism. Are the bandmembers racists? That’s not the vibe I got from my conversation with Hill, to be fair. He seems incredulous, which is in and of itself amazing. But again, the tactics are working. And if nothing else, there are conversations going on that are worth having.

“It’s like, if you’re telling people they can't go do it, people will want to go see it,” Hill says. “So usually the show will sell out if people get their panties in a wad. At the last [canceled] show in Denver, we sold a ton of merch and we got to hang out with everyone, and we actually still got on stage and said hello to everyone. So we’re always going to be there. If a show is canceled, we’ll still stop by. We don’t let this harden us in any manner. Ninety-nine percent of the time, no one that wants to boycott the show or cancel the show or protest the show, they never show up anyway. These are keyboard warriors. They’re too lazy to even go out or do anything. It’s more just laughable.

Wallach echoed my sentiments that the bandmembers have chosen a dumb name, and that it has made them far more well known than they would otherwise be on that social-media posting in March. "The guys seemed like fine folks in our short amount of interacting," he wrote Westword. "We have a few friends in common, who are good people, and they all describe them positively. I will say that throughout the evening, they repeated this sentiment to me many times: 'We just want to rock. Screw the bullshit.' If that's the case, change your name and rock all you want without hindrance. But if what you really want to do is be infamous, and a far more well-known band than you would be otherwise, then keep the name and be prepared to encounter this shit everywhere you go. Seems like they're choosing the latter. Either option is no skin off my back; made for a hard work week, though."

So, look, if you really want to hurt Black Pussy, to make the band go away, then ignore them. Stop talking about them (again, I appreciate the irony of writing this in an article). If the name doesn’t bother you to any great degree, if you’re down with shock humor, you’re just curious, or it doesn't distract you from the music, then you have the freedom to attend. If you believe that the name objectifies women, particularly black women, and that the band has no place on the touring circuit, then e-mail the venues and talent buyers, but do it with a bit more stealth. Every new online petition has the band rubbing its collective hands together.

Ultimately, the choice is yours.

Black Pussy, 7 p.m. July 14, Moon Room, 1902 Blake Street, 303-487-0111.

Correction July 12, 2017: This story originally reported that the lead singer's name was Dustin Lee. In fact, it's Dustin Hill. We regret the error.

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