"It's Okay to Punch Nazis," Sings Cheap Perfume

Stephanie Byrne of Cheap Perfume.
Stephanie Byrne of Cheap Perfume. Joel Rekiel of BLDGBLKS Music Co.
It’s okay to punch Nazis. That’s the message in the newest song from Colorado Springs feminist punk outfit Cheap Perfume, the video for which drops September 1.

Fighting fascists wasn’t the first thing on the bandmembers’ minds when Jane No formed Cheap Perfume roughly two years ago. (No uses her pen name to ensure that her prudish co-workers don’t find out she’s in a political punk band that belts out lyrics like “Hey, sweet dick! Come suck this!/Hey, sweet dick! Choke on this!”)

The goal from the beginning was to sing about women’s issues, rape culture and sexual liberation, to bring back the spirit of the riot grrrl bands No grew up listening to. But the band got started just as Donald Trump began captivating white nationalists with his race-baiting and misogynistic campaign, then built up steam when Black Lives Matter rallied the nation to combat police violence. So Cheap Perfume changed course — and the group had plenty of material from which to draw lyrics.

“You feel like you can rack your brain and maybe put together a timeline for what has happened,” says lead singer Stephanie Byrne. “But it’s almost a weekly occurrence at this point that something insane is fucking happening.”

As social upheaval and the fight between anti-racists and white nationalists has escalated, so has the bandmates’ fury.

No remembers writing a song called “Trump Roast” not long after Trump announced his candidacy, taking to his bully pulpit to snip at Muslims, Mexicans and Megyn Kelly. The band played the song at its first show, at Flux Capacitor, a DIY space in the Springs. The lyrics include “Dear Don/We’ve got blood coming out of our eyes/We’ve got blood coming out of our wherever” and “You like pretty playmates on their knees, but not women pumping milk for their babies/You deny rape stats, gender pay gaps/What would you even know with a stack like that?"

The group assumed Trump would bury himself with his unabashed bigotry and soon drop out of the news cycle.

“But he didn’t,” No says. “We originally wrote the music of that song thinking that we were going to change it out and put in a different public figure or someone in the news and just make it about that so we could keep it current. Then he stayed relevant, sadly. So then we had to keep playing it.”

What had started as a sassy rant about an irrelevant reality-TV star turned pol morphed into a full-throttle punk attack on the easy-to-dismiss candidate who had taken the White House.

“We played it at this Trump Against Punk concert at the Moon Room at the Summit in January,” No says. “And we said this was our last time playing this, because we’re sick of giving him our energy. We even had to change some of the words after the election. We had the lyrics ‘Your KKK clones won’t be the ones to choose. Enjoy your last gasp. Racism’s through.’ And then after he got elected, we were like, ‘Oh, man.’ So we changed it to ‘Your KKK clones might have chosen you, but enjoy your last gasp. Won’t take your abuse.’ That’s just a small example of how we had to adapt it after the election, and it just got angrier and angrier as we did.”

The band has used its music to fund groups advocating for women’s rights and against white supremacy; it will play at Lost Lake Lounge on September 10 as part of an immigrant-rights fundraiser.

The act’s latest effort, “It’s Okay (to Punch Nazis),” will be released weeks after a white supremacist drove a car into a group of anti-fascist protesters in Charlottesville, killing IWW member Heather Heyer. The clashes between anti-racists and white supremacists sparked another round of infighting between liberal pacifists who decry violence and anti-fascists who believe in the use of force in the fight against white supremacy. These fights set the stage for the release of the song, and there is no doubt as to which side of the debate the band falls on.
Cheap Perfume may have written this generation’s anti-fascist anthem. The video, which revels in the iconic footage of alt-right white nationalist Richard Spencer taking a fist to the face, gives the irresistible song legs.
Byrne doesn’t remember exactly where she was when she first saw the clip of the alt-right leader getting punched, fixing his hairdo and pouting. She was definitely scrolling Facebook alone, maybe a little drunk at night or waking up groggy. Her failure to recall the time and place is in part because she watched the clip so many times.

“I am not a person who delights in the misfortune of others,” says No, who grew up Christian, teaches yoga, admires pacifist Mennonite friends, and has both studied and espoused nonviolence. “But that was so satisfying to me. I watched it over and over and over again, because it made me feel a little bit better.”

When she started reading social-media posts from pacifist liberals bemoaning the knuckle sandwich Spencer ate, No was baffled.

“After Richard Spencer got punched, the video was being gleefully shared on the Internet,” she recalls. “Some people that we know would say, ‘Well, I’m not a fan of Richard Spencer, but it’s not okay to punch anyone.’
There were a few people saying it was never right. I just couldn’t believe that people were saying that, after I’d heard Richard Spencer speaking on several shows and newscasts and NPR, and he’s clearly espousing the exact views as the Nazis did.”

No remembers when the band first discussed the song. When she raised her concept for lyrics about how it’s okay to punch Nazis, everybody laughed, assuming it was a joke. But a few days later, she brought a verse and a chorus to the group, and the musicians got to work.

“We were really confused that certain people we know seemed really sorry that Richard Spencer got punched in the face,” No says. “As someone who has studied nonviolence and used to really push that home in the yoga classes that I teach, I really started thinking that there is a gray area, and there are exceptions, and one exception is Nazis.

“I don’t mean to downplay the World War II soldiers or compare our current uprising to them,” No continues, “but seriously, nobody cares that they were punching Nazis and killing Nazis. People were like, ‘Yeah!’ Well, why not now? Maybe we need to quash this little uprising, or emboldening, or whatever you want to call it, before it gets bigger.”

Cheap Perfume, Sunday, September 10, $5-$10, Lost Lake Lounge, 3602 East Colfax Avenue, 303-296-1003.
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris