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This Orange County punk band has been around since 1979, when their Vietnam War-referencing name would've raised a few more eyebrows. Agent Orange was part of the U.S. military's herbicidal warfare program against Vietnam, which used the chemical to destroy rural forests, choking guerrillas off from food and cover. The chemical affected millions, and its destructive legacy continues to this day. Agent Orange had horrifying results, leading to different types of cancer, body deformities, and birth defects.
brian jonestown massacre
This American psych outfit—and notorious Dandy Warhols rival—fused two references in their band names: Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones and the Jonestown Massacre. The latter is the source of controversy: In 1978, cult leader Jim Jones led a mass suicide, with 900 people dying after drinking cyanide in Guyana. Some, however, consider it mass murder: Poison was squirted into the mouths of children. Though survivors still remain, the Jonestown Massacre was the largest loss of American civilian life until the September 11 attacks took place.
Politically charged Bay Area hardcore act the Dead Kennedys are known as provocateurs, right down to their band name. It references the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which many view as the moment America lost its innocence.
death in june
Influential neo-folk act Death in June have built a reputation for using runic imagery and fascist symbols—though outwardly, it seems like they're using it for artistic effect, as they've never identified as Nazis. Still, their moniker refers to the Night of Long Knives, a murderous night which solidified Hitler's reign over the Nazi party. Hitler was established as the leader of the Nazi party after the event, which saw him purge at least 85 of his dissenters within the party.
New York grindcore group Ed Gein rose to prominence in the '00s, and their name references a monstrous body snatcher. The real-life Gein exhumed bodies and fashioned trinkets and clothing from them, and among his grisly creations were a lampshade made from a human face, a waste basket made from skin, and bowls made from human skulls. Gein died in 1984.
jon cougar concentration camp
Like the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Jon Cougar Concentration Camp was the fusion of two things: Jon Cougar Mellencamp and concentration camps. When it comes to Hitler's Nazis, the latter used concentration camps to imprison political dissenters and Jews—the most horrific being Auschwitz. An estimated 20 million people died in concentration camps.
While Joy Division weren't fascists, they, like Death in June, certainly didn't mind toying with risque imagery. In their case, they paired their austere post-punk with a tongue-in-cheek moniker: Joy Divisions, horrifically, were brothels in concentration camps, where Jewish women were kept as sex slaves for cooperative inmates, Nazi soldiers, and guards. Ian Curtis, it seems, had a sick sense of humour. It should be noted that Joy Division was previously named Warsaw, a city destroyed by the Nazis and later, became a home of the war's largest Jewish ghetto.
Post-Joy Division act New Order—Bernard Sumner took the reins after Curtis' suicide—had a similarly risque, if less clear, name. Sumner has said that the name was stolen from a Guardian headline, though many have speculated that the line was lifted from Hitler's Mein Kampf, in which Hitler calls for an all-Aryan Nazi state.
With tongue firmly planted in cheek, poppy queercore act Pansy Division fused both a queer reference—with the word "pansy"—with a Nazi reference (see: the Panzer Division). The latter was a Nazi war formation involving infantry and tanks.
One of 2015's most hyped bands, Calgary post-punk outfit Viet Cong got into trouble for their Vietnam War-referencing title. The Viet Cong themselves were a guerrilla allied with the communist North, responsible for innumerable atrocities: They murdered civilians (including 3,000 unarmed Vietnamese at Hue), starved prisoners in internment camps, and employed terrorist tactics. And the Viet Cong's legacy remains: In an open letter to Impose magazine, writer Sang Nguyen writes that "This history of violence is what I am reminded of every time I see Viet Cong’s band name pop up on my news feed, in the music media, and on festival line-ups." The rest of the must-read letter is here.
Let’s get one thing straight, here: We’re not the gatekeepers of what’s offensive and what isn’t. So when, for example, we write about the current controversy surrounding Calgary post-punk act Viet Cong—who had a show cancelled at Oberlin College recently because of their name—we’re not simply shouting that their name’s offensive, or calling for Tipper Gore-esque censorship.
Instead, we’re acknowledging that we don’t get to decide what’s offensive—we don’t decide what’s hurtful. The people being hurt, however, do.
Viet Cong—whose name references the Vietnam War’s North-allied army and all the atrocities they committed—by their admission, have been told multiple times that their name’s offensive. It’s gotten to the point that Oberlin’s promoter cancelled the show, writing that “I believe it is important for me to listen to the concerns raised by those who do understand and are affected on a deep emotional level. I cannot with good conscience put on this show knowing that it hurts others, and the onus should absolutely not be on those who are hurt to educate the rest of the community on why this name is offensive.” We’re with him.
But they’re hardly the first musical act to name themselves something offensive. Some bands choose an offensive moniker out of sheer cluelessness, like Viet Cong. Others choose their titles ironically. Others, still, do it with the intent of stirring the pot. Either way, above, check 10 bands with questionable monikers.