Controversy consumes the Ottawa music scene once again as a local group petition to have New Hampshire punk band The Queers removed from a headlining bill. The collective, known as Babely Shades, cites the band’s support for Darren Wilson (the cop who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson) as well as their “countless other gross and dehumanizing actions all in the name of ‘punk’” as the cause for the movement.
“Babely Shades is an Ottawa-area based collective made up of artists and activists of colour and marginalized genders,” writes Awar Obob, who co-runs the collective with her friends and is also responsible for event promotion and the group’s online presence. “Our goal is to improve the music communities around us. Most, if not all of us feel unsafe at shows due to them mainly being aggressively cis/het/white in both audience and billed acts. In order to combat this, we put on our own events well as callout problematic musicians. We've previously dealt with House of Targ, Black Pussy, Viet Cong, and Mac DeMarco.”
The petition to stop The Queers from playing went up shortly after the Facebook event page for the concert did. “Having the entire show cancelled was not our goal,” Obob says, “we just wanted them to rebook their headlining act. The Queers, especially their lead singer Joe [King], have supported Darren Wilson, repeatedly referred to black people as ‘thugs,’ have a song sexualizing a preteen fan—"Ursula Finally Has Tits," and countless other gross & dehumanizing actions all in the name of "punk." I and a lot of other members play/attend punk shows, what they do is not punk. Personally, I am happy the entire show was cancelled.”
In response to the original petition, Ottawa musician Greg Harris launched his own petition calling the first a misguided act of social justice. Frontman Joe King (stage name Joe Queer) says, “These morons wanting to boycott our show should reach out and talk to us before just saying stuff. They have no idea who we are or what we're about… They're actually being racist as hell in my opinion. I don't think they did it cause they really care, they just wanted to cause trouble.” King also says that he would gladly fund a “benefit album for the LGBT community in Ottawa.”
King calls the accusations “baseless” and argues that he has been verbally and even physically assaulted many times because of the band’s name. “Good Lord I can't even count the times I've been called faggot and homo derisively. Been spit on. Oh yes we've gotten tons of shit at times because people thought we were gay.”
Would you ever change it? I asked. “Hell no,” King said.
After the initial immediate backlash from Babely Shades and some others in the community, the promoter, The Diamond Mind Agency, cancelled the show, scheduled for Feb 21 at Mavericks Bar with support from The Riptides, War Fair and Shootin’ Blanx. King says however that it was only the promoter who backed out and they will still be playing at Mavericks. There are reports that Andy Vandal, lead singer of the Riptides, said that proceeds will be donated to Ottawa Youth Services Bureau, an organization that helps the city’s LGBTQ youth on the street.
Babely Shades, however, is focused on the big picture, “the positivity of our impact is fifty fifty,” Obob says. “On one hand we have seen a lot of positive change happen, but on the other hand we constantly receive death/rape threats and have had quite a few smear campaigns against us… Over the last year or so, the scene has changed for the better. We've seen venues change their security in order for marginalized people to feel safer, and bands change their names just to get us off their backs. We have a strong network of supporters in the area who are always willing to lend their voices if needed.”
But the fight continues: “I cannot say exactly what is needed for us to feel safe at shows- that's a very difficult thing to unpack. Our promoters stick to a zero tolerance policy of no racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, or violence. If someone breaks the rule they are removed from the venue & also given resources that will teach them why what they did was harmful and ways to unlearn the behaviour.”
Locals can learn more next week at Ottawa’s Megaphono Showcase. Babely Shades with Queer Mafia event organizers are holding a panel called “Making Safer Spaces” at Live On Elgin, 2:00pm, Feb 3rd.
I spoke to King about his values, the reaction to his band from the Ottawa music scene, and the state of American morality with reference to race, “Black Lives Matter doesn't care about black people- they just want to cause trouble and hate white people. If they truly cared they'd be in the ghettos of America trying to help there instead of screaming about white America.”
Noisey: How do you feel about the show getting cancelled?
Joe King: The show is back on. The promoter was the one who bailed, not Mavericks. I mean the whole thing is based on lies and innuendo. It's baseless. We're not racist or homophobic and never have been. As soon as one person who has never met us says one thing everyone believes it. Our true fans know better so they're behind us. Last summer some idiot said I was racist because I stuck up for Officer Wilson in the Ferguson, MO affair where a white cop shot a black guy. I didn't care who was black and who was white, I thought the officer was justified. The extreme liberal idiots called me a racist on the strength of that. I mean it was one time, yet they said I was therefore on the cops' side in all shootings of black people, I hated black people, I was for the militarization of the police force in the US, etc., it was unreal where they went with it. I'm about as liberal a person as there is honestly. I call it as I see it. That time I believed the officer was right.
There have been a lot of cases where I thought the cop was completely wrong. It taught me that liberal people are not open to looking at both sides of an argument. I thought being a liberal meant we called people on their bullshit when we saw it. And didn't cherry-pick things to prove our argument. So many people just looked at skin color, and rational thought went out the window. Things have gotten so one-sided there can't be any discussion any more of race relations because if you say one negative thing about a black person you're immediately called a racist, and it's crazy! Where groups like Black Lives Matter and the NAACP or Sharpton go wrong in my opinion is they're so divisive! Instead of helping matters they make it way worse and just hurt all of us, black and white alike. Black Lives Matter doesn't care about black people, they just want to cause trouble and hate white people. If they truly cared they'd be in the ghettos of America trying to help there instead of screaming about white America. That's where the murders of black people are happening, but according to BLM it's all white cops who are doing it! It's insane thinking and not getting to the root of the problem at all. All lives matter.
So the show goes on?
Our show is now back on at Mavericks, shame on the people who tried to stop the show in the first place. They mentioned we're "an all white male" band. That's racist right there! Why people listen to these misguided, uninformed morons is beyond me, it really is. We've been playing for over 20 years around the world. And now supposedly we're racist? And homophobic? The Queers? I've been physically attacked sticking up for gay people! But of course these people casting these scandalous aspersions don't know any of that. Or probably care. They'd rather call us names than truly care about an issue.
You’ve had issues with your name before?
Many times in the old days. Good Lord, I can't even count the times I've been called "faggot" and "homo" derisively. Been spit on. Oh yes, we've gotten tons of shit at times because people thought we were gay.
Essentially the show got cancelled because an "Ottawa-area based collective made up of artists and activists of colour and marginalized genders" felt that your band performing would send the wrong message to the city's music community. What would you say to the group that does not feel safe attending your shows?
Not one of these people ever met us or listened to us. I'll guarantee because if they did, they'd realise we don't have racist songs. I mean they're implying we're the next Skrewdriver, for crying out loud! Send a wrong message? How? Just our name alone is pro-gay! Many people not in the music scene think we are gay! That's how it's always been. We're the most liberal people out there. We're musicians. I don't look at people as black or white or gay, they're humans. What message are they objecting to anyway? Have they said one defined thing? A song or lyric or something they object to? I mean I'm ready right now to do a benefit album for the LGBT community in Ottawa. Matter of fact, I'm doing it if I have to pay for the whole thing myself out of my own pocket! That's where the Queers are coming from! While these other misguided idiots are sitting around worrying about a great punk band who's supportive of the arts and minorities and gay people we're going to actually raise money for a deserving group of LGBT people in Ottawa. It pisses me off because these people are so full of hate and anger and fear and causing trouble, and we're the coolest people out there, and we're getting shit from these morons. Hey, if they wanna help, contact me. If not, shut up and go read a book and stop whining.
And to say they don't feel safe? Because they're gay or black? Oh, that's a good one. We have the most welcoming scene in the world. Everyone is welcome. No one has ever been attacked at a Queers' show because of sexual orientation or skin color. Ever. I've never seen it. We've played around the world for the past 20 years. If I ever did, first off I'd be astounded. And secondly, whoever was attacking them isn't a true Queers' fan. Our audience is the most forgiving welcoming group in the punk world. I can only assume anyone saying they're fearful of coming to a Queers' show because they're a minority or gay has never been to one. I can name a few shows they might want to avoid but not ours. Everyone is welcome and always has been. I'm astounded to even hear someone saying they're fearful to come to our show. It's the first time.
They have specifically objected to your song titles "White Minority" and "Ursula Finally Has Tits" as a representation of the values held by the band. How do you respond to that?
“White Minority” is pro-minority, not against it. Black Flag sang it to show the hypocrisy of white people thinking they're better than others. That's where we're coming from with it too. It's not against other races. It's for them. If you're offended by “Ursula Finally Has Tits,” then there's no hope for you. Learn to laugh at yourself and not take yourself so seriously. That song is about as offensive as a wet noodle. I mean seriously? Ursula offends someone? Who? Besides the actual Ursula—who highly approves of the song—I can't think of anyone. It's moronic to find offense in obvious satire.
As you mentioned before, you support Darren Wilson, correct?
One hundred and ten percent! He's a victim who did his job and now can't find work in his chosen profession anymore. I thought he was completely justified. The grand jury took three months of testimony and absolved him of all wrongdoing. For others to just sweep that away and say “The grand jury got it wrong” is such an insult to those people who worked so hard on that case. I mean, the easiest thing would have been to indict him, but they didn't. This was a black and white, male and female grand jury. I heard the story and believe the officer's side of it. Makes perfect sense. It's really weird: The video shows Michael Brown robbing the store before he attacked the cop. You can see him bully the little store clerk. Yet people bent over backwards to stick up for Brown against the word of a cop. I don't understand it. I see Brown rob the store, and I think, “Hmm, I could see this thug attacking a cop for sure.” Plus Brown was 290lbs and huge.
According to witness testimony, he attacked Officer Wilson in the cruiser and tried to get the cop's gun. In the ensuing wrestling match for the gun, a shot went off in the cruiser. Brown then ran off a few feet, turned around, and taunted the officer saying "What you gonna do shoot me?" or something along those lines. Officer Wilson was apparently telling him to get on the ground, at which time Brown just bent his head down and ran full speed straight for Officer Wilson, and that's when he got shot. Now, I wasn't there, but according to all the testimony that's what happened, and I think the cop was justified. I may be wrong, but I bet that's exactly what happened. I'm not happy Brown was killed. This also doesn't mean I'm right, I just believe this is what happened, and it was justified. It also doesn't mean I'm against black people or for white cops or agree with all police shootings of black people. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Matter of fact, nobody applauded louder than me when the cop up in Chicago was indicted for shooting that black guy who was just walking down the highway. Yes, the guy was acting crazy, but he didn't attack the cop or go near the cop, yet he was shot. That's one hundred ten per cent BS in my book. Screw that. It was wrong as hell, and the cop should be held accountable. We have a story down here of a black army vet who was schizo, and the cop shot him. He was unarmed, naked, and the cop still shot him. I think the cop was completely wrong and thankfully indicted and will face murder charges, deservedly so. I go case by case, not by skin color.
Do you support racist, misogynistic or homophobic values?
Of course not. What normal minded person does? My closest pals here in Atlanta are Chris and Chester, two gay black guys. I was actually working a part time job. I was one of two white people on the whole job. If I was so racist, I wouldn't have worked there or be living in Atlanta! The whole city is predominantly black people. So we're a minority here. You take groups like Black Lives Matter and NAACP or Al Sharpton and they get away with murder, when in my estimation they're very racist against white people. I thought as a liberal we'd call BS on stuff like this, but nowadays it’s so one-sided people have lost all perspective. Hey we don't like the n-word right? I hate it personally. Yet every rap album I hear has the n-word song in and song out, screamed over and over. Does BLM complain? Or Sharpton? Or Obama? Oh no. They get a free pass because liberals cherry-pick who to attack and who not to. I worked that job, and my pal Mack would play rap music in the warehouse each morning. So I would listen to it, I honestly couldn't believe how many times the n-word was used! And no one says a word about it. But Paula Deen says it once 20 years ago in a joke, and it's a national outrage. As a true liberal, I find a lot of hypocrisy in this, and it needs to change. We need to open our eyes and call BS when we see it, no matter where it comes from.
Do you support gay marriage?
I support full rights for all gay people completely. There's no place for discrimination against them. I do however believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I think between gay people it should be called a civil union or something else, but the equivalent of marriage. So I don't agree with the actual word but agree with them getting all the benefits of marriage. I mean, its just semantics, it doesn't bother me one bit, and I support gay couples completely. I have more than a few gay friends who are now married, and I was at the weddings. It's great they have all the benefits of regular married couples.
What is the function of punk rock in a democratic society?
To have fun and forget the BS of the world for a few minutes while we're at a show. I hate politics in punk rock. I think it's pompous when bands get onstage and start spouting off about politics. I don't go to a punk show to find out about politics, that's for sure. It's boring anyway.
Griffin J. Elliot is a writer living in Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter.