Black Pussy
Black Pussy
Brian Lee

Black Pussy Play Viper Room on Valentine's Day After Protest Cancels Hi Hat Show. But Should They?

Highland Park live-music venue the Hi Hat canceled a scheduled live performance by the band Black Pussy last week following fervent social media backlash, as well as threats of venue boycott and assault (involving the potential throwing of pig's blood), due to the band's name.

The bill, which also featured Boots Electric, led by controversial figure Jesse Hughes (Eagles of Death Metal), was moved to the Redwood Bar downtown without incident the same night, and at press time BP’s Valentine’s Day Viper Room gig is still on despite rumblings of more protests.

This isn’t the first time the Portland, Oregon, retro-rockers have faced negative reaction because of their name, but the 9-year-old group (five years together with this lineup) have played L.A. several times before sans conflict. So what’s different this time? Lead singer Dustin Hill told L.A. Weekly over the weekend that he thinks the Hi Hat was targeted due to its locale, which was a new part of town for the band.

“We’ve played the Viper Room so many times, and no one cared,” Hill says. “The Hi Hat was just in a hipster neighborhood that’s being gentrified and that’s how the extremist people heard about it. … interestingly, they’re the ones actually hurting these minority communities. “

Hill says the same thing has happened to the band in their hometown, but as far as touring goes, the band’s name hasn’t been proportionately problematic. Out of 200 shows a year, he estimates only about three to five have to be canceled per tour cycle. “I’ve traced this,” he says. “It’s usually one or a few people from out-of-town who start it. They’re always white. They want to make an example out of us for their identity word politics bullshit, but if they didn’t do that, no one would care. No one’s getting up in arms when Turbonegro come to town. Rock & roll is a different scene.”

“Tonight’s show is canceled. The Hi Hat believes in love, respect and inclusiveness,” was the totality of the club’s response last week, and it has refused further comment since, but the thread below the announcement on its Facebook page illuminated, as many FB arguments do of late, just how polarized cultural perspectives have become these days. Over the weekend, after Black Pussy added a show at King Eddy's downtown (another symbol of gentrification, as it was Skid Row's most notorious dive before a makeover), more threats and division followed on social media.


From music lovers to film buffs to sports fans to men and women navigating the modern dating scene, not to mention the voting public at large, there is a recurring societal rift about what’s right and what’s wrong dividing us by class, race, gender and generational perspectives right now.

How you feel about Black Pussy's name has a lot to do with your own personal experiences and triggers. It might conjure an African-American woman’s private parts (harmless in some views and completely racist/sexist in others). Maybe you think of a Halloween cat, or something more esoteric, mystical or Goth. The latter was the image my mind went to when I first heard of the group, but my references include a bounty of “black” band names that clearly aren’t racial: Black Sabbath, The Black Lips, The Black Crowes, Black Mountain, The Black Keys, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Black Angels, Black Eyed Peas (OK, the last is, but it has people of color so it’s intentional).

The P word, is of course, trickier. The term went from bedrooms to America’s living rooms after our predator Prez spoke of grabbing them without permission, but no matter how many times some of us (women) hear it, it hasn’t been normalized. If anything, its nastiness feels more intense, not less, when it's uttered outside of a seductive context. Pre-Trump bands such as Nashville Pussy, Pussy Riot, Thunderpussy and even The Muffs and Hole reference vag too, but there are women in them so it’s a “taking it back” kinda thing.

Hill says the name was meant to have multiple meanings, and while it is a double (at least) entendre, it never came from a place of disrespect. “The name really came out of fun,” he explains. “I was thinking … '70s … sexy … Quentin Tarantino…. It’s like a band who would be in one of his movies, all white guys, and Samuel L. Jackson would be the manager.”

Of course, part of Tarantino's shtick has to do with shock value. Hill acknowledges that the two words together grab attention, and could be perceived as being in bad taste, but he didn't anticipate a backlash on this scale. He learned of the supposed Rolling Stones connection to the name later, he tells me. It's been said that "Black Pussy" was the original title of "Brown Sugar," off of Sticky Fingers, though my research found no attribution to prove this true, other than a recalled exchange in the book The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, in which Mick Jagger allegedly said so as he entered Muscle Shoals Studios to record. While the reference makes sense with the aesthetic of the group — they don thrift store garb, have long hair and make music that’s been called stoner rock (Hill calls it “boogie rock”) — the song connection only furthered the outcry, with its themes of slavery, oral sex and drugs reigniting old debates about the Stones’ own misogyny, as heard on “Under My Thumb” and “Some Girls.”

One could argue that rock & roll has always been about rebellion and seduction. It’s inherently button-pushing and provocative, and to police or censor it is to destroy what makes it visceral and special. But, as I reported about The Dickies and their offensive rant against a protester at Warped Tour, times have changed. What was acceptable even a few years ago isn’t today, even more so in the midst of the #metoo movement and modern society’s “great awokening.”


A large portion of the population is less accepting of anything they find triggering, and it's hard to blame them. Women and people of color have been treated unjustly for decades, and now that it's all coming out, many are looking for someone or something to blame, if only to make it stop. The frustrations have seemingly made keeping an open mind impossible. The Babe.net Aziz Ansari story was a perfect example. Many women were adamant that the comic's actions were akin to assault and even rape, while others saw it as an all-too-common bad date with a creepy dude that could have been easily halted had the female simply left the situation. Both points of view are valid, but neither side's adherents seemed able to put themselves in the other's shoes.

In many ways, the Black Pussy firestorm has similar undertones. As white guys, even pretty fly ones, Hill and his cats don't seem to really get what all the fuss is about. Whether they simply can't due to their "white privilege," as some have said, is debatable. When I ask Hill if he was at least sensitive to the discomfort and/or anger his band's name has caused some, he seems incredulous but concedes, "I can understand finding the name crass, but to say we're appropriating culture or sexualizing women or promoting rape culture, that I cannot agree."

"The name is so multifaceted," he continues. "It has so many meanings, and part of it is homage. Most people have common sense and logic and are not offended by this. It's a small minority. I was raised by a single mother, I have two sisters. Women are very important to me."

Black Pussy's fan base, Hill says, is in fact more than half female, and when the band play in the South, he estimates "at least a quarter of the crowd who comes out is black."

Clearly, the intention was never to harm, but that doesn't mean they aren't actually doing so. Hill wants everyone to chill out, bond and boogie together irrespective of color, sex or background in a display of hippie hedonism and disco decadence at his shows. But real life isn't a scene from Boogie Nights or a Tarantino flick, even if the band pulls off this vibe for a couple of hours in a club. This is 2018, not 1975. Musical expression is starting to be held to a different standard, a much tougher one that considers the long-term effects that objectification and marginalization have on our culture.

I'm of the mind that rock & roll expression should never be stifled based on the ideals in which it was born, whether we're talking band names or lyrics. Those who don't like something need not consume or engage. But the bigger picture is relevant, too.

For his part, Hill seems resigned to stick with what he created nine years ago, taking the good and the bad that his moniker has brought (and sure, bad press is still press) as it comes. People tell him to change the name a lot, but that won't be happening. "Maybe the controversy surrounding my band name is a blessing for these discussions to be had," he posits, sounding sincere. "People just need to look at things more objectively when they talk about it. I set out to make this about love and fun, but ironically, because of all this, we've become the most political band I know."

The band's brand new video — which we premiere here — definitely features political undertones and statement-making pop culture imagery. Does it take advantage of the band's platform to make people think? Is it just about escapism and flashback fantasy? Does this band's music even live up to the name hype? You be the judge.


Black Pussy play with Jennie Vee and The Lone Gunmen on Wed., Feb. 14,at the Viper Room, 8852 W. Sunset Blvd. West Hollywood. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets and info here.

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