No consonants allowed: A brief history of band names without vowels.

There’s a passage in James Joyce’s 1939 novel, Finnegan’s Wake, that employed what he called “disemvowelling.”

He was culping for penance while you were ringing his belle. Did the kickee, goodman rued fox, say anything important? Clam or cram, spick or spat?

No more than Richman’s periwhelker.

Nnn ttt wrd?

Dmn ttt thg.

A gael galled by scheme of scorn? Nock?

Sangnifying nothing. Mock!

Fortitudo eius rhodammum tenuit

Five maim! Or something very similar.

I should like to euphonise that. It sounds an isochronism. Secret speech Hazelton and obviously disemvowelled. But it is good laylaw too.

Don’t worry. I don’t understand any of the above, either. But when it comes to the concept of being “disemvowelled,” I completely get it when it comes to band names. (BTW, Wired once wrote an obituary for the letter “e.”)

It’s become very trendy (and, as we’ll soon see) very necessary for bands to created stylized names consisting only of consonants i.e. devoid of vowels.

And we’re not talking about a group of letters that stand for something like MFSB (Mother Father Sister Brother) or (maybe) KMFDM, either. Something clever like XTC or B-52’s doesn’t count, either. I mean proper words with the vowels excised.

Consider: MGMT, JPNSGRLS, STRFKR, MSTRKRFT, DWNTWN, PWR BTTM, SWMRS, CHLLNGER, BRNS, and the almost-but-not-quite CHVRCHES.

What’s the motivation behind this blatant jettisoning of A, E, I, O, U (and maybe) Y? Here, as far as I can tell, the reasons for these odd spellings.

Texting and social media: When all we had was 140 characters, we need to be very economical with our spellings, leading to all kinds of shortcuts and abbreviations. Band names shortened in the same manner as ROTFL and FML seems to be a logical extension of this 21st-century form of written language. Ironic or iconic? You decide.

Looking for a domain: Ever try to find a .com domain for your band? It seems that all the available properly-spelled names are already spoken for. Creative spelling opens up more possibilities.

Someone already has your band name but spelled properly: When MGMT first formed, they were called The Management. That lasted two EPs, which was enough for them to be told there already was another band with that name. Shortening that to just MGMT in 2005 not only saved them any litigious hassles but also a launched a trend in band names. (I can’t think of a band before MGMT who took that approach. Is that true? Any help appreciated.)

Trademarking purposes: If no one has spelled your band name in your weird vowel-less way, you have a much better chance of acquiring a trademark. Gotta protect that intellectual property, you know?

Here are more examples:

  • DVVBBS
  • RCKB
  • MNDR
  • BLK JKS
  • SBTRKT
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd (only if you think Y should never be a vowel).

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “No consonants allowed: A brief history of band names without vowels.

  • December 31, 2018 at 8:56 am
    Permalink

    The industrial band KMFDM will be mad that they are omitted from this list.

    Reply

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