Viet Cong, the Calgary band whose self-titled album os on tonight’s Polaris Music Prize short list has seen the light about the name of their name. They’ve bowed to pressure–actual righteous pressure–to change their name. And that’s a good thing.
Viet Cong took their name from the Việt Cộng, the name given to the National Liberation Front, some serious badasses who fought both conventional and guerilla campaigns on behalf of the communist North in the Vietnam War. Not only were they a major enemy of the US but they terrorized, displaced and killed troops and citizens of the South.
Viet Cong–the band–was apparently unaware of the history of the Việt Cộng when they adopted that name in 2012. Over the ensuring months, they were told in no uncertain terms that certain segments of society found their name to be offensive.
To those who escaped the South and/or those who had family and friends tortured and killed by the VCs, running into a band called Viet Cong was akin to Jews hearing a band called National Socialists, Darfur refugees encountering a group called The Janjaweed or Syrian migrants finding a band that thought it was cool to call themselves Bashar al-Assad. (A very good explanation as to why the name “Viet Cong” is racist and offensive can be found here.)
There has been significant pressure on Viet Cong to change their name which began to build earlier this year when one of their shows was cancelled over their name. The pressure intensified over the summer, reaching a peak over the last couple of weeks as the Polaris Music Prize got closer.
I’d heard a rumour that a name change was imminent a couple of weeks ago, but when I contacted their record company, they denied that anything was in the works.
Turns out something was happening. There will be a name change. From Viet Cong’s Facebook page:
Our band lives to play music. We don’t particularly like doing press, most of us are fairly private people and we have social media for the band only reluctantly. Most of us generally don’t follow online criticism. Over the last year we have essentially lived our lives in a tour van and in music venues, playing over 130 shows. In that time we’ve met many amazing people and had many great conversations with people in person.
Over this time we’ve been listening, talking and having lots of valuable conversations with the members of the Vietnamese community about the name. Through this dialogue and hearing about what the name means to so many people, we have decided we will be changing the name of our band.
Art and music are about creative expression. However, our band name is not our cause, and we are not going to fight for it. This is not what our band is about.
There are many individuals more eloquent than us who have recently had a lot to say about the topic of the name and our appropriation of the name Viet Cong. For more insights into the arguments we encourage you to read some of these. We are a band who want to make music and play our music for our fans. We are not here to cause pain or remind people of atrocities of the past.
The truth is, we’ve been planning to change the band name for the next record for months; it has not been an easy decision by any means. We are a band of four people with four individual voices; this debate has been long and difficult for us and it took time for everyone to settle on a plan of action.
We don’t know what the new name of our band will be, and we owe it to our fans to honour the concerts we have booked. We rushed into our last band name decision, we don’t plan to rush into this one, but know that will be rolling out a new name as soon as we agree upon one.
We realize this won’t satisfy everyone, but that’s certainly not the goal of this band. We never expected this kind of attention in the first place and just want to return to playing music, which is the only thing we (kinda) know how to do.
We’ve had an incredible amount of support from fans, and we have to thank everyone who has said supportive words to us as we struggle with this. As always, we welcome people talking to us in person.
– Matt, Mike, Monty & Danny.
What their new name will be is still unknown. But you know they’ll be much, much more careful this time.