The End of the Viet Cong Crisis: A History of Contentious Band Names

By on September 25, 2015

Naming your band is torture. Has it been used by anyone else in the history of music? Does it properly convey your image, style and sound? Does everyone in the band like it? Is the Internet domain, Twitter handle Facebook ID available? Does it lend itself to good graphic design? And is too offensive?

Plenty of bands have deliberately provocative names. There are all the “F” bands (Fucked Up, Holy Fuck, Fuck Buttons) along with those which evoke—ahem—interesting imagery (Dayglo Abortions, Dead Kennedys, Butthole Surfers, etc.)

Then we have band names that creep into the darker areas of politics and history. Take Joy Division. Instead of being an ironic twist on the group’s bleak lyrics, their name refers to “joy divisions” (Freudenabteilung), brothels populated by Jewish women forced into prostitution at Auschwitz and nine other concentration camps all for the benefit of Nazi officers. You can read all about it in a 1955 book called House of Dolls written by Ka-tzetnik 135633. Ian Curtis even referenced the book in the song “No Love Lost.”

The first band I can ever recall actually being forced to change their name because of a public outcry was Toronto’s Battered Wives, a punk group who once opened for Elvis Costello and had something of an alt-rock hit called “Daredevil.”

The group fought back for a while but then wisely relented, switching to The Wives for the rest of their career.  (Point of interest: Wives’ drummer Cleave Anderson later joined Blue Rodeo.)

Later, the Barenaked Ladies were banned from performing a New Year’s Eve concert at Toronto City Hall because their name apparently objectified women, something that Mayor June Rowlands will never live down. More recently, the New Pornographers are occasionally lambasted on college campuses because of their “politically incorrect” name.

All this is backdrop for the story du jour of Calgary’s Viet Cong, a group named after the National Liberation Front of Vietnam during the war with the US. They picked the name after watching too many ‘Nam movies and became convinced the VCs were badasses and had a cool name.

For anyone who escaped being overrun by the North in the war, the name Việt Cộng summons of images of terror, displacement and death. For them, it’s the equivalent of war refugees running into bands named National Socialists, Khmer Rouge, Tonton Macoute, Janjaweed or Bashar al-Assad.

Viet Cong—the band—has been under pressure to change their name for close to a year. About a month ago, there was a rumor they were going to follow through, a story denied by their record label when I contacted them.

Now, though, the band admits that a change is required. They’ve listened and now understand the sensitivities involved. They have no idea what they’ll call themselves for their second record, but you can bet they’ll research it thoroughly first.

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  • NGO

    Best “purposely-offensive” band name? How about, The Very Idea Of Fucking Hitler. Saw them mentioned briefly in a few punk flyers.
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  • Tony Byrer

    Night Flight has a Roku app. I’ve been watching NF in a dark room. It really takes me back. Check it out!