Not that it matters so much anymore, but I remember in the booming days of the compact disc, when certain musical acts would tweak artwork, album titles, and song titles just to get their album onto the shelves of a retail store. Record labels wanted their artists’ discs to be sold in monster retail locations like Wal-Mart, because (sadly) most people buy their music at monster retail locations–that’s why many of today’s kids may not even know what a record store is.
Artists would usually agree with their labels, giving the all too safe answer, “Well, we want our record to be heard by as many people as possible.” Rarely would you read a story about a group refusing to alter their art for the sake of mass consumption. Even Nirvana, who spat in the face of music conventions, allowed their In Utereo track, “Rape Me,” to be changed to “Waif Me” on the CD’s track-listing.
(above: A name like The Fuck Buttons may not be as harmful to a band’s career as it used to be.)
Before digital downloads, a band’s survival depended greatly on moving discs at Wal-Mart–whether it seemed to be the punk rock thing to do or not. However, I couldn’t tell you how many times I wanted just one band to stand their ground, knowing that they would lose a good chunk of their income in the process–that’s punk rock.
Switching gears for a second, a year or so ago I became familiar with a group called The Fuck Buttons, which then brought to mind another group who wasn’t afraid to drop the “F” bomb: Holy Fuck. Speaking of (credible) indie acts with explicit band names, let’s not forget about Shit Disco. Maybe because I’m nearing my mid-30’s, my first reaction was, “C’mon, what kind of band name is that?” My brain–thinking like a 90’s record label exec–began listing all the reasons why it would be detrimental for a group to have an expletive in their name:
ï® Say bye-bye to Wal-Mart.
ï® Television hosts and VJ’s would have to alter the pronunciation of the band-name, meaning the mass public would get to know the group under a different moniker.
ï® The band-name would be hacked up by hyphens and asterisks when appearing in publications that don’t print expletives.
ï® No matter how good or popular the band gets, they’re pretty much writing themselves off the list of greatest acts ever. When was the last time you saw a band with the word “fuck” in its name, appear next to U2 or The Rolling Stones?
In my mind, having a “fuck” or a “shit” in your band name just seemed like a headache not worth having. Some mainstream music critics may argue that The Fuck Buttons’ style of noisy music would never appeal to the mainstream anyway, but in music–as in life–I’ve learned that never doesn’t necessarily mean never (just ask Brett Favre). There have been countless groups in the annals of music that went from sloppy, underground club-dwellers to mainstream, even-your-grandma-knows-about-them superstars.
Though I don’t think The Fuck Buttons or Shit Disco are particularly clever band-names, I realized that these acts have done what I always wanted a band to do–utter a big “F-you” to conventional music norms and practices. By including a swear word in your band’s name, you pretty much give yourself complete autonomy. You never have to worry about shipping edited versions of CD’s to Wal-Mart, you never have to worry about playing corporately sponsored cocktail parties, and you don’t have to worry about catering to the mainstream–if they like you enough, they’ll go out of their way to cater to you.
And speaking in terms of the mainstream, not every band necessarily wants to be a darling for the masses. Maybe by calling your band The Fuck Buttons you only want your music to be heard by a certain few–but, in the age where musical acts are creating their own internet fan bases, maybe that certain few isn’t so few at all.
Every explicitly named band that never made it into Wal-Mart are standing up and cheering right now.