Art by Stano Grezdo
THE EIGHT-LEGGED TYRANNY OF TARANTULA:
FIGHTING FASCISM WITH C.H.E.W.Y.*
by Jeremy Kitchen
Many of the punk kids today remind me of doing my taxes: boring, with lots of rules. If my taxes could yell and roll around on the floor, they would get a record put out. These so-called scene police have their own power trips and biases, while they ignore the harsh realities of the world and the hate groups in their own backyard. They alienate artists but allow political quibbles to impose strange controls that are as bad as the right wingers dismissing any and all liberal thought. Punk rock has become more autocratic than the kids in Lord of the Flies. For me, it has always been about freedom, not rules.
I am no fan of Nazis. I fought them many times when I was stationed in Germany. I grew up in the Detroit Hardcore scene in the 80s in which there were sometimes 100+ neo-Nazis at shows. My co-hosts on Eye 94 are Jewish and I have friends of all races and sexual orientations. Swastikas are dumb. This is not the issue, censorship is. I am sure this essay will get the usual, "he is a white male," criticisms, and I am OK with that. I will debate censorship in any forum. I am also willing to debate how Facebook whining and alienation are not political acts.
I book punk shows at two non-traditional places in Chicago. One is an art gallery and the other a library. I booked a local band called Tarantula to play the library space, along with CHEWY. I had heard there had been some controversy regarding Tarantula. Apparently a band member had put a swastika on the cover of one of their 7" records as part of the artwork. As a result, they were thrown off a bill they were supposed to play with a French skinhead band at the Uber-Hipster punk spot, the Archer Ballroom. They were replaced by Fuerza Bruta, a sound choice. They are my favorite band currently playing in Chicago. After Fuerza Bruta was added, there were unfounded rumors of sketchy skinheads coming to the show and scene police tried to create drama.
A flyer was created prior to this for the Los Crudos/Infest show that had a German Shepherd barking at a swastika. Sure, the dog may be attacking the swastika, but who am I to judge what art is or is not? Is he eating it? Is he attacking it? It is up to the viewer to decide. I also know that Hitler had a German Shepherd, so what would an old Jewish lady think if she saw this posted on a street pole? I am guessing that she would not be versed in scenester politics and would hope for the artist to fuck off. No one attacked anyone for this flyer, neither physically nor online.**
My confusion reigned supreme, so I decided to look into why it was OK for one band to have an actual swastika and the Tarantula guys to get so much flack for a crudely drawn 7" cover.
The artist from Tarantula released this statement:
The use of an archaic symbol such as a swastika in my art is another example of a sordid human history drenched in destruction. The use of violence, serial killers, religious symbols, occult symbols, and brutality on my records is a way of combating these outside forces. Album covers like "Detestation" by GISM use harsh imagery including swastikas and death to staggering affect. Their harsh, blunt images beat you over the head with obscene provocative covers that I feel are impacting on multiple levels."
Although this statement is naive and just plain silly, he proves a point. Siouxsie Sioux, GISM, Brian Jones, Stiv Bators, the Stooges, Madonna, Iceage, and fucking Prince Harry, for Christ's sake, have all worn swastikas or used them in their art at one time or another.
The original punks wore swastikas to piss off veterans. Sid Vicious was one of the first. I have seen him accused of being a fascist, yet his girlfriend (an annoying scenester) was Jewish. He also was fucked up all the time, so I doubt he was thinking much about politics. This idiotic symbol/statement on the 7" record was to piss off scenesters, and it worked. Is this imagery stupid and disrespectful? Yep, but the only people it is inflaming is the 100 or so people that go to hipster hardcore shows in Chicago. I have seen no mention of it in any media sources aside from some hipster blogs.
The jeremiad on Facebook was relentless. One individual named Chris Testicles (names have been changed to protect the kids; kids are really sensitive these days) posted this image, in which he shows his Crust band, Doom, "successfully using a swazi in punk art. Take it as a lesson..." So Chris Testicles has a cute name for a swastika. Mr. Testicles, do you call the KKK, "Klannies"? Or perhaps lynchings, "lynchies"? Why is it OK to put a symbol on a police officer that symbolizes race hate when there are thousands of police officers of color? Are black, Latino, and Asian cops Nazis, too?
I had initially booked Tarantula to play a library show and CHEWY agreed to it. CHEWY then backed out, and went through someone else to tell me. I was under the impression that Tarantula were actually a Nazi band, so I sent out a letter of apology to the bands that I had sent the flyer to, many of which have members of color. I later received this email from CHEWY:
"I will say that they are not nazi's [sic] but they did use bad taste allowing that imagery on their 7 inch sleeve so they kinda fucked themselves there. We are probably down to play on the 10th if you still need!"
Let me repeat: "I will say that they are not nazi's [sic]." Bad taste in punk rock! Why, I never! My grandmother didn't say that; it was a twenty-something kid. I always thought punk was about fucking and challenging the system, but maybe I am wrong.
I saw CHEWY for the first time when they played with Judge (Judge, a 90s hardcore band, whose singer can no longer sing, once had a homeless black man beaten violently at one of their shows) and at this same show a tattooed faced man pointed at me and yelled, "you look like a JEW!" Although, in CHEWY's defense, this particular tattooed face guy ruins a lot of shows, and is possibly mentally ill. Judge has a notoriously violent and sometimes bone-headed fan base, so either CHEWY do not know their history, or they were trying to get more exposure.
I see a certain singer from a South Side hardcore a band at a lot of shows. He is known as a domestic abuser, has even beaten a woman with a skateboard, and attacked two different women involved in the Chicago punk scene. Why does he get a pass? It is OK to beat women, but a PC crime to draw a crude swastika? I know he hangs out at Archer Ballroom, and I also know people know about his domestic violence issue. If you want his name, shoot me an email.
Talk about confusing; an actual criminal gets away with it, and an artist gets persecuted. Sounds just like Trump's America to me.
The use of swastikas in this day and age is illogical. Yep, we can all agree on that. But should a band be banned from playing DIY venues (and the Beat Kitchen) because of a terrible piece of art? Nope. The Nazis censored art. They called it degenerate art and banned (and also stole) anything that did not align with their worldview. This is what the PC Police are doing today.
I get more fired up about the violation of First Amendment rights than a crudely drawn swastika. This Vox article explains why people have the right to display different types of symbolism; it involves the Constitution. I compare this to flag burning. Right wingers get fired up about flag burning, left wingers the same with hate imagery. Both are protected by the First Amendment and both get people really upset. Both were challenged up to the Supreme Court and both are Constitutional. Both became endless Facebook feuds. This can be seen in true, full retard fashion in the discourse between two commenters on the Tarantula debate, "Oscar Clueless" and "Hans Rommel". Hans is a right winger and Oscar is a Commie. Of course they are not going to agree on what is acceptable, they are on opposite ends of the political spectrum. The debate breaks down into personal insults and petty griping.
I saw Tarantula play up in Milwaukee with Victory (anti-racist Oi band), Fuerza Bruta (anti-racist Oi band), Brick Assassin (anti-racist street punk). Do we see a pattern here? And Empire Down (also anti-racist). I thought Tarantula were pretty good. So why were all these anti-racist bands playing with Tarantula, a band that the Chicago kids are down on? Was I missing something? Empire Down even talked of kicking a known date rapist out of their scene in Milwaukee, forcibly, I believe. Fighting for what they believe in. They seemed like very stand up individuals, and I would check them out if they ever come to your town. The crowd had lots of brown people, a handful of black people, and I even think one of the guys in Tarantula has an Asian girlfriend, if I am not mistaken.
Chicago has a very exclusionary DIY scene. As much as everyone likes to scream how everyone is included, it is actually very divisive. If these bands and bookers wanted to fight antisemitism and racism, why don't they attack the Euro Folk Radio, Patriot Front, Jewish Defense League, Nation of Islam, United Kingdom of Israel Congregation, or protest the All Eyes on Egipt bookstore, which is a hotbed of antisemitism? All these organizations conduct operations within Chicago's borders, and yet there is no outrage. There is a holocaust denier running for senate in the suburbs. Why are these kids not fighting against that? Why are they protesting Tarantula when there are fountains of hate in our own backyard?
The answer is that these kids want something to be mad at, but do not have the balls or the wherewithal to fight the actual racist groups in our city. Facebook squabbling and band banning feels like a political action, but it is actually a fucking cop out.
This reminds me of a friend of mine who made swastika Trump stickers to protest the election. The details can be read here.
This individual is vehemently anti-Trump. The arms of the swastika are Ts (like Trump, get it?), and people called it a hate crime. PC backlash with no facts to back it.
Most of the kids who hang out at the Archer Ballroom are not even from Chicago, and yet they want to dictate a scene that they did nothing to build, when those of us who are from here or choose to stay here have been building it for decades?
Anti-racist skinheads cleared out all the actual Nazis twenty years ago. There needs to be an appearance of faux oppression to keep the PC kids in an uproar about something. If there is nothing to yell and scream about and ALIENATE, then why be punk rock at all?
Fight the POWER, not the SPIDER.
I propose Tarantula do a benefit with the bands that protested them and donate the funds to a worthy cause. This makes more sense than Internet bickering and backstabbing. Be part of the solution, not the problem. Perhaps the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless? They help people of every stripe. I will help put it together if anyone wants to participate.
Most band names and Facebook warrior names have been changed, because I honestly like these kids, I really do. The band names of the show in Milwaukee are the actual band names, because they are anti-racist and they kick ass.
Originally published June 20, 2018
Copyright © 2018 by Jeremy Kitchen
**The original version of this essay erroneously stated that a queercore band (Limp Wrist) replaced Tarantula at the Rixe show. We also made an error with the racial makeup of Limp Wrist, which is 3/4 white. We apologize for these errors. Thanks to Kyle for looking out.
Corrections made November 15, 2018
Yesss. And the drummer has a Mexican wife.
Great article and Tarantula kills!
Hi, I came across your post here this morning. Two members of Tarantula were attacked by folks armed with badts and shovels, this past Sunday August 26th. This occurred in my backyard at Albion house. Apparently the attackers did not get a chance to read your article or talk to the band. I thought you might like yo know this information. You can reach me at email@example.com if you would like to have a conversation. Thanks.
Worth updating this after so called antifacists assaulted Tarantula and shattered their guitar players jaw at a (in my opinion) historic chicago DIY venue...
This article sounds like It was written by George Tabb with a hangover