This Is An Area of Inclusion: Underground Music’s Opposition to Trump’s Tower
Downtown Vancouver, February 28th 2017.
It’s been a rough little time since one of the arguably worst human beings to ever walk on the face of this Earth was sworn in as 45th President of the United States of America. Values that you’d think would be sacrosanct in the 21st century, some so basic as universal equality regardless of ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, are challenged by a loud-mouthed braggart who’s content to publicly go on the record objectifying women, and declaring immigrants to be less than human. Here in Canada, there’s a little bit of a buffer, but when sexist, racist, and misogynistic ideals are the purported status quo, I’m compelled to walk my friends home to ensure they get there safe, particularly when they happen to not be straight white men. Intolerance has been given a free pass, and it’s all too easy for people to get carried away.
Underground music has long been associated with protest. It’s the voice of the undercurrent. My dear friends in HEDḰS were asked to play at the inauguration of the Trump Tower in Vancouver, as gesture of resistance. While not an overtly political band per se, you wouldn’t be mistaken if you expected these two ladies to feel the need to oppose someone who thinks it’s okay to say things like “Grab her by the pussy.”
I went there to support my friends and take photos, as well as to show my support for anyone brave enough to oppose an agenda based on hate, xenophobia, and narrow-mindedness. A few things I witnessed left me feeling very unimpressed.
While many of us felt the need to express our utter disgust with the way certain people behaved, this first-hand account from Dave Bowes – a colleague, and notable supporter of the local music scene – sums it up best:
Came as close to punching a Nazi today as I have in a long time. Actually, two Nazis. The first came up behind me while I was trying to listen to a speaker and started yelling his disruptive shit right in my ear. I turned and told him to “shut the fuck up”. He said something to the effect of “I got a right and are you gonna make me?” I looked at the three cops standing behind him and commended them on their crowd control, keeping the sides apart so effectively. Cop said it’s a free protest. “So you understand what happens now, right?”, I asked them. The simpering, word farting lump of red-hatted white turd flesh in front of me asked, appropriately enough, if I was threatening him. I gave him a good long look. I gave each of the cops one too. An older gent with a big sign lowered it like a curtain between us and the space filled with bodies, ending the moment.
The second incident took place in the middle of a ripping HEDḰS set. Those girls were magic, by the way, and didn’t let a little rain, or too little power, or way too little PA get them down. A group of three or four shiny white brahs with Make America Hate Again hats had been causing trouble since the beginning. They had a leader who loved the attention his loud, roidy, senseless sloganeering was getting. You could tell he watches a lot of pro wrestling. Eventually he preened his way in front of the band and tried to disrupt their performance. Good luck with that. A young guy in the audience confronted him, told him to back off and eventually grabbed his stupid fucking hat and threw it into the street. I applauded loudly, as did some others. Trump turkey reacted with pure coward-asshole instinct – pulling our young hero by the jacket towards the cops so he could rat him out to the authorities in the time-honoured way of all good jugend. This was again too much for me and I intervened, twisting his hand off the lad and indicating to the cops he was reporting to that he was the assaulter and I’d sign a statement to that effect. Another guy joined me in pointing to the Trump child as the trouble maker. They mostly ignored us, but in the end only separated the two. I was surprised, but not really, to see one of the cops go out of his way to pick the fascist’s hat up off the street and return it to him. Ask yourself if he would have gone to this trouble if someone’s pussy hat had been thrown onto Georgia street. I’m not suggesting sympathy or collusion, but I did see a couple of the Trump chumps in long and seemingly friendly consultations with the cops on a couple occasions this afternoon. I’m not saying. I’m just saying. Resist. Peace.
In the time that I have been alive, I have never felt that is has ever been more important to make a stand against ignorance and intolerance. It’s been said that for evil to triumph, all the rest of us need to do is nothing. Let’s not do nothing.
I asked Twitchy and Taya from HEDḰS a few questions. Here is our correspondence:
How did you end up playing this?
Claire: I’m not 100% sure – If my memory serves correct, we were getting into the late hours of a music event when a mutual friend approached us with the idea. She gave us the brief description and we were like “YUP!”
A hard yes to that! In the morning she messaged us linking the organizer’s contact information (thank goodness for that, because otherwise I might have forgotten the conversation had happened) and that was essentially that.
Taya: Pretty simple. we lugged our gear onto the sidewalk, waited a bunch for some shit to happen and then, alas, we ended up playing.
What aspect of playing this made the prospect of doing so most appealing to you?
Taya: Pissing people off. Mainly the cops, but they seemed to enjoy it, which irked me a bit.
Claire: The opportunity to play for a cause that we both feel strongly about made this not only an appealing prospect, but a necessary one in my opinion. The chance to contribute to change is what a lot of artists work to achieve. I was drawn to the guerrilla nature of the whole thing. Rolling in bare bones and doing the task without any of that cushy stuff you can start to take for granted as a performer was an exciting challenge. That moment when we looked at each other and thought ‘can we do this?’
Were you expecting the atmosphere to be as tensely charged – politically speaking – when you got there?
Claire: I suppose I was expecting it – but I was not ready for it. The energy was more intense than anything I have experienced in the past and the reality of just what we were standing up against was really put into perspective looking up at the Trump tower ‘tower’ over the crowd gathered. The very essence for speaking out against a juggernaut of that proportion was daunting and the feeling of powerlessness consumed me for a moment. However, feeling that same overwhelming discontent within the crowd filled me with strength and positivity. Multiple voices coming together as one has the power to overcome any obstacle.
Taya: Not to the extent that it was, people started losing their minds when I merely tested my kick pedal, that kind of power over a crowd is really exhilarating. Most times we play, people don’t know what to expect and start out watching curiously, this crowd was amped before we even played a note. The vibe really felt electric. I imagine it’s what Metallica felt like at their shows back when they didn’t suck.
I’ve known you both for years, and as a result, I know that while not necessarily overtly political, you are stalwarts for the morals you stand behind. What place do you feel that this has in music?
Claire: Music, in a lot of ways, is an extension or a reflection of self, and what is happening close to home. I believe it is only natural for that to be expressed through music because music is not only a release, but also a tool. It is a form of communication and in its most primal form, a means to share information and desires.
And, in your music?
Taya: We ain’t no Tesla. What few collective morals we do stand behind aren’t really a big part of our music, pretty much the opposite i think. Claire writes our lyrics, but it’s a band decison to write about the shitty parts of ourselves, our lives, our weaknesses and vices. I don’t think our message made us a good fit to play the protest, but I do think who we are and who we represent made us just that. Off-white females playing heavier music, living our lives the way we want, and unapologetically screaming about it. Nobody can take that from us, and we’ll fight to keep it that way for us, and for all the people like us.
Claire: We make it a point not to force an agenda with HEDḰS because we want people to be free to make it their own. To us art should be open to interpretation and we make our music ‘available’ in that way. There is absolutely intention and purpose in every single line we write and word we sing – but a lot of effort is put in to make it open enough to not limit the listener with a straightforward ‘in your face’ message. Growing up, the music that affected me the most was the kind of song that I could sit down and analyze, pick apart and theorize over, as opposed to music that was very cut and dry in its message and delivery.
Raucous crowds and unbridled debauchery seem to be your key audience at the shows you tend to play. Was there anything in particular that set this one apart from that?
Taya: Sobriety, I assume…
Claire: The “party hard” imagery that HEDḰS often exudes isn’t fiction for us as individuals, but the idea that that is our only audience is a myth – even though we seem to perpetuate it. A lot of the time our “party like you’re going to die” attitude is very “rebel without a cause” so having a greater purpose to harness that to felt really good. We are not the most deliberate band – We’re kind of just going along, doing our thing and people seem to be taking something from it – so having a very clear intention and a need to deliver was a very different type of set for us. The high emotions had parallels to our usual party-thirsty regulars but there was a point to it. The questions to be answered had a lot more weight than our usual “I wonder if and where I’ll wake up tomorrow.”
What were your favourite things that happened while you were at this protest?
Claire: Oh man, the whole thing. It was a glorious disaster really – having armed guards confine us to playing on a small strip of sidewalk, rushing afternoon traffic blowing by directly behind us. Not having the power capabilities to run my whole rig and stripping down to half my pedal board and a single bass speaker. It started to rain and my fingers were slipping all over the neck of my instrument, live electronics getting soaked. On-lookers struggled to cover us with a portable tent so I was ducking and swerving to allow them to do so mid-song. Trump supporters were aggravating the protesters resulting in some very heated exchanges as the music intensified. My absolute favorite was watching the armed guards and police get swept up in the music and break face for just a moment – bobbing their heads and rocking out when the music carried them away, despite themselves.
Taya: When the Trumpdick guy was prancing around, one of the protesters came over and stood with us in solidarity, kinda saying a big fuck you, “we won’t let you take this moment.” I thought that was rad. I like that it rained too, it gave the whole thing more of a desperate feel to it, like we needed this to happen no matter what. It was really fitting for the moment.
Claire: The Trump supporters. Their juvenile behaviour was extremely disappointing. I mean, represent whatever you believe in, but regardless of what “side” these guys were on, it was really disheartening to see people acting in such a distasteful, disrespectful way and displaying their personal preference in such an inhumane way. Specifically, people using their children as bulletin boards (clearly against their will) and intentionally provoking, for violence. I generally believe people to be ‘good’ and in the awe of all these people peacefully protesting to see these few delinquents running through the crowd deliberately attempting to cause a problem and then crying when someone would finally step up to them, was really sad to see.
Taya: When the cops told us we had to set up on the smallest part of the sidewalk, I felt like abiding by their rules was kind of like missing of the point of why we were there. But it was a peaceful protest and anyone who’s ever argued against a cop knows how that can go; especially in a tense, highly escalatable situation like that, it just wasn’t my place to be the one to bring it to a head like that. ACAB.
Offered the opportunity, would you do it again? Why, or why not?
Claire: Yes, I would. Because every voice matters. And having the opportunity to use your voice to support a change from the ground level up should never be squandered.
Taya: Yes, because fuck the people in the world that can look into another human being’s face and tell them they’re less of a human, that they should be hated for who they are, that they are unwelcome in the place they call home. And “no”, because it reminded me just how much I hate humanity and how cruel people can be. And “yes” again, because it showed me there are also people that fight against that very thing. And “no” again because I didn’t get any goddamn drink tickets.
Let’s say that there’s a lasting impression that your performance made on people there. What do you think that was? What would you like it to be, or hope that it was?
Claire: Well, I’m sure everyone took something of their own away from the experience of being there that day- honestly us playing was not the focal point. There were many amazing speakers who also presented, and many groups who put efforts into organizing, creating colourful signs and other contributions that surely remain in the hearts of those in attendance. From what I could gather from the faces of the people who did see us, I’d imagine that the fact that we simply came out and made ourselves available is something that people could take home. Everyone there benefited from everyone else. We were a willing addition to the bodies vocalizing a belief that there is something wrong, and that change is needed.
Below, you will find a gallery of photographs taken on this day by Becky Smalls, Willow Gamberg, and myself. Based on the words above, I’m sure you’ll be able to place them within the appropriate context.
And finally, parting words to not lose sight of: we have rights because we exercised our voices, not because we were granted the ability to use them by an authority that permitted us to speak. Rise up, speak loudly and stand strong, in the name of equality for all, and solidarity with those who aren’t given it.
Just because they think they’re entitled doesn’t mean this world is any less ours. You have a right to safety, and to not be discriminated against. Never, ever forget that.