Local Current Blog

Vietnamese-Minnesotan organizations ask First Avenue to cancel upcoming Viet Cong show

Viet Cong in The Current's studios in March. Photo by Leah Garaas/MPR.

Three organizations representing Vietnamese-Minnesotans have written a letter asking First Avenue to cancel the band Viet Cong‘s upcoming 7th Street Entry show, and further asking representatives of the venue to meet with them to discuss “how we can heal and move forward together.”

Currently, 201 people have added their names to a letter written by the Vietnamese Student Association of Minnesota, the Vietnamese Organizers of Minnesota, and Pan-Asian Voices for Equity. The letter, which has also been endorsed by five other organizations representing members of local Asian-American communities, criticizes the band for “taking the name of a military group with a direct hand in driving Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian refugees from their home countries, changing the name meaning to suit their purposes, and demonstrating ignorance to very real consequences.”

The letter praises First Avenue as a local music institution, but criticizes the decision to host Viet Cong’s Sept. 24 show. “First Avenue and 7th Street Entry is a source of pride for our hometown. Your support of the Viet Cong band is inconsistent with the strong values held by Minnesotans to welcome our refugee communities and to uphold an independent spirit in music.”

The Vietnamese Student Association of Minnesota, via its Facebook page, has also announced a Sunday meeting at Coffman Memorial Union “to discuss the next step in our efforts” regarding Viet Cong’s upcoming performance.

Update 9/18: The Vietnamese Student Association of Minnesota is making plans to protest Viet Cong’s show with a demonstration at the venue starting at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday. A Facebook event for the protest currently has 94 confirmed attendees.

First Avenue has thus far declined to comment on the letter. According to a spokesperson for Viet Cong, the band are “definitely aware” of the letter and “are communicating directly with the parties who have voiced their concerns.” Jillian Tran, president of the Vietnamese Student Association of Minnesota, says that the letter-writers have not yet heard from the band.

Viet Cong are a post-punk band founded in 2012 in Alberta, Canada. They’ve built a substantial fan base and earned critical raves from publications such as Pitchfork—which gave their debut album a strongly positive 8.5/10 review. “The Calgary band’s self-titled debut projects unbridled passion, creativity, and possibilities,” wrote reviewer Ian Cohen. Viet Cong previously played the Entry in March 2015; when they were in town for that show, they came to The Current to record a session.

The band’s name has engendered extensive criticism; a planned performance at Oberlin College on March 14 was canceled by the student booker, who issued an extensive apology written in collaboration with the college’s Vietnamese Student Association.

Tran writes in an e-mail that for her personally, “the name ‘Viet Cong’ is offensive because my grandpa and uncles were in the Vietnam War, fighting their own people. Viet Cong is a name that you would call the Vietnamese communists. When I was growing up my uncle would tell me stories about how terrible the war was and I know how much he suffered over there. He would never be able to go back to the same home he grew up in.”

Viet Cong told the Guardian that their name was inspired by frontman Matt Flegel wielding his bass in a gun-like fashion. “All you need is a rice paddy hat and it would be so Viet Cong,” drummer Mike Wallace remembered telling Flegel, adding “we stopped on that sentence and thought it was a good idea.”

In the wake of the Oberlin cancellation, the band released a statement regarding their name:

Our band, Viet Cong, has existed for a little over three years now. When we named ourselves, we were naive about the history of a war in a country we knew very little about. We now better understand the weight behind the words Viet Cong. While we don’t take any concerns about the name lightly, we feel it is important to let you know that we never meant to trivialise the atrocities or violence that occurred on both sides of the Vietnam war. We never intended for our name to be provocative or hurtful.

We truly appreciate the seriousness of the feedback we’ve received, and we will continue to be open to listening to issues and concerns from all perspectives.

With love from the band Viet Cong.

Flegel, however, told the Minnesota Daily on March 11 that the band has no intention of changing the name. “I mean, we could, but it has no deep meaning to me at all. As long as people understand that—I need to write a letter to the Vietnamese Student Association in Oberlin and just say, ‘hey, guys, chill out. We’re just a band. We don’t mean any harm, we have no political affiliations with the Vietnamese communists of the 60s and 70s.’ People just need to chill out, I think.”

That interview sparked a petition by the Midwest Asian American Students’ Union, calling on the band to change their name “and provide more critical thought into whatever it is that you choose.” That petition, which now has 2,305 supporters, says that Flegel’s remarks demonstrate “the sheer impact white privilege has on marginalized communities.”

Tran explained that this summer, the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations of the Midwest convened a conference call among student leaders to discuss the band’s name. That call led to a roundtable discussion among students and local organizations, which led to the decision to write the letter to First Avenue.

“We decided to write this open letter to First Avenue because we knew that if we got their attention,” wrote Tran, “they would be willing to talk to us. Also, they were the ones that booked the Viet Cong band so we were hoping that after they read the letter they would want to meet up with us to have the concert canceled.” Tran added that she hopes in the proposed meeting, the letter writers can learn more about the venue’s perspective on the issue—but still, “we hope that they cancel the concert.”

Some have defended the band’s decision to keep their name. Among those who have spoken in support of the band is Andy Gill of Gang of Four, a British band that sparked criticism in the 1970s for taking their name from the post-Mao Chinese government’s term for Mao’s widow and three officials accused of being “counter-revolutionary.” Gill told Brooklyn Vegan that “it’s a little ridiculous to ban bands for their names.”

“We hope you receive this letter in the spirit it is intended,” concludes the letter to First Avenue, whose writers say they wished “to reach out, find understanding and empathy, and urge you to stand up for what is right—as we believe that ultimately we are all a part of one community and we must be in solidarity.”

  • Will Crain

    I can certainly see why someone who was driven out of their home country would not like the idea of a band naming itself after the people who drove them out. But if that’s how you feel, don’t go to the show. You probably don’t want to go see the Dead Kennedys, the Butthole Surfers or any other band with an offensive name, either.

    • Carl J Creighton

      Only somebody who doesn’t care about the name Viet Cong would say it’s the same as other things. That dismissive, patronizing attitude towards minority groups is the reason I left Minnesota and why this band should just change its name if it cares. Why have people rock out at somebody else’s expense? Just make music and call yourself something else!

      • Will Crain

        I don’t believe I was being patronizing or dismissive toward a minority group. And, yes, maybe the band should change its name. In the meantime, is the best response to try to prevent local clubs from hosting the band? I don’t think so.

        • Megan

          You were though, because it’s never as simple as not listening to them. You’d have to not listen to the Current, not see advertisements for their upcoming show around town. It’s a privilege to think it’d be as easy as to not go to the show.

          Did you read the explanation behind where the name came from? Full of ignorance and racist stereotyping. “[T]heir name was inspired by frontman Matt Flegel wielding his bass in a gun-like fashion. “All you need is a rice paddy hat and it would be so Viet Cong,” drummer Mike Wallace remembered telling Flegel, adding “we stopped on that sentence and thought it was a good idea.”

          The band themselves makes perfect points of why they absolutely should change the name:
          -When we named ourselves, we were naive about the history of a war in a country we knew very little about. We now better understand the weight behind the words Viet Cong.
          -we never meant to trivialise the atrocities or violence that occurred on both sides of the Vietnam war. We never intended for our name to be provocative or hurtful.
          -Flegel, however, told the Minnesota Daily on March 11 that the band has no intention of changing the name. “I mean, we could, but it has no deep meaning to me at all.

          But instead they are dismissing it because they don’t actually care, they are giving the standard non-apology.

          • Jane Sturges

            Besides, if the band name has no deep meaning to Flegel, then it has no deep meaning to anyone else. If you get mad at Indie White Band Dude, he’s just misunderstood, and you just need to relax.

            Absolutely ridiculous how much these guys look like uneducated, insensitive bros, with no complex thought about what people different from them might feel or think.

          • Megan

            I might be willing listen to their music if they had a different name. If they could own their mistake and admit it was wrong, and complete that acknowledgement by changing their name, I could respect them as people.

          • Will Crain

            I agree it’s a stupid name, and the band’s explanation of it is terrible. To be honest, when I first heard the band’s music I liked it, but the name and their attitude about it have kept me from listening any further. Still, I support an artist’s right to use a stupid name for dumb reasons. I don’t support a movement that tries to shut down a show because some people are offended by the band’s name. I would rather that these groups stand outside the show distributing literature, or invite the band to meet with them to discuss the issue. Hell, it would be awesome if they asked First Ave to host a show of Minnesota bands of Vietnamese descent. What they’re trying to do here is shut down speech they find offensive. I don’t want to go down that road.

          • alexis martinez

            Will Crain that is just as bad the band..policing how people should or should not respond is not your prerogative. Personally, if I was involved there would be a lot more going on then passing out flyers.First Ave. should cancel the appearance…failing that the community should mount a boycott, protests..or non violent acts of civil disobedience…

          • Will Crain

            The band has announced that it is going to change its name, so this may all be moot now, but I just want to say that I’m not trying to police how anyone should feel. People have a right to be offended. However, it doesn’t follow that you therefore have a right to silence other people who would offend you. My issue with the letter from the community groups is a matter of tactics. The kind of tactics you’re talking about — protests, boycotts, etc. — wouldn’t bother me as much as this letter did because that’s answering bad speech with speech, not a type of censorship. I’m old enough to remember the police trying to shut down shows by punk or hip-hop bands that had offended them. There are still parts of the country where Christian groups try to shut down artists who offend them. Yes, the power dynamic is different when it’s a small minority group that is offended, as opposed to the police or a large religious population, but tactics are important.

  • Bryan Strang

    It’s best to never mention the names of bad things. You can magically make them reappear.

  • Jane Sturges

    I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with the name if the comments from the band members weren’t so woefully inadequate. They just sound like insensitive, overprivileged idiots. They were like, “Oh you look cool, let’s name the band after a stereotype of a bloody and violent organization and then never acknowledge why that’s a crappy thing to do. In addition, we’ll go with the age-old refrain of ‘relax’ because that doesn’t sound patronizing and uneducated at all.”

    • Andy

      Also, what’s with the Sex Pistols? Why do we still allow a band with a name that does nothing but perpetuate rape and sexual violence to penetrate our airwaves to this day?

      Really, pussy riot? How could we celebrate a band whose name so clearly violates women’s rights?

      Let’s not forget Joy Division: a grand commemoration to the prostitutes of a Nazi concentration camp.

      We must shame and censor these bands whose names challenge cultural norms and morals.

      • To be white is to be racist

        What cultural norms are being challenged by a group of under-educated white children demanding that their decontextualized usage of a term tied to the murder and rape of women and children by American soldiers be accepted by all, including people whose families were impacted by our misguided wars?

        • Andy

          Hey Jane,

          What makes them under-educated? What information do you have that suggests their education makes them a bad fit for playing the 7th street entry?

          What significance does their education status have on the music they produce and is enjoyed by their fans?

          How are the names of the historical bands that I listed not as offensive or worthy of scrutiny?


  • Lenny B.

    I’m going to the show, but out of respect to the holier than thou folks that are offended for the sake of political correctness, I promise not to enjoy myself.

  • son nguyen

    Is this mean In USA Southern states, the name Yankee, Sherman or Union can not be used ?. Or in Vietnam now, the name Kenedy, Fulbright or Johnson can not be mention since these are former enemy president and diplomats name?. Heh, the is a Fulbright University is opening in Vietnam ….:-).
    Look like the Vietnamese America who are not accepting the current Vietnam Flag in US campus (or the name VC) even US already have diplomatic relation ( they are relatively Close ally now) and 16500 Vietnamese students are studying in USA :-).
    ” Those who continue to live in the past has no future”

    • Tom

      So are you viet cong..?

  • Duncan Robak

    punk rock is dead

  • PM

    The name Viet Cong stands for terrorism to the people who were affected by them. Why a peaceful band would pick such name to represent themselves? How would people in the world now feel if some musicians would name their band ISIS?

    • Josh Van De Haven

      there IS a band called ISIS, and they were named that long before the terrorist group, should they be forced to change their name then?

  • alexis martinez

    This is the same sentiment that Washington Redskin fans and owners seem to express… Chill out.. we don’t mean anything by this ..get over it…It might be a whole different thing if the group was made up by Vietnamese musicians…but the fact that it is always White folks doing this sort of thing.. It is always people of color..who are to sensitive..or have a bad sense of humor…but there is a long history of this kind of benign form of racism http://johnbiggsoklahomawriter.com/tag/chink-rink/