RedTouchBlack | photo by Roger Segal | courtesy of the artist
Recommended Reading: Members of RedTouchBlack and Jesus Piece open up about being Black in the heavy music scene
When protests against police violence and racism rose up across the country this spring, it sparked a parallel conversation about the need to elevate Black voices in all aspects of culture and society. Earlier this month, The Key’s Alex Smith posed a question to those in the music industry who made moves throughout June to celebrate Black music and art: will this practice continue once the uprisings are seen as being “over”?
Two stories that crossed my news feed in recent weeks find members of Philly’s RedTouchBlack and Jesus Piece continuing the conversation in a poignant way — discussing what it’s like to be a Black artist making music in the predominantly white heavy rock and punk scenes.
In an essay for Magnet Magazine‘s Isolation Drills series, RedTouchBlack’s Adam Geer recounts a story about experiencing racism as a child in upstate New York — where, at age 10, he was profiled by a middle-aged white man while shopping with his mother in a department store. He goes on to reflect about how he navigates racial tensions in South Philly, where he currently lives, as well as in the music scene. RedTouchBlack makes dense, enthralling, Black Sabbath-inspired rock, and Geer says “I have always felt largely welcome in the scene, especially in Philly.” But still, he says, he’s “keenly aware of my blackness as the frontman for a heavy rock band.”
After so many shows, I have become comfortable with being the only black person at a venue. (Let’s face it, not many of my black friends listen to the band Sleep.) Even so, I constantly scan faces and jacket patches for any indication that I’m not wanted. I also know I’ll never have long locks of hair that I can head bang with. Long straight hair is to psychedelic rock as dreadlocks are to reggae. It gives a band a certain legitimacy. And that’s why I wear a do-rag. Somewhere in my mind I believe the appearance of my do-rag swaying back and forth makes me, and therefore my music, more accessible to a predominantly white audience. It’s also my tribute to the fact that rock music is inherently black music.
Meanwhile, an interview over at Hard Noise — the longform music journalism spinoff of the punk-scene satarizing site The Hard Times — finds Aaron Heard of hardcore band Jesus Piece (as well as Nothing, and Hell to Pay) offering his own perspective on a similar topic. The interview opens with Heard discussing what his primary band has been up to during quarantine, and how the Black Lives Matter uprising inspired a creative spurt: “My problems with writing this new record have been that I haven’t been very angry lately but when all this shit started going on, I got fired the fuck up again. It’s time to use the platform. I have things to do.” Heard opens up further about being physically threatened at an Irish pub in suburban Detroit while touring with Nothing, as well as fan backlash for Jesus Piece promoting a Black Lives Matter shirt.
A bizarro group of people found our music and are just numbskulls. How the hell did you get into this music not realizing that this is like counterculture? I think that concept of keeping politics out of hardcore is complete dog shit. If you feel that politics should stay out of hardcore, you’re around for the wrong reasons, and probably a little racist on the inside. It isn’t so much of a political thing — this is a humanitarian crisis.