Originally named after the guerilla communist force that resisted the American forces (and its allies, including Australia) during the Vietnam War, the Canadian band found themselves subject to picketed protests and even a few cancelled gigs (such as their planned Melbourne gig in 2014) courtesy of their controversial moniker.
Much of the outrage over Preoccupations’ old name emanated from the migrant Vietnamese communities in America, Australia and other countries, basically because the actual Viet Cong abused and killed many of their relatives during the communist takeover of Vietnam during the 1960s and 70s.
In fact, the plight of those escaping ‘nam and other south-east Asian nations at the time – many of whom were offered asylum in Australia – played its part in the final dismantling of the White Australia Policy, thus helping to craft Australia’s image as a free, liberal, immigrant and multicultural nation.
The band – in an earlier interview about the controversy over their name – didn’t do much for themselves when they described the Viet Cong as “badasses” (sic).
As with all social controversies, there has been plenty of argument in the media.
While sources like Vulture are applauding the development as Preoccupations “finally changing their offensive name”, others have argued that being counter-cultural and/or provocative is part of rock’s DNA, pointing to such band names as Joy Division (named after brothels in concentration camps), the Dead Kennedys (both President John Kennedy and his younger politician brother were assassinated in public), and grindcore favourite, Anal Cunt.
In a Facebook statement detailing their name change, the band said: “We apologize to those who were adversely affected by our former band name. This was never anticipated nor our intent. We are artists and not politicians, we understand that the name reflected pain to some individuals and we are happy to change it and move on and focus on our music.”
Speaking to Pitchfork in a coinciding interview, frontman Matt Flegel added: “The backlash was totally fair, in all respects…I really couldn’t care less what the name of our band is, and especially don’t care about the band name Viet Cong to fight for it…
“We were pretty naive, and pretty ignorant on the subject. We know a lot more now. If we knew what we know now then we would definitely not call the band that. I personally didn’t put any thought into it.”
Flegel also explained why it took so long for the band find a new name, saying that the fact that they were focusing on recording their as-yet-untitled new album was compounded by the fact that “it’s hard to find [a band name] that hasn’t been taken”.
Anyway, onwards and upwards. Preoccupations are set to scoot off on a mini-tour of mainly festival dates in North America and Europe, where they plan to play some new material, with the next full release surely to follow not too long after.
WATCH: Preoccupations – Silhouettes