Ace of Cups ouster raises questions about black metal, safe spaces

Panzerfaust was set to perform at the Columbus venue in mid-July before management booted the band citing ‘white supremacy and far right ideologies,’ charges the Canadian metal trio vigorously denied.
Ace of Cups
Ace of CupsAndy Downing

Canadian black metal trio Panzerfaust has made its opinion of so-called “safe spaces” clear, even selling a band T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “This is not a fucking safe space.”

So, one can imagine the group’s reaction in the aftermath of being asked to leave Ace of Cups, where Panzerfaust had been slated to open for Profanatica on July 14 in a concert booked at the Old North venue by long-time Columbus rock and heavy metal promoter Christopher Wood of Starwood Presents. In a since-deleted Facebook post, screen caps of which were preserved by Matter News, Ace of Cups management wrote that the band’s removal was triggered by what it described as the group's alignment “with white supremacy and far right ideologies.”

“We are all truly sorry for not catching it sooner and we accept responsibility for not preventing this before it happened,” Ace of Cups wrote, later adding, “We want to create a space that is safe for others to enjoy live music and events in.”

Panzerfaust denied all of the charges in posts on social media, calling the allegations of harboring white supremacist and far-right ideologies “defamatory and slanderous.” (Replying to an email request for an interview, guitarist Brock Van Dijk wrote that the group was in the midst of a legal case against Ace of Cups and would need to clear any press with its attorneys; the band did not reply to a subsequent email.)

“If Ace of Cups has any evidence – present it now. No such evidence has, or ever will, exist,” the band wrote. “For any of those who – despite any evidence – continue to entertain these absurd notions, let us be the first to tell you to take a number, get in line, and kiss our fucking asses.” The message was accompanied by an image of the three band members standing outside the Chicago rock venue Reggies, scowls on their faces, middle fingers extended to the camera. 

But this is not the first time Panzerfaust has released a statement to deflect criticisms, which in the past have been levied against everything from its name – taken from a portable anti-tank system developed by Nazi Germany in World War II and shared with a now-defunct, Minnesota-based hate rock music distributor – to an appearance by the band members at a January 2022 “Freedom Convoy” protest in Ottawa. Initiated as a protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions, the event was attended by individuals who carried Nazi and Confederate flags, harassed staff members at a homeless shelter and urinated on war memorials.

“Although we have spoken on this matter many times. Let us be absolutely clear as we repeat it for the people in the back: Panzerfaust is not a Nazi Band. Panzerfaust is not a white nationalist band. Panzerfaust is not a Far-right band,” the band posted in the days after appearing at the Canadian trucker protests. “Panzerfaust is, at its core, an apolitical entity.”

Cory Hajde, co-founder of BravoArtist and part owner of Ace of Cups, said the decision to remove Panzerfaust from the venue was triggered in part by a jacket worn by one of the band members that featured an emblem believed by a staff member to be reminiscent of the early German “Imperial Eagle,” a symbol later combined with the swastika and adopted as a national emblem by Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Party. 

“And if you’re riding that line, I’m just going to associate you with that at this point, and I want nothing to do with it,” said Hajde, who described hate-based ideologies as a long-running problem in metal, citing the incident in which Pantera singer Phil Anselmo shouted “white power” from the stage while giving the Nazi "Sieg Heil" salute during a 2016 concert – actions Anselmo later described as a joke. “It’s our venue, and we have to let people know we’re going to do better about researching who we have in here … so that we can avoid having people in our space who ultimately feel like they are dangerous – and maybe not physically dangerous, but that can invoke those kinds of situations.”

The marquee at Ace of Cups highlighting the July 14 show with Profanatica and Panzerfaust
The marquee at Ace of Cups highlighting the July 14 show with Profanatica and PanzerfaustAndy Downing

Issues related to white supremacy and racism have long infected heavy metal, and particularly the world of black metal, which beginning in the early 1990s incubated the rise of National Socialist black metal. N.S.B.M., a relatively small subset of the genre, has harbored neo-Nazi acts including Ukraine band M818th, which incorporated passages from speeches by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels into its music, and Der Stürmer, from Greece, which took its name from an anti-Semitic German newspaper whose editor, Julius Streicher, was convicted during the Nuremberg trials, and then executed. (Worthington native Andrew Anglin would later adopt the newspaper’s name for his neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer.)

The deep-rooted connections to white supremacy, fascism, racism, misogyny, homophobia and other bigoted viewpoints in certain narrow strains of black metal have continued to make the larger genre a target for critics, putting a number of its practitioners on the defensive – including Panzerfaust and the heavy metal band Uada, from Portland, Oregon, which has also had to fend off past accusations of affiliations with the far right. 

Recently, Uada canceled a planned September concert at Ace of Cups in a show of support for Panzerfaust, relocating the gig to No Class in Cleveland. “We send our support and applaud Panzerfaust for acting quickly in standing firm against those who have tried to sabotage without means,” the band wrote on Instagram. “May the boots of war continue to trample the snakes and vultures of this world and the karmatic hammer swing and serve swiftly.” (Christoper Wood of Starwood Presents, the Columbus promoter who booked both the Panzerfaust and Uada concerts, declined comment for this story.)

Matt Hawk of longtime Ohio hard rock and heavy metal booking company Sun Valley Presents said that he will sometimes spend hours researching bands prior to confirming a show, wary of connections to hateful ideologies that can be present, particularly within black metal.

“One thing I do if I’m not familiar with the wording, like the Panzerfaust thing, is to look it up. And that would have sent flags up for me, like, ‘We might have a problem here,’” Hawk said. “And then if there’s artwork, or they use some symbol, I’m on the computer playing detective, spending hours looking things up on the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) hate symbols database. … I’ve had shows in basements and attics and laundromats, and in doing these DIY shows, I need to hold to DIY ethics. You need to make sure you’re not putting on something harmful, or something that can make somebody feel uncomfortable in that space.”

Shane Merrill, one of the booking agents at Reggies, the Chicago venue that hosted the Profanatica/Panzerfaust concert that immediately followed the date at Ace of Cups, said via email that hosting black metal shows requires extensive research and homework, and there was nothing in Panzerfaust’s history that raised any immediate red flags. “There are some cool bands [in black metal], but also some bands that don’t jive with views we want to support, although after spending years looking into it, I’ve found there are fewer actual racists and bigoted views in these bands versus what the public perceives (some of this due to their own anonymity and decide for mystery),” Merrill wrote. “Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of Nazis, and as Barney [Greenway] and Jello [Biafra] say in unison, they can fuck off.”

Many of the concerns surfaced by the Panzerfaust cancellation have intensified in the current political and social climate, increasing pressure on concert promoters to at times take a more public stance. The rapper and concert promoter Sam Rothstein, who books shows at venues such as Skully’s and Double Happiness with his company At Work Agency, said the Ace of Cups situation raised a number of questions, from the dog-whistle aspects of the group’s moniker (“I can’t get around the name Panzerfaust, like, that’s the fucking name of your band, what do you expect people to think?”) to the harsh business realities of the post-COVID concert industry that could lead some promoters to take a less hardline stance in relation to the artists they choose to bring in.

“I do think we’ll get to a point where venues are going to get desperate enough that they will book things that don’t align with their beliefs, and where they’re making a financial decision over a principled decision,” said Rothstein, who used as an example the Canadian rapper Tom McDonald, who stakes out hard-right political positions on songs such as “Snowflake” and “Stay Woke.” “If Tom McDonald wanted to book a show at Skully’s, it would undoubtedly sell really, really well. But I don’t agree with that dude, and I don’t like what he says, and I don't like his views on race. And it’s within my power to say yes or no to that show. But then, am I doing right by the venue if I’m passing on a big show? And I think that’s a position a lot of talent buyers and bookers get themselves in. We want to do right by the venue, and sometimes you just have to do a show that sells well. But then at what cost?”

Hajde said he’s dealt with these realities in the past, passing on potential shows by acts that had been “canceled or soft-canceled” in the public realm. “Maybe they’ve been engaged in something you would deem dangerous to platform in your space, and in those cases, we’ll just tell the agent, ‘Hey, we’re uncomfortable booking this,’” said Hajde, who has declined shows by artists who have been accused of abusing power dynamics for sexual gain, among other charges. “We’ve seen this in the past, but there are going to be situations where you have to act. And even if you don’t want to take a personal stance on how you think that situation developed, you need to listen to the community. And if they don’t feel safe, you just take the show down and move on with your life.”

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