If you’ve never been to a Pink Mass show and your idea of BDSM is 50 Shades of Grey, then grab your smelling salts for this one. Even I found myself flinching at photos of the band’s live performances– gory scenes of large, sweat-soaked men sheathed in balls-to-the-wall bondage gear, bending into various shapes of mastering and submitting, and abiding strictly by the band’s stated “personal interests”:
Though they call themselves “pansexual pervert punk,” Pink Mass is more metal than punk, which might be why I was worried about seeing them live. I don’t get the willies when, say, punk bands like Dawn of Humans chain cinder blocks to their nethers. But I’ve never felt at home in the metal scene, a notoriously unwelcoming place for women like myself and, as I’ve been told, for people of color and the LGBTQ community. Then again, neither have the guys in Pink Mass.
“In the punk crowd, the queer thing is pretty accepted,” lead singer Trevor Pason told me recently, shortly before performing at Home Sweet Home for Infinite Darkness, the metal-themed art show happening at The Lodge Gallery next door. “But in the metal crowd it’s still a little stiff and weird.”
The band’s drummer agreed. “Oh, yeah, it’s taboo,” Sam Sherek said.
I first found out about Pink Mass in December, when a stranger reached out to me with a warning that the notorious Proud Boys were planning to crash their show at St. Vitus in Greenpoint. At least, that’s what they’d been instructed to do in a Facebook post by their acting godhead Gavin McInnes. The Vice co-founder turned far-right pundit wrote that an “antifa band” would be playing the venue. “These are the faggots who called our employers,” he wrote. “Let’s wreck their shit!”
The Proud Boys are united by a few things, including their allegiance to “Western chauvinism” and love for Donald Trump, whom they affectionately refer to as “Daddy.” Back in November, several Proud Boys were targeted by Antifa in a blog post that aimed to “unmask the Alt Right in the NYC metro area” by sharing the personal information (including names of employers) of the so-called “Pasty Bootlickers.” A commenter on McInnes’s Facebook post claimed that “the source of the article” would be at the Pink Mass show.
According to Pink Mass, the whole thing was a bunch of hot air– the Proud Boys were huffing and puffing for a real reason, but any notion of the band’s involvement with the Antifa articles was the result of a case of mistaken identity. As the anarchist/anti-fascist blog IdaVox wrote, “McInnes erroneously believes that Pink Mass is associated” with the Antifa campaign. Guitar player Josh Walton laughed when I brought up the incident, and pointed out that not only was McInnes wrong, he couldn’t even get the band’s name right: “It just goes to show how much research they put into anything.”
Every member of Pink Mass had something to say about the Proud Boys, but they agreed that the ensuing drama and social media frenzy had boosted ticket sales dramatically. “It was an insane show,” said Connor Fleming, the guitar player known as Scuz.
Tension was high at the show. Josh recalled eavesdropping on audience members, and feared that some were “scouting” out the place. Not only had St. Vitus hired extra security, but Antifa activists showed up in droves, ready for a fight.
“It was cool, though– at the end there were [Antifa] guys with bandanas making sure everyone was safe leaving the show,” Trevor said. “St. Vitus hired extra security. So many people came out in solidarity with us, just making sure that we felt safe.”
Trevor chimed in, dismissing the whole thing as “a joke.” But it was actually Pason who would have been the major target had anything actually gone down–even though it was his father who was “affiliated with Antifa” some 30 years ago (when Pason was just eight and his father was running as a Socialist Party candidate for US Senate, their address was posted by white supremacist site Stormfront). “So when the article came out about Proud Boys, it got pinned on my dad. So obviously that got pinned on us,” Trevor explained.
Though he was said to be a no-show at the December performance, McInnes is sticking to his guns. “Many of my fellow Proud Boys recently had Antifa harassing their employers,” he wrote just last month. “We were told many of these irritating busybodies were associated with a band called Pink Mass.”
Much like punk, the metal genre has seen its share of extremists, from “NSBM” (Nationalist Socialist Black Metal) bands playing Nazi dress-up to Nordic neo-pagans setting fire to churches, to Mayhem, the Norwegian band that that honored their dead bandmate (incidentally named “Death”) by snapping a photo of his bloody, suicide-slain corpse and making it their album cover. Though metal is mostly a harmless subculture that has more in common with LARPing than devil worship, it does have its share of intolerance and ignorance.
“There are so many death metal bands that are overtly misogynistic, overtly fucked up when it comes to sexuality and gender,” Josh said. “And we’re offering the alternative– we still have that ferocity but we’re saying, ‘These guys are fuckin’ wrong.’ You can be into the aesthetic, but have a fuckin’ head on your shoulders.”
Pink Mass doesn’t just hand out rainbow flag stickers– they’re going all the way with leather bondage, fishnets, and lots and lots of skin. But a drag show lip-sync this is not. “There are a lot of bands who sort of do that from this very male-gendered perspective,” Josh told me. “And we’re trying to be more inclusive of the queer community.”
The all-queer foursome is a hometown-BFFs kind of band from Montclair, New Jersey, that has been playing together for over a decade. As a bunch of metal nerds who’ve maintained deep ties to the New York City metal scene, they know how to reach people without alienating them. “We’ll get really serious metalhead guys who wanna not like us, because they will see us and think that we’re a joke,” Josh explained. “But then they hear the music, and they like it, which makes them even more uncomfortable. And seeing them uncomfortable just makes me so happy.”
Clearly, inclusiveness doesn’t have to mean kittens and rainbows. But more importantly, Pink Mass is proof that queer visibility– which could easily be dismissed by naysayers as another example of “PC culture”– doesn’t have to be some hum-drum, acronym-heavy, diversity workshop-type affair (which everyone hates already anyway, including Michelle Obama). The band’s Facebook page kinda says it all: “CONJURING THE UNHOLY POWERS OF SEX, SATAN AND VIOLENCE TO DESTROY THE EARS AND GENITALS OF EARTH’S HUMAN FILTH. BDSMorDIE.”
“With BDSM, there’s that intensity of what people might perceive as violent,” Josh explained. “But it’s consensual.”
Pink Mass’s live show at Home Sweet Home a couple weeks back did not disappoint– they are as confrontational and aggressive as their aesthetic would would suggest. Just when the music was about to start, the art show’s curator, Jason Voegele, did his best to round up the gallery-goers. “Pink Mass is about to go on,” he screamed. “And they’re getting naked!”
By invoking “taboo sexuality,” Pink Mass are not simply aiming to shock people. “We bring all the intensity of a typical grind or black metal band, but there’s a kind of tongue-in-cheek element,” Josh explained. “It’s kind of like seeing Gwar, but the music is way more extreme than that.”
Trevor added, “On one hand, it’s a satire of metal aesthetics, and on the other, it’s an invitation to repeal taboos. Because, hey, whatever you’re into, as long as everybody’s down.”
Josh described Pink Mass’s approach as “making fun of [metal] and embracing it all at the same time.” That might explain why the band attracts at least two very distinct groups– from straight-up metalheads to “people who don’t like metal at all and just think what we’re doing is interesting”– what Jason Voegele from The Lodge Gallery referred to as “the art crowd.”
Pink Mass reminded me again and again that the Proud Boys thing was a strange incident, but not a defining feature of the band, and that their music almost “comes first.” Still, they couldn’t help but point out that their timing seems especially on-point. “We started this band before everything got as polarized as it is right now,” Trevor explained.
Josh chimed in: “This is definitely the best time for us to be a band–the Proud Boys are the perfect enemy for us to have– it’s comic book-like, almost.”