The Slants

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The Slants
The Slants by Gage Skidmore.jpg
The Slants performing in September 2016.
Background information
Also known as Slants
Origin Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Genres Rock, synthpop, electroclash
Years active 2006–present
Labels Independent
Associated acts The Stivs
Website www.theslants.com
Members Simon "Young" Tam - Bass
Ken Shima - Lead Vocals
Joe X. Jiang - Guitar
Past members AC (drums)
Alex Racho (drums)
Aimee Scarlett (vocals)
Aron Moxley (lead vocals)
Gaijin (Michael Pacheco) (keys)
Gwei Lo (Pete Compton) (guitar)
Jen Cho (keys)
Johnny Fontanilla (guitar)
Jon Bailey (drums)
Ken Simon
Thai Dao (keys/guitar)
Tyler Chen (drums)
Will Moore (guitar)
Yuya Matsuda (drums)

The Slants are considered the world's first and only all Asian-American dance-rock band.[1][2][3] The band was founded by Simon Tam (also known as Simon Young) in 2006 in Portland, Oregon. Often compared with 80’s synth-pop bands such as Depeche Mode, New Order, and Joy Division, as well as modern acts such as The Killers and The Bravery, the band refers to their sound as "Chinatown Dance Rock".[4][5] All members of the current lineup are of Asian Pacific Islander descent and they are well known for their involvement with the community, often playing at large cultural festivals and anime conventions, and fighting racist ideas/stereotypes.[6] The band is well known in legal circles due to their battle with the United States Trademark Office, which went before the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Matal v. Tam, and was decided unanimously in their favor.[7]

Formation[edit]

The band was originally formed after posting ads to local classifieds, Craigslist and online ads. The process took two years to finalize the initial line-up.[8] Over the years, the lineup has evolved with different members stepping into the role, all with the common thread of identifying with Asian American culture.

The band name, The Slants, was derived from several sources. The first is the band members' perspective or 'slant' on life, the second, as a musical reference. The founder/bassist, Simon Young, stated

"It actually sounds like a fun, 80s, New Wave-kind of band. And it’s a play on words. We can share our personal experiences about what it’s like being people of color—our own slant on life, if you will. It’s also a musical reference. There are slant guitar chords that we use in our music." [9]

The third source of their band's name—a reference to their ethnic identity (see Epicanthic fold)—was the subject of a protracted legal debate.[10] After the band's request to register their trademark was denied, they unsuccessfully appealed to the Trademark Trails and Appeals Board. In December 2015, a federal appeals court overturned a previous ruling that upheld the United States Patent and Trademark Office's rejection of the band's application by striking down part of a law that allowed the government to reject trademarks it deemed offensive or disparaging to others.[11] The majority opinion stated, in part, that "[w]hatever our personal feelings about the mark at issue here, or other disparaging marks, the First Amendment forbids government regulators to deny registration because they find speech likely to offend others."[12] The band's frontman Simon Tam explained that while the First Amendment should protect the band's right to use the name regardless of their reasons, they had chosen the name in order "to undercut slurs about Asian-Americans that band members heard in childhood, not to promote them."[13]

The current line-up features lead singer Ken Shima, bassist Simon Tam, and guitarist Joe X. Jiang.

History[edit]

The Slants were founded in Portland, OR by Simon Tam in 2006 and known as the first and only all Asian synth-pop band in North America. Though relatively new to the scene, a performance at Kumoricon launched the band into a series of larger gigs.[14] After performing at music halls, colleges, and anime conventions they released their debut Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts. The album was listed in the top 5 Asian-American albums of 2007 by AsiaXpress[15] and has won accolades such as “Album of the Year” from the Portland Music Awards,[16] Willamette Week, RockWired, and others. The Slants were cited as the "Hardest Working Asian American Band"[17] The Slants were named the world’s first Asian Fender Music spotlight artist.[18]

In 2008, The Slants competed in Bodog Music Battle of the Bands for the opportunity to be featured on the Fuse TV reality show and win a $1 million recording contract.[19] The band consistently placed first in every round of the competition. However, when they learned that they would be required to sign a 73-page non-negotiable contract in order to continue the competition, they dropped out. The band reasoned: "This was just not the right fit for our band at this time – or any band, really."[20] By the end of 2008, the band had been featured in over 1,200 magazines, radio stations, websites, and television shows for their self-proclaimed "Chinatown Dance Rock," including a feature on NPR's "All Things Considered" that blasted across 700 FM stations across the country for months. The following year, The Slants headlined a SXSW showcase (other acts at the festival included Katy Perry, Metallica, and Devo) and launched several more tours spanning North America.

In 2009, the band released a collection of Dance Dance Revolution-styled remixes of their debut album, "Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts" and donated 100% of the profits to cancer research for Asian women.[21]. 2010 saw the release of The Slants' third album, "Pageantry." Pageantry featured a number of local icons including Cory Gray (The Decemberists), Krista Herring, Mic Crenshaw, and Gabe Kniffin (Silversafe). In 2011, The Slants were featured on the front page of the Oregonian for fighting the United States Patent and Trademark Office over the right to protect their name.[22] In the same year The Slants were added to the Armed Forces Entertainment roster and invited to perform for active troops serving overseas.[23][24] In 2012, The Slants released The Yellow Album.[25] The Slants shared the stage with acts such as apl.de.ap (of The Black Eyed Peas), Vampire Weekend, Girl Talk, Girugamesh, M.O.V.E and Boom Boom Satellites.[26]

In 2014, Ken Shima joined the band as lead singer.[27] In 2015, the band embarked on their 22nd national tour, called "Slantsgiving," to promote their upcoming album release and a new smartphone designed by Neoix.[28] The band released Something Slanted This Way Comes, a compilation album of their previous hits re-recorded featuring the vocals of new lead singer Ken Shima. On December 22, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in favor of The Slants regarding the trademark case against the United States Trademark and Patent Office who had sought to prevent The Slants from trademarking their name considering it offensive towards people of Asian descent.[29] The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.[30]

In 2016, the band worked with Rukus Avenue in collaboration with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to release a song in support the #AcToChange anti-bullying movement. The song, From the Heart, made headlines for speaking directly to the Trademark Office's oppressive actions that eventually led the band before the Supreme Court.[31] In 2017, the band released their extended play The Band Who Must Not Be Named. Later that month Simon Tam and the rest of the band appeared before the Supreme Court in an effort to gain the trademark over their band name, "bringing a seven-year Freedom of Speech battle closer to conclusion".[32] The outcome has drawn the attention of the Washington Redskins, whose similar case could be affected by the outcome.[33] The case has been described as a fight for free speech, and countering a "submissive" stereotype of Asian Americans.[34] The Slants began their "The Band Who Must Not Be Named" tour in the United States on March 31. [35] On June 19, 2017, it was reported that The Slants had won their case.[7]

Musical style[edit]

The Slants describe themselves as "Chinatown Dance Rock" and are often compared to electro rock bands such as The Faint or early 80's synthpop groups such as Depeche Mode, Japan, The Cure, Duran Duran, The Cult, and Joy Division.[36] Critics also compare The Slants with modern artists such as The Killers, VNV Nation, and Mindless Self-Indulgence.[37]

The Slants have garnered a niche fan-base of otaku as a result of their appearances at anime conventions. The band has also been featured in the shōjo manga magazine Shojo Beat,[38] as well as partnering with the magazine and Sakura-Con for a Hello Kitty guitar contest.[39]

Discography[edit]

  • Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts (2007)
  • Slants! Slants! Revolution (2009)
  • Pageantry (2010)
  • The Yellow Album (2012)
  • Something Slanted This Way Comes (2016)
  • The Band Who Must Not Be Named - EP (2017)

Activism and philanthropy[edit]

Since the its origins, The Slants have been involved with social justice organizations across the country to bring more attention to issues pertaining to marginalized communities. On a local level, the band worked with groups like the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon to build a new community center, revitalize a neighborhood through economic prosperity initiatives, and voter registration campaigns. [40]. Internationally, the band helped raise money to rescue North Korean refugees through Liberty in Korea.

In 2009, they released a special remix album where 100% of profits were donated to help fund research on the disparities faced by Asian women in cancer research. [41].

In 2011-2012, they toured military bases for troops serving overseas to highlight diverse experiences shortly after the high-profile suicide of Danny Chen [42]. In addition, they were invited by the Oregon State Penitentiary's Asian Club to perform for inmates [43]. In 2017, they were invited to participate in President Barack Obama's Act to Change campaign by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to aid in the campaign against bullying. The compilation album released as a result ironically included the band's single, From The Heart, which served as an "open letter to the Trademark Office" [44], released one month before the band appeared before the Supreme Court.

In 2018, The Slants started their own nonprofit organization to provide mentoring and scholarships to aspiring artist-activists of color [45].

Supreme Court case[edit]

In a 2017 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Disparagement Clause in the Lanham Act was unconstitutional. The case came about because The Slants had been refused registration of their trademark.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Oregon Music News: The World's Only Asian American Dance Rockers Archived 2011-07-23 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ Channel APA: How the Wicked Live
  3. ^ Azn Lover: The Slants exclusive interview
  4. ^ Seattle Weekly: Live Music Roundup Archived 2013-12-03 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ theslants.com
  6. ^ The Slants: Trading in Stereotypes on NPR's "All Things Considered"
  7. ^ a b Chappell, Bill (June 19, 2017). "The Slants Win Supreme Court Battle Over Band's Name In Trademark Dispute". NPR. Retrieved June 19, 2017. 
  8. ^ An interview with the rock/synth/electro band that frequents anime conventions on IGN.com
  9. ^ TIME Magazine “The Slants” Suit: Asian-American Band Goes to Court Over Name
  10. ^ "Government Can't Deny Trademarks Over Offensive Names, Appeals Court Rules". NPR. 
  11. ^ Gardner, Eriq Rock Band Wins First Amendment Appeal Over "Disparaging" Trademarks Hollywood Reporter. December 26, 2015
  12. ^ "Government Can't Deny Trademarks Over Offensive Names, Appeals Court Rules". NPR. Retrieved 23 December 2015. 
  13. ^ Sandomir, Richard. "Ruling Could Help Washington Redskins in Trademark Case". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 December 2015. 
  14. ^ Horton, Jay. "Slanted & Enchanted: Asian dance-pop band rocks anime convention, melts stereotypes". Willamette Week. Retrieved 18 September 2007. 
  15. ^ Top 5 Asian-American albums in 2007 - The Slants - Asiaxpress.com - Features
  16. ^ Portland Music Awards
  17. ^ "Hardest Working Asian American Indie Band Done Good". Slant Eye For The Round Eye. Retrieved 20 December 2007. 
  18. ^ :: Fender.com Featured Artist: The Slants ::
  19. ^ Asian Rock Band The Slants Sweeps Northwest Semi-Regional Finals in Bodog Music Battle of the Bands to Secure Place in TV Series - Anime News Network
  20. ^ The Slants turn down chance to win recording contract, TV spot
  21. ^ The Slants Get Remixed for Cancer on antimusic.com
  22. ^ Portland band the Slants and the United States government ask: What's in a name? - The Oregonian
  23. ^ The Slants on Armed Forces Entertainment
  24. ^ Operation Gratitude: The Slants bring APIA rock to Sarajevo on Asian American Press
  25. ^ Willamette Week: Album Review: The Slants
  26. ^ Animecons.com biography for The Slants
  27. ^ The Slants [@theslants] (4 November 2014). "Get to know The Slants: Ken Shima, lead singer. Ken is a Japanese American and the newest member of the band..." (Tweet) – via Twitter. 
  28. ^ [1]
  29. ^ [2]
  30. ^ Liptak, Adam (29 September 2016). "Law on Disparaging Trademarks Gets Supreme Court Review". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 September 2016. 
  31. ^ Rock Band Releases Song for Supreme Court Trademark Battle
  32. ^ Kreps, Daniel (9 January 2017). "Asian-American Group The Slants Head to Supreme Court Over Band Name". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 20 January 2017. 
  33. ^ Liptak, Adam (18 January 2017). "Justices Appear Willing to Protect Offensive Trademarks". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 20 January 2017. 
  34. ^ Raleigh, Helen (25 March 2017). "4 Landmark Cases Asian-Americans Brought That Helped Shape Our Nation". The Federalist. Alexandria, Virginia. Retrieved 25 March 2017. 
  35. ^ [3]
  36. ^ The Slants' Electronic Presskit on Sonicbids
  37. ^ Frantikmag's Review of Pageantry
  38. ^ press
  39. ^ Asian Dance-Rock Band The Slants Give Away Fender Hello Kitty Guitar - Anime News Network
  40. ^ APANO's Sit Down with The Slants
  41. ^ New Slants Remix Album: Slants! Slants! Revolution
  42. ^ The Slants Bring APIA Rock to Sarajevo
  43. ^ Simon Tam's TEDxUCR Talk - How to Talk With a White Supremacist
  44. ^ Act to Change Working to Fight Bullying and Oppression
  45. ^ The Slants - We Did a Thing

External links[edit]