The Agit Reader

This Is Not a Death From Above Concert Review

October 30th, 2017  |  by Brian O'Neill  |  4 Comments

I absolutely love You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. It came out when I just started working in a record store in Columbus. I was the metal buyer, but the beautiful thing about that store was how eager the other employees were to share music they loved, and a lot of it stuck. The hip-hop buyer played me Madvillain and MF Doom, while the indie rock guy turned me onto Dungen and Interpol. And there was Death From Above 1979 (as they were known back then). Not sure who played it first, but immediately it filled my love for the almighty riff, chugging fast and furious, like Robert Plant wailing over punky thrash.

I broke out that disc to play just now and was shocked to find it has a sticker on it imploring people to vote. This wasn’t specific to this album, though. Warner Music Group stuck it on a whole bunch of albums by different bands, including The Donnas, who were not going to be confused with Rage Against the Machine for socio-political discourse.

Yet, politics is why despite having tickets waiting for me to review DFA’s date in Philadelphia tonight for The Agit Reader I stayed home, listening to the band’s 13 year-old debut and feeling disillusioned.

Just a couple days before the show, an article was posted at Medium that brought up DFA leader Jesse Keeler’s uncomfortable chummy relationship with Gavin McInnes. McInnes co-founded Vice back in the mid-90s. The magazine–turned–media company was often accused of misogyny, but that’s small potatoes to what McInnes has done since. He managed to supposedly get banned from Fox News for being too racist (which is no mean feat) when he called Jada Pinkett Smith a “monkey actress.”

McInnes’ defenders will call him a provocateur. They say he’s edgy. They claim everyone should lighten up, he’s only kidding.

Similarly, it’s one thing to have an asshole for a friend. It’s another thing to follow that asshole down the wormhole that is destroying this country. And that’s what Keller did.

Keller was a frequent guest on McInnes’ podcast. As the Medium piece says, “He is on there not to argue with Gavin, but to talk about common interests like pro-gun issues and crypto anti-immigrant subjects like ‘how England is losing its identity.’” They even spent last year’s Presidential Election Day together. And this is where things get really sketchy because McInnes has gone from Libertarian-minded douche-bro to a full-fledged gateway drug to the alt-right cesspool. See him in his Skrewdriver shirt and an alleged White Power tattoo. His defenders will likely call it ironic. He is a hipster after all. But he also started a group called Proud Boys. I’m not going to even go into what his apologists say about the self-described “pro-West fraternal organization.” You only need to know what the Southern Poverty Law Center said of the group:

Despite McInnes’s protestations on social media and elsewhere, he’s devised, perhaps inadvertently, the most fertile “in-real-life” recruiting ground for white nationalists and anti-Semites within today’s organized far-right.

Keller went on the podcast half a dozen times. He was there to stick up for gun culture and, as Cracked Magazine excerpted, anti-Muslim views:

In Episode 133 of The Gavin McInnes Show, from April 2016, Keeler made an appearance on the podcast to discuss the presence of Muslim individuals in Luton, and British identity. Before Keeler’s appearance, McInnes talked about how guest Tommy Robinson “noticed that Muslims don’t assimilate.” As Keeler came on the show, he said, “I’m excited about Tommy Robinson now.” McInnes discussed how “there’s dozens of mosques” in Luton, and Keeler described his experience: “I walked blocks and blocks and blocks, no pub.” He followed up with the comment, “You’re in Britain by name.”

The two segued onto the discussion of “social justice warriors”, on which Keeler said, “Is it that the social justice warriors have no kids so they’re not interested in the future? Is that part of it? They’re just thinking it doesn’t matter if our cultures or our country doesn’t exist anymore because we’re not going to have anyone there.”

This isn’t someone winding up on the Howard Stern show and trying to distance himself from talking about some celebrity’s breasts. This is a musician repeatedly going onto a podcast of a hatemonger and joining in the fray. This is a musician hobnobbing with an emerging alt-right figurehead to playfully discuss how Muslims and women are terrible.

In a vacuum this would be bad; I have a few sketchy artists in my CD collection and would have no aversion to seeing them live. However, with Nazis marching on American streets and white supremacists in the White House, with blood being shed in Charlottesville and Berkeley and all points in between, Keeler is not just taking artistic liberties. He is actively helping promote it. And as the Medium article pointed out, “Why does DFA and Jesse Keeler get a pass from the music press and community about his blatant and obvious ties to Gavin McInnes, The Proud Boys and The Alt Right? Why does the press fail to question him on these things and continue to write puff pieces?”

I pondered that the following day. How could I write a concert review of this band without discussing the events of the preceding days? How could I discuss this mostly apolitical band’s setlist and turn a blind eye to the emerging political story? Even if I was not of the mind that Keeler’s buddy is playing a part in literally destroying this country, it couldn’t be ignored. But I am of that mind. So how was I going to do it?

At 2:13am the day of the Philly show, Keller used the Death From Above 1979 Facebook page to address the allegations. He did his best to distance himself, saying his “connection to Gavin however is real, but begs to be clarified,” and that “to a fault it seems that I give people the benefit of the doubt.” Keller’s explanation even caused Kurt Schwitterz, the author of the Medium piece, to amend the article:

It’s an earnest and humble statement and I believe him. I, as the author of this piece, do not think Jesse Keeler is a Proud Boy or alt-right. He just seems like a giant dummy that hung out with some sketchy people and definitely said some sketchy shit on Gavin’s podcast.

And that’s fine and good except that it’s not good enough for me. Nowhere in the 634-word post does Keeler denounce McInnes. He claims he can’t be a racist against immigrants because he, himself, is of mixed race with an immigrant father, but you would think that someone who did grow up like that wouldn’t be so keen to talk about how cool guns are that they ignored what else was being said in those podcasts.

Even more telling a few posts down, McInnes himself chimes in with what he must think is the pithiest one-liner imaginable.

One can have civilized discourse on the merits of punching Nazis. However, Keeler didn’t need to throw down with this clown. He just needed to say, “fuck him.” He needed to say that he disagreed with everything McInnes stood for. He needed to sever their relationship publicly. He certainly could have done it in a response to McInnes’ post. Or in the original screed. Or any time since.

But no, he didn’t do that. He just said he was duped, gee what a shame. And nothing else. He said he wasn’t a Proud Boy, but it didn’t seem impossible he would turn up on the podcast again just as McInnes turned up in his mea culpa.

So I didn’t go to the show. I didn’t take pictures. I didn’t leave the house. Instead I sat at my desk, listening to that wonderful debut album on repeat, remembering simpler times when those riffs made me so happy.

It’s ironic because if The Agit Reader publishes this, it might get far more page views than the concert review would have, even if Keller addressed the controversy from the stage and I wrote about that. Honestly, the chance that happened was the last bit of morbid curiosity that almost pushed me out the door.

But it didn’t because in the end, Keller’s lack of anything other than a complete disavowal of the reprehensible views of his buddy soured me from trying to write a concert review like nothing happened. Simply put, I couldn’t in good conscious write about that show knowing full well that the guy on stage either didn’t care about the ramifications of his buddy’s views on my special needs non-white son in the future, or wasn’t smart enough to think that through.

The Medium piece indelicately concluded, “Fuck The Proud Boys. Fuck Gavin McInnes. Fuck ‘Western Chauvinism.’ Fuck Death From Above 1979 and FUCK White Supremacy.”

I will just add, fuck me adding another fluff piece on the band. I just won’t do it.


  1. Billy Peake says:

    Good work, Brian O’Neill.

    There’s no wiggle room. Either you denounce fucking racists or you support them. Apparently, Keeler supports ’em.

    Thanks for calling them out.


  2. Mularkey James says:

    Quick summary of this article: “Something, something, Something… Look at me. I’m more SJW than You!”

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