Portland-based synth-rockers The Slants recently took on their toughest performance yet. Instead of beckoning concertgoers to the dance floor, they took to the ground floor of the Supreme Court. The band, whose name comes as an act of re-appropriation of a demeaning term aimed at Asian Americans, was unable to register their name as a federal trademark.
In an ongoing battle, with the First Amendment at the forefront, The Slants use the power of arts and activism to bring awareness to this and similar issues of oppression.
"I think arts and activism have had a direct relationship over the years, throughout the history of mankind," says Simon Tam, The Slants' bandleader. "Both offer a commentary on society and both offer a picture of something different. I think it's kind of the history of music and all forms of arts to really tackle on deep, heavy themes sometimes."
While fighting an obscure part of trademark law from 1946 may not be the sexiest topic, it still tackles oppression—the inspiration for the band's latest EP, "The Band Who Must Not Be Named." Appropriately titled based on their current fight with the Supreme Court, the collection of songs allows the band to share their experiences and teach others about their culture.
"Arts serve as an easy barrier or entry in terms of experiencing other cultures or identities and perspectives," Tam says. "I think our music allows us to communicate those things through stories or lyrics. When people come to a concert, they're ready to be entertained, maybe ready to dance or to have a good time. It's kind of a great way to approach people on a deep level where they aren't necessarily defensive. Or they don't feel like they're being attacked."
In light of their case against the Supreme Court, The Slants have received an outpouring of support. Over the years they have worked with over 140 different Asian-American and social justice groups. Many of them rallied to the band's side by signing on a legal brief in support of their case. Others have expressed support, hosted concerts or conversations, giving Tam and the band a chance to talk more about their art and activism.
In Bend, Tam will speak at TEDxBend, an event that analyzes "what makes us human." Tackling art, activism and racism, speaking at TED events provides Tam with a platform to share with others and ideally enlighten them about other cultures. The Slants also perform at the event, giving Bendites the chance to experience their unique brand of dance rock.
"I grew up in the early '80s and that was the ultimate era for this new wave, post-punk sound," Tam recalls. "My first cassette tapes I owned were from New Order and Depeche Mode. That music was the soundtrack to my childhood."
With both Tam speaking at TEDxBend and the entire band performing, you'll get the chance to experience The Slant's post-punk, new wave sound, as well as learn more about the arts and activism. Get ready to dance to the sounds of the band who must not be named.
The Slants at TEDxBend
Sat., May 13, 8:30am-6:30pm
Bend Senior High School
230 NE 6th St., Bend.
$78-$350 (For TEDxBend Ticket)