The Slants
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The Slants

Portland, Oregon, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2006 | SELF

Portland, Oregon, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2006
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"Local Album of the Year (Portland, OR)"

"It's a great story: All-Asian synthcore troupe lands anime festival, achieves instantaneous notoriety from overpacked fireball-laden maelstrom, inspires John Woo and Dragon Ball Z fans toward aggro electro and just months after its first practice books gigs across the globe. As shadow-warriory as the Slants' rise has been, it's still all about the tunes, and the band's debut floor-filling synth pop bristling with all the menace and grandeur of its oft name-checked cultural icons is propulsive, cinematic and impossible to ignore." - The Willamette Week


"“The Slants” Suit: Asian-American Band Goes to Court Over Name"

What do you call a band of Asian-Americans from Portland, Ore.? If you’re Simon Tam, you call them The Slants. Tam, the founder of the “Chinatown dance-rock” group, has been trying to trademark his band name for years, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has denied him registration on the grounds that the word, with its racially charged connotation, is offensive. This week the 32-year-old bassist plans to take his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C.

The USPTO says they do not comment on pending cases, but in denying Tam’s application officials wrote that while the “applicant, or even the entire band, may be willing to take on the disparaging term as a band name, in what may be considered an attempt … to wrest ‘ownership’ of the term,” that “does not mean that all [Asian-Americans] share the applicant’s view.” TIME spoke with Tam about racial tension, reclaiming words and what, exactly, Chinatown dance-rock is.

How did you come up with the name?

The name came before the band did. I was talking to a friend of mine and saying I want to start this all-Asian band and address some underlying issues with racism. And I said, “What do people think of when they think of an Asian? What’s a common stereotype?” He said they all have slanted eyes and I thought: The Slants. 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.

But, primarily, the name is a reference to physical features and racial stereotypes.

That’s where we got the inspiration, but our use of the term is to share our own personal experiences … Early on, we had several occasions where non-Asians who didn’t understand our band would call us racist because we wanted to only have Asian-American members. People buy into this false notion of reverse racism, where they believe that just because there’s a group of people getting together to share something about their heritage that we’re excluding white people. But that’s not the reality, just like an all-girl group is not a sexist group.

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Your latest release, the Yellow Album, also plays on a sometimes derogatory word. Are you trying to reclaim words like yellow and slant for Asian-Americans?

Prior to the term Asian becoming in vogue, the term that the Asian-American community used [to describe themselves] was “yellow.” It’s empowering when people use it and embrace it as part of their identity. The words don’t necessarily have to be loaded down with this historical context. It’s almost like social justice achieved through linguistic change. And on top of that, there’s a fun musical play. The Beatles had the White Album, Jay-Z had the Black Album and we have the Yellow Album.

Is it possible for people to be legitimately offended by the band name?

I think it is a legitimate concern but the problem is that the trademark office is assuming that Asian-Americans are actually offended when they’re not. We play Asian cultural festivals all over North America, and not once have people complained about the name being derogatory. [The USPTO referenced articles reporting that event organizers had canceled a performance at an Asian youth conference because "they found The Slants’ name to be offensive." Update: Tam says the evidence is 'distorted' and that concern was over objectionable lyrics, not the band name.] Asian-Americans understand it as a term that we can use in an empowering manner. In my opinion, the concern is a little misguided. We have people being offended on behalf of our community, yet they’re denying us rights.

How would you describe your interactions with the U.S. government in trying to trademark the name?

We applied as recommended by our attorney. It’s just a normal thing that bands do. We got the rejection and it cited section 2a of the Lanham Act [which prohibits “immoral” and “scandalous” trademarks], saying our name was disparaging to persons of Asian descent … This law was scripted in the ’40s. Who would ever think to talk about race and how minority communities identify themselves in the ’40s? Nobody. We didn’t even have a civil rights law passed yet.

You call your sound Chinatown dance-rock. What is that, exactly?

It’s a symbolic identifier of our music. Chinatowns in general comprise many immigrants of many different Southeast Asian cultures, not just China. Yet people lump them up and think it’s all about dim sum or something. But a lot of new immigrants have to band together and work together, and we all come from different heritages. In terms of actual music, we have a bit of ’80s dance in us but we also bring the rock’n’roll.

What are the ethnicities of the band members?

In the current lineup, we have Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese and Filipino.

How much of your band is about music and how much is advocacy for Asian-Americans?

It’s almost as if in the day time, we’re doing workshops and addressing racism. And on the weekends, we say we’re melting faces off with rock’n’roll … I describe myself as an American. But it’s interesting that I can’t describe myself as an American without a hyphen in front of it. People have to say, “What are you? Chinese-American? Asian-American?” and so on.

A name like The Slants seems to draw attention to the fact that there is another part of your identity you want people to consider. How do you balance emphasizing sameness and difference when you’re making a statement about race?

It’s a complex situation. I don’t subscribe to the notion of seeing no color, that we’re all the same and race doesn’t exist. It’s a social and political reality that we live in. The problem when people say we should concentrate on similarities is that they’re ignoring glaring parts of our humanness—our skin, perhaps the color of our hair, the way we speak, or even the shape of our eyes. - TIME Magazine


"Angry Asian Man says"

"Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts kicks some serious ass. They've got this throbbing synth-pop/dance-rock sound with a badass Asian twist. Their vibe recalls bands like Depeche Mode, New Order, Joy Division...and more recently, The Killers...This band knows what it's doing" - AngryAsianMan.com


"Chinatown Dance Rock"

"They've been described as "Chinatown dance rock," but the Slants are far from a novelty act. The band's infectious, urgent electro-pop has won fans of all stripes and colors, from anime aficionados to comic collectors to musos and beyond, and their rollicking live show is not to be missed. " - Seattle Noise


"All Things Considered: The Slants: Trading in Stereotypes"

In the 20th century, younger members of many minority groups repurposed offensive words that had been used as slurs and insults. African Americans and gays, in particular, transformed hateful brands into badges of pride or belonging. Now, in the 21st century, a few Asian-American musicians are trying to do the same, particularly in the name they chose for their band: The Slants.

It all started as kind of a practical joke. Simon Young had been playing bass in bands for years, but what he really wanted was to front an all-Asian lineup. Now, with The Slants, he's almost done it.

Young, both Chinese and Taiwanese, met The Slants' lead singer, Vietnam-born A-Ron, and later formed the band with drummer AC and guitarist Johnny, who are both Hispanic and Filipino. "Together, they make up about one Asian," Young says with a laugh.

The Slants' brand of Asian-American identity means breaking out, trading in the old stereotypes, and maybe living inside someone else's skin for a while. While Young and A-Ron don't write exclusively about race, they say it was something they wanted to tackle with The Slants.

"When I was actually a kid, the first racial slurs I heard were 'Chink' and 'Jap,' and I'm Vietnamese, so they didn't even get those right," A-Ron says. "They still scared me, though."

Growing up, Young says, he and A-Ron had similar experiences of being chased around and even beaten up by other kids. In its music, the band picks up on schoolyard rhymes that used to drive its members nuts as kids.

"Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these," A-Ron recalls. "That was the way I heard it at my school." That rhyme became the seed for the chorus that speaks to anyone — Chinese, Japanese, or anyone else who knows what it's like to be an outsider.

The Slants' breakout gig came last year, at a convention devoted to Japanese animation. These conventions draw thousands of young anime and manga fans, many barely into their teens. Often, they come decked out in costume, ready to spend and starved for music.

Inspired by anime's science-fiction and fantasy themes, convention wear can be pretty wild: kitten ears, demon wings, even the occasional radiation suit. It was here that The Slants began to build a fan base.

The convention-goers represent a real market: They're buying comic books, toys, and DVDs. John Lo, who came from Atlanta to sell CDs and posters, says that The Slants are different from the foreign bands who dominate the convention circuit.

"All the bands we deal with are Japanese bands," Lo says. "Some of them have ties with anime, because they do the anime opening songs. Others are just popular music that the kids like. It's kind of a crossover between anime and J-Pop music and stuff."

The Slants' songs about Asian-American alienation don't seem to have hurt their appeal to white teenagers. If anything, they resonate with kids whose geeky adoration for anime makes them outsiders in their own way.

Just one convention gig was enough to fund the band's first CD. Young and A-Ron say they'll never forget the screaming kids at that show.

"Dressed up like Sailor Moon, and kids dressed up like DragonBall Z ... It's amazing. It's like a big party like Halloween. It's great the kids are so genuinely enthused and excited about that," A-Ron says.

"It's definitely one of my favorite shows I've ever played in my life," Young adds.

Plans are in the works for some Slants dates in Asia next year. - National Public Radio (NPR)


"The Slants' Live Show Review"

The Slants hit the stage like a tsunami of new wave, synth-punk goodness. Their excellent album, Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts revealed a band that had mastered the art of writing catchy pop music utilizing creative electronic soundscaping mixed with more traditional instrumentation. Live, they were a forceful unit that rocked as much as they made you want to dance.

Singer Aron is a surprisingly commanding figure with a melodious voice that sounds as though he had honed it during his previous tenure in the punk underground. The guy has his moves down but none of it ever comes off contrived. Rather, it seems honed from having to deliver in front of people on the regular basis this band maintains during their extensive tour schedule.

The whole band was similarly impressive. Michael, aka Gaijin, played a Steinberger guitar of some sort and through his bank of processors and his amp, he was able to get a sound that was gritty and aggressive but atmospheric at the same time. Simon Young played a Fender Jaguar and was able to create tones and dynamics that some might have assumed to be a synth but in fact was just him playing more creatively than most bassists. The band wisely kept with an acoustic drum set and John, their drummer, played with keen accents on the rhythm that a lot of rock drummers don’t seem to understand as well. Jen Cho’s keytar and synth layers both uplifted the music as well as mixed in low end drones with bright, expansive sounds that gave all of the band’s songs rich atmospheres. Her backing vocals also added an element of dreaminess that truly gave the songs where they were present gilded edges.

Never displaying a dull moment, The Slants are easily one of the best bands I’ve ever seen doing this kind of thing. They reminded me a little bit of The Epoxies but they don’t parlay some kitschy science fiction thing in their songs, they just remind you that synth pop doesn’t have to be hopelessly retro and silly, it can be fun and have something to say. - Backbeat Online


"Super Happy Fun Write: The Slants"

Sick of paying exorbitant prices for Asian import music? Wish there was something of quality to be found here, locally, within your own home shores? You're wishes have been granted! No longer is Japan, China and Korea the only places housing quality Asian rock bands!

Welcome to The Slants. A US-based rock/synth/electro band that frequents popular anime and manga conventions, seems to have a fondness for the yakuza (Oh yeah, I saw that Ichi the Killer reference), and is getting geared up for their upcoming tours!

...Did I mention one of them knows how to breathe fire? - IGN.com


"Hardest Working Asian American Indie Band Done Good"

With standout tracks like Capture Me Burning, Love Within My Sins, Kokoro, and the bitchin' Kokoro SoR dance remix, The Slants don't just play and produce great music - they press the flesh and do whatever it takes to make sure their Chinatown dance rock gets heard.

From getting the right people to help promote them, playing an endless array of shows and conventions, keeping their MySpace pages and e-newsletters up to date and relevant, to making sure they get the word out with as many interviews and videos as they can - in just a short amount of time The Slants have been able to make a big Asian dent in the music scene, and it's looking like 2008 is going to be even better. - Slant Eye for the Round Eye


"Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts Review"

An all-Asian synth-pop/rock band might conjure up certain stereotypes for most people, such as your typical J-Pop band. These are the very stereotypes that the group, The Slants, want to shake up.

Based out of Portland, Oregon, the band consists of A-Ron (vocals), Simon Young (bass), Jen Cho (keyboards), Johnny aka: Gaijin (guitars), and AC (drums). The Slants were formed by Young in 2007, who had always wanted to form an all-Asian group. The band started playing at various anime and manga conventions, where they drew their first wave of fans; their songs about alienation, solidarity, and Asian-American identity hit a nerve with audiences. In fact, everything about The Slants, from their name to their lyrics, seems aimed at debunking what it means to be different or strange.

If you appreciate the lovelorn lyrics of Depeche Mode and The Cure mixed with the synth-heavy sounds of bands like New Order and Joy Division, then odds are you will fall in love with The Slants’ sound, a sound they have worked to a fine polish on their debut album, Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts.

Listening to singer A-Ron’s melancholy voice on tracks like “Kokoro I Fall to Pieces” stirs up memories of singer David Gahan singing equally melancholy lyrics as front man for Depeche Mode. Yet, following in the tradition of their synth-pop heroes of yore, The Slants’ music is what I like to call “a downer you can dance to.” Sure, songs about alienation, loss, and pain can make you feel blue, but how sad can you get when the songs are packaged with driving drums and bass, infectious synth hooks, and deceptively simple guitar riffs? Just listen to the first minute of “Stranglehold,” and I guarantee your head will be bobbing to the beat (or, if not your head, then your feet or your shoulders or any other body part you choose).

The Slants’ sound has been dubbed “Chinatown Dance Rock.” The label is a bit misleading since each member of the band is a mixture of different heritages, from Chinese to Filipino. However, their music transcends the Asian-American community to touch on feeling alone, being part of the ‘out-crowd,’ wanting to belong – themes that can resonate with anyone, regardless of where you come from.

True, The Slants may remind you a little too much of synth-pop bands of the 80s. Some have even said they sound like The Killers, which has some merit. But as debut outings go, Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts is a solid album. - Static Multimedia


"CD Review: The Slants - Pageantry"

Chinatown Dance-Rock Heroes are back and I hope you’re ready to sweat it out on the dance floor because it’s time to get down dancing machine! With a high energy album that is sure to get that booty dancing, The Slants are primed to take their music to the next level with their latest release Pageantry.

This record is somewhat different from their previous releases as the album is heavy with guitar all throughout, giving the record a much more organic feel instead of lacing everything with synths. But don’t fret, their signature bombardment of delicious synth jabs and melodies are still in control. The best part about the guitars being added to the sound is that it now separates the band comparisons from Depeche Mode, something I’m sure the band would love to somewhat get away from. The injections of melodic guitars into the songs have fully given The Slants a new spectrum and although the guitar work is neither technical nor virtuoso-like, it serves a great deal of different purposes for the new tracks. Vocally, Aron Moxley has also stepped up his game and delivers a new facet to the overall music with a different set of ranges and delivery methods.

It seems that The Slants have also somehow managed to flash backwards into the electro guitar appeal of the 80’s while making this record as their musical layers seem to be greatly influenced by European indie electro music. Either or, the music is absolutely a step forward for the band. The bass lines are so clear and concise, the drums are right on point and everything else is as cohesive as it can get. The only problem I seem to be having about listening to this record is the production value. It seems to be on the lower end of things but did it hinder me in anyway? Not one bit. I can hear the incredible music push right on through. The sweaty passion, the hard charging grooves and the hook-filled tunes are so damned infectious, it literally takes you to another place.

Get your dancing bones moving to the earth shaking “Lucky Strike” or get your rock fix with title track “Pageantry,” which sounds like a slight off-shoot of a Cult song. Yes, The Cult. Dance the night away with the hip shaking “Who Shot The Radio” or feel the deep emotional connect/disconnect of “How The Wicked Live,” and you tell me if The Slants is not your new favorite rock band. My personal fave is the ambitious “You Make Me Alive” which reminds me of my favorite 80’s groups like Tears For Fears, Flock Of Seagulls and more. So the verdict is that Pageantry is simply fantastic!

There’s not a dull moment on the record and if you like movin’ and groovin’ to bands like The Bravery, Dearly Beloved and other indie 80’s inspired groups, you’ll love this record. Put on your dancing shoes on honey, it’s time to move to the music!

By: Gian Erguiza

- FrantikMag


"Rock Band The Slants Wins First Amendment Appeal Over 'Disparaging' Trademarks"

Slants frontman Simon Tam has scored a big victory at a federal appeals court in his challenge to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office's refusal of a trademark registration.

On Tuesday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit accepted Tam's contention that the USPTO's "Slants" refusal, done pursuant to a law against "scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks," constitutes a violation of First Amendment rights. The decision provides massive encouragement to those like the Washington Redskins who are fighting on similar grounds. In fact, unless the U.S. Supreme Court decides to weigh in, it seems highly likely that the USPTO's decision to register the "Washington Redskins" will also not survive constitutional scrutiny.

In attempting to register "The Slants," Tam, an Asian-American, said he was attempting to "take ownership" of Asian stereotypes. After the USPTO refused to register, he went to an appeals court and was handed a loss thanks to a prior 1981 appellate ruling in McGinley that held that "the PTO's refusal to register appellant's mark does not affect his right to use it."

Tam was then successful in bringing the dispute for review en banc, before a wider panel of appellate judges at the Federal Circuit.

Today, Federal Circuit Judge Kimberly Ann Moore, who authored the prior ruling but had some reservations, now comes to a new conclusion.

"It is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment that the government may not penalize private speech merely because it disapproves of the message it conveys," she writes. "That principle governs even when the government’s message-discriminatory penalty is less than a prohibition."

Moore continues by saying that words are powerful, and the courts have been slow to appreciate how trademarks fit in. The analysis is also informed by appreciation that trademarks have gone beyond commercial endeavors to attach themselves to expressive speech.

"The government cannot refuse to register disparaging marks because it disapproves of the expressive messages conveyed by the marks," she writes. "It cannot refuse to register marks because it concludes that such marks will be disparaging to others. The government regulation at issue amounts to viewpoint discrimination, and under the strict scrutiny review appropriate for government regulation of message or viewpoint, we conclude that the disparagement proscription of § 2(a) is unconstitutional. Because the government has offered no legitimate interests justifying § 2(a), we conclude that it would also be unconstitutional under the intermediate scrutiny traditionally applied to regulation of the commercial aspects of speech."

The appellate judge does write in a footnote that the holding is limited to the constitutionality of the disparagement provision in the Lanham Act and might not touch on the immoral or scandalous provisions. As such, the USPTO can continue to defend refusals on other marks -- including the Redskins -- and future courts will have to decide whether to apply today's ruling more broadly.

The case drew friend-of-the-court briefs from many, from the ACLU to a coalition of adult film producers. - Billboard


"Asian-American Group The Slants Head to Supreme Court Over Band Name"

The Slants, an Asian-American rock band out of Portland, will have a hearing in front of the Supreme Court on January 18th in an effort to gain the trademark over their band name, bringing a seven-year Freedom of Speech battle closer to conclusion.

"We are pleased that this matter will be reviewed by the Supreme Court of the United States, and look forward to the vindication of the First Amendment rights of Mr. [Simon] Tam and the other members of the Slants," the Slants' law firm Archer & Greiner said in a statement.
"We strongly believe that [this case] 'In re Tam' raises important legal and public policy-related free speech issues that warrant the Supreme Court's affirmation."

The lawsuit stems from Slants founder Simon Tam's failed attempt to copyright the name "the Slants": The band's application was rejected several times because it violated the Lanham Act, which prevents applicants from trademarking disparaging terms; in rejecting the Slants' application, the trademark office cited UrbanDictionary.com as evidence that the term was derogatory.

The Slants, who viewed their name as a commentary on racial issues in America, argued that the trademark application denial impinged on their freedom of speech rights. In December 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit sided with the Slants, ruling that the U.S Patent and Trademark Office and Department of Justice had violated the band's First Amendment rights.

Following the Slants' victory, the appeals court also struck down the "disparagement portion" of the Lanham Act, which was enacted in 1946. Judge Kimberly Moore wrote in her opinion, "Courts have been slow to appreciate the expressive power of trademarks... Words – even a single word – can be powerful. Mr. Simon Tam named his band The Slants to make a statement about racial and cultural issues in this country. With his band name, Mr. Tam conveys more about our society than many volumes of undisputedly protected speech."

However, in April 2016, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case following the Court of Appeals' decision, resulting in the Slants' January 18th hearing with the Supreme Court.

The Slants' case drew additional press earlier this year when the Washington Redskins, the NFL football team that lost the trademark to their name over its derogatory connotations, attempted to piggyback on the Slants' trademark case. However, while the Redskins' argument was rejected, the Slants' case proceeded.

"The [Redskins] tried to hijack our case, arguing that they would be better advocates for the case and wanted to consolidate the two, but the court rejected them," Tam said in a statement. "So moving forward, it is just about our case. And while the result may certainly affect or influence the Redskins' case, there's no guarantee that our victory would guarantee them one as well."

While the Slants are in Washington, D.C. for the hearings, they'll also perform some shows in the nation's capital, as well as hold a protest rally and afternoon concert outside the Supreme Court following their hearing on January 18th. That night, they'll play D.C.'s Electric Maid. - Rolling Stone


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

Portland's The Slants are the first and only all-Asian American dance rock band in the world. They offer up catchy dance beats, strong hooks, and a bombastic live show that is "not to be missed" (The Westword). The Willamette Week says "While the band may well be best experienced live, Slants releases always promise a few blistering, note-perfect singles." The music is the perfect combination of 80's driven synth pop with hard-hitting indie, floor-filling beats which fans affectionately dub as "Chinatown Dance Rock."

They've been featured with Conan O'Brien's Team Coco, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, SPIN, BBC, NPR, and over 2,000 radio stations, tv shows, magazines, and websites across 125 countries.

The band might be best known for their fight for free speech, which brought them before the Supreme Court of the United States.

Almost 30 international tours, including appearances in 46 of 50 U.S states, have led to headlining showcases at major festivals such as SXSW, MusicfestNW, San Diego Comic-Con, and Dragon Con. The band has also provided support for The Decemberists, Mindless Self Indulgence, Girl Talk, Apl.De.Ap (of Black Eyed Peas), Blindpilot and Shonen Knife. In 2011, The Slants worked with the Department of Defense for a series of shows at U.S and NATO bases in Eastern Europe, dubbed "Operation Gratitude." In 2017, The Slants joined President Barack Obama, George Takei, Jeremy Lin, and other celebrities for an anti-bullying campaign known as Act to Change.

Many of the band's music videos have gone viral, gaining tens of thousands of views within days. Two videos feature martial arts choreography by Sammo Hung (The Matrix, Ip Man, & Enter the Dragon) and feature international stars Daniel Wu and Shu Qi.

They've won "Album of the Year" and "Editor's Choice" from dozens of magazines, including Willamette Week, LA Weekly, Shojo Beat, Village Voice, City Beat, and Rockwired.

Whether rocking music halls, anime conventions, maximum-security prisons, colleges, or army bases, it's clear that The Slants' infectious brand of "so damn good" music will leave you wanting more" (MRU Magazine).

Band Members