These are heady times for musicians Brian Borcherdt and Graham Walsh, originally of tiny Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Besides being endorsed by Radiohead when the English band hosted a session for BBC Radio One, they were recently nominated for the Polaris Prize, the most prestigious award in Canadian independent music. However, they’ve been left reeling after receiving the majority of the blame for the cancellation of the $4.7 million arts funding program PromArt, a government initiative that gives funds to promote Canadian arts overseas, solely due to Borcherdt’s and Graham’s shared moniker, the incendiary Holy Fuck.
This Toronto band’s sophomoric name choice is likely haunting them. Being the designated scapegoat for a funding cut would hurt anyone’s ego, but the cuts run particularly deep when they’re completely unjustified. According to a release from the Prime Minister’s office, “fringe art groups” are undeserving of federal coin if they are deemed “unrepresentative, and at worst, offensive.” As the Conservative government cut arts and culture spending across the board, slashing a total of $32.5 million that will disappear on 31 March 2009, this absurd explanation was pinned upon otherwise blameless individuals purely through prudery.
Considering that Holy Fuck produces self-proclaimed “experimental” rock music, the label of “fringe group” is apt. The Canadian Academy of Arts and Science clearly concurs, since Holy Fuck was nominated for best artist in the alternative music category at this year’s Juno Awards, making the label of “alternative” fairly legitimate.
However, similarly edgy artists endowed with PromArt sponsorship didn’t receive the ire of the funding gods. Within the fiscal year of 2007, the Corb Lund Band and controller.controller both received funding from PromArt, and Corb Lund received significantly more money than Holy Fuck. Yet, neither Corb Lund nor controller.controller were specified in the PromArt witch hunt.
On the books, Holy Fuck was reported to have received funding through PromArt for a United Kingdom tour undertaken in 2007. This touring money could legitimately have been squandered, getting funneled directly into the trappings of rock and roll excess, but this wasn’t the case. At the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, I personally saw them hauling their own gear onto the stage with nary a roadie in sight. Likewise, a recent video podcast featured Borcherdt proudly displaying the band’s wheels of choice—a dilapidated U-Haul van.
Even though they’ve been portrayed as such, driving your own U-Haul doesn’t really sound like an out-of-touch rock star of Kanye West-like proportions. Borcherdt and Walsh are as humble as Archbishop Desmond Tutu at an ice-cream social. In defence of the “offensive” name, one must recognize the appeal of a deviant profile, at least among the target CD-purchasing demographic.
Consider the testimony made by Josh Hook of Tokyo Police Club about his first encounter with Holy Fuck’s music. He recalls purchasing their EP as a “total impulse buy,” piqued by the solid black cover off-setting the words “Holy Fuck.” This is marketing genius that is being singled out by the self-righteous Tories thanks to their dislike of naughty words.
While Holy Fuck may feel victimized at the moment, they should emerge from the fray with a golden thorn in their paw. Rather than being designated as unworthy foul-mouths, this bout of publicity could give Holy Fuck enough publicity to make them a frontrunner for the Polaris Prize. At least, the $20 000 prize would rescue them from the infamy of being the only band that the most immodest radio DJ can’t even say on the air.