Women in Music 2016

Indie-Rock Band Whirr Addresses the Outrage, and Fallout, Over Transphobic Tweets

On Oct. 17, the Twitter account for the Bay Area band Whirr posted, in reference to a hardcore punk group from Olympia, Washington, "Lol @ G.L.O.S.S." When others came to the defense of G.L.O.S.S., which has multiple transgender members, Whirr's account doubled down with a string of transphobic insults.

The outrage that followed reached as far as famed recording engineer Steve Albini's Electrical Audio studio and led to independent labels Graveface Records and Run for Cover Records  publicly disavowing the shoegaze-indebted indie-rock group. Whirr issued a statement of apology, but its suggestion that a "good friend" had written the offending tweets eventually prompted comparisons between Whirr and Donald Trump, who on Oct. 22 blamed a "young intern" for a retweet insulting Iowa voters.

The episode highlights an increasingly active social consciousness among the independent community of late, amplified by social media. On Sept. 23, Collect Records -- a punk/hardcore label run by former Thursday frontman Geoff Rickly -- announced it was severing ties with financial backer Martin Shkreli, whose Turing Pharmaceuticals had raised the price of an AIDS drug from $13.50 to $750. Several days earlier, the band Viet Cong said it would change its name.

In a statement to Billboard, Whirr guitarist Nick Bassett (formerly of metal-shoegaze band Deafheaven, which recently saw Oct. 2 album New Bermuda debut at No. 63 in the Billboard 200) reiterates his apologies and attempts to explain how the transphobic tweets -- since deleted but archived at Stereogum and Noisey -- came to be. "The band and myself are truly sorry that any of this ever happened," he says.

Bassett begins by saying Whirr didn't have a Twitter account until after learning of an imposter account about a year ago. After setting up a real Twitter handle to offset the fake one, the band "decided it would be funny if we had our merch guy/friend of the band run it, with the exception of me chiming in from time to time," Bassett says. This friend, he says, wrote in a style similar to the contentious tone on Whirr's Facebook and Tumblr presences, which Bassett calls "purposely immature and not to be taken seriously or to heart in any way."

Bassett says he wrote the original "Lol @ G.L.O.S.S." tweet but Whirr's friend wrote the follow-ups. Bassett says he was trying to get G.L.O.S.S.'s attention regarding "rumors of G.L.O.S.S. saying certain types of people weren't allowed/meant to be at their shows, and not selling merch to certain people based on what type of individual they were." He says he has "nothing against anyone in that band" and "thought that nothing had happened with that tweet …. so I thought that would be the end of it."

According to Bassett's statement, he didn't learn about the Whirr account's later tweets -- which compared G.L.O.S.S. to the character Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs and called the band "just a bunch of boys running around in panties making shitty music" -- until the end of the day on Oct. 19. "I had a few text messages from our merch guy/friend who runs the Twitter account telling me 'shit is going to hit the fan,'" he says. "I immediately scrolled through our Twitter feed and saw him responding to some commenters on my initial post, and saying things that neither I nor anyone else in the band support in any way." He says he told the friend to stop and drafted an apology to post the next morning. He apologizes for not deleting the offensive tweets until the following morning, saying he realized too late that he should've removed them immediately.

Bassett says that while he stands by Whirr's occasionally provocative online statements prior to the G.L.O.S.S. incident, "because I didn't take any of it seriously and it was literally just to draw reactions from people who I thought took offense too easily," he believes this situation crossed a line.

"I understand that in giving our friend access to our Twitter account, we were giving him our 'voice' to the public as far as social media goes, and I have to bear responsibility for that," Bassett says. "I would like to commend the scene for coming together on this issue, and taking such quick action when it comes to confronting transphobia. I know that I have a long way to go in terms of earning back the trust of our former friends and fans. I wholeheartedly accept that challenge."

Asked for any additional comment on this week's events, G.L.O.S.S. lead singer Sadie Switchblade wrote: "Here's our quote: 'Whirr can suck my transexual dick now and forever, no one likes you//no one cares. Bye! =o)'" Earlier, Switchblade created a Twitter account to respond to Whirr. Those tweets have mostly been deleted, but one from Oct. 19 still reads: "Alright y'all this goofy tranny tires of wasting her breath on a little bitchboy Spotify-subscriber, I'm gonna go eat a frozen pizza TTYL." G.L.O.S.S. had already been steadily building media buzz on the strength of its ferocious January demo release.

Savannah, Georgia-based Graveface, which released Whirr's previous two albums to modestly positive critical reception, tweeted Oct. 20: "Graveface supports positive action and equality. We have zero interest in working w/ hateful people. Donate here: http://www.transequality.org"

Graveface added in a Facebook comment the same day: "There are no contracts at Graveface so there's no booting anyone off. Simply enough I will not be releasing records by anyone I know to be hateful, especially in regards to all of this. Cheers." (A day later Graveface was the subject of an unrelated cover story in the Chicago Reader.)

Boston-based Run for Cover, which has also released music by Whirr, tweeted Oct. 19, "We will not be working with Whirr from this point on and do not support that behavior in anyway," adding, "G.L.O.S.S. is awesome and crucially important and we need more bands like them." 

Run for Cover announced Oct. 21 it would be donating $3,000 split equally to three nonprofit organizations chosen by G.L.O.S.S.'s Switchblade: Olympia's Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter, New York transgender advocacy group Sylvia Rivera Law Project and Black and Pink, an advocacy group made up of LGBTQ prisoners and former prisoners.

On Oct. 22, Electrical Audio's Stephen Sowley tweeted an apparent text-message conversation with Albini (Sowley didn't immediately respond to a request for comment). The conversation shows Albini typing, "Knew nothing about them or Whizz [sic], settled the whole thing by listening to them both, G.L.O.S.S. rip, other schmucks are like hold music through a big muff."

After Trump's Oct. 22 Twitter snafu, a typical tweet from people familiar with the Whirr-G.L.O.S.S. situation read, "Trump and Whirr have a common friend." On Oct. 21, a humor piece in Hazlitt parodied a situation similar to Whirr's, with a band apologizing for offensive tweets while also saying a friend wrote them.

Bassett's apologies, at least, mark a shift from his previous remarks about Whirr's inflammatory online antics. Asked by Noisey last year what he'd say to Whirr's ex-fans, he replied, "We're weeding out the pussies." Asked how he'd feel and what he'd do if Whirr alienated fans to the point no one would buy the band's records, he told the blog: "I'd be stoked that we didn't suck anyone's dick as a band and were just real dudes being real. If we weren't selling records anymore, that would be a wrap for us."

Bassett tells Billboard the band has stopped associating "entirely" with the friend he says wrote the transphobic tweets. "Anyone that has reached out to the band or me personally wanting to discuss the situation, I have tried my best to explain the situation and sincerely apologize for what was posted," Bassett says. "I welcome a dialogue."