Who said rock'n'roll was dead? Watching Brass Against’s frontwoman Sophia Urista urinating over a fan’s face, you could be forgiven for wishing it was, however.
In case you missed it (and I envy anyone who has been spared the footage), Brass Against – who cover protest songs by rock bands such as Soundgarden – were performing over the weekend at Welcome to Rock festival in Florida. During the show, singer Urista was heard saying she needed to relieve herself before inviting a fan onstage. “I’ma piss in this motherf****er’s mouth,” she apparently said. “I gotta pee, and I can’t make it to the bathroom. So we might as well make a show out of it.”
Make a show she did, though it certainly wasn’t the one fans – or Urista’s bandmates – thought they were getting. Video footage of the incident shows her pulling down her trousers, squatting over the fan as he lies on his back, and relieving herself directly onto his face. Audience members are heard either cheering or exclaiming in horror, completely thrown by what is taking place. It also seemed the band were unaware of what Urista was about to do, with one member appearing to temporarily walk offstage.
Shortly after the stunt, they issued a statement saying the singer had got “carried away”.
“That’s not something the rest of us expected, and it’s not something you’ll see again at our shows,” they said.
The mixed reactions to Urista’s venture into water sports show just how conflicted music fans still are about what we perceive as “rock'n'roll” behaviour. On social media, many have drawn comparisons with her behaviour to that of GG Allin, the self-mutilating, faeces-smearing punk rocker whose despicable antics overshadowed any actual music he happened to make. It’s a bit of a stretch. A 2008 Guardian article described Allin as “the Charles Manson of rock”, who delighted in intimidation and who frequently physically or sexually assaulted his audience members. His live shows were more crime scene than crowd pleaser; for Allin, The Guardian piece noted, rock’n’roll translated to “no rules” and was “a place where nihilism reigned supreme, and nothing was taboo”.
Urista has some ways to go before truly reaching Allin’s levels of depravity, although it’s easy to see why Urista’s bodily excretions made fans think of him. Incidents like this are rare, thankfully, hence why it's caused such an almighty ruckus. Some might argue Urista's antics sparked more fuss because she's a woman, but replacing her with a man in that scenario, you imagine the reaction would be pretty much the same. Yet there are still people who watched the video of Urista and mourned the days where things like that were more commonplace in music.
The interpretation of “rock’n’roll behaviour” is generally accepted to be an action that serves as a protest against “the system” or “The Man”. Something that rails against traditional polite society and unsettles the status quo. A middle finger to “common decency”. There are plenty of examples to draw on in the rock’n’roll timeline: Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a bat; Led Zeppelin destroying hotel rooms; Oasis brawling on a ferry to Amsterdam; Guns ‘n’ Roses frontman Axl Rose sinking his teeth into a security guard’s leg... Pretty much anything Keith Moon did.
Now, though, that kind of thing is typically met with an eye-roll. Why? Because we’ve seen it all before. “You could cut off your arm and eat it on stage and it wouldn’t matter,” Alice Cooper told The Independentearlier this year. “The audience is shock proof.”
The other reason artists steer clear of truly bad behaviour is that they are, mostly, aware that there is almost always a victim of their actions. Someone always has to clean up the mess in the hotel room. Actively encouraging violence at live shows can, unsurprisingly, lead to people getting hurt. Travis Scott, whose Astroworld festival is the subject of an investigation after 10 people died and hundreds more were injured during his set, has a history of egging on his fans. “It’s not a show until someone [passes] out,” he bragged in a 2018 Instagram post.
Then there’s Marilyn Manson, currently the subject of several lawsuits and a new Rolling Stone investigation that explores how his own “rock’n’roll” behaviour disguised the alleged real-life abuse of multiple women. “The Monster Hiding in Plain Sight,” read the headline, as the article describes how he was “able to hide his abuses in plain sight behind the Marilyn Manson character he created and the music industry that supported, and profited from, his living-demon shtick”. Meanwhile, his lawyers, through whom Manson has denied all allegations made against him, insist his accusers are trying to conflate that controversial “shock rocker” image with “fabricated accounts of abuse”.
In the case of Urista, it appears she was not thinking about the victims created by her on-stage actions. Among them are the fans who had no wish to witness such a spectacle, and her bandmates, apparently appalled by her behaviour. Her stunt was infantile, grotesque, and out of step with what most modern rock artists have come to accept. That it’s best to let the music do the talking.
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