avant-garde rock club found itself at the center of controversy when it was
accused of booking a trio of bands that protesters called racist or
The Empty Bottle was scheduled to host Death in June, an English art-rock
group, along with opening bands Changes and Der Blutharsch on Saturday. But
club owner Bruce Finkelman canceled the show on Friday under pressure from
the Center for New Community, a local activist group.
Finkelman said he had been receiving death threats and hate mail from
people on both sides of the controversy, and he feared a violent
confrontation at the Ukrainian Village club if the show went on as
"This stopped being about the music a long time ago," Finkelman said on
Monday. "There's nothing more that I'm against than racism and hate crimes,
but this put us in a very precarious position and kind of backed us into a
The Bottle is known for its multicultural staff and for presenting a wide
spectrum of diverse musical acts. Finkelman, who is Jewish, said he was
unaware of any controversy surrounding the bands when he agreed to host the
concert. He added that he would not have booked the groups if he was certain
they advocated racist or anti-Semitic beliefs, and he knew only of Death in
June's reputation as musical innovators and gripping live performers.
"You can buy their music at Tower Records," Finkelman said. "How does
that equate with something that I have to end up talking to my rabbi about?"
In mass e-mails, the Center for New Community characterized the bands as
"three white power music acts" and charged that "promotion of fascism like
this is an affront to [the] memory and dignity of the more than 6 million
who perished at the hands of the Nazis, as well as an open expression of
racism and bigotry."
But it remains unclear whether CNC's charges are accurate, are laced with
hyperbole, or fall somewhere in between.
Named for June 30, 1934, "the Night of Long Knives" when Hitler purged
Ernst Roehm and his followers from the Nazi party, Death in June has existed
for almost two decades. Its leader, Douglas Pearce, is openly gay and a
former member of the leftist punk band Crisis. He has used images associated
with Nazism, including a symbol similar to the death's head insignia favored
by the SS, but the band's Web site and lyrics that are available on the Net
espouse no racist or anti-Semitic beliefs.
Similarly, there is little evidence of the Austrian band Der Blutharsch
preaching hatred in its music.
Pearce could not be reached for comment on Monday, but in a posting on
the Empty Bottle's Web site on Saturday, he neither confirmed nor denied
charges of racism. "As I hover above the fear stricken Metropolis of
Chicago," he wrote, I "ponder who should be the first to feel the might of
my Disappear In Every Way ray; the Community for New Communism [sic] or the
hypocritical [expletives] at [the Empty Bottle]."
Changes is a Chicago folk band led by R.N. Taylor, described in CNC
e-mails as "a self-proclaimed 'white separatist.' " In a posting to the
Empty Bottle's Web site last week, Taylor denied these charges. "There is no
bigotry, race hatred or anything of the sort," he wrote. "I defy anyone of
these critics to come forth with the proof that it is white power; 90
percent of our songs deal with love, not hate."
Finkelman at first decided to remove Taylor from the bill but defended
the other bands' right to perform, noting that, "We have yet to find
information that directly links Death in June and/or Der Blutharsch to the
Nazi party, nor have we been able (yet) to uncover concrete allegiances to
any single fascist ideological group."
Finkelman proposed a compromise, inviting CNC and other groups to set up
tables at the club to distribute information, and he offered to give the
venue's share of the night's proceeds to the Anti-Defamation League. (Finkelman
said he contacted the ADL for information about the bands' alleged white
power leanings, but they had no files on the groups.)
CNC rejected the offer and kept up the pressure until the club canceled
"We weren't going to have a table there," CNC spokesman Eric Ward said
Monday. "It's clear there were neo-Nazis coming to the event, or at least
advertising the event. We're not going to put people in a situation like
Early Saturday, the Empty Bottle show was relocated to Deja Vu, a club in
Lincoln Park. That club's owners canceled at the last minute because of
media attention, but fans of the band and protesters from another activist
group, Anti Racist Action, had already gathered outside the venue.
Eyewitnesses reported several violent conflicts between the two camps,
but no police reports were filed. Death in June never performed. Witnesses
said Pearce was at the club and attempted to talk to protesters but was
Death in June's last local performance was at the Congress Theatre last
October. That show was initially booked at the Park West, but the club's
owner, Jam Productions, backed out because of CNC protests.