The act was part of a Feb. 15 performance by Incel Messiah, a new punk-rock student band, in the Berklee College of Music cafeteria.
Their show at the Boston school received mixed reviews. “People were shocked, they didn’t really know how to respond,” Kaelan Scott Gardner, a 20-year-old freshman at Berklee who attended the performance, said.
Incel Messiah’s performance has received considerable backlash from Berklee students and administrators. Caf Shows, a Berklee student-run organization, regularly hosts student performances in the main dining hall on campus. It’s notoriously hard for an act to get booked there, and the shows are well-attended. The organization uploads live streams of performances on its Facebook page. The video of Incel Messiah’s performance was taken down soon after the show.
The university is investigating the incident, university officials said in a statement sent Friday to Berklee students and faculty.
“In the meantime, Berklee’s Student Activities team will reinforce existing behavioral expectations to all upcoming performers in order to ensure that future events align with the policies, expectations, and values of the Berklee community,” Christopher Kandus-Fisher, vice president for student affairs, diversity and inclusion at Berklee, said.
The Caf Shows team also responded to the incident on its Facebook page. “Caf Shows did not approve and does not condone this band’s behavior or the inappropriate themes portrayed in the show,” the post read. The Caf Shows team declined further comment.
The band, which consists of four Berklee students — Caleb Hickman, Max D’Amico, Patrick Sutton and Kevin Kelleher — and their friend Alden Porto, said the performance was meant to be satirical and entertaining. They identified themselves as Berklee students and provided student identification showing their affiliation with the school.
The band’s name, “Incel Messiah,” pokes fun at incel culture, an online subculture largely consisting of men who define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one, and characterized by racism and misogyny.
The female performer — who did not wish to be identified — approached the band with the idea of dancing in pig’s blood during the performance. “She wanted to do it because she fetishizes about getting covered in blood,” D’Amico said in an interview. “The performance was meant to represent sexual liberation.”
In private discussion forums on Facebook, some Berklee students criticized Incel Messiah for its performance, calling it “misogynistic” and “offensive.” Band members said they understood where students were coming from, but their interpretation of the performance “couldn’t be further from the truth.”
“We don’t condone incel behavior at all, or the offensive language we used in the skit. We’re all feminists. We just wanted to put a spotlight on a toxic culture," Porto said. Incel Messiah posted an invitation on Facebook to come to members’ apartment and voice concerns about the performance, but “no one reached out,” they said. Some students said they were uncomfortable visiting the band’s home after their performance.
One student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the publicity engulfing the episode, fears the backlash Incel Messiah has encountered will set a dangerous precedent for future student performances. “People are ridiculing them, refusing to even attempt to come to a compromise conclusion,” she said. “This indirectly discourages people to take risks with their art because they’re being so mercilessly criticized by their peers. It’s ridiculous and paints a really negative environment for the Berklee community.”
Some students, especially those with dietary restrictions involving animals, expressed concern over the use of pig’s blood in the cafeteria, where many students eat. Band members said they cleaned up the blood after the show. Some students said that wasn’t sufficient.
Brett Fairchild, a 20-year-old sophomore at Berklee, said he hopes the community will learn from the incident and move on. “We had a peaceful, open dialogue among ourselves, we were open-minded about how we felt about this and addressed it as a community, so I don’t think the incident needs to go further than this,” he said.
Incel Messiah said the performance was originally meant to be a “one-time thing,” but they are now planning more shows.