NPR Tries To Cancel Stoner Metal Legend Matt Pike

An exhaustive profile of the Sleep and High on Fire frontman focuses almost entirely on his "dangerous" affinity for David Icke's lizard people conspiracy theories.


Music journalist Grayson Haver Currin really wants you to know that stoner metal pioneer Matt Pike—best known for his shirtless live performances, bigfoot hunting videos, and hour-long, single-song concept albums about pot-smoking mystics traveling across an alien desert—harbors some weird, problematic, and even "dangerous" beliefs.

Last week, NPR published Currin's lengthy profile of Pike, a founding member of seminal bands Sleep and High on Fire, which focused almost entirely on Pike's affinity for conspiracy theorist David Icke and how journalists and fans can best hold him accountable for that grave sin.

Icke's worldview is a strange brew that posits a conspiracy of extraterrestrial reptiles is secretly running the world. He's also attracted accusations of being an antisemite for including the Rothchilds, the Israeli government, and Zionists generally in this conspiracy, arguing that revisionist histories of the Holocaust should be taught in schools, and that the Anti-Defamation League runs front right-wing groups to discredit people who try to blow the whistle on the wider lizard people conspiracy.

Pike's frequent invocations of Icke's various theories in his lyrics and interviews aren't anything new. As Currin notes, it's something journalists (including himself) have found humorous or charming over the years.

No longer, it seems.

In February, Pike gave an interview to Quietus in which he elaborated on his Ickism alongside other heterodox beliefs about Earth's shifting magnetic poles, the worrying rise of automation, and the pandemic being used as an excuse for a massive transfer of wealth from poor to the rich.

That interview sparked a minimal amount of Twitter outrage, which later morphed into Bandcamp Daily—the journalistic side of the eponymous music hosting site—pulling an article featuring Pike talking about his favorite albums.

That's all culminated in Currin's article from last week, in which the writer argues that music journalism's newfound mission of speaking truth to power chords requires a reevaluation of Pike and his place in polite metal society.

"In recent years, there has been so much conversation—within metal and, of course, far beyond it—about how a fan might and even should respond when an artist they adore does something they find odious or dangerous," writes Currin. "I could ask Pike what he believed and why he believed it. That was my first responsibility. And only then, I could decide if I were going to remain a fan—or, perhaps, back away."

The article is part traditional artist profile, part social justice-infused exposé. It's long and repetitive and neither Pike nor Currin comes off particularly well in it.

Currin spends a lot of time quizzing Pike on precisely which conspiracy theories he believes (apparently all of them, including some involving "Zionist bankers") and then expressing frustration when the artist doesn't immediately apologize for those beliefs or grok the real-world violence they're supposedly inspiring.

"The freedom to talk about antisemetic conspiracy theories without consequence might seem of little import to people worried instead about, say, survival. [Pike] would get worked up whenever I said as much, then apologize."

Pike tells Currin that he isn't a racist and that his freedom of speech to discuss lizard people is being crushed.

There's much about the profile that often seems just mean-spirited. Pike rarely says anything in the article. Instead, he "stammers," "whimpers," and "growls." Currin also acts like he's doing Pike a favor by giving him a chance to repent for unfavorable views that his article is also casting in the worst possible light and then broadcasting to the world:

"I was offering him the chance to exculpate himself, but he didn't seem to know what he actually believed, as if he were just offering up provocations without considering the way they interacted with one another or, frankly, reality."

Nothing about the NPR profile of Pike will surprise people who have been following the various permutations of cancel culture throughout the media. It's part of a particular trend in music journalism that sees as much value in "taking down bad actors" as it does in celebrating good art.

That shift in focus can be useful if it involves uncovering truly heinous or criminal actions of artists. Too often, it instead seems to collapse into refereeing weird or obnoxious behavior that has no wider effect on the world.

When applied to extreme and underground music, it can be truly destructive to the art itself. If an artist is going to be active in a scene, venues will need to book them, fans will need to buy their t-shirts, streaming platforms will need to carry their content, and reviewers will need to appraise and promote their new albums.

That all requires people to have some level of comfort associating with the person making the music. And that can't happen if fans, journalists, and anyone else who engages with their content is expected to, first and foremost, vet, challenge, and reject their most absurd, off-putting, or offensive beliefs.

There's a trade-off between ostracizing people with weird or even bad views and maintaining a thriving artistic scene where creators have the social license to experiment and push boundaries.

We seem to understand this in more mainstream contexts. Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novels are still taught in schools, despite her far more persistent, and far more explicitly antisemitic defense of Icke's work, for instance.

It's particularly true of alternative or extreme genres of music. Weird music requires weird people. In Pike's case, It's hard to imagine making 10-minute-long songs about Babylonian Gods and marijuana moon miners if you're not a bizarre conspiracy theorist.

Cracking down on those weird people, or having incredibly specific standards for the kinds of weirdness they can express or indulge, inescapably means a crackdown on weird music. Fewer Matt Pikes means fewer bands like Sleep and High on Fire.

The corollary is that the continued production of weird and good music requires a pretty broad tolerance of people with weird or even bad beliefs.

For the record, it doesn't sound like Pike is a bad person. He just sounds like an odd duck. In the Quietus interview, he acknowledges as much while also describing himself as an "anarchist libertarian" that wants to be left alone.

That seems like a reasonable enough request.